Having ridden 26" bikes offroad for a few years my preference shifted to riding 29ers. When given the opportunity to ride a rigid single-speed 650b I took it looking to see whether or not there really was a middle ground.
There is always the hype of why riders should move away from 26" and ride bigger wheels. The two main benefits put forward by the 650b or 27.5" pundits is the 650b wheel has the maneuverability of 26" wheels and rolling properties (momentum and obstacles) of 29ers.
On first sight, the bike looked long and sleek. The steel allowing for thin tubes making lines which appealed to my eye. (This said, all my bikes are steel tubing.)So let's talk about the setup...
The test bike came with a rigid carbon fibre fork and wheels built from White Industries hubs laced to Velocity Blunt rims. Grip and traction was provided by Pacenti Neo Moto tyres with a 2.3" width.
The cockpit was a no name saddle with a Thomson layback post.
No name lock-ons fitted to Titec El-Norte handlebars at 700mm wide and an ABR 90mm stem.
The headset is a Cane Creek s-8.
The drivetrain was also White Industries, an ENO crankset with a 32T chainring and a 19T freewheel sprocket - all performed flawlessly.
Brakes were Hayes El-Caminos with 6" rotors.
The bike weighed in at only 10.3kg (no pedals). Built with lighter components, some weight savings can be made - especially in the wheels.Test rides were on singletrack at Bunyaville and at Daisy Hill for a night ride. (I also used the bike for commuting on a couple of days.)
It took a while for me to 'find my stride'. But when I did, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. At times I forgot it was a full rigid. When I found the sweet spot for hard cornering I also began to find some rhythm. The round profile of the Pacenti tyres allowed for predictable cornering. The grip gave me confidence and never washed out on me.
Climbing on the bike was easiest for me when seated and mashing away. Some would pass me on the flat sections - I would catch and pass most on the uphill. I would not change the gearing as it suited the trails I rode.
Launching the bike down descents and up over obstacles was great fun. The (low) weight in the front end allowed me to lift the bike clear over logs and the carbon fork at no time gave me any worries.
I did have some problems with heel strike due to my pedalling action (lots of lateral movement in my heel). The sliding dropouts meant the stays were wider at the axle. When my right foot was back with pedals level, the back of my shoe would occasionally catch on the chainstay. This should not be an issue for people with less float in their pedals.
Overall the 27five handles singletrack better than my 29er. I was carrying more speed into and through corners than my 29er. The bike was more able to flick through tight spots whereas on a 29er I have to 'finesse' through.
This means the 27five is a big handful of fun and 650b delivers what is promised.