How much of the mystical, mythical magic carpet ride quality of 650b is hype and how much is reality? I confess that I was fully prepared to be underwhelmed. Instead, I’m more than a little astonished at just how significantly these tires and wheel size improve my riding experience. For one thing, the wheels spin up much more quickly than I had anticipated they would – whether it is the slightly smaller wheel diameter, or the Pacenti Pari-Moto tires, the Velo Routier is not the sluggish beast I feared it might turn out to be. Additionally, riding wide, low pressure tires that are quick is an exceptional characteristic that really does enhance one’s encounter with the road.
This pleasant riding experience resulted in a rare lucid moment of clarity for me: I realized the profound difference between a road bike and the type of bicycle that meets my needs. Road bikes are designed and marketed around racing bike technology. They are marketed to racing wannabes – or, at least, to some twisted vicarious illusion of racing. Walk into any bike shop around here and the conversation is all about speed. Racers ride bikes with the sole purpose of getting someplace fast. As quickly as possible. Think about it, the longer a racer spends in the saddle the less chance there is of winning the race. There’s no real upside to staying in the saddle any longer than absolutely necessary – and that mindset certainly rubs off on many, if not most, riders.
On the other hand, I’m interested in staying comfortably in the saddle. And the kind of bike that fits my needs allows me to do precisely that. An epiphany? Maybe. Profound? Perhaps I’m overstating things a bit. Nevertheless, I am duly impressed with the 650b experience.
The majority of my riding is upon the lunar landscape of chip seal and potholes that is the connective thread we call a “road system” in Missouri. I’ve become quite adept at dodging cracks and holes and all manner of debris that seems to be strewn willy-nilly across the rural highways and back roads of Clay County. And frankly, you just about have to be a cycling acrobat if you want to safely negotiate some roads on 700 x 23 tires.
I gave up on those years back.
Most of my bikes now sport 700 x 28 tires that absorb some of the road crap. I’ve become quite enthusiastic about wider, sportier, cushier tires. And maybe it’s a little surprising that it’s taken so long for me to finally investigate 650b. But as I’m a suspicious guy, and if it walks like hype and talks like hype and smells like hype…well, it’s my experience that it’s generally going to be hype.
Only, as it turns out, it’s not.
And no one could be happier to discover this deviation from human nature than good old cynical me.
So now I’m a proud 650b cyclist. I’ve added a Cycles Toussaint Velo Routier to the herd. The Velo Routier came to me with a full build kit, and (of course) I replaced much of that kit. The MicroShift front derailleur is gone, replaced by a braze-on Shimano 600. The Gyres saddle that looks so nice and is as comfortable as a porcupine shoved up one’s rectal cavity has been exchanged for a 70’s era Brooks Professional. Velo-Orange makes an excellent “add on” for saddles without bag loops, and I’ve installed those to facilitate the hanging of an Acorn bag. What else? Oh, I really like the Velo-Orange Grand Cru Chris’s Rando Handlebar and the Shimano M-324 pedals I have on my Boulder, so those are now on the Velo Routier as well. Unlike the Boulder, this bike requires a quill stem, so I’ve traded the flexy thing that came with the bike for a tall Nitto Technomic with a little extra reach.
I carefully prepared the bars with seven layers of clear shellac over two layers of red Tressostar cotton twill. I like the feel of cotton bar wrap coated with shellac against my hands so much that I seldom wear cycling gloves with this set up. I also appreciate the smooth, matte appearance of shellac-coated bar wrap after it’s been handled by sweaty, ungloved palms for a few hundred miles.
What I like most about my Boulder Brevet is that it just fits me perfectly. That perception is very confidence inspiring. I feel like I can just get up and go, without worrying about anything. I’ve tried to dial in the fit of the Velo Routier to mimic that same feeling, while also being able to take advantage of the qualities of a wider tire.
Part of the process of getting the fit dialed in is simply getting out there and riding the bike in a variety of conditions. (And I’ve no problem with that!) With the number of my free summer days swiftly dwindling, I’ve taken to an assortment of roads and pathways.
My first real shake down ride was on the flat gravel of the KATY Trail. Riding from Pilot Grove to Rocheport, Missouri I started out gingerly enough. I’d experienced several flats while still in town. Even though I diagnosed the problem (some weird holes on the inside of the rim) and had remedied the situation (electrical tape over the holes), I didn’t relish the thought of having to change tubes again and again. My worry was needless; the electrical tape solved the problem, and by the time I had eaten lunch and was on the return jog, I found myself pedaling along at a brisk pace. The tires ate up the gravel and the pace was enjoyable. Time to give things a real test.
I hit the road bright and early. The plan was to navigate into the city, through some industrial areas and across the river into downtown, loop back through a different industrial area, cross the river and head back to the comfort of suburbia.
The roads in downtown are remarkable similar in disrepair to those in the countryside. Stop lights at every intersection, a few hills here and there, and one certainly hopes to be able to accelerate quickly, to stop with assurance. In this regard, the Velo Routier does not disappoint. As mentioned before, the wheels spin up quickly, and I was pleased with responsive acceleration – not race car g-force acceleration, but neither did it feel as though getting going was a chore. Stopping, slowing, and modulation of braking is a pleasure. The brazed-on Dia-Compe 750 brakes work perfectly. I love and prefer center pulls anyway, and these simply confirm the rationality of my affection.
Because I planned to stop along the way at the Cellar Rat to pick up a bottle of wine for dinner, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t jarring the bottle terribly.
This was a very real concern because from The Cellar Rat, my route took me through some pretty torn up tarmac to get to The Local Pig to pick up something to eat for said dinner. Little good would it do me to select a nice vintage, only to destroy it crossing the infinite crosshatchings of railroad track. High volume/low pressure tires – what a wonderful concept! Magic carpet ride, indeed! I imagine that my bottle of Cab enjoyed the cushy ride as much as I did.