700c vs. 26-inch bike wheels: pros and cons
700c vs. 26-inch bike wheels: pros and cons
When it comes to bicycle wheels, you have two main options. This guide lists the pros and cons of 700c vs. 26-inch bike wheels to help you decide which size to use on your next touring or commuter bike. I’ll also outline some other common wheel sizes, including 29er and 650b. Hope this list helps you decide because it helped me.
A Quick Note on Bicycle Wheel Size Terminology and Measurements
Over the years, many different sizes of bicycle wheels have been developed around the world. In some cases, the size is exactly the same, but a different name is used. This is usually for marketing purposes. Some common bicycle wheel sizes include:
700c, 29er and 28″ bicycle wheels all have the same ISO 622mm rim diameter. 700c is the standard wheel size for modern road bikes. 29er is basically the marketing term for a wide 700c wheel made for off-road riding. 28 inches is a size still used in some parts of the world, although it is an old-fashioned rim size. Tires and tubes marked 28″ will fit 700c or 29er rims as long as the rim width is compatible.
26-inch (ISO 559mm) wheels are the standard size for vintage mountain bikes as well as many adventure touring bikes and fat bikes. The diameter of these wheels is 559 mm. These wheels are about 1-2 inches smaller in diameter than 700c wheels, depending on the type of tires installed.
27 inches (ISO 630mm) usually found on old road bikes. This size is not the same as the 700c or 29er. The 27-inch wheels are slightly larger than 700c at 630mm compared to 622mm. This means the tires are not cross compatible with any other wheel size.
26″ Wheel Advantages
It’s easier to find replacement parts in developing countries – that’s the main reason to choose 26-inch wheels for your bike tours. 26 inches remains the most common bicycle wheel size in much of the world, as it has been the standard for decades. If you need a replacement, it’s easier to find a spare 26″ tire, tube, rim or whole wheel. In some remote parts of the world, such as Central Asia or West Africa, it is still almost impossible to find 700c spare parts. Many small bike shops only offer 26″ parts. Having said that, the 700c and 29er are becoming more and more popular, and as globalization progresses, so does the availability of parts. Finding spare parts is getting easier.
26″ Wheels Are Stronger – Because 26″ wheels are smaller in diameter and they use shorter spokes, they are structurally stronger than 700c or 29er wheels. This means they can handle heavier loads while touring and take more hits without buckling, cracking or buckling. Due to the added strength, 26-inch wheels are an excellent choice for tandem bikes.
26″ wheel parts are cheaper – you can go to any department store and buy tires and tubes for a few dollars. For example, I once got new tires on my bike for $15 in Mexico. It’s a good deal. If you need a new rim, you can almost buy an old one for free. The quality won’t be great, but at least it will get you rolling.
Greater tire clearance – Typically, frames designed for 26-inch wheels have clearance to fit fatter tires. Most bike frames designed for 26-inch wheels can handle tires that are at least 2 inches wide. This allows you to ride on rough terrain where narrow tires can’t take you. Even if you don’t need them, it’s nice to have the option to run wider tires.
Improved Maneuverability – Smaller wheels enable quicker steering and more responsiveness. This helps in navigating technical routes. The 26-inch wheels also make the bike feel smaller and easier to maneuver.
26-inch wheels are lighter – because they are smaller, 26-inch wheels use less material than 700c. This reduces the overall weight of the bike.
Fewer broken spokes – Because the spokes are shorter, they are stronger and harder to break. This means you will spend less time on repairs.
26″ Wheels Accelerate Faster – 26″ wheels spin faster thanks to their smaller diameter and lighter weight. This allows you to accelerate from a stop faster. You’ll also accelerate faster when sliding down hills. This comes in handy when you have to do frequent stop-and-go city rides. This is also one of the main reasons for choosing 26-inch wheels for commuting. Smaller wheels can also have higher top speeds. For proof, check out the Guinness World Records for bicycle speed.
You can carry fewer spares – because 26-inch tires and tubes are almost everywhere, you don’t have to pack a spare tire and multiple tubes all the time. This further reduces the weight of your touring setup.
Lower gearing – The smaller wheels of a 26″ wheeled bike keep the effective gearing lower, assuming the same gears. This makes it easier to ride on steep hills or with heavy loads. Of course, you can always fit a smaller cog on the cassette on a 700c bike to give yourself a lower climbing gear.
