The choice between touring bicycle wheels and tires with 26inch
or 700c has surfaced in bicycle
touring equipment during the past several years with the popularity of mountain
bikes. The decision between 700 cm and 26 inch will have to be made early in the
or stock touring bicycle shopping process because brake mounts and frame geometry can not be
In the past there were commuting hybrid bikes, like the Bridgestone XO-1, that
could easily be converted to either wheel size and traveled on but these bikes are no longer
made and I do not know of another touring bicycle that can be converted to
take either size wheel being made in the present.
Before I get into the advantages and disadvantages of
different sized wheels, let me make
something clear. I have owned and toured extensively on bikes with both
sizes of wheels. I have also met people traveling for years around the
world, in every imaginable country, on both sizes of wheels. In fact
I've seen hard-core long
distance (measured in years) touring cyclists on recumbents, mountain bikes,
and fixies. The bottom line is no matter what you pick as a cycle wheel
size, it's not a deal killer and can be used for the bike trip of your
Both 700c and 26 inch can go to the hardest roads of the world and perform
well. As with most options in the bicycle touring equipment and gear world, this decision
largely comes down to personal preference.
A few considerations to keep in mind.
Given the same quality rims, spokes, and building techniques, a smaller wheel is stronger
due to geometry. The strength difference between the two sizes of wheels
is relatively tiny. With modern advancements in
rims and spokes, both wheel sizes can be over built to be stronger than
necessary. The disadvantage of the larger 700c can be compensated for by
selecting superior rims. Conclusion: Either size wheel will work
providing you use high quality components.
A bigger wheel has a smoother ride because it does not get sucked
into holes and depressions in the road as far. Again, the actual
difference in size is minimal so it's hard (but not impossible) to feel.
This difference can be somewhat overcome with wider 26 inch tires but is more a
matter of ride quality preference rather than a performance gain or loss.
Conclusion: Either size will be comfortable enough for a long bicycle tour.
26 inch touring tires tend to come in wider sizes and lower
pressure. 700c touring tires tend to be narrower and higher pressure.
This is less true than in the past because of the growing popularity of
comfortable hybrid bikes. Conclusion: What works best for you will
depend on your touring style and priorities but either can do the job.
Many 700c touring bikes do not have clearance for the widest
tires. This does not affect most bike tourists because a medium width tire
or smaller is fine, and even preferred, for traveling on paved roads and occasional
dirt sections. With a 26 inch touring bike you can use any tire a mountain
bike can, including super wide vibration eating and/or knobby tires.
Conclusion: Both wheels work for most conditions, but off pavement you may find
a 26 inch wheel more flexible.
There is one fact that may help in your decision process. The
wheel size affects your gearing. Given the same number of teeth in your
drive train, a 700c wheel will give you an overall higher gear and a 26 inch
wheel will give you a lower gear. The aspect of wheel size is easily
noticeable here because the size is felt in every revolution. I personally never wish
for a larger gear but I am often grateful for the lowest gear possible.
Conclusion: If you are super strong and often wish your bike had a bigger
gear, then 700c may be best but if you are average, like me, and wish you had a
lower gear on steep hills then a 26 inch is your best bet. Of course, either
Why I prefer 26 inch wheels for my world tour
Tire Availability: The problem traveling internationally
with 700c wheels is finding good replacement
tires. In my
early days of bicycle travel I had a cyclecross bike with 700c
wheels. I took a solo two year tour around the USA
and Mexico and realized that finding wide 700c bike touring tires was
difficult (without mail order) in the USA and nearly impossible in Mexico.
Since then, I've met countless other touring cyclist around the world, especially in
developing countries, who were desperately
looking for wide 700c touring tires. The only 700c tires available in the bike shops were
what the local road racers used (if any) which is about as wide as a
finger. (700c x 20 -25) Even after long time-consuming searches they
were forced to buy these narrow 700c racing tires that wear out fast, easily
puncture, and are less stable with loaded panniers.
Rim Availability: A similar scenario occurs when a rim is rendered useless,
a crash or just wearing out, and starts breaking spokes. Even a brand new
rim can be damaged by clumsy handling at the airport or a big crash. Sturdy rims made for mountain
biking are abundant throughout the world but 700c rims are only common for ultra
light road racing bicycles. A rim meant for a road bike will not last long
under the weight of a loaded bicycle but the average mountain bike rim is fine
Inner Tube Availability: The
same problem of finding tubes in developing countries is true. If bike
shops don't carry the tires and rims, there is no reason to sell wide
What I think makes the best touring bicycle wheel size
The decision between 700c and 26 inch is a tough one.
There is a much bigger selection of 700c touring bicycles compared to the
hard-to-find 26 inch models. I believe that it
comes down to the availability of tires, rims, and tubes in the place where you will be touring If you are mostly
riding on the paved road, sticking to the first world, or traveling for less
than 6 months at a time you could pick either type of bike. If you're
heading out into the less developed parts of the world, I recommend riding a
touring bicycle with 26 inch wheels