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.


Best Practices for Front Loading High Trail Bikes

  1. Load should be as far back as possible. Ideally behind the front hub, even an inch makes a big difference.
  2. Load should be as low as possible. My front rack is only about 20mm above the front tire and actually touches the front fender.
  3. Ride the bike. A lot of the “poor handling” mythos comes from lack of time on a bike. I’ve found that high trail front loads don’t handle poorly, they just handle different. The more you ride, the more natural it seems and the better the bike feels.

I’m not currently set up for or interested in front panniers but I think I’ll try them out once it gets warmer. May add another wrinkle but we’ll see.

Most front racks are pushed too far forward by the fork crown support. I’ve been looking at rack and setups and it’s obvious that with most racks mounted as recommended there’s no way not to have your load in front of the hub.

Here’s a good set-up. Even though it’s low-trail (high fork rake) the rack is as far back as possible, it’s too high but there does not appear to be any adjust-ability as this is most likely a rack designed for 700c being used on a 650b bike.


Here’s a poor set-up. Rack is too high and too far forward due to poor fork crown attachment design and overall poor rack choice.


Here’s my bike, it’s nice and low and far back. I can get most of what I carry behind the hub so handling is close to neutral.

Front loads and high trail

Link to trail info for Diamondback Haanjo Comp

So I’ve got two rides on my bike now that it’s set-up with a front rack. First ride was front rack + saddle bag load so 2 pounds for the rack(?), 2 pounds on the front rack and 3 pounds in the rear. Steering felt a little heavy and bike was slower to respond but seemed to like the weight and pedaling felt easier and less spinny than previously. Essentially the additional weight made it feel more like a 700c bike than a 650b bike as far as pedaling was concerned.

Second ride I ditched the saddle bag and moved everything up front. 2 pounds for the rack and 3 pounds for the load. Steering feel increased a bit and responsiveness decreased a bit as well. Although really it’s sorta like the responsiveness changed instead of decreased. The bike wants to flop when turning so it requires a lot of body english and counter-steer but it can be made to respond like before, it’s just harder. I also noticed there is a lot of wheel flop during steep seated climbing. The bike wants to wander all over and when I’m really tired it takes more energy to keep tracking straight. However, this is offset by how much better the standing climbing is, which is cool because I am a great stander and a poor sitter.

What really blew me away was how much better the bike felt pedaling in all positions without the saddle bag. Who knew this would be so much of change? It seemed to plane for me in a way that it was not doing before, although I’ve only got one ride this way so it may just be bullshit. I’ll find out I guess.

I love this bike now

Added a front rack to my Haanjo Comp today. Perfect day for it too. 67 and warm when I left and 47 with rain by the time I got back.

Made it super easy to carry all the clothes I needed and extra tube. I’m going to figure out a better solution than a hip-pack in a ziploc bag but for right now it’s still awesome. Handling is a little different – bike wants to turn instead of lean but it’s not too bad and certainly not as bad as I would have thought after reading all the Bicycle Quarterly stuff about low and high trail and front loading.

Today was just another one of those days where I feel like I can just pedal forever. Such a good feeling,  always forgot how much easier and more fun it is to ride when I’m skinny instead of chubby. Like my legs always have the same strength no matter my overall weight.

I can’t wait to ride some more and see how it works with different load outs. Rack is a Sunlite QR-Tec that mounts 100% to the quick-release. It has a anchor point for the brake caliper hole but I just cut that off and ziptied the back of the rack to the front fender stabilizer.

Haanjo Comp Update

Right under 2,000 miles/6 months on my Haanjo Comp so I have a little update. Overall the bike is still riding fine. Spent quite a few hours riding in the rain this week and blew through the stock pads on the front spyres pretty quickly. Replaced with Shimano B01S pads and performance is significantly better. Here’s a nice little post from another blogger that was helpful:

I did have an unusual issue on Monday; riding in the rain and dark I took a little shortcut in behind a strip mall where all the dumpsters are and ended up riding through an invisible trash pond that went up past my hubs. I have two bright front lights but it was so dark and wet I just didn’t see the huge pond/puddle that had filled the road caused by a series of blocked drains. I managed to ride it out but almost right away my rear shifting had degraded significantly and my front shifting has show a little chain suck as well.

