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Old 10-18-08, 05:38 PM   #1
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Trans-America 650b

My gut tells me that the "limited availability" critique of 650B is overplayed. Having ridden a few short (4-7 day) tours, I feel that such wheel/tire failure is too rare to warrant sustained consideration. I'm planning a cross-America on 650bs, and think that I'll bring a spare tire in case of blow out (which, with newish tires, seems unlikely). But the risk of wheel failure seems overstated. Given the fat tires, smaller wheel size, and assymetrical rear rim, failure seems unlikely on my 650Bs. But having never toured for extended periods, I'm looking for the experienced folks' opinions.

Now, I understand that wheel size provokes some of the hottest debates in the bike community. Pundits on any side of the wheel debate -- 26", 650A, 650B, 700C, 27" -- can and will extol the virtues of their particular wheel size while eviscerating all other wheel sizes' inability to offer "the perfect ride." A search through the forums will turn up myriad opinions on this tired debate (yes, pun intended). So in this thread, let's avoid posts lauding the intrinsic virtue of any wheel size.

My question relates only to experience. I want to put my gut feeling about the improbability of wheel failure on public display. Are there any long-distance tourists who have ridden across the United States on 650Bs? Did you actually encounter any of the dreaded tire blow-outs, rim collapses, or other hypothetical problems associated with 650B's limited availability? Did you have trouble finding whatever replacement part you needed?

And likewise, to experienced long-distance folks of all tire sizes (especially those who have ridden cross-country): how frequently have you had serious tire/rim/wheel failures? If you had such failures, did faulty materials (a poorly built wheel; an old and deteriorating tire; a too-low spoke count; a cheap or inappropriate rim) cause your plight? Or were they the kind of catastrophic and unpredictable failures that cause tourists to lose sleep?
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Old 10-18-08, 06:13 PM   #2
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I use 700c's but here's my experience.

I've used my spare tire 2ce. Once was from a companion running over some huge sharp thing that sliced an otherwise good tire, and I temporarily gave him my spare - he wasn't carrying one. Would have been ugly if neither of us had a spare. We found a bike shop that day that had a tire for him, but that could have been very different. The other time my tire wore out, and I knew it was wearing out, and I just waited until it wore out to replace it. I replaced the foldable spare tire with something I bought along the way within a few days, so I still had a spare. If it had been 650b, the replacement would not have been as easy, and might have involved mail order.

I usually carry 2 tubes, and have had to buy tubes on tour 2ce. I'm small, and easy on my wheels, and other people have more issues.

But really-- you're talking about touring the USA, if something happens it will take, what, 3 days to have something fed-ex'd to you? So if you can stand that, go for it! Do carry fiberfix spokes (more than one, i would say) and/or regular replacement spokes. And I would carry more tubes for a 650 than a 700, just because it will be harder to find spares.

If you were talking about touring somewhere more remote, I would have something different to say, but it sounds like you already have a bike you want to use, and it would be not-horrible to have to wait a few days for a mail-order replacement... so what the hey, eh?
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Old 10-18-08, 06:51 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by moyariffic View Post
Having ridden a few short (4-7 day) tours, I feel that such wheel/tire failure is too rare to warrant sustained consideration. I'm planning a cross-America on 650bs, and think that I'll bring a spare tire in case of blow out (which, with newish tires, seems unlikely). But the risk of wheel failure seems overstated. Given the fat tires, smaller wheel size, and assymetrical rear rim, failure seems unlikely on my 650Bs
On our last two week tour up the coast of Vancouver Island I got two flats (one on the way up, rear tire, and one on the way back, front tire). I was using brand new 700cx38mm Schwalbe Marathon Racers (still had the ticks on them). Patching the rear tube was almost impossible so I whipped out my one spare tube but then the stem core broke on it so I had to go back to the punctured one but to patch it I had to use all but one of my patches. If it had been a blowout, I would have been screwed, so don't delude yourself in thinking it's unlikely that you'll have problems.

Last edited by twodeadpoets; 10-18-08 at 07:02 PM.
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Old 10-18-08, 07:47 PM   #4
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I'm pretty sure that whatever you haven't planned for will almost certainly happen over a 3,000+ mile tour.

I'd start the tour with 2 new tires; bring 2 tires along; and order another 2 as spares. Leave the spares with a friend, who can overnight them to you if needed. Bring several tubes; it's easier to swap the tube and patch the flatted one at your leisure.

I.e. I agree with valygirl in that you're not touring rural China or the back roads of South America. Flats are common, ruined tires less so, busted spokes even less, busted rims can happen but aren't common enough to worry over.
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Old 10-18-08, 08:30 PM   #5
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If you can get things mail order or quickly have some send it to you, I wouldn't worry about it.

