The rider and the trails:
I’m Francis of mtbr and I’m 5’8″ 145 lbs of XC rider who has been transforming into a trail rider. My main rides are a 29er Santa Cruz Highball hardtail, a Niner Carbon Air9 hardtail, a Specialized 29er Epic FS and a Santa Cruz Blur TRc converted into 650b. So I’ve ridden dozens of 26ers and 29ers recently but the weapons I chose are 29er hardtails and short travel FS and 26er All Mountain and long travel bikes. And that’s right, I’ve ridden several 650b bikes. I’ve ridden the Jamis 650b FS, Haro 650b hardtail and I’ve converted several 26er bikes to 650b ultimately settling on the Santa Cruz Blur TRc in 650b format. Read about that project here.
I’m actually a firm believer in the future of 650b . I love big wheels but I’ve seen the limitations of 29er wheels as one goes to 140-160mm of travel and beyond. Geometries and wheelbases get all out of whack and compromises have to be made just to fit those wheels in and still get decent chainstay lengths. Couple that with the wheel inertia problem and a big wide rim, and a 2.4 29er tire and and the 29er can exhibit all the undesirable sluggish qualities we fear with big wheels. What often happens is we fit light, expensive wheels and tubeless, 2.2 tires on these FS rigs just to get the ultimate ride out of a 29er.
650b has been around for a while but it has been held back by inferior front suspension forks and small tires. But now, the forks are here and the tires are definitely coming. For 160mm travel bikes, 650b made more sense than 29er because of the geometry and inertia issues. Are they better than 26er? Can you feel the difference? That’s what we’re here to find out.
The rides they took us on are the trails of Burnaby mountain by the college and Fromme in the North Shore. The Burnaby trails are tight trails with lots of obstacles and features that just flow left to right, up and down. The trails keep going as they guide the rider through berms, rocks and structures. The other trail is the Executioner trail of the Fromme in North Shore, BC. This trail is a daunting singletrack filled with roots, rocks and steep pitches. The locals described it as ‘flowy’ but this Norcal resident has a lot to learn before he can flow on these trails.
The Norco Sight 650b
After the presentation and the hype on the green 160mm travel Range, I was a little disappointed to be put on the 140mm Range (white bikes in the photos) for the first day. But as soon as I hopped on, all concerns were appeased. The Rockshox Revelation seemed fine and the rear travel seemed very plush. All bikes were fitted with Sram Reverb dropping posts and these devices are almost mandatory for these bikes. And the best part of it all… the bikes came with Schwalbe Hans Dampf prototype 650b tires. These tires are probably the single most anticipated component of the 650b movement. They are huge, grippy and they roll well. This is the tire that will hold the fort as 650b tire selection grows while the established wheelsizes offer a massive array of available tires.
The ride started off with some descending on singletrack and this bike was instantly easy to ride. Like the brochure says, the bike handles like a 26er. The BB height of 13.3 ensured it carved nicely and the the wheelbase was short as well as it matched the old 26er Sight bike. I made sure to set my tire psi on the Schwalbe Hans Dampfs to 23 psi and they were dialed on the Burnaby descents. The bike carved the berms and it handled all the rocks and roots with easy. I could see all the rocks, roots and ladders in front of me but they actually pretty smooth under the bie 650b Schwalbe tires.
What came next were about three daunting climbs and although unpleasant for my tired legs, the bike seemed to climb with ease. I didn’t have to lock out the CTD rear shock as the rear exhibited very little bob. If I climbed out of saddle a lot, the rear would move up and down more and would warrant a different shock setting. But I just left front and rear wide open and the bike climbed efficiently.
As we got to the Jay Hoots bike park at the end of our ride, I gave the Sight a couple rounds through the pump track and it seemed easy to pump and it carried speed well. The other journalists put the Sight through its paces and put the bike sideways in mid-air as they just went round and round doing tricks. I think this this attests how easy the bike is to throw around in mid air as it did not have the big 29er wheel on it.
The Norco Range is next…