I'll say it. Do it now. Just kill it. DoA. Please.
Just when the industry seems to be embracing the 29er wheel platform, in comes the next blast from the past bike trend. Enter the 650b wheel platform. When tires are added to this mostly abandoned wheel-base, we are presented with a 27 and a half inch tire, halfway between the 26er and the 29er.
Look. I could care less what you ride. If you want to ride a 650b go ahead and do it. My thing is that I don't want the industry diverting it's energy toward filling this niche. Instead I'd like to see the industry spend it's finite resources on perfecting the engineering and technology that goes into the existing platforms. Particularly since the 29er platform may actually be nearing the tipping point for widespread adoption (it already has crested in the single-speed market - would anyone really consider a 26 inch single speed these days?).
Maybe I missed it, but I don't see where there is consumer demand for the 650b anyway. I don't see anyone rallying in the streets with signs that say "just set me free, give me the 650b", or anything like that. Do you? No. This is an industry driven trend. Though a mistaken one.
The only place where I can see the 650b succeeding is with big hit downhill or freeride bikes. I can understand that there are certain mathematical truths in the geometry of a 29er that limit it's potential as a big hit bike. But what benefit do we get in the cross-country or trail bike category? Slightly better roll-over capability? If that's it, I'll stick to the 29er.
And don't give me that crap about 650b's being able to provide you with tried and true 26-inch geometry. If you ride the current crop of newly designed performance 29ers you will most certainly find the no-nonsense 26-inch steering you thought you would lose when you made the switch.
Can you imagine bike shops having to carry three different wheel sizes for each of the brands that they carry? What a zoo. Most still haven't bitten the 29-inch bullet. Wait until they have to describe the differences and benefits of each type to the unsuspecting newbie.
While I'm sure there are some in the industry that believe they are expanding the market by adding yet another wheel platform, I think that we will find the opposite to be true. With too many choices available to consumers they may just throw their hands up and give up on the whole thing. Move to road riding, or simply get fed up and buy from Wal-Mart.
So I say to the industry...kill this compromise platform now or commit to it as the platform for the future and phase out the 26er. For if you try to live with all three, you will cause too much confusion and limit mountain biking to those that have already been bitten by the bug. Just a thought.
Update: Just noticed this post with an alternate perspective over on Twentynineand650b.com...ha.