I have been racing for two years on a Cannondale CAAD 10 road bike and am ready to purchase my first tri bike. I am struggling (as I did when I purchased the road bike) because I am tiny. (My CAAD is a 44!) I have found a couple bikes I like (especially the Cervelo P3) that come in a 45, however they all come on 650c wheels. Would love advice/opinions/anecdotes on the virtues of going for the 650s vs. continuing to search or trying to stretch (I know, terrible) onto a larger frame. My biggest concerns are speed (of course) and maintenance - especially should I have accidents or break downs on the road.
Thank you all!
My race bike is a QR Caliente in XS (~ 46) with 650 wheels. It is an older model so the frame may not be as "aero" as some newer designs, but it is plenty fast for me. I like 650 wheels because I can get in a good aero position and it climbs well for a tri bike. I was able to power up the Westernport Wall at Savageman with no problem. Never had an issue with maintenance, tires, tubes, etc. Typically I carry two tubes on my training rides. In case of an emergency, you can install a 700 tube by "folding over/overlapping" the tube to make it smaller. I install 700 latex tubes in my race wheels this way.
Perhaps the biggest negative with 650 wheel is limited options for race wheels and not all companies make 650 tires. However there are some good choices from HED, Zipp, Renn in 650 race wheels. Up to this year, Mirinda Carfrae raced Kona on a 650 rig. There are lots of discussions on 650 vs 700 but in the end it is best to get a bike that fits you and you are comfortable riding.
This article compares a few options. It is from 2010 so there are a few new model.
You can purchase the best superbike that money can buy and you will still be slower than what you are now if you try to put yourself in a frame that does not fit you. In fact, most knowledgeable people will tell you that the smart way to purchase a new bike is to get the fit FIRST. After you've received your fit coordinates, a fitter can help you find a range of framesets/models that will best work for you. Most fitters will then fit you to the bike, after you've purchased a bike (even from somewhere else), with little or no extra charges.
As far as wheel size, it is what it is. Worry about fit and less about the size of the wheels. A person on a 44 cm bike will not have much option in the wheel size department. Trying to find bigger wheels to ride because of its maintenance advantages is a bit short sighted. It might be ok for commuting, but not so much for racing and training.
Your concerns with the maintenance of the 650 wheelset may be a valid one. Trying to find tubes, even in a bike shop, for a 650 wheel may be difficult. You just have to take pre-emptive measures like having a bunch of them lying around the house, but this is no different than someone with 700 wheels.
If you break down in the middle of the road, you will face the same issues no matter what wheels you're on. It's not like cyclists carry extra chain, frame, cassette, and wheels around when they ride that they can lend you if you break down. The tools that good samaritan cyclists carry with then during a ride works with all wheel/frame sizes.
If you have that big of a mechanical problem out in the boonies, calling someone is your only option, regardless of the size of your wheels. If you flat and run out of tubes, learn the dollar bill trick and/or how to McGyver a 700c tube (that you get from a passing cyclist) into a 650 wheel. As Kevin already stated, it can be done without much issues. You can even continue with the last 80 miles of your 100 mile ride on a hot humid day on a hilly course with this method(happened to a friend of mine during our ride together). I've ridden on a dollar bill, after going through 2 sets of tubes, for 25 miles ... so it can be done. And, I ride a 700 wheelset. Better yet, carry a repair kit.
There aren't many/any issues that are unique to a 650 rider. It wasn't that long ago that 54-56 cm bikes with 650 wheels were common sights. What exactly do you think that you may face with a 650 wheel that you may not see with a 700 wheel? Kevin is whicked fast on his 650s. There aren't that many people in the club that can hang with him.
PSA: There is a nice pink QR (650 wheels) tri bike that is currently on sale and is posted on the DCTri Facebook page. The gal that is selling that is also small in stature, so it may fit you.
A DCTri guy (Mark Z) wants me to pass along a message to you since he's having problems logging in. Mark is not only a very fast guy, but is quite knowledgeable about bikes. He works in a bike shop during his spare time. He's a smaller stature guy that used to own a Quintana Roo (QR) bike. I think he rides a 44-45 QR. We did our first Ironman together back in the days. He did that Ironman on the QR that I mentioned.
He says that QR is notorious for making bikes to fit smaller frame people. Bonzai Sports (http://tribonzai.com/) is one of their official dealers, if you want to go and check it out. Go check them out to see if you like it ... and bring a friend who is knowledgeable about bikes to help you out.
I ride 650s on a Cervelo. I'm not slow. The bike climbs nicely for a tri bike and I got an awesome deal on some Zipp 404s from a previous owner (much smaller demand for 650 race wheels).
I would never sacrifice fit for a bigger wheel size! There are pros and cons to both 650s and 700s. As for tubes I always make sure I have spares on hand. Freshbikes seems to keep 650s on hand, if you plan to run deep dish rims you may want to keep a valve stem extender on hand or order extra tubes with a longer valve stem ahead of time.
I've never had an issue with speed or maintenance on my 650s. PM if you want to chat, but I think you'd be best with 650s if you're looking at bikes in the 46 range.
There are very small and advantages and disadvantages to having 650. I rode 650 for 10 years while racing and I had no problem going toe to toe with the big boys. The tire size will allow your geometry to stay optimal, so that you can remain efficient while riding. And that is the most important thing. With that said, the most important thing you need to look at is the frame. Make sure you get one that fits. If the 46 is to long top tube wise, then you can switch out stems to bring it in to a point so your not to outstretched. Now if the Seat Tube Length, BB Center to Top is too long, you are going ot have to lower your seat to the point where your will be more upright and less aero. Again less efficient as TT bikes are ment to be riden in an aggressive compact forward aero lean. I say you get on these bikes and make sure you are in a good compact, forward lean with elbows directly or very slighly forward of your shoulder joint. Hips should be above your elbow hegiht. This is also dependant on flexibility issues. Spending this much on a bike, you want to get one that fits. Yes some dialing in will have to be done, but should not be major, should be tweeks here and there. If they are switching stems, and pushing seat forward to get it to fit and you are still not seated with your elbows directly under your shoulders, or your elbows are higher than your seat. That bike doesn't fit. Don't go with the it's close we can fit you on it after purchase. NO.. it should fit when you buy it it. Yes you will need to get it fitted to do tweeks, to make it more comfortable to your style of riding, but it should generally fit YOU.
To summarize: If 650 wheels are a better choice for you from a fit perspective, do it. Make sure the bike fits you well, and all else will be fine after that.
Only extra considerations would be to make sure you carry an extra tube on training rides, and your gearing will be a little different.
Since gold medals and Ironman-Kona have been won on 650s (including the P3), you can buy slick aero wheels, and don't have the bike as an excuse for not going fast. ;-) Good luck!
You might want to also look at trek bikes - which also come in smaller sizes.
I've been having the same debate about 650's vs 700's.
The only things I will add is that I was told to always carry as many tubes as you can fit on your bike if you have 650's since it will be rare for someone to give you a spare on ride or in a race.