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.

Salsa Vaya 650B Conversion (Overview)

In case you haven’t noticed, the bicycle industry is touting the 650B wheel size as the proverbial next big thing. They’ve even given it a catchy nickname–27.5″–so folks will know where it fits in the MTB wheel-size hierarchy (namely, right between 26″ and 29″). What’s interesting though, is that 650B wheels are nothing new. The French constructeurs of the 1940‘s and 50’s favored 650B wheels, and some of Tom Ritchey’s earliest MTBs were designed around the 650B wheel size.

This tween wheel size has not gone unnoticed by tinkerers and gearheads (including yours truly). Many riders found that they could fit wider, more comfortable tires into frames and forks designed for 700C (and 27″) wheels without increasing the effective wheel diameter. My own interest in 650B conversions centered around increasing the off-road capabilities of my 700C-wheeled Salsa Vaya. Box-stock, the Vaya has clearance for 700×42 tires (1.9″ on 26″-wheeled models), but I found myself wanting a little more meat for steep, rocky terrain. After taking a few quick measurements, I concluded that the Vaya was a good candidate for a 650B conversion.

Here is a breakdown of the Vaya’s conversion process:

  • Wheels and tires
  • Drivetrain and gears
  • Miscellany

Stay tuned for the results (both good and not-so-good), caveats, and my overall impressions of the converted bike.