650b

Bianchi Ethanol 27.1 review

This is Bianchi’s first proper year designing 650b bikes. From a first glance at the Ethanol’s geometry tables, it’s as if the maker hasn’t really adjusted anything to allow for the larger wheels.

Frame and equipment: gorgeous foundations

The head angle is 71 degrees and the seat angle is 73.5 degrees – numbers you find on 26in cross-country bikes. The bottom bracket height is racer boy-low, however, which means a BB drop (how low the crank axle lies below the wheel axles) of 50mm.

The frame has obviously been tweaked from Bianchi’s previous 26in-wheeled carbon hardtails to accommodate the larger wheel, but it hasn’t changed drastically. The maker clearly wants to stick with its tried and true racy geometry.

The bottom bracket sits low, which helps the 650b machine handle differently to a 26in bike:

The bottom bracket sits low, which helps the 650b machine handle differently to a 26in bike

The tapered head tube is nicely short for maximum stiffness. Bianchi’s considerable experience with carbon road frames reveals itself here: the flowing lines somehow making the head tube/down tube/top tube junction an exquisite exercise in elegance, even as it creates great strength.

The plain round seat tube is almost a letdown aesthetically when you compare it with the sculpted arrangements running alongside it. It’s surprising that Bianchi doesn’t spec a direct-mount front mech – the cheap Acera is a traditional band-clamp design.

The BSA bottom bracket shell is thrillingly huge and contains an FSA MegaExo Integrated bottom bracket, while the twin-ring (39/27T) cranks are FSA Comet Compact 386 MegaExos.

The down tube is a real piece of work, and a great example of what can be done with carbon. It flows out of the head tube, becomes square then morphs to a more voluminous trapezoid – until it reaches the underside, and pretty much fills the whole width of the bottom bracket shell. It looks (and rides) extremely stiff in this area, yet the frame weighs just 1370g. It would take some special work to make a frame as stiff and light as this out of any other material.

The flattened top tube and dipped-tipped seatstays give the appearance of softening the ride, but it’s hard to tell if it’s just that – an appearance. They give the frame a lovely aesthetic, at least, which is never a bad thing.

The more significant aspect is that the ample standover leaves a lengthy amount of seatpost sticking above the frame, and said post is a skinny 27.2mm. This is where a genuine amount of welcome comfort emanates from.

Skinny seatpost helps provide some comfort when aboard the stiff carbon fibre ethanol:

Skinny seatpost helps provide some comfort when aboard the stiff carbon-framed Ethanol

The finishing kit has clearly been chosen to meet the price, which is entirely acceptable. You can always upgrade stuff in the shop if you have the cash, and while the RockShox 30 Gold TK Solo Air 120mm fork is a little flexy – especially on this super-stiff frame – it performs decently enough when run hard and with lots of rebound damping.

Ride and handling: small is beautiful

During the test, a common query was why anyone would want a racy hardtail that wasn’t a 29er. Big wheels are generally faster for the riding this bike is suited to – what’s the point of a 650b carbon hardtail?

It took a couple of rides for it to dawn on us. This isn’t just a race bike; it’s a lovely hardtail. Don’t be fooled by its roadie brand and too-long stem. It’s versatile.

The generous BB drop – more than a 26in wheel can accomodate – makes the Ethanol handle differently to a 26er. You feel very ‘inside’ the bike. Even though the ride is still on the twitchy side for riders used to slacker (68 degree or less) head angles, our testers felt secure and confident on steep and technical trails we pointed them down. (Some did, however, swap the 100mm stem for a more modern, trail-friendly 70mm.)

Despite claims that it’s less racy than Bianchi’s other hardtails, the Ethanol is still a very stiff frame. Its fat down tube and deep chainstays combine to make a mighty fine platform for ragging the thing around under shaven-legged power.

Tapered head tube is nice and short to aid frame stiffness:

Tapered head tube is nice and short to aid frame stiffness

The slight but noticeable increase in traction and buzz-soaking that comes with 650b wheels is welcome on short blast rides and extended days out on the trails. We didn’t particularly get along with the Hutchinson Cobra 2.1in tyres during our wintery test period, mainly because the semi-slick-middle tread was sketchy under damp braking. They’re well worth keeping for drier times, however.

