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650A vs 650B, trying to make sense of it all

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650A vs 650B, trying to make sense of it all

Old 04-29-09, 01:02 PM
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650A vs 650B, trying to make sense of it all

I've done lots of homework lately re this, since I'm in the midst of converting 3 vintage bikes to touring mode.

We (some of us C&V'ers) like to expand the utility of our old steel to include forest roads and mudguards and light touring capacity. We've been told that smaller wheels will accommodate this marvelously. We've also been told that the size to use is 650B. I believed this and started looking for the components needed to build 3 wheel sets. Then things stopped making sense, like David Byrne would utter.

Okay, what is 650B? Besides being regarded with much unconfirmed mysticism and Francophilium, it is simply a rim with a diameter of 584mm. Standard 700C rims are 622mm. This difference of 38mm allows wider tires and other paraphernalia to be stuck on older racing bikes. Good, that's what we need.

But 650B, with its aura of elitism, is manufactured or imported only by a few select high-end companies with low inventory, small selections and sky high prices. Finding 6 rims in stock by a single distrubutor (Jan Heine, Rivendell, VO, Harris et al) has been impossible or very, very expensive. An email answer from Chris at VO left it uncertain whether he could get more at all in the future. Rivendell has been out of stock of 36H rear rims for months. Most larger Internet retailers show the product, but is unable to deliver when questioned.

Tires are less of an availability issue, but still the selection is still very limited and mostly expensive.

So, after posting my frustration and economic restraints on a well known touring forum, some helpful guy mentions 650A. Having been operating within the narrow realm of C&V and the associated purveyors of top-tier products I had all but forgotten about this option. 650A? Also known as 26X1 3/8 (but not the weirdo Schwinn size of the same name) 650A is amazingly common. Department store common. Wal-mart common. Besides being used on scores of bikes it's also the wheelchair standard. Slightly bigger at 590mm, or by a radius of 3mm, this size must, by all rational approaches, perform exactly like the 650B. No?

And then the fun began. Sun Cr-18 rims, of which nobody I know have anything but good to report about, can be had from dozens of retailers in 650A, down to $25 delivered. Tires in 650A? You want Schwalbe Marathon XR super touring going-to-Patagonia-tire? Col de la Vie? Michelin World Tour with tan sidewalls? $5 Kenda's? All over the place.

So what am I missing? Why not ditch the 650B and go this route? Can 3mm really limit the tire size and installation of fenders on our old seventies steel? Have Schwalbe and Panaracer, unbeknown to me, lost the edge? Are those CR-18 rims so vastly inferior to Grand Bois? Do I loose the '650B Sweet Spot' that I hear mentioned in the corridors of C&V?

Or is it only a prestige issue?

Jan

Last edited by jan nikolajsen; 05-07-09 at 11:42 AM.
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Old 04-29-09, 01:59 PM
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Where can you get these Sun CR18 650a's cheapest? I think I'm going to follow your thought out to fruition.
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Old 04-29-09, 02:03 PM
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A while back, I started catching the 650B bug, and came to the same conclusion as you - everyone talks about it, but nobody is doing anything, especially on the rim issue, which is obviously the central point.

Going to 650a from 650b should be as about as significant as going from 700c to 27". That is, a basically imperceptible effect that is much less significant than things like geometry, tire selection, etc.
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Old 04-29-09, 02:39 PM
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Originally Posted by dannyg1
Where can you get these Sun CR18 650a's cheapest? I think I'm going to follow your thought out to fruition.
These guys have them at $28. Over $100 qualifies for free shipping, and most of the time you get a 10% off coupon code for your next order. I like their service and the 100/free shipping is lower than most.

I just ordered 4 rims to get free shipping, then I'll order the other two and spokes and such with the 10% off coupon. I know, full-on cheapskate behavior, but cash is sparse around here these days..

Last edited by jan nikolajsen; 04-29-09 at 02:51 PM.
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Old 04-29-09, 02:45 PM
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Originally Posted by jan nikolajsen
So what am I missing? is it only a prestige issue?

Jan
Bingo.

650b is chic. A niche market has been 'created'.

650a has no niche market therefore its not chic and has no panache.

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Old 04-29-09, 03:07 PM
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I've have four 650B bikes currently in the fleet: two have CR-18 rims (the evil, too-large ones) and one of those I built the wheels myself; one has the stock wheels that came with the bike (my Raleigh Portage) and the other has a wheelset I won on eBay. On those four bikes, two have Panaracer Col de la vie tires, one has Panaracer Grand Bois, and one has Panaracer Hetres. I like all of those tires a lot (and have also ridden Nifty Swiftys), much more than any 650A tire I have run (and, fwiw, I have three 650A bikes in the fleet). The difficulty of hunting down affordable 650B rims is matched, in my view, by hunting down quality 650A tires. I have the Schwalbe Delta Cruisers on one 650A bike, and they ride like, well, cruisers! I did try tracking down a set of 650A Col de la vies last year, but Harris was out of stock with no idea of when they might re-order, and no one else seemed to have them.

