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650b for touring: bad idea?

Old 04-18-16, 01:54 PM
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650b for touring: bad idea?

I picked up a 1982 Trek 720 which was their top of the line touring bike back in the day. I like the bike and plan on rebuilding it for touring. Currently it runs 700 x 32c tires max with fenders. I am thinking of doing a 650b conversion which will let me run a 38c or even a 42c tire. I like fat cushy tires for touring.

Is running 650b tires for touring in North America a bad idea?

Availability is not great which might leave you stranded. You might find mtb 650b knobbies in a bike store but you are unlikely to find 650b tire with a road tread. Obviously I'll carry a spare but once that gets used, it's mail order time when you are on the road which is a pain. Plus the choices when it comes to 650b tires with a road tread in general is not great compared to 700c or even 26 inch.

But I really like the idea of touring on fat cushy tires.

Thoughts? Is anyone currently touring on 650b tires?

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Old 04-18-16, 02:05 PM
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This might work for touring in the U.S., east of the Rocky Mountains: B-Line (650b x 38c) | SOMA Fabrications

I won't use 650b tires for expedition touring with long stretches between urban areas, IMO.

I would stay with a 700c rim and install a Vittoria Voyager Hyper in the 700x32 size if you think it will fit. This tire has an ultra smooth ride and is lightweight and fast rolling. It also has very good flat protection, I've had no flats after 3000 of use. See this test: https://www.bicyclerollingresistance....ger-hyper-2016
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Old 04-18-16, 02:10 PM
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What about the brakes? Any problems there?
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Old 04-18-16, 02:13 PM
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Originally Posted by Squeezebox
What about the brakes? Any problems there?
Nope; just get longer reach brakes.
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Old 04-18-16, 02:35 PM
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In France You'd find tires, tour There .

In USA stick with stock sized wheels and 700 32~35 tires. bring a folding third one.

Inertia of a Load in front and rear Panniers smooths out a lot of road roughness .

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Old 04-18-16, 04:18 PM
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Originally Posted by bikemig
...Is running 650b tires for touring in North America a bad idea?...
If you can achieve the ride you want with the 650B, go for it. The 650B size may gain popularity due to the 27.5" mountain bike wheel size making the future of tires with road tread more common, or it may continue to sputter in between 26" and 700C.

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Old 04-18-16, 04:37 PM
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Originally Posted by bikemig
Is anyone currently touring on 650b tires?
// snip

I am.
Converted a bike last year (had it originally built on a Nashbar X frame with 700c), and did 2 week-long trips on Schwalbe Marathon 650b.
Disc brakes, suit my bravery during descending quite well.

I don't particularly worry about replacement tire availability while "on the road". If something forces me to replace a tire during a trip, I suspect I'd have other bigger problems to deal with. I don't carry (nor plan to) a spare tire.

The ride comfort is significant and I'm not going back. It does not quite compare with that of another 650b bike I recently put together (fast bike with much suppler tires), but for touring I need the durability of the Marathon tires.
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Old 04-18-16, 08:16 PM
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Unless you are doing long stretches in third world conditions I don't really see the problem. You say you will carry a spare, which will get you up and riding for several days to a major metro area. Buy another spare or two and keep them at home or with someone who can ship to you directly. Request the needed spare via USPS special delivery or greyhound (or whatever works) and get it in a day or two.

If you were not carrying a spare there may be a problem, as you would be stuck where you are by a tire failure. But you would need two rare failures in the matter of a copuple of days to get messed up.
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Old 04-18-16, 09:10 PM
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While you're playing around with options, consider an ISO37x590mm (26 x 1 3/8; EA3; 650A) conversion.

Because these tires are used on British three-speeds, old Schwinns and cheap bike boom ten speeds, they're surprisingly available in the USA. I've found Pyramid gum walls at hardware stores, dry goods stores, drug stores, convenience stores and auto parts stores in the hinterland. The ubiquitous Target and Walmart chains carry the Bell Sports Streetster folding tire (IIRC manufactured by Vee Rubber) in ISO37x590mm - it makes a nice carry-along spare.

