Giving My Firefly a Dose of Road Plus with WTB’s Byway 650b x 47mm Tires

When designing and conceiving my Firefly all road bike a few years ago, I wanted to be able to fit a 43mm tire, while maintaining a road geometry. “It’s not a cyclocross bike, rather a road bike with bigger tires and disc brakes” I’d tell people. Inadvertently, what I found was by allowing clearances for such a large 700c tire, I’d opened the door to even larger 650b tires.

I first used WTB’s “Road Plus” platform shortly after they released the 47mm Horizon tire. They sent the tires mounted to their Ci24 rims, built to White Industries hubs. While the wheels fit with enough clearances on my Firefly, I wasn’t a fan of the Horizon tires. Sure, they looked great and rode even better on sealed roads, but I found them to be less-than-ideal on the fire roads and singletrack I frequented in the mountains of Los Angeles.

Jump forward a year and WTB’s newest “road plus” tire, the Byway is now available and I’ve been riding them for a few weeks. The difference between the Horizon and the Byway is simple: there’s slight tread on the sides of the Byway, meant to give traction on loose corners. Well, does the Byway live up to the marketing jargon?

What the Hell is Road Plus?

Disc brakes made it easier to go from 700c, to 650b and 26″ wheels, on all the same frame, as long as your clearance allows for it. As previously stated, there are now more options than ever for various tire sizes and diameters. While I don’t particularly care for new nomenclature or standards, it makes sense to me, both in terms of functionality and ride quality. As long as you’ve got a lightweight and resilient tire, the ride experience is quite nice.

It’s Byway or the Highway

WTB describes the Byway as “Staying true to its road usage, a slick centerline borders angular hatching to keep everything smooth on sections of pavement. Intermediate, diamond-shaped peaks provide steadfast traction under power, while consistent and more substantial side knobs extend down the side to protect it against ill-intentioned rocks or gashes while exploring new areas.”

I’ve found this to be true and the WTB Byway has made it through extensive riding on both smooth and rocky fire roads. Most importantly, the tires don’t feel slow or sluggish while riding to the dirt roads or trails and are resilient enough to survive the occasional debris found on urban roads. In short: the Byway rides like a road tire when it’s on road and still handles with confidence off-road.

Grip it and Rip It

I didn’t want to believe the side tread on the Byway tires would make a difference but oh man do they ever. After riding high-volume, supple, slick tires all winter, putting the Byways on this bike made me realize how much grip I had been missing out on, especially when it comes to steep and loose corners. A good test is the common skid. If your bike slides out easily with a tire, chances are, it’s going to slide out unintentionally from time to time. When skidding these tires, it was harder to slide the rear end around. The Byways really did make a difference off-road and since the center tread is slick, riding on sealed roads doesn’t feel sluggish.

Compromise

Over the years, there have been numerous new tire models offered to consumers. Many of which are slicks, promoted as “off-road capable” while remaining supple enough to still feel great while riding on sealed roads. I’ve found this to be mostly true, but one compromise is evident: if a tire feels supple on sealed roads, it’s probably going to be less-resilient off-road, especially in rocky terrain. Without going into specifics, I personally prefer a tire that is going to survive a long ride, off-road, than one that’s going to feel supple while riding to the long, off-road ride. So far, the Byway has been the best all-rounder I’ve used, in the 650b wheel size.

Take-Away

The Byway and WTB’s “road plus” rim options make for a great way to spruce up your favorite disc brake bike. I’ve been really fortunate to test a number of wheels and tires on this bike and I have to say, this is my favorite to date. If your frame will fit a similar setup, give it a try, you might really enjoy it.

The Byway tires are available in one color, in one size and are $67.95 at WTB or your local bike shop.

  • caliente

    Is the rear hub on your bike a 142×12? I had big dreams of endless wheel swaps between bikes, but then the industry decided 148 had to be the new standard. Good luck keeping up with the next hub standard :| Yeesh.

    • Tim Guarente

      You could get away with non-boost hubs for most builds. Plus make it harder, but not impossible. This is my dream, too, across as many bikes as I can manage – my ‘cross and mountain bikes and my sweetie’s all-rounder/townie.

    • Yeah 142×12. It’s a shame about boost making wheel swaps obsolete. I wish I could swap all my wheels too.

  • JB

    how does the ride change with the new wheels?

    • Jon B.

      I’m curious about this too, especially from the perspective of a taller rider.

    • With higher volume tires, you’ve got more play with tire pressure. Lower pressure smoothes the ride. Cornering is “better” in my opinion too. Overall, you’ve just got more contact with the road.

