Goodbye to the 650b

I really wanted to get to 10,000 miles riding 650b wheels/tires but I’m just tired of them so I’m going to be stuck at around 9,000 miles. Oh well.

Despite all the “testing” done in Bicycle Quarterly I have not found the large 650bx42 tires to roll, pedal or ride as fast as good 700c racing tires. There are a few reasons for this, the main one I think is the hysterisis losses from pedaling causing bounce in the tire that does not occur with narrower higher pressure tires. This has not been explored well at all as it will be almost invisible when a rider is pedaling around a velodrome at a consistent speed or on a smooth road – as a lot of the testing was performed.

Another is that the testing is always exclusive of real world riding. I know, I know “it’s too hard to control for variables” but really if your clean room laboratory shows one thing and my 570+ hours of outside riding show a significantly different result – which one is right?

Anyway, so about 570 hours evenly spread around three different bikes. What did I learn?

There is a lot of overlap in terms of speed for any given point. 700c is definitely faster in absolute terms but in some situations 650b will be as fast or faster. One thing that has only been addressed tangentially is the roll-over difference between 650bx42 and 700cx23. Even though the outer diameters are essentially the same there is a difference in roll-over due to the compression of the bigger tire as it moves in and out of bumps and road features. It’s exactly the same as the 26/29 wheelsize in the mountain bike world. 650b is great because the tires are wider but compared to 700c at the same width it’s going to ride much more poorly over bumps and obstacles.

Remember too that 650b is much closer to 26″ than 700c. Chart below:


650bx42 is a tire and wheel size that should be ridden by the majority of recreational cyclists. It’s just a better size for most people who do not race. It’s safer, less prone to flats and handles weight better than 700c racing tires.

It’s easy to get sucked into good marketing and believe things that aren’t true in my reality. I was enamored with 650b and totally ignored the massive decrease in average speed that occurred with the tire size switch. Mainly due to the effective marketing from BQ. I didn’t lose anything and it didn’t cost me any money – 650b tires are a good product and the things BQ promotes and sells are generally good idea – it was just shocking how easy I swallowed that hook. Good to double down on my resolve to have a critical eye for everything from now on. Really kinda miffed I spent money on 3 years of Bicycle Quarterly – they pretty much jumped the shark 2-3 issues after I subscribed.

Bicycle Quarterly has basically turned into Bicycling for people who like their marketing tinged with french flavor and randonneuring focus. Re-enactment old folks, snobs and wayward dirtbag tourers. Compare the tests prior to issue 53 with the ones after. The Specialized Diverge review makes a travesty of honest reporting. The stock tires, handlebar tape, handlebars and saddle were replaced by Compass parts – the bike had some major issues and even so was given a glowing review. Really sad to see. At least the first 52 issues are genuinely good stories, reviews and writing. Now it just seems like a way to sell stuff and fund Jan’s trips to Japan. Anyone want to buy out my remaining 2.5 years worth of issues?

So really, I guess this is goodbye to both the 650b wheelsize and Bicycle Quarterly. The former is still very much a good wheelsize and really a great thing for a lot of people. The latter probably not so much unless you want to know how great Compass parts are.


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