For an initial choice, these ISO37x590mm tire models are all available in N.A.:


Bontrager T1
Continental City Ride II
Kenda K40
Kenda K161 Kross (knobby)
Michelin Protek

Michelin World Tour
Panaracer Col de Vie
Rubena Flash V66
Schwalbe Delta Cruiser
Schwalbe Marathon

Schwalbe Marathon Plus
Specialized TriSport
Vittoria Randonneur
Vredestein Perfect Tour

Last edited by tcs; 04-19-16 at 06:01 AM.
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Old 04-18-16, 09:13 PM
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First off, I ride a 1981 720 as my "regular" bike, and have since it first came out. You can roll up to 700X38 tires if you're willing to give up the front fender. In fact, I had a nice self-supported century ride in the coast range yesterday on 38's with about a third of my ride on gravel logging roads. So, if you decide against the 650B conversion, you can definitely go bigger than 32. In fact, if you have some brake posts put on the fork you can go to 38 with fenders since the brakes are what prevent the fender from clearing the tire.

I converted my wife's 1984 720 to 650B recently. Since her bike came with a uniquely poor cantilever set-up and was due for a paint job, I also converted her brakes over to R+E's Big Squeeze, which she loves. After using lousy brakes for thirty-plus years, she would not have been pleased to go with longer reach, and poorer stopping power, brakes. I put 650BX42 mm tires on her bike, but it would have easily taken the 48's I was considering. She is absolutely thrilled with the conversion. While I was making changes I widened the rear drop outs to take a standard cassette and changed her over to a nine-speed set up. She would tell you to go for the change over just for the improved ride qualities.

If you are willing to carry a spare tire, I don't see why you would hesitate to tour almost anywhere on 650B. Certainly in the US you can have tires delivered over-night, or in two days at the latest, for a small additional fee from an outfit like Compass (their tires are outstanding, by the way). Really, when was the last time you damaged a tire so badly you couldn't limp along for a hundred miles or so? If you're going to be putting in the kind of miles on a tour that require new tires along the way, you can always have them delivered to a post office down the road and pick them up when you get there. Having your bike set up in a way that pleases you and rides nicely is way more important than the once-in-a-lifetime back-up plan, imo.
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Old 04-18-16, 09:18 PM
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there are lots of good, inexpensive folding 650b tires. I like to carry a spare anyway. I don't see a problem. Most tires can be repaired with duct tape as a last resort. Can't use rim brakes under that scenario, but you can get to somewhere that you can get a spare mailed to you
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Old 04-18-16, 09:28 PM
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In France, 650b has been the standard for constructeur, radonneur and touring bikes for decades.

The typical tire, like Panaracer Col De La Vie, 650 x 38 is durable and comfortable.

I don't see any real drawback to 650b touring.
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Old 04-18-16, 11:05 PM
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Originally Posted by NormanF
In France, 650b has been the standard for constructeur, radonneur and touring bikes for decades..
Touring bikes, maybe, I don't know. European randonneurs have been using 700c tires for a very long time. Tubular tires, probably, until 700c clinchers got to be very good. I think the European tire companies never stopped making 650b tires, but most of them were heavy tires made for utility and commuting bikes. The 650b randonneur seems to be a fairly recent invention, and is not all that common, even in the U.S. I was looking at bikes at PBP in 2011, and probably saw less than 10 650b bikes out of the hundreds that I looked at. I definitely saw more Moultons than 650b.
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Old 04-19-16, 01:57 AM
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I carry an extra tire, due to having ripped one up once. I can't see going through more than one very often on a 720 type trip. Did you look into getting a different fork , normally you can jab some tire width into the back.

Actually, The reason I carry a spare 700 is because I blew one, came into a nice little town, with a really good repair shop, still no 700c touring tire. I got a soft comfort bike tire, the type that de-rims at 60 pounds. That got me to the provincial capital, with a large university, etc... And some very tasty bike shops. Still no 700c touring tires, so basically I don't think there is any much greater risk in going 650b than 700c, you are on your own with either.