      • charlesojones

        What pressures have you been running with these??

        • I run 60 psi front and back on my commuter with horizons. Rougher, but fast. I got the byways about a week ago, and am still trying out the best levels, but 50 front, 45 rear on my dirt tourer is comfy off road, and the streets that get me there.

        • 30 front, 40 rear. On and off-road.

  • steve

    Thanks for the review, I’ve had my eye on these for a little bit and have been on the Horizons for a while. Think I’ll give them a try.

  • I’d be interested to hear about your personal “stable” as a whole. I know everyone has a different philosophy and unique needs/desires, incomes and connections (and I get that it’s a little different for those of us working in the bike industry) but I’m always curious about the quivers of bike people and why the spec them the way they do. Anyway, thanks for the quick review on these. Not to be dramatic, but it’s the tire I have been waiting for for my new bike that’s on its way (very similar to your Firefly). Hoo-ray.

    • Ryan Nowicki

      This is certainly something I would be interested in as well. I think its a great conversation and something I gave much consideration recently as I decided to add n+1. Its a topic most of us can relate to, although with different limitations in budget, storage space, spousal approval, etc.

    • Real quick:
      -Firefly is my disc road bike. The riding position is stretched out, like a road bike. Geo is road. Just fits a bigger tire. 1x setup.
      -Crema is my cross bike with a 27.5 x 2.1 wheel. It’s a cross geo, less stretched out, more snappy.
      -44 Bikes 29r hardtail – 120mm travel, shred machine
      -44 Bikes dirt tourer – bikepacking rig
      -Retrotec – long travel, rowdy hardtail. 3″ tires, heavy hitter trail bike.
      -Argonaut – fast carbon road. Aggressive fit. Lightweight, standard road gearing. Pain machine.
      -Speedvagen road – more upright riding position, compact gearing with a 32t cassette. Long day road.
      -Everything else is either disassembled / in need of parts or being loaned out to people at the moment.

      • trololo

        RIP Indy Fab rigid. that thing was dope

      • Richard

        That’s a well-curated quiver.

  • Marc Gasch

    Same experience here. I thought the side knobs would do not too much difference from the Horizons, but the Byways are my new favourite all rounder for XPDTN3 trips!

  • The fact that we’re still using early 20th century French nomenclature, originally designed to give measurement for joint rim And tyre sizing, for rims is absurd enough. Having it cobbled together with ISO-5775, is just plain idiotic. so I agree john, on the use of yet more niche and proprietary ‘standards’, as marketing tools. The industry is already confusing enough. But these are some good looking tyres for sure. The steel frame I ride everyday despite its age, fits 35mm tyres on ETRTO 622. (Having 35’s on a frame with road geometry, that originally came equipped with 23mm tyres is fantastic) but with that space, I’ve considered switching to 45’s on 650. <- (look how jumbled.) do you think a conversion would have benefits? Will that effective 10mm make a better ride?

    • Brian Richard Walbergh

      It depends what you mean by a better ride. The actual width of the tire only gets you a bit more contact patch, which gives you theoretically better traction and power transfer (the reason dragsters have huge wide sticky tires). The magic is really in the added volume. It allows you to run at lower pressure (especially if you run them tubeless) which is really where the benefits come into play: smoother ride, more traction, less flats. The difference in volume between a 650x47b (not really that jumbled of a nomenclature) and a 700x35c is substantial. Most people who do the conversion don’t go back.

      • Thanks for the response mate. Yea I fully understand the comparison you made. Dragsters also use large volume low psi for the same reasons (my father amateur drag raced) I’m not doing off-road stuff here. (There is no ‘off-road’ in savannah besides saltwater marsh) but rough roads, and plenty of cobblestones I do have. So comfort via volume and lower psi is exactly what I’m interested in. I went from running 28’s at 110 psi to 35’s at 65-70 psi. I’m not so interested in say suppleness or lightweight as a priority. ( I’m running creme Schwalbe delta cruisers) just wondering if that extra 10-12 mm of volume will make a difference worth the cost of the conversion because I can’t go any larger than 35mm right now.

  • #DirtyRoadie

    EVERYTHING about this.

    Man, you cover so much territory in your blog that I had forgotten about my favorite bike in your stable (well, then there’s the Bishop, Icarus, Rosko, IF, Argonaut …. yep, this is still my favorite).

