What the Heck is a 650b Wheel? Will it Help my Mountain Biking?

As if things weren’t complicated enough already, we have another wheel size entering the mountain biking arena. 650b wheels are the new poster child of the wheel world and, despite having been around for a long time, are supposedly set to be the next big thing. Talk of this middle-size wheel taking the hot seat was flying around earlier this year at Sea Otter. While I was a bit sceptical  at first, it’s becoming clear that the 650b isn’t going away – is it the size to shake up the industry?

So, what is a 650b?

The 650b wheel is known as the middle-size or inbetween wheel because it measures 27.5 inches in diameter. This sits between standard mountain bike wheels at 26 inches in diameter and “29ers”, which measure 29 inches.

Best of both worlds

650b wheels seem to combine the best of both existing wheel sizes; they keep the quick acceleration of the standard 26 inch wheel, but also the improved stability and traction of the larger wheels.

Although most people will enjoy the benefits of ‘tweeners’, shorter people will really benefit – 29ers can make you feel like you’re a little kid having a go on dad’s bike.

There must be a downside

A new wheel size means having to change other components, such as your tyres, frame and forks, so you can expect to pay a fair whack in the early days.

Most manufacturers are adding a 650b wheel size to their 2013 ranges, if they don’t already exist, but it will take a while for them to fully enter the market. Some of the major players, including Specialized and Trek have not introduced 650b bikes yet. This was an issue with 29ers when they first came out, but that’s not an issue any more.

Some will claim that the 650b does what the other sizes do best poorly, such as the traction isn’t as good as the 29er and it’s not as agile as the standard wheel.

Too much choice

Although 650b wheels do have obvious advantages, many have been critical about the decision to introduce more ‘tweeners’. Some manufacturers and retailers believe that the market will become saturated and force out one of the other sizes – most likely 26 inch wheels.

Will 650b wheels dominate in 2013?

It’s likely that inbetweener wheels will be a hot topic on many agendas this year, but I doubt they’ll be accepted particularly quickly. It will take a couple of years for people to discuss the pros and cons, perhaps try them out and do a bit of research before they start to overtake the existing sizes.

Don’t forget that it did take the best part of a decade for 29ers to be fully accepted into the mainstream. However, because we have already diverted from the original 26 inch standard mountain bike wheel, it probably won’t take anywhere near this long for the 650b to start being the wheel of choice.

What do you think – do you have plans to be riding 650b wheels in 2013? Or are you committed to your 26 or 29 inch wheels? Let me know what you think about the new ‘tweener’ wheels in the comments below.

Image Credit – Durango_MT_Bikers-32: chaunceydavis818 on Flickr


Colin started mountain biking in the early 2000s and has haphazardly, and with barely increasing skill, dragged his bike around the majority of Scotland's trail centres since then. Colin has oodles of hard earned experience in how NOT to do things - listen, be warned and don't repeat his mistakes...   More about Colin... Google+ Colin

1 Response

  1. Brian Hay says:

    For what it’s worth, I was in an Evans bike shop a month or so ago discussing the 650B and when would we be seeing them on sale in the UK or is the 29’er going to continue taking over the MTB market for the foreseeable future.
    The salesman, who has been working in the bike trade & retail industry for many years said, from the conversations he had with the major MTB manufacturers at trade shows earlier this year and what he has seen in development, the 650B will enter the MTB scene in a big way during 2013.
    He did point out that when the first 650B’s arrive thay will be the same as when the 29’ers came onto the scene. I.e. we will be seeing mainly hard-tails next year but as the suspension and frame geometry for the 650B is developed/researched, we will start to see the full suspension bikes arrive in 2014.
    My initial impression of the 650B is that it overcomes most of the shortfalls/traits that a 29’er or 26 have. But it does not improve on or excel in any particular area or strength of both these bikes. However, by overcoming these shortfalls, the advantages of the 650B will be an overall a superior bike as it utilises all the good things from the 29’er and 26″ into one bike – making it the MTB choice of the future?
    Having said that, until I see the 650B full susp. bike proving itself to be the best option and receiving at least 4 star ratings in reviews, for now I’ll stay with my trusty steed, the Lapierre Zesty 314.

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