What is the best gravel bike wheelset? 700C or 650b? And which size is right for me? These are probably the questions we get asked the most by people looking to get into riding gravel and the easiest answer is… both. Eric Foltz is one of the main contributors to our gravel testing. As one of Stava’s earliest ambassadors, Eric rides a lot more than most people. In the past 2 years, he has logged almost 26,000 miles in 2018 and already logging more than 18,000 miles year-to-date.
Here is Eric’s take on gravel bike wheelset:
After riding both size wheels I have to say that there are things that I like about both wheel sizes and advantages to both.
Let’s start with the ride characteristics of the wheels themselves. I’ll be discussing carbon fiber wheels specifically the Irwin carbon gravel GX 35s which I have ridden in both sizes. The 650b gravel bike wheelsets have a smaller diameter and shorter spokes which will give the wheel a slightly stiffer feel than the 700cs. There is only a 30-gram difference in weight between the 700cs and 650bs so any weight difference you feel will probably be dependent on tire choice.
The biggest difference in the gravel bike wheelsets really comes to what and how you ride. With this in mind, I will describe what I like and how I use each size wheel.
700C Gravel Bike Wheelet Size
This what I like about the 700c bicycle wheels. My standard set up on the 700c carbon gravel rim is with either the Maxxis Rambler 700×40 or the WTB Nanos in the same size set up tubeless. This is what I use for long rides or races in the dirt on smooth single track or good dirt/gravel roads. The reason I like the 700cs in this scenario is that they are just faster. I’ve run the same 44-mile course on both wheel sizes and the 700s always come out faster. I would have to say that the reason would be that with the larger tires the angle that the tire contacts the ground is less which makes them roll over imperfect surfaces easier. There may also be some rolling momentum advantage.
650B Gravel Bike Wheelet Size
This is what I like about the 650b bicycle wheel size. I use this wheel size for rougher dirt rides on rockier trails and as my backpacking/touring set up. I have used tires from 650×42 to 27.5×2.1”. The larger MTB tires make for a smoother ride over rough trails since you can run them at much lower pressure. Another thing I like about the smaller wheels is that most gravel bikes have a slightly longer wheelbase than a race road bike. The geometry is closer to an endurance road bike with a longer wheelbase for stability and to a lesser degree, compliance. The 650b size shortens that wheelbase which makes the bike feel livelier and more maneuverable. The effect is like the difference between mountain bikes with different wheel sizes. Another noticeable difference is your gearing. The smaller wheel diameter will give you what feels like an extra gear when you are climbing which is never a bad thing. I’ve currently got these carbon wheelsets set up with a set of Vittoria Mezcal 27.5×2.1” tires. The wider tires work great on rougher trails or areas with occasional sand.
I also use this wheel size for touring. The 650b wheel size has been popular with touring cyclists for a long time. The smaller size makes it easier to avoid toe overlap and there are a wide variety of touring tires available in the size. Since touring is not generally about speed, I like to run a larger diameter tire like the WTB Horizon which can be used on or off road and give a super plush ride over long distances.
So which size is best? For racing or smoother surfaces, I would recommend the 700s. For riders who treat their gravel bike like a drop bar mountain bike, I would recommend at least trying a set of 650bs. In a perfect world without budgets, I would recommend getting both if your bike will fit them.
Click on the link below to see our full line of gravel wheels.