    I was just thinking the other day (Red Hook day, of course) how far The Radavist has come (literally) from the good ol’ days of “does it barspin?” and the Brooklyn Banks in circa 2004(?), and I don’t know anyone else as productive, enthusiastic, and positive about everything bike. The site’s reporting has changed over the years with the changes in your riding and the expansion into contributors, and many of us have followed along while our own riding has changed and evolved. (Bet you’re glad you’re not still working as an architect …)

    So, thanks for still being there, being you, and riding gorgeously dirty bikes like this one.

  • Brian Richard Walbergh

    I am almost convinced… I love the Horizions for commuting and good to pretty shitty unpaved roads, But am looking for something a little more confident over the rough stuff. It just seems that the tread is pushed so far to the edge that by the time it could engage you might already be in trouble. I had been using some 2.1″ Vittoria Mezcals, which are excellent off pavement but lack a bit on pavement, and on 31mm rims they only just fit in the rear of my Wolverine (4–5mm a side). Somewhere in between is the Terrene Elwood, and hopefully soon the 50mm Soma Cazaderos.

    • dcbird

      I share your nervousness that I’d be undergunned on rougher singletrack. I just built up my first 27.5 road+ rig on a Soma Wolverine platform and chose to run WTB Nano 2.1s on Race Face Arc 27s. I’m with John 100% on prioritizing off-road capabilities over on-road performance (despite the fact that I probably ride 65% of my miles on tarmac). So the tradeoffs and compromises are tough. The Nanos slay on dirt, but even with the raised center ridge at a higher psi, they feel very much like light MTB tires on asphalt. Does the Byway compare favorably to slightly knobbier rubber in the off-road shredability to on-road smoothability ratio?

    • AaronBenjamin

      The 40c Gravel King SK is pretty sweet. Still very fast on pavement with some textured knobs for cornering. Mostly a hardpack tire though.

  • Nicholas Tingey

    Hands down, this is my favorite bike ever posted on this site.

  • Chris Kyle

    John or anyone else, I’m building up a disc Space Horse as a dirt-rando/bikepacking rig and am on the fence about wheel size. The frame and fork will fit a 700x45mm tire like the new Riddler. It also has good clearance for a 27.5×2.0″ tire. There isn’t much difference between 45mm and 2.0″…5-6mm in width…not sure about the difference in height. Is there any reason to go the 27.5 route with the ability to already run a pretty large 700c tire? thx

    • Alan

      Because you’re essentially increasing the diameter of the cross section tire, a few mm in width = a large difference in total volume. For instance, a circle with a diameter of 40mm has an area of ~1250mm² while a 47mm diameter equates to ~1735mm². That’s a ~40% difference, which means a 650b x 47mm tire should be 40% more comfy. (Someone pls correct me if the biek-math above is off!) *TL;DR* a small change in tire width = a big change in comfort. From my experience, I noticed a big difference in ride feel when switching to a 650b format.

      Additionally, and non-scientifically, I felt like the added volume of a 40mm tire felt like I lost a cog in the rear when compared to a 35mm tire, just because it’s a larger circumference to push around. That can be negated with a different cassette or chain ring, but it’s definitely a downside to throwing a larger tire on a 700c wheel. FWIW, I run 700x42mm on my Space Horse and like it, but I prefer the 650bx47mm setup on my Nature Boy Disc.

      • This. Forever.

      • Chris Kyle

        I never thought about calculating the area of the tire to determine larger volume. Thanks. I’m running XT 8000 drivetrain on the new Space Horse, so gearing wont be an issue. Toe-overlap might with big 700c tires, though. FWIW, I had a canti-Space Horse and just ran 35mm tires and fenders. I never put larger tires on it because clearing the cantis was a pita.

    • rocketman

      Not sure if your bike will fit Schwalbe Thunder Burts but they are the gold standard for mixed terrain rides. I have 45mm Riddlers on my 700c bike and 2.1 Thunder Burts (measure 51mm) on my 650B bike ( both rim braked) and I would give the Thunder Burt the edge for rougher terrain. Anxious to try the Byway, been pretty happy with the Horizons for mostly road and smoother dirt.

      • Chris Kyle

        I run Thunder Burts on my 29er and they’re great. Perfect for bikepacking in the SE. I’m not sure if the 27.5 version would fit. I think it might be too large.

  • Andrew Mc

    Dear WTB,
    Please make this tire in something like a 700 x 40-42.
    Signed,
    All those that don’t want to buy a new wheelset.

    • jtbadge

      +1. Looking for something with a little more durability and bite than a Compass tire, but for my rim brake 700c bikes.

      This would be perfect for me as a 700x40c.

