The Angry Singlespeeder: 650B Wheels, Bottom Bracket “Standards” and Toilet Paper

27.5 Opinion
Life is complicated enough, so why must we have so many unnecessary choices?

Buying toilet paper seems like an easy task compared to understanding today’s bottom bracket “standards”.

Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at singlespeeder@consumerreview.com. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.

Our lives are complicated with too many choices. Have you ever bought toilet paper? Not only are there so many brands that your eyes glaze over, but you need about five minutes to decipher all the different kinds you can buy. Every time you go to the store, you’ll see at least three people standing wide-eyed in the toilet paper aisle staring for minutes on end. I’ve seriously considered just starting a brand called Toilet Paper. Single ply. No padding. No lame patterns. No impregnated lotions. No designer colors. Just some basic friggin’ TP.

The cycling world is suffering from the same decision paralysis that can be found in the world of toilet tissue. It’s bad enough we now have three wheel sizes to choose from, but what am I supposed to call this hot new mountain bike wheel size, 27.5 or 650B? I can’t figure it out, and after a week wandering the sunburnt tarmac of Sea Otter, it seems manufacturers can’t either.

Focus calls their new Raven a 650B. Scott calls their new Scale a 27.5. Marin calls their prototype Rocky Ridge a 27.5. Schwalbe labels their tweener tires 650B. Ritchey is completely confused, trying to cover both by advertising their Vantage WCS wheels as 27.5 and their WCS Shield tires by actually printing 27.5 and 650B on the same tire. I even heard somebody in the industry refer to it as 27B. Can we get some consensus here, please?

Ritchey actually prints both 27.5 and 650B on their WCS Shield tires.

It seems pretty clear to me what it should be called. Since mountain bikes are measured in inches and not centimeters, 27.5 should be the preferred nomenclature. 650B is a metric standard that has most commonly been used in the road, touring and triathlon scene. How it crept its way into the mountain biking world, I’m not sure, but let’s keep 650B to the skinny tires. Cool?

Personally, I like to call 27.5 bikes “Goldilocks”, since after riding a few different 27.5ers, the wheels aren’t too big or too small; they’re just right. So now that whole Goldilocks taxonomy issue is out of the way, let’s focus on a much bigger and more problematic dilemma that really gets me pissed; bottom bracket “standards”. The true irony of this whole debacle is that there are so many different versions of bottom brackets these days that the last thing you can legitimately call them is a standard. The only thing standard about bottom brackets is that there is no standard.

BB30, FT30, BB386EVO, BB86, BB90, BB91, BB92, OSBB, BBRight, BBLeft, BBUp, BBDown. Not only does this nonsense make the art of pirating parts off one bike to build another completely impossible, but it gives bike shops huge headaches when trying to stock and install the choking mass of different bottom brackets, shims, adapters and whatever else.

What the hell is wrong with your traditional, good old threaded bottom bracket? Besides a few extra grams in weight, I never saw a problem with it. Sure, you might not be able to pull off a thicker, beefier bottom bracket area for more lateral stiffness, but I’d much rather have a slightly less stiff bottom bracket area that doesn’t creak endlessly like a neglected door hinge and has bearings that can actually outlast a set of tires.

The flagship Felt FRD is a 19 lb. XC wunderbike that uses a traditional threaded bottom bracket.

Apparently there are a few manufacturers who agree with my frustrations, with Felt’s new flagship FRD hardtail 29er wunderbike sporting a traditional threaded bottom bracket. Weighing in at a scant 19 pounds featuring insane amounts of lateral stiffness for ridiculously fast acceleration, apparently you can design a fast and light bike with a traditional threaded shell. When I asked Eddie McDonald of Felt why they used a threaded bottom bracket, his response was, “Have you ever ridden a BB30 frame?” My response was, “Yeah, it creaked like hell.” All he did was nod.

So if we can simplify matters, why aren’t we? Looking at the bottom bracket standards issue from a manufacturer’s perspective, it makes more sense to have a molded bottom bracket for a couple of reasons. For one, manufacturing cost is less. Two, it reduces weight and adds design flexibility. And three, because it cuts weight and enables new designs, manufacturers can market it as a feature, enabling them to charge more money while costing them less to make. Plus, if it’s proprietary, it makes switching from one brand to another more difficult. Seems like these bottom bracket “standards” benefit manufacturers far more than they benefit consumers.

This QBP video is a mind-numbing 8 minutes long and all it talks about is bottom brackets.

Quality Bicycle Products has an eight minute video on YouTube devoted to talking about nothing but bottom bracket standards. Four minutes into the video your brain wants to explode. A Tibetan monk doesn’t have that kind of patience and attention span.

Even the Barnett Bicycle Institute is devoting more than five times on bottom bracket maintenance and repair in its classes than it did five years ago. With more than 100 pages of bottom bracket nonsense in the Barnett’s Manual, bike shop owners will pretty soon have to hire a mechanic who only works on bottom brackets.

Praxis Works and Real World Cycling are now making – get this – threaded cartridge design bottom brackets to fit inside BB30-sized frame shells to help eliminate that God-awful creaking. So basically we’re innovating ourselves backward to threaded style bottom brackets.

After sorting through the sea of different bottom bracket standards, the once befuddling mission of buying toilet paper now seems like a refreshingly simple and easy task. So if you’ll excuse me, I have to jump on Goldilocks and go run an errand.

The Angry Singlespeeder: 650B Wheels, Bottom Bracket “Standards” and Toilet Paper Gallery
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Felt FRD

The flagship Felt FRD is a 19 lb. XC wunderbike that uses a traditional threaded bottom bracket.
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650b

Ritchey actually prints both 27.5 and 650B on their WCS Shield tires.
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Quality Bicycle Products Video

This QBP video is a mind-numbing 8 minutes long and all it talks about is bottom brackets.
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Toilet Paper

Buying toilet paper seems like an easy task compared to understanding today’s bottom bracket “standards”.
About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.