All in all, this is a fast and responsive bike that reminds us what it’s like to ride a smaller-than-29in wheel on a carbon hardtail.

Gone is the seductive steamrollering and carving-cruising attitude of big hoops: the 650b Ethanol is much more of an involved and close-up experience. Some would say it’s sketchier and slower – it almost certainly is – but it sure is brilliant fun.

We rather like that Bianchi places emphasis on offering a truly great frame and leaving it to you to replace and upgrade parts as you go. The prime candidates are its agricultural Shimano M445 brakes and chunky wheels, but with a stiff, light and undeniably stylish frame at its heart, the Ethanol is a bike worth keeping, riding and upgrading for years.

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.








Boardman Pro FS 650b review

While Boardman started as an exclusive Halfords brand, it has recently embraced independent dealers. The Performance Series range, however, is available direct from Halfords only. This Pro FS is part of that range.

  • HIGHS: Superbly balanced, very well equipped trail all-rounder at an absolute bargain price – with the benefit of shop back up. ?
  • LOWS: It deserves grippier tyres.
  • BUY IF… You want a great value all-rounder with totally neutral

If it weren’t for the 650b rather than 26in wheels (which aren’t, at first glance, even that obvious), you’d be forgiven for thinking nothing had changed with the FS Pro.

Look closely at the triple-butted frame though and you see the new reinforcing bulge behind the head tube, a curve at the base of the seat tube – there to sneak the bigger wheel in closer – and the cutaway rear dropouts with 142×12mm screw-through axle. The seatstays are also significantly beefed up, and Boardman has fitted dropper post guides.

Boardman pro fs: the triple-butted frame is reasonably light, stiff and very well-detailed. the gloss raw alloy finish makes scuffs and scratches much less obvious:

Note the reinforcing bulge behind the head tube

Otherwise, the FS Pro uses exactly the same swing-link suspension design, gives the same 130mm and still has an unflatteringly boring name. The head angle is the same middle-of-the-road 68.5 degrees, but the effective seat angle steepens by a degree.

Unsurprisingly, that all means it rides with reassuring familiarity. It’s confident enough to really let it go on descents but not so slack it feels like you’re trying to steer a wheelbarrow round tight turns or steep climbs. The short-ish, 70mm stem also stops the borderline-width 710mm bars from feeling too narrow.

At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, we’re totally sold on 650b wheels for trail bikes. The extra smoothness and rolling speed over rough ground is noticeable, but what really surprises is how much more stability and traction you get – even from cheap plastic tyres like the ones on the Boardman. We still suggest you change them as soon as possible, but at least you have a fighting chance of staying upright on the 650b ones on wet, rocky, woodsy trails – places the 26in versions of the same tyres are, we can attest, absolutely horrible in.

If the handling is a great ‘just get on and ride’ balance, so is the suspension. The RockShox Revelation fork is noticeably more composed on trails where the same firm’s Sektor forks – common on many similarly-priced bikes – are at the ragged edge, and there’s no shortage of stiffness across the legs to back up the balanced handling.

The Monarch RL rear shock has dual flow rebound and a lockout lever, which is good – although we rarely used the latter once we had the damping level and air pressure right. The suspension is notably free of vices or oddities to get used to – it just gets on with it, doing a predictable job of creating useful traction and control on rough sections, without any obvious bob under power. It might might not be especially characterful, but the 650b wheels offset the slightly numb small bump response.

Boardman pro fs: the monarch rl rear shock has dual flow rebound and a lockout lever:

The RockShox Monarch rear shock was reliable and predictable

The quality SRAM kit, including Avid’s excellent four-piston Trail brakes, is very impressive. Value, like the ride, is extremely good, even when you factor in new tyres.

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.


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Trail Tech: Cutting through the 27.5 wheel size hype

Question: “I borrowed a buddy’s new 27.5in mountain bike for the weekend. I could not tell much, if any, difference between it and my 26in trail bike. It certainly didn’t roll as well as my 29er. Is 27.5 just an attempt to get riders to upgrade?”