      • rocketman

        WTB Riddlers… fast on pave and great on dirt. I’m running the 45’s on my Bantam dirtrando. Also made in a 37mm.

    • Like the Sim Works Homage tire.

      • Andrew Mc

        Is that your favorite 700 tire, @johnprolly:disqus ?

        I have a set of Panaracer GravelKing SK 43’s to try after the Compass Snoqualmie Pass tires wear out/tear.

        • I’m not sure what my favorite 700 tire is. For tread, I still like the rock n road. Slick, the Maxxis refuse.

    • Jack Newcomb

      They’re not completely smooth, but Clement X’Plors are pretty great on pavement

    • Will Ashe

      I’d love 700 x 42-45.

    • Hugo van Doorn

      A Soma Cazadero could fit your requirements! I’m saving up for those after my specialized sawtooth’s go bad, they are expensive in Europe!

    • Poolboy 1.0

      SIM WORKS FTW.

  • Ross Lord

    I’m

    • Donovan

      I’m also in the Bay, got any suggestions for fire roads/trails in the Peninsula/SouthBay area? I just got my Sequoia :)

      • Ross Lord

        Not sure about that far south, I usually do most of my trail riding in Marin and the city. I would think depending on how far south you are you might have easier access stuff south of San Jose. Santa Crus, Fort Ord, Henry Coe are good places to look. And check out Planet of the Apes https://rootsrated.com/san-francisco-ca/cycling/planet-of-the-apes-ride

      • Timbo

        South bay is all about the dirt connectors between roads. Some are open space some are county parks. Try Santa Teresa from Harry road to Bernal, Bel Gatos between Blossom Hill and Shannon, Santa Rosa, parts of Sierra Azul of Hicks / Umunhum, Fremont Older from Prospect to Steven’s Canyon, top of Montebello to Page Mill. Down or up John Nicholas to Black road or Sanborn once it opens back up. Mt Madonna from Redwood retreat to Summit. I can do most of these on an Ibis hakkalugi disc with 32s or some even on my roadie with 25s. Good luck.

  • GT

    Thicc

  • Evan Baird

    This is just what I heard, but I believe it’s true that 700c wheels will break your chainstays clean in half. I avoid that shit.

  • Christopher San Agustin

    I wish comapnies would make more CX tires like these

  • James Eilers

    This may be my next tire for my Slate… :)

    • Daniel Lemke

      Yep. I’ll be getting a Slate soon and the first thing I’m doing is putting these tires on it.

  • Mike

    Do you feel the difference in wheel diameter between the 650 with 47mm tires and 700c with 43mm tires changes anything about the way the bike rides or handles on either road or dirt? I am think of switching to 650 wheels but am still on the fence.

    • SO. MUCH. PLUSH.

    • I think the 700x40mm “feels” faster pumped at 50psi. It’s a little bigger in diameter, so your gear inches are increased. That said, I don’t know if or when I’ll be putting 700 wheels back on this, because it feels so good.

  • Area45

    This looks like a good tire to try out. After losing the front on a Compass and paying with a snapped collarbone I’ve been more hesitant to ride them off road. I could definitely get into some side knobs. Pretty cool that they list the compatible frames on their website too. Thanks for the heads up on this tire!

    • Those tires are not off-road tires, no matter what BQ says. They’re dangerous.

      • mrbiggs

        I’ve been riding my Snoqualmies on and off-road and been quite happy. I choose my Riddlers when it’s mostly trails, but the Snoqualmie at 35-40psi has been just terrific on dirt roads and even fine on singletrack as long as it’s mostly dry.
        I’ve been 650b-curious for my Twin Six Ti Rando, and this may be the perfect in-between.

        • I guess I should have said (I know @Area45 in real life – he lives in LA) the dirt roads in LA are made from decomposed granite shards and sand. They eat tires alive.

          • mrbiggs

            I get that — here in SE PA we have dirt, rocks, and roots, mostly.

      • Noel Smith

        Even on smooth road, if they have any mud accumulated on the edges and you try to corner too hard, theyre sketchy af. Like them otherwise tho

      • Compass Cycles

        @Area45 Sorry to hear about your accident. Sometimes, it’s just bad luck.

        @John Watson: When I think of “Off-Road”, I think of something like your Landcruiser. Most Compass tires are intended as Allroad tires, for great performance on pavement and gravel – think World Rally Car: ultra-high performance, but you’ll have to exercise judgment when conditions get really rough or muddy. For riders who prefer a knobby tread, we do offer the Steilacoom 700C x 38, which rolls great on pavement, yet still has knobs spaced widely enough to self-clean when it gets really muddy. We should send you a set of those, so you can try them!