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  • Bokchoi Cowboy says:

    Well said, Mr. A.S.S.

  • John G. says:

    Right there with you ASS. Threaded BBs , 27.5 wheels and let the wife buy TP. KISS works for me, JG

  • oliver says:

    Threaded BBs all the way. I believe Santa Cruz is still using the threaded BB as well. I applaud companies that still run the threaded BB!

    As for TP, as long as it is soft!

  • gddyap says:

    The only standard in bottom brackets is having the letters “BB” in the name.
    I remember when you just had to know if you english or italian threads.

  • dooms101 says:

    I gotta agree with what’s been said here ASS. I went from 26in to 27.5in and loved the difference, then I figured I’d try 29in and I feel like I made the wrong choice, 27.5in seems to be the way to go for mtn bikes. Also, stop the 650B nonsense, please keep consistency and stick with inches people…
    Threaded BB’s are the only way to go for me… I refuse to buy a press fit or any of that garbage. A threaded BB requires just 1 wrench for removal and install, makes perfect sense in my book. Plus, is a 30mm spindle really THAT much better than 24mm? I doubt it.

  • Slow Joe Crow says:

    You are on target with your bottom bracket observation. Apparently the main reason fro BB30, PF30 et al is to reduce manufacturing costs by allowing looser tolerances and eliminating the threading step. Of course the leaves a lot of loose creaky bottom brackets that need Loctite or threaded conversion shells. Personally I really like the threaded external bottom brackets and will try to get them on any new bikes I buy.

  • Huanyao says:

    Thank you! If I remember right, one reason I got a Santa Cruz was because of the threaded BB. I remember Klein had a proprietary BB for a while and it’s as senseless now as it was then.

  • grumpy says:

    next thing ya know, they’ll eliminate cable stops and tell is it’s better. oh, crap, they did that already,too.
    lazy,cheap does not equal innovation.

  • Ck says:

    While I agree that the amount of new standards we’ve seen recently is too excessive, if you’ve got creaking BB problems on any of the new press fit standards, that’s an error with the installation, not the standard.

    As much as we love to complain about it, few bike manufacturers care. They can claim their new standard is X% stiffer and on the back end it’s cheaper for them to produce. They’re in the business of selling frames/bikes, and if the suckers in our community take the bait and buy the new hot thing every year, it won’t stop.

  • koalaplow says:

    C’mon, guys, everybody knows the proper term for 650B/27.5 is “Demi-Ballon”.

  • ohpossum says:

    We all voted..650b/27.5 is called Juan Carlos now.

    Really though, you gots more hate than those guys still waiting on HBC rings. The flood of different BB styles is the best thing to happen to your local bike shop. Nobody can work on their own bike anymore and shop nerds are the only people that actually care to know how all this crap works. Shops make all their money in service anyway. I say we can’t have enough proprietary sizes and tools in the bikecycle universalsphere.

  • The Angry Singlespeeder says:

    ohpossum – you’re assuming most people who work at a bike shop know WTF they’re doing. Most don’t. I once saw a guy try and press fit the wrong BB cup into a BB86 frame…ended up splitting the carbon because the knucklehead didn’t know when to back off.

    • ohpossum says:

      Sounds like someone got a new frame courtesy of the LBS..

      Hopefully that guy’s story got around his area and the shop that doesn’t ruin frames got more business. Again, shops (the good ones in this case) win.

  • Vince E says:

    Americans, welcome to the 21st century where we all use metric measurements. Did you notice it is 27.5? not a round 26 or 29, that’s because it isn’t an imperial unit you mongs.

  • Drew says:

    YES. This is my world as a bike mechanic.

  • Ben says:

    Mountain bikes started on 650B. Ritchey and Fishers were 650B until the supply went dry and then went to the only balloon size available. 650B always was a balloon tire for off road and town riding. 650C, which is a whole different tire size is what you find on very small road bikes and tri bikes. 650B BSD 584mm 650C BSD 571mm

  • kramer says:

    Square Fuckin Taper. Done.

  • Mike says:

    BB’s are one thing, have you tried to fit a headset lately? Internal. integrated, semi-integrated, tapered etc…..

  • sal says:

    I just got a warranty replacement frame from Trek. I had a Gary Fisher Sugar with what most of you would consider “standard” parts. Anyway, I knew that Trek would come back with a Fuel frame, I was hoping they would give me the Fuel EX 7 frame because all of my most of my parts would fit. The only exception would be the headset. Mine current fork is a 1 1/8 and the new is a mix of 1 1/8 top and 1 1/2 bottom.

    Anyway, their only option was the Fuel EX 9 with the press on BB. After considering the cost of a new BB and cranks, it made more sense to take the store credit and get the Fuel 8.

    Moral of the story, companies force you to new standards so that you buy new bikes. I now have perfectly good crank, headset, fork, and wheels that I can’t use.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the new bike; but I find the upgrades un-necessary. I can’t feel the XX% stiffness from the new headset and BB.

    Don’t even get me started on 2X10 and 3 X10.

    Does anyone want to buy a very good condition X9 group, XT cranks, regular skewer wheels, and 1 1/8′ fork?

    Bahumbug!!

  • Rob says:

    Goldilocks or not, what Gerard Vroomen (Cervelo founder + Open Cycles founder) said about 27.5 inch wheels was, “This is a perfect example of the bicycle industry shooting itself in the foot.”
    Every time I see a promo or ad for “650b” bikes, I think of that quote.
    What next–28 1/4 tires?

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