Last weekend, Leigh and I joined a group of cyclists to a casual ride in Boulder. This group, being organized by Mike of Rene Herse, was mostly aficionados of vintage steel bicycles and randonneur types. We rode our 650b rando / light touring bikes and received quite a few questions about this wheel size and the way my bike is equipped.
Not that they have not heard of 650b, or not know of its benefits; rather most were still skeptical or held back by their existing 700c collection.
I find this quite interesting because if you ask most of them, they appreciate the benefit of this wheel size, namely, being able to use wider tire but not be stuck with too big a wheel diameter (benefiical if you are under 6'). This wheel size is also particularly meaningful if you plan to not just use wider tires, but also put on fenders. With 700c, you would have to have a longer toptube if you were to avoid toe overlap.
Some criticize that 650b wheels with bigger tires are slower. And I agree from my own experience that climbing with a 42mm tire will definitely be slower than ones with a 28mm tire. However, when you are descending and cornering, there is so much more confidence with the wider tire in lower pressure that the overall more enjoyable experience is well worth slowing down a bit. This critique of speed is especially interesting, because a lot of the people who use this reason says they are not really concerned about speed. They say 28mm tires are comfortable enough and they do not want to hold back their riding mates.
Another question that I was asked a few times was if I am happy with disc brake on my bike. Again, most understand the benefit, but did not have their own bikes using disc brakes.
These observations make me wonder, what does it take for these enthusiasts to change their existing stable of bikes? Be it adding a new bike that runs the equipment they claim to like, or be it adapting an existing bike, it seems they are stuck in tradition and status quo.
Enough of my rambling, I will continue to promote 650b wheeled bikes (maybe with disc brakes too) to the right candidate, yes, it is not for everyone but for those who would benefit from it, I hate to see them lessen their enjoyment because it is easier to get tires at their LBS.