Toronto were I live is the 4th largest city in US Canada. You can have trouble finding basic touring gear here. It is to the point where I don't even bother looking, I order everything from the US, and to do that efficiently I give myself 6 months lead time. If you were in need, you could get tires in most of the large cities at an MEC, but if they don't have what you want, and they rarely have the stuff I want, then you are down to calling myriad small stores, some of which are very good on touring, but do not have any specific item you want. I once couldn't find a touring cassette anywhere, they had lots of 26 inch wheel specific choices but nothing for a 700c bike. And everything cost twice as much, depending on where the dollar is. I would guess there is a somewhat similar issue in many parts of the US, not on mail order, that is awesome. But the fact mail order is awesome means local shops are out of the loop often, and one hears lots of stories of people who can't find any touring bike to actually try. I never rode any of my touring bikes before I bought them.
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Old 04-19-16, 07:00 AM
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not using 650's but here is my take.
A few years ago we borrowed a 650b bike, in the end partly because the frame didnt fit my wife properly, we went with a 700 bike, but Im glad I didnt have to continue thinking of tires and tubes diff from the 700s and 26in bikes we have in the household.

re touring--I've toured a fair amount but never have damaged a tire, so if you have a spare, and are riding on regular roads, even standard gravel roads, and use common sense, the chances of damaging a tire are pretty low, plus you will carry a spare.
Tubes are another thing, I know most likely there are 26in tubes that would be very close, so it may not be a real problem, but something to at least be aware of and perhaps do some tests to see if a 26 X whatever fits ok inside a given 650 tire.

its up to you to balance the various risks and whatnot, but its certainly not an outlandish impractical idea, you just have to be prepared.
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Old 04-19-16, 10:46 AM
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Originally Posted by djb
Tubes are another thing, I know most likely there are 26in tubes that would be very close, so it may not be a real problem, but something to at least be aware of and perhaps do some tests to see if a 26 X whatever fits ok inside a given 650B tire.
If you have Schrader valve sized holes, tubes for road width 650B tires are same-same as common Schrader-valved 26 x 1 3/8 (ISO 37x590MM) tubes.
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Old 04-19-16, 11:51 AM
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As an aside, I've always used presta, but very much would consider using our changing rims to Schrader for traveling in other countries.
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Old 04-19-16, 12:55 PM
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Originally Posted by tcs
While you're playing around with options, consider an ISO37x590mm (26 x 1 3/8; EA3; 650A) conversion.

Because these tires are used on British three-speeds, old Schwinns and cheap bike boom ten speeds, they're surprisingly available in the USA.
Not to nitpick too much, but old Schwinns used a different sized tire/wheel. While they (confusingly) labeled them as 26" x 1 3/8" like the ones found on British three speeds, the Schwinn size was ISO 597 vs the ISO 590 on the "other", more common 26" x 1 3/8" bikes. This slight size difference has no doubt created a lot of frustration for those with old Schwinns, as the 597 tire size has very limited options.
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Old 04-19-16, 01:56 PM
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IIRC, the original impetus for using 650B tires was so you could get fat tires on your 700C frame. Tires that were really, really wide -- like 32.

Oh, your bike can take 700Cx32s already.

So now, you're wondering how fat a 650B tire you can fit in there -- probably because one guy has been pushing 650B really hard for a decade or so. If you've been reading Heine's humble hymns, you'll note he really is pushing flexible tires -- sidewalls and treads. Of course, the normal way to get flexible tires is to thin down the sidewalls and treads, accepting reduced puncture resistance and tread life in the name of greater speed and comfort.

That's great on a brevet -- 750 miles and you're done. And your load is 10-15 pounds.

But you're talking about carrying a spare tire, leading me to believe your touring load is going to be 2-4 times greater. ( => More tread wear, shorter tire life.) Most loaded tourists average 10-12 mph on the road. ( => Speed isn't everything.) And though you'll probably hit some bad roads, if you're even considering staying with 700C tires I'm gathering you're going to be mostly on roads. ( => No need for a fire road-capable mount.) The load you're carrying on the bike will help damp out a lot of the road shock, since it'll force the tires to soak up more of the road shock, though not all.

So no, I don't see any sense in it. But go ahead and try 650B wheels and see how you like them, if that's what you want to do.
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Old 04-19-16, 03:14 PM
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I take a spare Pari-Moto tire with me on RAGBRAI. If I were doing a longer tour further from home, I'd take two spares. They're pretty light.

