650B or not to B

We went to see the new Whyte, Wilier and Marin bikes at the Lotus Research Centre last week. There is a lot to be excited about for the road rider, the commuter and the trailsters but the big thing to talk about is 650B or two seven point fivers.

Whyte 909 650B/27.5er
Whyte 909 650B/27.5er

I jumped on the Whyte 909 and took it for a blast down the single track round the back. Wow! This is why we mountain bike. It was fast and fun. The climb back up was a breeze and I had to check the catalogue to see what fork travel there was, it didn’t feel long or short but just right. 130mm for those that want to know.

On arriving back at the shop I found a Scott Scale 740 waiting for me: a 650B light weight XC hard tail. Like the Whyte’s Scott have adopted the same approach to handling, why make a race bike that climbs fast but is twitchy on the descents. The Scale 650s have a 69 degree head angle like their 29ers. They have blurred the line between XC and trail.

I rode the Scale home and then took it out for a spin yesterday. I went up to the Steyning

Scott Scale 740
Scott Scale 740

woods, did the Blue Run and the climbed up and back to the shop. The first thing that you notice is the acceleration: devastating. I have never found my lightweight 29ers slow but did find the small wheels fast. The Sheep Track was fun but the fast flat climb up to the South Downs Way was bumpy. I was getting pummelled. Into the woods the bike was awesome and the two really tight bends zig-zagging down to finish on the Northshore were much easier to navigate with the smaller wheels.

So what do I think? 650B or not to B?

I wouldn’t choose a 27.5 to ride the South Down’s Way. I might use one for a Gorrick race which is a short, fast ride on tight singletrack. I would choose a trail 650B for the sort of fun riding that we have on a our doorstep (Chanctonbury , Styening, Whiteways and the North Downs). Will I still order a Whyte 29 Team for next year? Yes. The comfort of a 29er at speed is one reason why I have opted for a light hard tail over a full suspension bike. I jumped on my FF29 to ride home yesterday and it was definitely faster and easier to ride up Mount Carvey than the Scale but all I did was go home. Faced with a load of single track I would have chosen the Scale but the carbon one.  I need the extra comfort. By the way I did get used the 650B pounding and forgot that it was there, at least on my short ride. One other thing that can easily be over come, I have got use to standing up on a 29er and powering over obstacles. On the Scale I had the wheel spin out a few times.

I used to think that I was good at single track but for whatever reason I seem to be off the pace and rely on my power and acceleration to make up for poor technique. The Smaller wheels will be perfect for me playing catch-up.

Whyte G-150
Whyte G-150 650 & 150mm travel begging for a trip to the Alps

For me the dilemma presented by wheel size is fantastic news. I’ll have to get out testing again, up, down, races, singletrack the lot. Since last June when I got my Kinesis FF29 I, basically, stopped testing the bikes that I could get as I was sorted. A light 29er XC hard tail was all that I wanted. Now I am going to have to do a load of back to back rides again. The 909 might even get me inspired to fight my way back up the Strava DH rankings.  Oh dear – more reasons to ride off road…..

Here is the ride. Quite quick considering that I wasn’t trying to go too fast and I had to climb back up from the Blue Run. Could it be down to the wheel size?

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