Salsa Vaya 650B Conversion Project (Wheels & Tires)

Welcome to the second installment of GRAVELBIKE’s series on converting the Salsa Vaya to 650B wheels. Previously, we covered the why, and in this post, we’ll explain the how.

If you’re wondering why someone would go to the trouble of converting a bike like the Salsa Vaya to 650B/27.5″ wheels, the answer is volume. Specifically, air volume. A 650B/27.5″ knobby has the same outside diameter as a 700×38 cross or touring tire. The 650B rim, however, is smaller than a 700C rim, giving you more tire height (or volume). That added height/volume allows you to run lower air pressure (with reduced risk of pinch-flatting), which smooths out the ride and improves traction when riding off-road.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder 650B 27.5 Continental Kenda

Both tires have a diameter of 705mm, but the 650B tire (right) has 45% more height than the 700C tire (left).

Thanks to the growing popularity of 27.5″ tires in the MTB world, nearly every manufacturer offers compatible wheels and rims. For this project, we selected Bicycle Wheel Warehouse’s 650B Pure Enduro Pro wheelset. The 26mm wide rim can easily accommodate 2.5″ wide tires, yet weighs only 420g. With the company’s PURE-branded D400 hubs (32h) and Sapim CX-Ray spokes, the Enduro Pro wheels came in at 731g front and 831g rear. We used inner tubes during the majority of the testing, but had no trouble running Hutchinson Cobra tires without tubes (using Stan’s rim strips and Slime tubeless sealant). During the test period (several weeks of daily riding), the only necessary maintenance was tightening the rear hub’s end-caps after the initial break-in period. Both hubs’ seals proved effective at keeping out water and dirt, despite being ridden in record-breaking rainstorms.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder 650B 27.5 BWW Bicycle Wheel Warehouse Pure Enduro Avid BB7 Hayes

Bicycle Wheel Warehouse PURE D400 front hub.

When retrofitting a 700C- or 26″-wheeled bike with 650B wheels, be aware that not all 650B/27.5″ knobbies will fit. In the case of the Vaya, lateral clearance was more of an issue than vertical clearance. Keep in mind that tires often measure-out differently than their stated size. Actual dimensions can vary by manufacturer, and in some cases, even between different models from a single company. Another factor to consider is rim width. Wider rims can change a tire’s profile, increasing the effective size (thereby reducing clearance). Lastly, it’s not uncommon for tire casings to relax (or stretch) after they’ve been mounted and inflated (every tire that we tested measured 1-3mm wider 24-48 hours after installation).

Tires are listed alphabetically by name, and include the inch-based and metric sizes as per the manufacturer. Note that there is no winner because we didn’t view the project as a contest. Each tire performed well, and had its own strengths and weaknesses. Tire preference–like many choices in cycling–is often subjective at best. The ratings (1-5, with 5 being the best) are relative to the other tires tested. A tire that received a 5/5 pavement rating would be smoother-riding than a tire that received a 3/5 rating, but that 5/5 tire won’t be faster on-road than a 25mm tubular. Tires were evaluated by the following criteria:

  • Pavement–performance on paved roads; higher-rated tires ride smoother and quieter
  • Hard-pack–performance on hardpacked dirt roads or trails; higher-rated tires offer improved speed and traction
  • Soft-pack–performance on soft, damp, or loamy trails; higher rated tires offer improved traction and control and shed mud easily
  • Gravel–performance on gravel roads or trails; higher rated tires offer improved traction and control

Hutchinson Cobra
GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder 27.5 650B Hutchinson IRD Kenda Vee Rubber

  • Size: 27.5 x 2.25 / 54 – 584
  • Pavement: 3.5
  • Hard-pack: 4.5
  • Soft-pack: 3
  • Gravel: 3.5

IRD Fire XC Pro
GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder 27.5 650B Hutchinson IRD Kenda Vee Rubber