Ideally, I'd like both 650A and B rims and tires to be readily available, and then I'd keep sets of both wheels on hand for conversions. With comparable tires, the difference is negligible.

One more point: Cheap-o ($100 shipped) complete 650B wheels can still be had:

https://www.bikepartsusa.com/bikepart...item=01-147943

These are the evil CR-18 rims and Shimano Nexave hubs w/ rear spaced at 135mm and not modifiable for narrower dropouts. I'm running these on my Kogswell and have been happy with them so far.

Neal
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Old 04-29-09, 03:15 PM
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You can get a Dimension 650b wheelset for under $200 delivered. I call that cheap.
Rivendell sells a 650b wheelset for $250 with a Synergy rim. That's cheap as far as I am concerned.
As far as I'm concerned, Synergy rims are worth the bucks.

I built a 650b bike for my wife because she's 5'2". After it was done, I realised that 650b is pretty cool. Ride and then decide.

Last edited by late; 04-29-09 at 03:21 PM.
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Old 04-29-09, 03:21 PM
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Originally Posted by late
You can get a Dimension 650b wheelset for under $200 delivered. I call that cheap.
Rivendell sells a 650b wheelset for $250 with a Synergy rim. That's cheap as far as I am concerned.

I built a 650b bike for my wife because she's 5'2". After it was done, I realised that 650b is pretty cool. Ride and then decide.
That looks like a great idea! But aren't they 135mm MTB hubs? Did you find them somewhere with road hubs?

My older bikes have 120mm spacing and I don't worry about squeezing in a NOS 126mm hub, but beyond that, I'm not sure? How did you deal with that?

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Old 04-29-09, 04:09 PM
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Good post...

I found some CR-18s at https://www.ebikestop.com for $24... But, you don't get the cool deals like you got.
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Old 04-29-09, 07:56 PM
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This is the kind of thinking that makes me come back to C&V over and over. I understand that wheelchairs use 650A as well. Wheelchair racers use pretty spiffy tires.

This list was interesting
https://emptybits.com/650a
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Old 04-30-09, 12:18 AM
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FWIW - Hiawatha Cyclery in Minneapolis seems to be last place on this continent with a decent selection of 650B rims. It is my understanding, from trying to get a pair of Synergies this month, is that there is a container of them supposed to hit this continent in May. Everyone is out of them until it gets here.

I also might note that I like the 650B experience that I have had for the last two weeks, but I am not as thrilled with the Panaracer Col de something or other tires. I have one tire which seems to have some inconsistancies in the casing which has resulted in a noticable wobble in the tire. Repeated removals, reseating, working back and forth and finally 20 miles at 80 psi (probably not recommended) it is better but still there. The second tire has a similar issue, but not nearly as bad.
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Old 04-30-09, 06:42 AM
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As noted, 700C is a large enough diameter vs the size of human beings that there can be issues with fender clearance, toe-overlap, small frame sizing and front end geometry, especially with larger section tires. A somewhat smaller diameter tire size would seem to answer many of these issues.

Since anyone in the industry can sell the common 650A, no one is going to market/promote it.

The principal promoters of 650B in the USA (Heine, Pacenti & Petersen) have all developed/invested in tire molds for this rare size and retail/distribute their 650B tires.

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Old 05-07-09, 11:06 AM
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I did the same research as the OP did when I first heard about 650B making a "come back." And when I say come-back, I mean 2-3 super-niche retro companies are promoting the hell out of it and invested in new molds. When you figure out it costs ~$300 for a decent 650B wheel-set, you also realize that you could have just bought a frame/bike with adequate clearance in the first place and have unlimited tire/rim selection.

For short riders, it's possible to make an old racing bike fit properly again with a 650B conversion. But, it seems like just using a frame-set that'll fit standard 26" mountain bike wheels would be a better solution (sentimental valued bikes aside) from a cost, selection & availability standpoint.

In my view, 650B is just another way for retro-niche bike companies to market themselves better to their audience. A good business move for sure. From a practical stand-point it seems rather silly to build-up a bike for the original use of 650B (touring machine) as you have about a 1 in a million chance of finding replacements while on the road. Either you carry spares, plan your route where 650B can be found or mail yourself replacements along your trip. All this trouble to scratch my vintage Francophile itch? No thanks. YMMV
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Old 05-07-09, 12:12 PM
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I came to a similar conclusion myself about 650b wheels/tires after investigating whether to buy a Rivendell Bleriot or a Kogswell for my commuter-touring bike. I've got several road bikes already with 700c wheels and didn't particularly want a bike with an incompatible wheelset. Then I started trying to actually find a 650b wheelset and decent tires, and quickly decided to look for a frame that took standard 700c wheels. I ended up buying a Bob Jackson touring frame that takes 700c wheels, and I haven't regretted my decision for a second.
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Old 05-07-09, 02:50 PM
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Originally Posted by tarwheel
I came to a similar conclusion myself about 650b wheels/tires after investigating whether to buy a Rivendell Bleriot or a Kogswell for my commuter-touring bike. I've got several road bikes already with 700c wheels and didn't particularly want a bike with an incompatible wheelset. Then I started trying to actually find a 650b wheelset and decent tires, and quickly decided to look for a frame that took standard 700c wheels. I ended up buying a Bob Jackson touring frame that takes 700c wheels, and I haven't regretted my decision for a second.
How could anyone argue the point of a Bob Jackson. Awesome bike.