Answer:?This week, I’m using Trail Tech as a soapbox to tilt at windmills. Not just any windmill, mind you. There’s a certain windmill – one with a bead seat diameter of 584mm that goes by the name of ‘650b’ – that needs to be dealt with. ??

Not a week goes by that we don’t have a story on BikeRadar about another bike company releasing a 650b bike, wheelset, tire, or fork.?News stories about 650b mountain bikes appear to go hand in hand with comments from the peanut gallery about how “650b is just an industry ploy to sell more bikes”.

While 650b may or may not be an industry conspiracy, calling it ‘27.5′ most certainly is.?Why should you care??Well, because you’re being sold the erroneous notion that mountain bikes with 650b tires occupy a Zen-like middle ground between the low weight and flickability of 26in wheels and the momentum-carrying, obstacle-smashing attributes 29er riders love.

This had led several bike companies to foresee a day in the near future when 26in and 29in mountain bike wheels will become obsolete. In this future, Spandex-clad cross-country racers, average Joe trail riders, and flat brim-wearing gravity shredders join hands around a 27.5in campfire, sing Kumbaya and rejoice that we have come full circle; we are at one with the wheel once more. I’m not holding my breath; 26in wheels are still fun and you can have my 29er when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

The idea that the 650b mountain bike embodies the best of both worlds without the hangups of either is as misleading as the 27.5 label. One has to run a very large 650b tire before you actually reach a measurement of 27.5in from the ground to the top of the tire.

The cycling industry is pushing 650b wheels to be known as 27.5 because it makes more sense on the sales floor, despite the fact that it's not an acurate description of tire size or of how these bikes perform: the cycling industry is pushing 650b wheels to be known as 27.5 because it makes more sense on the sales floor, despite the fact that it's not an acurate description of tire size or of how these bikes perform

The 650b mountain bike doesn’t split the difference between 26in and 29in wheels?

That’s because the 650b wheel is much closer in diameter to a 26in wheel. For reference, there’s a 25mm difference in bead seat diameter between 26in and 650b, but there’s a 38mm difference between 650b and a 700c (29in) wheel.

It’s easy to fall into this ‘tweener’ mindset. I’m guilty of calling it “the middle wheel size” when searching for a synonym for ‘650b’. And I must admit that several of the 650b trail bikes I’ve ridden this season do have a Goldilocks-like feel to them. (The Norco Sight B1 and Santa Cruz Bronson come to mind.)?

But this sensation is more the result of dialed frame geometry than of cramming a slightly larger wheel into a frame. And, yes, wheel size and frame geometry go hand in hand, but it’s the latter that truly makes a bike perform on the trail.

I don’t think 650b wheels are a crock, or that the differences between them and 26in wheels are so small that they’re not worth the fuss – that’s for you to decide on the trail.

There are performance gains that come with the slightly larger diameter wheel, and there are a lot of great 650b mountain bikes being produced. But the advantages don’t place the wheel size smack dab in between 26in and 29in formats.

As for the conspiracy theorists out there, yes, there has been a concerted effort by bike and component companies to develop new 650b products because there are small but measureable performance gains over 26in wheels. Some folks seem to forget that bike companies are not non-profits (at least not on purpose) and that their employees have mouths to feed, too.

In the end, I know I’m fighting a losing battle. When it comes to naming the wheel format, ‘27.5′ will trump ‘650b’ because it makes more sense when explaining the differences between one size and another on the sales floor. As riders and as consumers, just keep in mind that those differences are not cut straight down the middle.?

????

Trail Tech: Cutting through the 27.5 hype

Question: “I borrowed a buddy’s new 27.5in mountain bike for the weekend. I could not tell much, if any, difference between it and my 26in trail bike. It certainly didn’t roll as well as my 29er. Is 27.5 just an attempt to get riders to upgrade?”

This week I’m using Trail Tech as a soapbox to tilt at windmills. Not just any windmill, mind you. There’s a certain windmill, one with a bead seat diameter of 584mm that goes by the name 650b, which needs to be dealt with frankly. ??

Not a week goes by that we don’t have a story on BikeRadar about another bike company releasing a 650b bike, wheelset, tire or fork.