As few days later I noticed my brakes were sticky and took a lot more pressure to squeeze the levers. Nothing else seemed to be affected but I wouldn’t be surprised if the wheel or bb bearings were affected as well, but not much to do about those now. Anyway, I fixed the rear shifting by cleaning the guide area under the bb and adding two turns to the barrel adjuster on the rear derailleur. Front is ok but not 100% like it was before. I know riding through a huge trash pond is unusual but I would still question the wisdom of routing cables under the bb on a gravel bike.

Anyway, the brake issue was a lot more surprising, I cruised through my apartment complex and when I went to brake at the gate I squeezed the lever and nothing happened. OH SHIT!

After a quick panic I SQUEEZED the lever and and felt a solid click/clunk and then the brakes were working ok but took a lot more pressure than before. I suspect the capillary action drew water up into the housing and started the cable rusting or housing corroding. I spent a few days trying to lube it but back to perfect function but I went ahead and just replaced the cable and it works fine now. I didn’t see any rust on the cable but did see a little bit of white corrosion on the cable were it would be under the handlebar tape which is really weird and makes me wonder if there is a hole in the housing? Anyway, weird and unusual and I’ll try to stay out of such deep water in the future.

So, the bike is riding fine and I still like it pretty ok. Wish it had a front rack.

Wheel size revisited

Back in August I partici-raced the Red Clay Ramble down near Milledgeville, GA. It’s a great race and with a good course and excellent promotion.

I had a terrible race. Bike didn’t work, legs didn’t work, very tired and lowkey upset at my girlfriend so things just sucked.

My bike was a converted 26” hardtail running drop bars with 9 speed integrated shifters. Tires were 26×2.2 Forte Tasli which has a mild tread and weighs about 650 grams a tire.

I spent a good portion of the race yoyo-ing with the same dozen or so riders on cross bikes. What I noticed was that on gravel I would get gapped easily, any coasting down hill would see me off the back very quickly. Riding up the other side of a hill I would need to pedal sooner than my companions. I was redlined trying to stay in their draft.

Once we hit pavement I would easily catch and pass the other riders in my group.  

[Not to be rude but I’ve raced against these riders before and for the most part I have finished several dozen minutes ahead of them on other gravel courses like the Shake ‘n’ Brake, Mt Currahee and Southern Cross.]

Anyway, I recall Jan Hiene mentioned this phenomenon during his ride report for the Oregon Outback as well. He was on a randonneur-style road bike and was catching an MTB rider on the dirt sections but getting passed by the same rider on the pavement sections.

What I’ve been thinking about is the effect of wheel size. Everyone I was riding with was on a 700cx32/35/40 size wheel/tire combo. This combo is anywhere from 4-6% larger in circumference than my 26×2.2, could this have had an effect of slowing me down on the dirt?


So if the approach angle of a wheel is a determinant of rolling resistance, which we can sort of assume based on 26” to 29” experience in the MTB world, than a 26×2.2 is going to be at a disadvantage to bigger wheels when the road is rough.

Pavement is smooth, even on the roughest paved roads there are often only a few dozen roll-over obstacles in a given distance. The bumps you encounter are small and fast so you do not lose much to them regardless of tire size.

On a dirt or gravel road the roll-over obstacles are in the hundreds or thousands per mile. That’s part of why dirt speeds are so much slower than pavement speed no matter how smooth the dirt is. The rider is spending more time going up and down as opposed to forwards. Micro climbing all those rocks and undulations.

Here’s a picture I stole from REI’s website (EAT THE RICH)


And here’s a MTBR thread:

So I guess my point is I fucked up and should have made my 29er my gravel bike.