You can use a 26 x 1.5" tube in 650b tires. For example, the Schwalbe SV12 tube is officially meant for 559 and 584 tires in similar widths.
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Old 04-19-16, 04:00 PM
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Originally Posted by adventurepdx
Not to nitpick too much, but old Schwinns used a different sized tire/wheel.
While Schwinn 'lightweights' used the ISO597 (26 x 1 3/8 S6) and Schwinn 'middleweights' used the ISO571 (26 x 1 3/4 S7), some 1970-80s Japanese built Schwinns used the ISO590.

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Old 04-19-16, 04:27 PM
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Originally Posted by djb
As an aside, I've always used presta, but very much would consider using our changing rims to Schrader for traveling in other countries.
There are Presta-Schrader adaptors for using Presta valves in Schrader rims. As always, muck around with these little guys at home before you have to use one in Timbuktu.
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Old 04-19-16, 04:38 PM
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Originally Posted by pdlamb
IIRC, the original impetus for using 650B tires was so you could get fat tires on your 700C frame. Tires that were really, really wide -- like 32.

Oh, your bike can take 700Cx32s already.

So now, you're wondering how fat a 650B tire you can fit in there -- probably because one guy has been pushing 650B really hard for a decade or so. If you've been reading Heine's humble hymns, you'll note he really is pushing flexible tires -- sidewalls and treads. Of course, the normal way to get flexible tires is to thin down the sidewalls and treads, accepting reduced puncture resistance and tread life in the name of greater speed and comfort.

That's great on a brevet -- 750 miles and you're done. And your load is 10-15 pounds.

But you're talking about carrying a spare tire, leading me to believe your touring load is going to be 2-4 times greater. ( => More tread wear, shorter tire life.) Most loaded tourists average 10-12 mph on the road. ( => Speed isn't everything.) And though you'll probably hit some bad roads, if you're even considering staying with 700C tires I'm gathering you're going to be mostly on roads. ( => No need for a fire road-capable mount.) The load you're carrying on the bike will help damp out a lot of the road shock, since it'll force the tires to soak up more of the road shock, though not all.

So no, I don't see any sense in it. But go ahead and try 650B wheels and see how you like them, if that's what you want to do.
I haven't made up my mind yet; that's the point of the thread. One possible downside with the bike I want to use is that it maxes out at a 32c and fenders (and even that is tight). Everything else being equal, I like running a bit fatter than a 32c for touring even on roads.

Agreed that I'm not going with lightweight tires whether I'm running 650b or 700c.

This has less to do with drinking the 650b kool aid and more with wanting to run a bit fatter tire on a 34 year old bike. A modern touring bike of course can take a 35c-38c and fenders no problem. Mine can't unless I go the 650b route.
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Old 04-19-16, 05:25 PM
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Originally Posted by bikemig
I haven't made up my mind yet; that's the point of the thread. One possible downside with the bike I want to use is that it maxes out at a 32c and fenders (and even that is tight). Everything else being equal, I like running a bit fatter than a 32c for touring even on roads.

Agreed that I'm not going with lightweight tires whether I'm running 650b or 700c.

This has less to do with drinking the 650b kool aid and more with wanting to run a bit fatter tire on a 34 year old bike. A modern touring bike of course can take a 35c-38c and fenders no problem. Mine can't unless I go the 650b route.
I apologize if I came across heavy-handed, I do that sometimes. My intended point is that there's not much reason in going to 650B for loaded, long distance touring.

On the fat tire question, I ran predominantly 35s, and occasionally 37s, for years. But strangely, on tour as the 35s wore out and I had, and could find, 32s, I didn't notice any significant change in the ride. The load and the bike drive most of the ride. Since then I've ridden mostly 32s, with occasionally even a 28. It's rarely been a problem. (Eastern Colorado and its horrible expansion joints excluded!)
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Old 04-19-16, 09:11 PM
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I ride two bikes on the same commute, one with 28s and one with 1.5s or 38s. There is a marked difference on rough surfaces with the 38s, which still works well on pavement, so I can see the appeal--i appreciate it every spring and our horribly potholed streets.

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