News stories about 650b mountain bikes appear to go hand-in-hand with comments from the peanut gallery about how “650b is just an industry ploy to sell more bikes.”

While 650b may or may not be an industry conspiracy, calling it “27.5” most certainly is.

Why should you care?

You should care because you’re being sold the erroneous notion that mountain bikes with 650b tires occupy a Zen-like middle ground between the low weight and flickability of 26in wheels and the momentum-carrying, obstacle-smashing attributes 29er riders love.

This had lead several bike companies to foresee a day in the near future when 26in and 29in mountain bikes will become obsolete. In this future, spandex-clad cross-country racers, average Joe trail riders and flat brim-wearing gravity shredders join hands around a 27.5in campfire, sing “Kumbaya” and rejoice that we have come full circle; we are at one with the wheel once more. I’m not holding my breath; 26in wheels are still fun and you can have my 29er when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

The idea that the 650b mountain bike embodies the best of both without the hang-ups of either is as misleading as the 27.5 label. One has to run a very large 650b tire before you actually reach a measurement of 27.5in from the ground to the top of the tire.

The cycling industry is pushing 650b wheels to be known as 27.5 because it makes more sense on the sales floor, despite the fact that it's not an acurate description of tire size or of how these bikes perform: the cycling industry is pushing 650b wheels to be known as 27.5 because it makes more sense on the sales floor, despite the fact that it's not an acurate description of tire size or of how these bikes performThe 650b mountain bike does not split the difference between 26in wheels and 29ers

That’s because the 650b wheel is much closer in diameter to a 26in wheel. For reference, there’s a 25mm difference in bead seat diameter between 26in and 650b, but there’s a 38mm difference between 650b and a 700c (29in) wheel.

It’s easy to fall into this ‘tweener’ mindset. I’m guilty of calling it “the middle wheel size” when searching for a synonym for 650b. And I must admit that several of the 650b trail bikes I’ve ridden this season do have a Goldilocks’ like feel to them. (The Norco Sight B1 and the Santa Cruz Bronson come to mind.) But this sensation is more the result of dialed frame geometry than of cramming a slightly larger wheel into a frame. And, yes, wheelsize and frame geometry go hand in hand, but it’s the later that truly makes a bike perform on the trail.

I don’t think 650b is a crock, or that the differences between it and a 26in wheel are so small that they are not worth the fuss – that’s for you to decide on the trail.

There are performance gains that come with this slightly larger diameter wheel and there are a lot of great 650b mountain bikes being produced. But the advantages don’t place this wheel smack dab in between 26in and 29in wheels.

As for the conspiracy theorists out there, yes, there has been a concerted effort by bike and component companies to develop new 650b products because there are small, but measureable performance gains over 26in wheels. Some folks seem to forget that bike companies are not non-profits (at least not on purpose), and that their employees have mouths to feed, too.

In the end, I know I’m fighting a losing battle. When it comes to naming this wheelsize, 27.5 will trump 650b because it makes more sense when explaining the differences between one wheel size and another on the sales floor. As riders and as consumers, just keep in mind that those differences are not cut straight down the middle.?

????

Trail Tech: Cutting through the 27.5in hype

Question: “I borrowed a buddy’s new 27.5in mountain bike for the weekend. I could not tell much, if any, difference between it and my 26in trail bike. It certainly didn’t roll as well as my 29er. Is 27.5 just an attempt to get riders to upgrade?”

This week I’m using Trail Tech as a soapbox to tilt at windmills. Not just any windmill, mind you. There’s a certain windmill, one with a bead seat diameter of 584mm that goes by the name 650b, which needs to be dealt with frankly. ??

Not a week goes by that we don’t have a story on BikeRadar about another bike company releasing a 650b bike, wheelset, tire or fork.

News stories about 650b mountain bikes appear to go hand-in-hand with comments from the peanut gallery about how “650b is just an industry ploy to sell more bikes.”

While 650b may or may not be an industry conspiracy, calling it “27.5” most certainly is.

Why should you care?

You should care because you’re being sold the erroneous notion that mountain bikes with 650b tires occupy a Zen-like middle ground between the low weight and flickability of 26in wheels and the momentum-carrying, obstacle-smashing attributes 29er riders love.