650B road wheels are a solution to a problem that was already solved.

650B MTB wheels on the other hand....
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Old 05-07-09, 03:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Rutnick
650B MTB wheels on the other hand....
+1 That's where this wheel size actually might make sense.
-Gene-
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Old 05-08-09, 01:28 PM
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Originally Posted by Amani576
+1 That's where this wheel size actually might make sense.
-Gene-
nothing a standard 26" MTB wheel or a 29er (700c with fat tires) couldn't handle.
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Old 05-08-09, 03:17 PM
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Originally Posted by mixtemaniac
nothing a standard 26" MTB wheel or a 29er (700c with fat tires) couldn't handle.
I personally have never liked 26." Can't manhandle them like I did a BMX, and they don't overcome obstacles with the ease of 700c. Personally, I'm looking for a 29er myself, or an old Trek 800 I can turn into a 69er (rear 26 and front 29.) But I'm nearly 6'3.' Building a 29er for smaller riders creates weird geometry issues, and for suspension mtb's with 4+ inches of travel it's just as bad. 650b allows "big wheels" for small riders and big suspension too.

That said, my real wish is studded Nokians for 650a.
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Old 05-08-09, 03:26 PM
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Originally Posted by jan nikolajsen
That looks like a great idea! But aren't they 135mm MTB hubs? Did you find them somewhere with road hubs?

My older bikes have 120mm spacing and I don't worry about squeezing in a NOS 126mm hub, but beyond that, I'm not sure? How did you deal with that?
Sorry, I missed your question earlier.

My wife rides a Rivendell Bleriot, it is spaced for 135mm hubs. There is no reason you
couldn't use a narrower hub with a 650b rim. Just scare up the hubs you want, buy some rims, and have a shop lace the wheels. That's what I did. I got some hubs on ebay, had my shop get a couple rims, and then they turned them into wheels.
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Old 05-08-09, 04:00 PM
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When Grant Peterson started his crusade to resurect 650Bs his justification was that we needed a size 1/2 way between 559 (MTB 26") and 722 (700c). Bullcrap! It's all about elitism and paying homage to a couple of dead French guys.

(559 + 722)/2 = 590.5

650A has a bead seat diameter of 590mm and a few hundred million potential customers for tires in that size.

650B has a bead seat diameter of 584mm and a few tens of thousands of potential customers for tires in that size.

In my version of a perfect world, 650A would have been brought back into prominence. Due to economies of scale you would be able to get those marvelous tires available in 650B for less money in 650A and I could have them on my herd of old English 3 Speeds. BTW Kenda makes a wide range of tires in 650A, some quite nice, but most importers only bring the K-40s into the USA.

650Bs are often fitted to touring bikes. Where ya gonna get a tire in the middle of Wyoming?

Until a couple of decades ago 650A was the one size you could get everywhere on the planet. So bikes built for true "World Travelers", by people like Sam Braxton, were 650A.
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Old 05-08-09, 05:52 PM
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Thanks, MnHPVA Guy, that's the kind of stuff I like to hear after just buying 6 CR-18's in 650A! Next is an order to Harris for Schwalbe Marathon's also in 650A.

Question: What size tube? 700 or 26?
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Old 05-21-09, 12:39 AM
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ride report 650a

Initial test ride today on the fresh 650a wheels, which also are my first home-built wheel project. I started from the house, turned uphill on our road, climbed 3200' over 11 miles to the saddle and bumped back down. 7 miles on dirt, washboards and rocks. They stayed true, phew!

The wheels are NOS Suzue high flange 36H hubs, Wheelsmith butted spokes, Sun CR-18 rims, Schwalbe Marathon tires. Total material cost for the set, estimated at $250.

Compared to my regular 700C vintage racing wheels w/ 25mm tires, the 650a's weigh 400g more, each. This is almost a pound times two. Yep, they are not light. The Schwalbe's are 33.4mm wide.

They are fitted on a 81 Gazelle A-Frame, sporting an older racing geometry, long horizontal drop-outs and Reynolds 531 tubing thru out.

Clearances are adequate, plenty of room for fenders. There's about 4mm on each side between the chainstays and the rear tire, so bigger rubber could be fitted. Deflating the rear is necessary to remove it, due to the horizontal drop-outs. The bottom bracket dropped only 6mm with the switch from 700 to 650a, but I still went with 2.5mm shorter crank arms to minimize pedal strike.

Last I did this ride was on a 62cm Surly LHT with stock 700 wheels. The Gazelle feels better, easier driven, lighter and just as comfy if not more, since it is 3cm taller. My time was better today, by several minutes. The smaller wheels themselves probably made less of a difference, but they certainly enabled me to take a fast and light racing frame on a steep gravel grind and get away with it in style.

Tomorrow I'll do a 40 mile smooth road ride to work and back to complete the test.












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