Chris Kouwenhoven

Wheel size

There has been much debate in the industry regarding 26" versus 700c and other wheel diameters. As with many debates, emotion, misinformation, rumor, and marketing hype have been as much a part of the discussion as have facts. The truth is, both 26" and 700c wheels work well in specific applications and for specific riders. Both wheel sizes offer some beneficial and some negative attributes. Application, rider size, and the "feel" of the wheel will all contribute to the final choice of wheel size.

700c Wheel Characteristics:
700c wheels have for many years been the world wide standard for performance bicycles. With a larger circumference, they have a greater gyroscopic effect, and as a result are a little easier to keep rolling. They also rotate a little slower at a given speed than smaller wheels creating a little less potential for drag per spoke. All these factors combine to produce wheels that tend to exhibit quick handling characteristics, but with more predictable handling at speed than wheels with a smaller diameter. With their larger size, 700c wheels have a lower rolling resistance, roll over uneven surfaces more easily, and may have a smoother, more comfortable ride on rough roads.

Larger riders may find they fit more proportionately, comfortably, and efficiently on 700c wheel bicycles. 700c wheels, being more of a "standard" size (particularly in road racing), are more likely to receive neutral technical support at races.

Tire options on 700c rims are virtually unlimited.

26" Wheel Characteristics:
26" wheels have been embraced largely by triathletes and are also often used as front wheels on time trial machines in road racing and track/velodrome applications. The smaller front wheel on these special purpose bikes allows the rider to achieve a lower, more aerodynamic position over the front of the bike. Due to a lower rotational mass, the smaller wheel can be brought up to speed faster. The "feel" is very quick. It will also decelerate faster due to the lower mass and increased rolling resistance.

26" wheels are generally lighter overall due to smaller rims and shorter spokes. As a result of the smaller circumference and diameter, the wheels are very quick handling. At a given speed, they rotate a little faster than a larger wheel. This faster rotation creates a little more turbulence, which in turn can lead to increased drag. This is more of an issue on traditional rims and some other designs.

Smaller riders often find that 26" wheel bikes fit better proportionally. More comfort and greater aerodynamic benefit is possible as the rider can fit more compactly and efficiently on the bicycle. Larger riders may find themselves negating some of the aerodynamic benefits of 26" wheels as they add frontal area to the bicycle in order to fit their larger body size comfortably and efficiently.

Tire options for 26" wheels are somewhat limited as there are not nearly the number of tires made in the 26" diameter.

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