This had lead several bike companies to foresee a day in the near future when 26in and 29in mountain bikes will become obsolete. In this future, spandex-clad cross-country racers, average Joe trail riders and flat brim-wearing gravity shredders join hands around a 27.5in campfire, sing “Kumbaya” and rejoice that we have come full circle; we are at one with the wheel once more. I’m not holding my breath; 26in wheels are still fun and you can have my 29er when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

The idea that the 650b mountain bike embodies the best of both without the hang-ups of either is as misleading as the 27.5 label. One has to run a very large 650b tire before you actually reach a measurement of 27.5in from the ground to the top of the tire.

The cycling industry is pushing 650b wheels to be known as 27.5 because it makes more sense on the sales floor, despite the fact that it's not an acurate description of tire size or of how these bikes perform: the cycling industry is pushing 650b wheels to be known as 27.5 because it makes more sense on the sales floor, despite the fact that it's not an acurate description of tire size or of how these bikes performThe 650b mountain bike does not split the difference between 26in wheels and 29ers

That’s because the 650b wheel is much closer in diameter to a 26in wheel. For reference, there’s a 25mm difference in bead seat diameter between 26in and 650b, but there’s a 38mm difference between 650b and a 700c (29in) wheel.

It’s easy to fall into this ‘tweener’ mindset. I’m guilty of calling it “the middle wheel size” when searching for a synonym for 650b. And I must admit that several of the 650b trail bikes I’ve ridden this season do have a Goldilocks’ like feel to them. (The Norco Sight B1 and the Santa Cruz Bronson come to mind.) But this sensation is more the result of dialed frame geometry than of cramming a slightly larger wheel into a frame. And, yes, wheelsize and frame geometry go hand in hand, but it’s the later that truly makes a bike perform on the trail.

I don’t think 650b is a crock, or that the differences between it and a 26in wheel are so small that they are not worth the fuss – that’s for you to decide on the trail.

There are performance gains that come with this slightly larger diameter wheel and there are a lot of great 650b mountain bikes being produced. But the advantages don’t place this wheel smack dab in between 26in and 29in wheels.

As for the conspiracy theorists out there, yes, there has been a concerted effort by bike and component companies to develop new 650b products because there are small, but measureable performance gains over 26in wheels. Some folks seem to forget that bike companies are not non-profits (at least not on purpose), and that their employees have mouths to feed, too.

In the end, I know I’m fighting a losing battle. When it comes to naming this wheelsize, 27.5 will trump 650b because it makes more sense when explaining the differences between one wheel size and another on the sales floor. As riders and as consumers, just keep in mind that those differences are not cut straight down the middle.?

????

Turner to bring the Burner back

Turner are showing a prototype version of their previously mothballed Burner platform. The main feature of the new bike is its 650b/27.5in wheel. Company reps say it should be ready for sale around the time of the fall trade shows.

Turner brought six of the first prototypes to a press event in Utah to showcase Enve’s 650b cross-country and trail carbon wheels. David Turner, the brand’s founder and owner, allowed rides, but was careful to offer the ‘prototype’ caveat. He was also interested in what the media thought of the bike.

Though David Turner played with the 650b wheel size previously, back when Kirk Pacenti created the 23 and his rim, it wasn’t until this past October that he really started working on it. “We bought two sets,” said Turner of his previous experience. “The other guys and I at the shop all liked it… at that time White Brothers was the only company making a fork, and it wasn’t enough to build a batch. Turner bikes is not a custom frame builder, we’re limited production. So that means if there’s only one fork, one tire, and one rim available that’s a big gamble.”

In fact, it was a specific ask from Enve Composites that put him back on the project last fall. “One of the engineers at Enve contacted me and asked if I wanted to trade a pair of wheels for a frame,” said Turner. “So I’ve been riding them pretty steady for the last six months; it’s been my go-to mountain bike wheel size.”

Turner rode the wheels on the 125mm travel Sultan a standard 29in bike as well as a couple of aggressively modified 5.Spot frames, which pack 140mm of travel. “That’s when I realized that having the extra travel was really cool,” he said.

