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The 650b freight train

Published November 26, 2012

TAICHUNG, Taiwan (BRAIN) — Six-Fifty-Bee? Twenty-Seven-Five?

Whether the industry knows what to call it yet is in doubt, but one thing is clear after spending a week with suppliers and product managers in Taiwan at the Taichung Bike Week: The midsized tire diameter is poised to soon dominate the bulk of the mountain bike market.

The wheel size is currently a rarity in most U.S. bike shops and even hard-core enthusiasts are just learning of its existence. But make no mistake, the change is not just speculation, marketing hype or wishful thinking; it's approaching like a freight train powered by some big checkbooks.

At least one major bike brand recently canceled a production run for a new 26-inch model just before the bike was set to go into production.

Twenty-six inch is taken off the menu

"It was all ready to go, all the engineering was done, all the preparation, then they just canceled," said Jason Yeh, a sales specialist for A-Pro Tech Co., a Taiwanese bike manufacturer. "I guess they decided to cut their losses," Yeh said.

The supplier scuttled the order to avoid being stuck with 26-inch bikes when the wave of bigger wheels hits the shores in a few months.

Wheel, rim, tire and suspension makers have also tooled up to supply the demand. SR Suntour, for example, is introducing an entire new fork line exclusively for 650B.

At Bike Week, even makers of unrelated products would have liked to get into the game. "I'd like to show you our new 650b saddle line," joked Richard Todd, international and OEM sales manager for Ergon and Phorm saddles.

Although there are a few holdouts, especially in the U.S., the bulk of the industry here has a consistent view of how the mountain bike landscape will look in a year or so: The 650b midsized tire will dominate the market. Twenty-six-inch wheels will be seen only on entry-level bikes and long-travel downhill bikes. Twenty-nine-inch wheels will be reserved for bikes aimed at the cross-country set, with short-travel or hardtail frames.

As recently as the March 2012 Taipei Bike Expo, suppliers were predicting that the midsized wheel might develop into an alternative to 29-inch wheels on smaller frame sizes and longer-travel bikes, where designers struggled to cram in the big wheels. But since then, many have apparently decided they'd like to offer just two wheel sizes for most mountain bikes. And they settled on the two larger sizes.

"Twenty-six inch is taken off the menu," said Jason Moeschler, WTB's OEM sales manager. "It may seem confusing now, but the industry has made the decision for the consumer."

Continental's Brett Hahn had similar thoughts. Earlier this year, buyers were looking for the midsized tire for bikes with 140 to 160 millimeters of travel, Hahn said. But now, most are planning to use the tire for virtually all suspended mountain bikes, from 120 to 170 millimeters of travel.

While the changeover may not have hit at retail yet, Wilderness Trail Bikes president Patrick Seidler said that at the OE level, it’s been the fastest change in tire trends he’s ever seen.

Related Opinion: Why your brother’s bike was faster

Topics associated with this article: Taichung Bike Week

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