  • Size: 27.5 x 2.1 / 50 – 584
  • Pavement: 2.5
  • Hard-pack: 3
  • Soft-pack: 4.5
  • Gravel: 4

Kenda Karma
GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder 27.5 650B Hutchinson IRD Kenda Vee Rubber

  • Size: 27.5 x 2.00 / 52 – 584
  • Pavement: 2.5
  • Hard-pack: 3
  • Soft-pack: 4
  • Gravel: 3.5

Kenda Nevegal
GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder 27.5 650B Hutchinson IRD Kenda Vee Rubber

  • Size: 27.5 x 2.10 / 52 – 584
  • Pavement: 2.5
  • Hard-pack: 3
  • Soft-pack: 4
  • Gravel: 4

Kenda Slant Six Pro
GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder 27.5 650B Hutchinson IRD Kenda Vee Rubber

  • Size: 27.5 x 2.10 / 52 – 584
  • Pavement: 3
  • Hard-pack: 4
  • Soft-pack: 3.5
  • Gravel: 4

Vee Rubber V6
GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder 27.5 650B Hutchinson IRD Kenda Vee Rubber

  • Size: 27.5 x 2.10 / 54 – 584
  • Pavement: 4
  • Hard-pack: 5
  • Soft-pack: 3
  • Gravel: 3.5

Vee Rubber V10
GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder 27.5 650B Hutchinson IRD Kenda Vee Rubber

  • Size: 27.5 x 2.10 / 54 – 584
  • Pavement: 4.5
  • Hard-pack: 4.5
  • Soft-pack: 3
  • Gravel: 3

Vee Rubber V12
GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder 27.5 650B Hutchinson IRD Kenda Vee Rubber

  • Size: 27.5 x 2.10 / 54 – 584
  • Pavement: 5
  • Hard-pack: 4
  • Soft-pack: 2.5
  • Gravel: 2.5

Disclosure: Bicycle Wheel Warehouse, Hutchinson, IRD, Kenda, and Vee Rubber provided product samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.

13 thoughts on “Salsa Vaya 650B Conversion Project (Wheels & Tires)

    • I have not noticed any negative consequences when running the 650B/27.5 wheels. I’ve ridden the same trails with 700C and 650B wheels, and didn’t encounter any problems that were attributed to the wheel size. The Vaya has a relatively low BB to begin with, so I’m used to “timing” my pedal stroke to avoid hitting rocks and when navigating “step-ups.”

  1. Sorry I’m somewhat new to all this. I have a Vaya 57″ with 700cc wheels. If I buy a set of 650b wheels and tires (w/ brake rotors and cassette), can I just swap the sets back and forth depending on what I plan on riding without feeling any effects or needing to make other changes? Thanks for input.

    • Yes, you should be able to switch between 700C and 650B wheels without making any other changes. I would choose wheels with the same hubs, though, so that you don’t have to adjust the derailleur and/or rear brake.

      • Will different hubs really place the cassette or rotor in a different position? Is it not universal?

        Also, have you tried fitting any 2.3″ tires? What do you think about clearance with that size?

        • I’ve found that there are minor variations in cassette/rotor positioning with nearly every disc hub that I’ve tried. The cassette positioning seems to be pretty consistent, but rotor placement can definitely vary enough to require re-positioning of the caliper.

          Personally, I would not attempt to run a 2.3″ tire on the Vaya. Clearance will be minimal at best, and if you break a spoke, or ride in muddy conditions, the tire will most likely rub.

  2. I am interested in purchasing of a Salsa Vaya 2 with size 50. Is this conversion also possible for this frame size?

    Thank You!

      • Do you find that being limited to 26″ tires is a drawback? I’m in love with the Vaya, but my frame size (52) can’t run 700c tires. Thoughts?

        • Personally, I don’t think that there is one magic wheel size that works for every rider or application. A rider on a 52cm frame is probably better served by 26″ wheels than a rider on a 62cm frame. There is definitely no shortage of good 26″ tires, so I wouldn’t worry about tire choice/selection.

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