The proto Burner has a low bottom bracket, around 13in, which is similar to the previous Burner, however, this new version has 140mm (5.5in) of DW-Link travel, where as the older generation topped out at 100mm (4in). The test bike is slack up front, and slightly longer in the top tube when compared to the 5.Spot. But with all of the angles, Turner was quick reiterate that the bike is a prototype as he asked for feedback on the feel of the bike.

While enve made the phone call, rockshox and fox really make 650b wheeled bikes possible: while enve made the phone call, rockshox and fox really make 650b wheeled bikes possible

Enve made the phone call, but RockShox and Fox really made 650b wheeled bikes possible

The DW-Link suspension design is supremely sorted and rides as excellently as any of Turner’s other bikes. While many of the forged parts are repurposed from both 5.Spot and Sultan, the end product is completely new and not interchangeable between models. “They share a lot of the parts, but it has a totally unique rocker,” said Turner. “They’re non-identical triplets.”

The suspension is also new, designed and approved by Dave Weagle. “Kinematically this is a DW-Link bike; Dave engineered these pivots for the 650b wheel,” he said. “I’ve been getting some emails from people saying, ‘why can’t I just do bolt on dropouts?’ And, it’s like, well, you can, but you cannot optimize the suspension system for anti-squat and the braking personality that I would like, and that Dave Weagle demands. Weagle demands a particular type of anti-squat.”

Turner plans on another two weeks of testing before building up tooling and heading into production to hit his fall on-sale target.

We spent an hour and a half out on the new Burner on the loose singletrack trails of Deer Valley, and the bike rode flawlessly. With the Enve AM carbon clinchers it weighs about 25lbs and pedals like a dream. The overall feel seemed racier than the 5.Spot, like it will easily be able to compete in long format cross-country races. It’s perfectly poised as an all-day backcountry machine.

The bike weighs under 26lbs with enve’s am 650b carbon wheelset: the bike weighs under 26lbs with enve’s am 650b carbon wheelset

The bike weighs under 26lbs with Enve’s AM 650b carbon wheelset

The bottom bracket was noticeably low, which we loved, but might catch furious cross-country pedalers off guard. Pretty much everything seemed well sorted, but we felt the head angle was steeper than it measures. A function of the wheel? We’re not sure, but it will surely be interesting to see where the production geometry ends up.



Sea Otter 2012: Reynolds’ new 650b and 29er wheels

Best known for their carbon road wheels, Reynolds Cycling have recently been making a big push into the mountain bike market. Showing up at Sea Otter were two new tubeless models for release later this year: a 29er set and a similar pair for 650b tires.

Both of the new wheelsets use the same 21mm internal widths for better casing support of high-volume, low-pressure tires, plus tubeless-compatible tire beds that require only a few layers of tape and some sealant to be airtight. Rim depth is a fairly generous 28mm but not for aerodynamic purposes. According to Reynolds’ Len Cabaltera, the deeper section allows for shorter spokes and greater bracing angles, thus boosting lateral rigidity and strength.

Aside from the different spoke count (the 29ers have 24 spokes front and rear while the 650b wheels use 28), both wheels use the same bright red anodized hubset with interchangeable end caps for all common axle standards, straight-pull stainless steel spokes anchored in large-diameter flanges, and external nipples for easier maintenance.

Claimed weight for the 29er wheels is 1,575g per pair and target weight for the 650b wheels is 1,550-1,580g. Cabaltera didn’t have a price estimate for the 650b wheels when BikeRadar spoke with him at Sea Otter but we expect it’ll be similar to the 29er’s US$1,950 suggested retail cost. Both new wheelsets are due late this year.

Rear hubs feature an aluminum freehub body, straight-pull spokes and interchangeable end caps for different axle fitments:



650b has traction at Sea Otter

MONTEREY, CA (BRAIN) Monday April 23 2012 9:05 AM MT— Retailers remain divided over whether 650b is a good thing for the bike business, but product on display as well as booth talk at this year’s Sea Otter Classic expo reaffirmed that the in-between wheel size is gaining broad industry acceptance. Intense and Norco each had prototypes in 27.5-inch on display, expo-goers were eager to learn about the four models offered by Jamis, and KHS’ new five-model lineup was well represented at its booth