I've typically carried one spare tire and on occasions two. I've also carried a number of spare tubes. While touring, I've broken five rims: three crossing Canada, one crossing Russia and one going around Australia. I've crossed US two times and not broken rims doing so. So rim failures can happen, but are relatively rare. Each time it happens one simply deals with it. For me that has been a combination of finding a bike shop and/or having things sent to me.
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Old 10-19-08, 06:10 AM   #6
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I'm planning a cross-America on 650bs, and think that I'll bring a spare tire in case of blow out (which, with newish tires, seems unlikely).

i chuckled at that. I did an 1100 miles tour a year ago. A nail blew one tire completely, and another tossed a large section of tread. Both were brand new when I left. I carry a folding spare. always. ANd as soon as I put it on, I have a spare sent ahead of me, USPS general delivery.
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Old 10-19-08, 11:22 AM   #7
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On my first long tour I broke a lot of spokes. I think it was mostly due to having a machine-assemble wheel on a mail-order bike from Nashbar (their touring bike they sold in 1992.) It was also due to carrying too much weight. I weighed 215, and my stuff was heavy. On subsequent tours I've focused on my wheels. I've bought higher quality components and had them hand-built and tuned by a pro. I've also lightened my load somewhat. I haven't broken a spoke in awhile, including my last two summer tours.

On that same first tour I met and rode with a guy who cut a tire. He had to improvise - make a boot out of something - and ride for a few days until he got to a town with a bike shop. He spent a lot of time fiddling with it, fixing flats, stopping to pump up his tire, etc. Seeing this, I bought a cheap tire and carried it the rest of the tour. I never used it, and I've never had a tire fail in thousands of miles of riding, so I no longer carry a tire. Now I just make sure my tires are in excellent shape before starting a tour, and buy new ones prior to leaving if the tires look at all suspect. Carrying a light load is more important to me than carrying things to deal with every possible mechanical mishap. If I ever need a new tire on tour I'll hitchhike to a bike shop, have one overnighted to wherever I am, whatever. In short, I'll deal with it. It will likely be inconvenient, and a little expensive, but it seems to me that the chances of my tire failing to the point of being unable to be ridden to the next bike shop are unlikely.

I carry one inner tube. If I get a flat I use the new one. If I get a second flat before replacing the spare tube, I patch and use the better of my two punctured ones. I'm very careful when fixing a flat on tour. I met a couple of girls on one tour who were new to biking but had taken a bicycle maintenance class in college. One of them got a flat. I (who had fixed countless flats) offered to help, but she wanted to do it herself. She ripped out the stem. She got her other spare. She ripped out the stem on that too. She borrowed her friend's spare (they were on 26" tires; I was on 700s) and let me do it. I was very careful, and luckily I was successful. On my tour two summers ago I ripped out my stem when I pumped up my tires the first time. I used my spare and was very careful. I passed a bike shop the next day and replaced it. If I was going on a tour with a long stretch with no available places to buy tubes, or maybe with a lot of dirt roads, I'd carry two spares. However, I feel that the chances of wrecking both of my tubes (the one in use and the spare) beyond my ability to patch and use them are slight enough that I'll take the risk in the interest of less weight.

I'm still paranoid about broken spokes, even though I haven't broken one on tour in years. I carry the kevlar emergency spokes, two regular spokes, and a Stein Hypercracker for removing the cassette. I feel pretty secure with those. However, if, like on my first big tour, I started breaking several spokes in succession, I'd have my entire wheel rebuilt with new spokes. I'd find a bike shop with a good mechanic, or perhaps call someone and have a new wheel shipped to me. Really, though, I think the fact that I now ride well-built wheels with quality parts makes the chances of that happening again small. I hope so, because all those broken spokes really ruined that tour, and the fact that I've made it through several tours since with no spoke problems allowed me to have a fantastic time!

If I was riding a less common wheel size, I'd consider carrying one spare tire and two spare tubes - just because it's less likely you can stop and replace things, and that should get you by long enough to do what you need to do to replace things - call, use the internet, have things overnighted, etc.
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Old 10-19-08, 02:25 PM   #8
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Remember that just about every bike shop can get things from the QBP catalog, too. If you notice a problem that's just starting to happen, look for an area where you have a bike store 3-4 days ahead of you and call them to get the part ordered in. Either that, or overnight yourself a part from a catalog. You'll probably want to write down the part numbers of the tubes, tires, and wheels that you can use before you go and keep them with you in case you're trying to order from Nashbar in the middle of nowhere over the phone.

I have a 650b bike, and have punished the wheels a lot by taking it off-roading and slamming into potholes at full speed. I have a lot of confidence in the 32 hole Synergy rims and beyond carrying my standard two fiberfix spokes and two tubes, I feel pretty confident about using them.
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