        • I guess I should have said (I know @Area45 in real life – he lives in LA) the dirt roads in LA are made from decomposed granite shards and sand. They eat tires alive and for climbing or descending, slicks just don’t have enough bite. If I ride a knobby tire, I try to stick to 45mm+ tires, since I often ride singletrack too.

        • Area45

          @compasscycles:disqus @johnprolly:disqus Ha! I was thinking about replying earlier and emphasizing that rider error played a big part in my crash. I don’t know that I’d go so far as saying the tires are dangerous but I have felt the limits for sure. @Compass Cycles When will we get a tire like the Steilacoom in 650b?

      • Evan Baird

        After riding Paselas exclusively for a few years in California I arrived at the same conclusion. BQ must have come around because the Stellacoon looks like a really sensible mixed terrain tire. Too bad they don’t have any that will fit my Stag or I might even pay retail for some!

  • Tyler Johnson

    Love this!

  • Sebastian Burnell

    GEILE KISTE!
    ( a bit of crema…)

  • Donovan

    @johnprolly:disqus Awesome, any comment on your wheelset?

    • No complaints. Does that count? I like them. They set up tubeless easily, feel light, haven’t gone out of true, are plenty wide and I even like the graphics.

      • Donovan

        Ha looks like they may be coming out with wider i31 rims… they appear to be an option on their website but “Out of Stock”.
        I love the look but always worry about carbon rims off-road. Wider option would make me feel a little more confident. (I weigh 200#)

        • The wider options are for MTBs. I wouldn’t think many road frames would fit the i31 rims.

  • Awesome bike, awesome tire. I’ve been running the same rubber for a month now, and would corroborate all of what John has said. Fast on pavement, grippy on gravel. Love those Ci Carbon rims though! If interested, more reviewage available here: http://www.spokenfly.com/gear/wtb-byway

  • Quinn.e

    Love the setup John, gives the bike a more aggressive look and I’m sure lets you be more aggressive on those LA fire roads and single track. Looks like so much great riding outside your front door. Need to get back to LA with my whip

  • spencer harding

    Im glad people are starting to make hybrid tires again

  • mike b

    How does this tire roll on pavement vs the bruce gordons?

  • Harry

    These tyres really transform the look of this bike, Im glad they feel great to ride too!

  • Kerry Nordstrom

    I did the same with my Seven…been rolling 650b, and more recently fenders to match, for about two years or so.

  • Henry

    I’m thinking about a wheel/tire combo of pretty much these same dimensions as an upgrade on my Specialized Awol. I’m wary though because the bike already has a pretty low bb and I’m wondering if I’ll loose an appreciable amount of clearance by going from a 700X44 to a 27.5X47. What was your/anyone else’s experience with this?

    • David A

      The difference in rim radius for a 700 rim (622mm diameter or 311mm radius) compared to a 27.5/650B rim (584mm diameter or 292mm radius) is 19mm or about 3/4″.

      Although a 47mm wide tire will be a bit taller compared to a 44mm wide tire when mounted and inflated to the same air pressures, I’m guessing you’ll be running the slightly fatter 27.5×47 tire at a slightly lower pressure than the 700×44 tire. So your bottom bracket height will probably only drop by the difference in rim sizes, which is 19mm or about 3/4″.

      BTW, the AWOL looks like a pretty sweet bike, and some over on mtbr posted running 2.1″ wide 29er tires (i.e. 700 x 53) in their AWOLs. So if the Byway drops your BB too low, then it sounds like you’ve got all sorts of wider tire options available, all the way up to 29 x 2.1, that will raise the BB up higher.

      • Henry

        Useful data – cheers man. I’ve presently got a 2.2 Ikon in there, and also ran some 2.0 Fast Traks for somewhat more reasonable mud clearance. The clearance isn’t a problem, so much as I’ve really grown to love having that much volume under me – enough of a difference over the 44mm (more like 42mm) Compasses I use for straight road work to make me consider the swap. I figure a 27.5 Sawtooth/Switchback Hill/Horizon will give me close to that volume, but better suited to day-to-day road riding.

    • Sebastian Burnell

      I like the ultraromance-combination as in his sequoia: front with 2.1 ground control grid ::: rear with 47c sawtooth.
      looks rad and not so boutique…

    • Sebastian Burnell
  • Christopher San Agustin

    @johnprolly:disqus any idea of this would work on a Stigmata?