KHS SixFifty 606 - The Best of Both Worlds?
written by: Jens Raz
Riding bikes is a lot like eating candy. Everyone has his or her favorite, but enjoy trying something new from time to time. Some are sweet and light, while others are savory and smooth, the same could be said for bikes.
KHS supports a successful pro team in southern California which can be seen at numerous venues placing on podium steps in every discipline from XC to 12 hours endurance races. Recently, when I was given the opportunity to check out a new bike, I jumped on it. The KHS (short for "Knowledge, Health, Strength”) model Sixfifty606 is a hard-tail with a uniquely sized wheel between a 29er and 26 inch wheel. Thanks to Bob Vivers with KHS and Doug from San Diego’s local bike and rental shop "North of the Border”, I was set up and ready to roll with a XL 2010 model. Unfortunately, for us tall folks the new 2011 XL model will not be available until later in the spring.
For the past 5-6 years most of my riding has been on top of 29” wheeled bikes from "Niner” and "Seven” hardtails and full suspension Specialized frames. My comparisons are thus mostly based on their riding characteristics vs. the 650B bike.
Not quite a 29er yet a noticeably larger than the 26 inch bike. It is touted to offer the best of both worlds, faster steering, smoother ride quality over rough terrain, etc. Is it the real deal or the next marketing ploy?
At a retail cost of just over $1,300, the aluminum double-butted frame is tough with solid welds and a great deal. I will not go into detail on the build kits (which can be found at www.khsbicycles.com) but was surprised and pleased by the smart choices in components. A mix of Shimano Deore and XT, Truvativ FireX cranks makes the drive train not only sensible but also durable. Kenda Nevegal tires and Weinmann Taurus Rims ensure the bike is ready for abuse. The most noticeable drawback of the bike is its weight. A 2010 XL frame comes in at roughly 28 1/4 lbs. This weight would make me consider a bigger front rotor. Easy weight reducing modifications would include an American Classic 650B wheelset, bars and stem and a lighter fork.
Limitations in parts and accessories have crossed my mind but after a review of WWW.BTI-USA.com, my opinion changed.
There are some changes from 2010-2011 with the biggest improvement being a new and lighter fork. The new X-Fusion Enix RL 100mm fork is being touted as a big improvement over last year’s model. Thanks to a new external lock out switch climbing out of the saddle will be much more controlled. Anthony Trujilo, previously with Fox and Specialized is now heading the suspension department for X-Fusion brining over 11 years of experience to the fold.
On to the ride: "Wheelie Machine” was the first thought coming to my mind as I started riding down towards the trail. Considering my previous inability to pull, and keep the balance point afloat for more than a foot, I was impressed with not only myself but also the bikes potential. The bike is well balanced and stiff. The fork is very active when out of the saddle. It will very much benefit with the planned lock out, if any prolonged riding on paved or fire roads are in its future.
After some time on familiar singletrack my opinion stared to unfold. The geometry lends itself to a quick steering bike that likes and excels in tight and technical singletrack. Traction is superb with the smaller wheels, giving nothing up to its larger 29” brother. Being a hard-tail though, very fast, rocky descents are not its specialty. A tubeless set up would be a "very” beneficial modification and would help give the bike more control and the ability to run lower tire pressures smoothing out some of those rocks. A nice surprise was the lack of pedal strikes. Almost being used to buggering my crank arms and pedals on my full squishy, it was an added bonus not experiencing any of the dreaded strikes.
In summary this bike is an amazing deal. It is offering a fun, fast and responsive mountain bike for a very affordable price. The top level racer may be swayed by its weight and brakes, but then again at this price point there is plenty left over for upgrades.
I do wish that KHS offered a frame only option…… tubeless tires, a full XT/XTR or XO/XX drive-train, light fork, light-weight brakes, and you would have a lightweight XC racer in the low 20s (see Chuck Jenkins’s 650B above at about 22lbs for an XL frame).
Interested in trying one out? Contact Doug at "North of the Border” www.nbbikes.com. A great shop nicely situated next to some of the best trails around town with a rental fleet for mountain-bike starved tourists. Thank you also to Chuck Jenkings and Bob Vivers from KHS for the information, opportunity to try and test this unique bike.