Tech Q&A: Finding the right 650b adventure/gravel bike?

New series in which our tech team try to answer your frequently (and not so frequently) asked tech questions

Here at road.cc we frequently get asked bike buying advice, both on the site, via social media and email, and we love to help you all out as much as we can. So in a new, possibly regular, series we’re going to publish the questions and our answers. Just like magazines with their readers’ letters section.

Let’s start with a really good one we got over the weekend, and the question comes from Piotr. He asks:

I am asking for help in choosing a bike. I am looking for a gravel bike with 650b and the possibility of changing to 700c. Bike for use in the mountains and terrain with the possibility of mounting panniers (front and rear) and equipment on the frame and fork. I would like to use it in rallies like Torino-Nice. I think that the set should be better 2x10 than 1x11, or maybe just 3x10.

It’s a really good question, and Piotr probably isn’t alone in wanting a bike along similar lines to what he describes - possibly most of us wouldn't be attempting anything as hardcore as Torino-Nice. It’s a tricky question to answer though, as this gravel and adventure category is still in its infancy and the bikes are changing a lot as brands try and predict what sort of riding these bikes are being used for and consumers get their heads around what these bikes can be used for.

Perhaps a good place to start is Torino-Nice itself. It's a 700km bike-packing, touring or randonneur event with a fair amount of gravel. Sounds epic. In an interview on pannier.cc, event organiser James Olsen states that the ideal bike for this event is a cyclocross bike with 40mm minimum width tyres, but the fact he’s ridden it himself on a steel frameset with 650b WTB Horizon tyres shows that no one bike is perfect, and there's plenty of scope for using different wheel sizes and tyre designs. 

Any bike that will accommodate 650b tyres will, in turn, take a 700c wheelset, and the list of such bikes is growing all the time. Most new adventure bikes in fact. The demand for rack mounts rules out a few options already like the 3T Exploro and Open UP, two bikes that will run on 700c or 650b wheels. Being able to fit front rack also rules out quite a few bikes actually, we'd hazard a guess that most people interested in these bikes for events like Torino-Nice are probably opting for packs and bags that strap to the bike. Taking this approach saves weight and provides more flexibility. 

- 12 of the best bikepacking bags — luggage for lightweight adventures

Let's look at the options then. The first bike that ticks all of Piotr’s demands is the Specialized Sequoia. The steel frame and carbon fork will accommodate 650b or 700c wheels (it ships with the latter) and has all the rack mounts you could possibly need, including on the fork. The Expert level bike we tested was fitted with a 1x groupset but other models in the range cater for 2x. Read our review here.

Another option is Mason’s aluminium Bokeh. A rear rack can be fitted and the frame can be run on 650b or 700c wheels .It’ll also take a 1x or 2x drivetrain. And it’s a really nice riding bike as well. You can read our review of the Mason Bokeh here.

Another 650b option is the new Bombtrack Hook EXT C, which is a carbon frame and fork with all the mounts for adding racks, even on the fork, and extra bottle cages. It's also compatible with any drivetrain and comes as standard with 650b wheels with WTB Nano 2.1in tyres that will be ideal in the mountains. We’re currently testing this bike and here’s our first look video.

Our final offering is the new Merida Silex. This model comes in a choice of carbon or aluminium frames, with disc brakes and mudguard mounts and clearance for up to 42mm tyres on 700c wheels or 2.25in 650b mountain bike tyres. The geometry is a bit different from most other adventure bikes, leaning more on the company’s mountain bike expertise with a long front centre and short stem, designed to offer better handling in the rough. You can read off.road.cc's review of the Silex 9000 here.

Hope that helps you out Piotr. And if you're reading this and have a few suggestions of your own, tap them out in the comments box below. 

- 18 of the best 2018 gravel & adventure bikes 

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

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