No Toe Overlap – Smaller wheels are less likely to rub against your feet when you turn the handlebars. This problem is most common with small frame bikes for people with short stature.
More cushioning – 26-inch tires tend to be wider and hold more air. This absorbs some shock and vibration and makes for a smoother ride. Especially when compared to hard 700c road tires.
The 26″ bike can be made smaller – this comes in handy if you need to crate your bike and put it on a bus, train or plane. In fact, if you have an S&S coupler on your frame, you can pack it small enough to avoid most airlines charging for oversized luggage. (Most airlines require your checked baggage to be less than 62 linear inches). A 700c bike can do the same, but it’s more difficult and requires removing the tire from the wheel, which also increases the chance of damage.
26-inch wheels are better for smaller riders – On smaller frame bikes, 26-inch wheels are better for frame geometry. This allows you to have a more comfortable riding position if you are on the shorter side. Height cutoff is approximately 5’5″ (approximately 165 cm).
26″ Wheel Disadvantages
The 26-inch wheels also won’t roll over obstacles—they struggle to roll over potholes and bumps in the road due to the smaller diameter of the wheels. A smaller wheel might be swallowed up in a hole that a larger wheel turned over directly.
The 26-inch wheels also don’t hold speed — because they’re smaller and lighter, they don’t have enough inertia to keep the bike rolling. Even though you can ride just as fast with 26-inch wheels, it takes more energy to keep going. This reduces efficiency. It’s a pain if you like to run long distances every day. You will spend more time in the saddle for the same distance.
The ride isn’t quite as smooth—every time you hit a bump or pothole, it feels more with the smaller wheels. This makes the ride less comfortable.
26-inch frame options are even more limited – most of the big-name bike manufacturers have stopped making 26-inch bikes. If you walk into a high-end bike shop today, you probably won’t even see a 26-inch bike on the floor. Most touring bikes are 700c. If you’re in the market for a 26-inch touring bike, look for one labeled “Expedition Touring Bike.” These are designed for developing countries where 26″ parts are more readily available.
Quality 26″ spare parts are harder to find – many of the 26″ tires, tubes and rims you find around the world will be low quality Chinese made or used parts. These will keep you rolling but won’t last as long as quality, name brand products. Finding high-quality spare parts in developed countries can be a challenge. In developed countries, the bicycle industry has turned to bigger wheels. Most new bikes are 700c or 29er. Even if you go to a fancy bike shop, they probably don’t carry a lot of 26″ parts. Over time, this will only get worse. If you’re buying a touring bike that you intend to use in the next 10 to 20 years, it’s best to jump on the bandwagon and use 700c wheels.
Fewer options for 26-inch tires – as 26-inch wheels are outdated, manufacturers are focusing on the more popular 700c or 29er market. It’s easy to find 26-inch tires, it’s just that there aren’t many quality options in terms of width. Most 26-inch tires are made for mountain bikes. Road and touring tires can be purchased, but you may have to order them online.
26″ wheels are not suitable for tall riders – On large frame bikes, 26″ wheels are not a good fit for the geometry. They look and feel too small.
26-inch wheels aren’t trending — it shouldn’t matter, but if you want to keep up, 29ers seem to be what the industry is pushing right now. This trend is likely to continue into the future.
700c or 29er professional
700c wheels hold speed better – larger wheels have more mass, which means they have more inertia. Once you get them rolling, they’ll want to keep going. This allows you to cruise at a higher average speed with the 700c wheels. This is also good when coasting. If you stop pedaling, you won’t lose speed as quickly as you would with smaller wheels. This also comes in handy when cruising through flat sections. It takes less energy to keep the bike going at speed.
700c wheels roll better – because the wheels are larger in diameter, they roll more easily over potholes, branches, rocks and other obstacles on the road. This allows you to navigate the technical field more easily. It’s also more comfortable. When you hit bumps on the road, the big wheels slide over it. This makes for a smoother ride.
There are many more 700c frames to choose from – almost all new bikes these days are 700c or 29er. There are almost too many options to choose from. Another popular wheel size is 650b or 27.5 inches.
There are more tire options – because the 700c is so popular right now, all bicycle tire manufacturers offer a variety of options for this size. Depending on the width of the rim and the clearance of the bike’s frame, you can find everything from thin 18mm road tires to 3″ plus mountain bike tires.
The 700c is better for taller riders – the larger wheels are better for the bike’s geometry. Fitting 700c wheels on a large frame bike looks and feels more natural. The 700C wheels are best suited for riders over 5’5″ or approximately 165cm.
With 700c wheels, you can travel farther in less time – which is possible because you are able to maintain a higher average speed. For example, with 700c wheels, you might average 1 mph faster than 26-inch wheels. You can go hundreds of miles in the same saddle on a month-long trip.
In developed countries, 700c is the standard – if you do most of your riding in developed countries, it is easier to find spares with 700c wheels. Every bike shop stocks 700c tires, tubes and rims. Some high-end bike shops don’t even stock 26-inch spares anymore.
The 700c and 29er may have better traction – something that is debated among cyclists. Many claim that larger wheels allow more tires to touch the ground, increasing traction. You can also run larger tires at lower pressures. Through my research, I couldn’t find any real evidence to support this claim.
You can use a 26″ tube – it’s not ideal, but you can stretch the smaller tube to fit the larger wheel if you must. It’s best to only do this temporarily.
The 700c is all the rage right now – if you like to follow trends and have the latest and greatest gear, the 700c or 29er is what the industry is driving right now.
700c or 29er Disadvantages
700c spare parts are harder to find in developing countries – probably the biggest argument against choosing a 700c for touring. Smaller bike shops in developing countries may not offer 700c parts. Some countries don’t even import them. In some parts of the world, you won’t even be able to ship parts due to customs issues. For example, if you’re cycling through West Africa and your rim cracks and needs to be replaced, you may have no choice but to fly home, buy one, and take it home. Should be an easy fix that could end up costing over $1000 in airfare or weeks waiting for a package to be released by customs. On the plus side, with globalization, getting 700c spares is getting easier. You can also get around this by carrying plenty of spare spokes, tubes, rim tape, and even a spare tire when traveling in remote areas.
700c wheels are weaker – Because 700c wheels have a larger diameter and use longer spokes, they are structurally weaker than 26-inch wheels. This means they can’t take as much pounding or handle heavy loads without bending or breaking the spokes. They are not very durable. Of course, properly built wheels with high-quality components are less likely to break.
Spare parts are more expensive – there aren’t that many used parts around, so you usually have to buy new ones. Because the 700c’s wheels, tires, and tubes are larger, they use more material to build. This also increases the cost.
Toe overlap can be a problem – on some frames, the toes rub against the wheel when cornering. This problem mostly affects smaller frame bikes.
700c wheels are heavier – because they are larger, they use more material, which adds to the weight of the bike.
More broken spokes – Because the spokes are longer, they are more fragile and more prone to bending or breaking. When traveling on rough roads on a 700c bike, you’ll experience broken spokes more often, even if you’re using high-end custom wheels.
The 700c wheels accelerate more slowly – Since the wheels are heavier, more energy is required to make them roll. 700c wheels don’t spin as fast as 26-inch wheels. It’s harder to start with one stop. When sliding down hills, it takes longer to accelerate. This makes stop-and-go city riding slower and slower.
Less tire clearance – In general, 700c bikes don’t have as wide tire clearance as 26-inch bikes. Most 700c touring bikes can only handle tires about 45mm wide. Most 26-inch touring bikes can accommodate at least 2-inch wide tires.
Reduced maneuverability – larger wheels don’t turn as fast. Steering response is slower, which makes navigating technical routes more difficult. The 700c wheels also make the bike bulkier, making it harder to maneuver.
You have to carry more spares – in some areas you have to carry spare tires and extra tubes because they are not available at bike shops. This adds weight to your setup.
Higher gear ratios – assuming you use the same chainrings and cassettes, the lowest gear is slightly higher with the 700c wheels. This happens because of the larger diameter of the wheels. This makes it more difficult to carry heavy loads uphill. If the hill is too steep, you may have to ride a bike. Of course, you can fix this by replacing the cassette or crankset to increase the low gear.
The 700c is not for short riders – the larger wheels are less suited to the geometry of a small frame bike. The bike has too many wheels. It just doesn’t look or feel right.
A bike can’t fit this small – if you want to crate a bike and travel on a train, bus or plane, it can’t fit in such a small package. Those few inches of wheel diameter can mean the difference between being able to squeeze and being rejected or charged extra.
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