Bike manufacturers have made sure that bicycle wheel sizes evolve throughout the years. They developed different wheel sizes for bikes, each having a fair share of different pros and cons. Among these different wheel sizes, the biggest choice comes down to choosing between the 26-inch and 700c bicycle wheels.
26-inch wheels are stronger than 700c wheels because they are structurally stronger and have a smaller diameter and employ fewer spokes. 700c wheels can sustain speed better because they have larger wheels and greater mass, which means they have more inertia.
The wider diameter of 700c wheels makes them simpler to roll over road hazards like potholes, branches, boulders, and other obstructions.
Both are popular among bicycle riders for their different features. This is why it all depends upon a rider’s personal preference. However, this comparison has got several bike riders in a never-ending predicament that must be answered once and for all.
In this article, I have weighed the pros and cons of both 26-inch and 700c bicycle wheels. Before listing the pros and cons, one must know how much these two bicycle wheel sizes differ.
The Difference Between 700c and 26-Inch Bicycle Wheels
700c is a standard size for modern road bikes. 700c is also referred to as 29er or 28-inch wheels. The 700c wheels have a diameter of ISO 622 mm. Whereas, 26-inch bicycle wheels are the standard size for old mountain bikes and many expedition touring bikes or fat bikes.
The wheels are 556 mm in diameter. They are about 1 or 2 inches smaller in diameter than 700c bicycle wheels.
The main difference between the two is that one wheel size is slightly smaller than the other. For your better understanding, here are some more differences in performance and features of these two wheel sizes:
|26 Inch Wheels||700c Wheels|
|Structurally stronger due to short spokes.||Structurally weak due to large spokes.|
|Spare parts are cheap.||Spare parts are expensive.|
|Can’t roll over bumps and obstacles due to its short diameter.||Can easily roll over potholes, bumps, and obstacles on uneven terrain.|
|Suitable for short riders.||Suitable for tall riders.|
|Good for carrying heavy loads even on steep hills.||Can’t handle heavy pressure or stress while climbing uphill.|
|Wheels accelerate faster, but can’t maintain speed.||Wheels accelerate slowly but once caught momentum they can maintain speed.|
|Requires more energy to cover long distances.||Suitable for covering long distances in less time since they don’t require much energy.|
700c Vs 26-Inch Bicycle Wheels
The main dispute over these two wheel sizes has been a trend and considering which ones are the best completely depends on the rider.
Some people advocate for one size by seeing the availability of spare parts, while others put comfort over anything else.
If you prefer comfort and enjoy a fast and smooth ride over rocky terrain, then 700c wheels are ideal for you. If you, however, want to go touring without the risk of broken and weary spokes then you might want to opt for 26-inch wheels.
What Are The Pros Of 26-Inch Wheels?
Easy To Find Repair Parts
People mostly opt for 26-inch wheels for their bike tours because of how easy it is to find spare parts for 26-inch wheels in any country. This is why 26-inch wheels are the most common wheels out there or maybe because they have remained a standard size for bike wheels for years.
One can easily find a spare 26-inch wheel, tube, or rim. Unlike 26-inch, finding a 700c wheel size is nearly impossible in a few underdeveloped parts of the world like West Africa because these small bike shops only have a 26-inch available.
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This also saves a rider from the hassle of carrying spare parts because their replacements are available almost everywhere.
26-inch wheels are significantly stronger in structure. Even though they are smaller in size and have shorter spokes, 26-inch wheels are stronger than 700c wheels.
These wheels are designed to handle heavy loads while touring and they can take more beating without cracking, or buckling. This is another reason tourists prefer 26-inch wheels because of their initial strength
26-inch wheel parts are much more affordable and cheap. You can get a new pair of tires or tubes of 26-inch wheels in just a few dollars from any department store.
Their second-hand parts are also available at bike shops for a cheap price.
» Read more about this in my post: Cost of Replacing Tires
Large Tire Clearance
The frames that are designed for 26-inch wheels are significantly made to fit fat tires as well. Therefore, most bike frames with 26-inch wheels can even handle 2-inch wide tires.
This provides a big advantage for riders who want to ride over rough and bumpy terrain where skinny tires are prone to wear or tear.
Even if someone isn’t using wide tires, this provides them the benefit of having two choices in one frame size.
Easy to Handle
26-inch wheels are small so they make steering quicker and more responsive which makes it extremely easy to navigate the bike through technical and challenging trails during a ride.
This also makes 26-inch wheels easy to maneuver.
26-inch wheels are more lightweight because they have less material which reduces the overall weight of the bike as well.
» Read my blog post: Weight of Bicycle by Type: Here’s How Much a Bike Weighs!
Since the 26-inch wheels have short spokes, they are strong and hard to break. This makes them durable.
26-inch wheels can accelerate faster because of their small diameter and low weight. This provides the rider speed and also helps in commuting through the city where they continuously have to stop and take that route often.
With 26-inch wheels, it is easy to ride on steep hills even with heavy loads due to smaller wheels making the effective gear ratio low.
No Toe Overlap
Small wheels often rub the rider’s foot when they turn the handlebars, this problem is quite famous in small frame bikes. However, 26-inch bikes don’t have any toe overlap.
What Are the Cons of 26-Inch Wheels?
Not Suitable For Bumps
26-inch wheels do not roll over the bumpy obstacles on a trail because of their small diameter wheels. Small wheels tend to get swallowed up in the bumps or holes while wider and larger wheels can roll right over them.
Can’t Maintain Speed
Even though 26-inch wheels can accelerate fast and gain speed quickly, they can’t maintain that speed well because the small wheels don’t have much inertia to keep the bike rolling.
With 26-inch wheels, it is harder to maintain the speed because doing that requires pedaling more which takes even more energy and often reduces efficiency.
Riding with 26-inch wheels can sometimes be a bumpy ride since the small wheels can’t absorb the vibrations that well.
Therefore, the rider will more likely feel that each bump or little obstacle that hits the wheel causes the ride to be less smooth.
Limited Frame Options
Most bike manufacturers have almost stopped manufacturing 26-inch bike frames which makes the options very limited. If you happen to visit a bike shop, you will most likely find 700c in the touring bike section.
However, if you want a 26-inch touring bike, it will be labeled as an ‘expedition touring bike’.
Low-Quality Spare Parts
Even though it is easy to find spare parts for 26-inch wheels, they are mostly low-quality second-hand parts. They will get you rolling and work fine in the beginning but they aren’t durable and wear out soon.
Plus, it is hard to find high-quality spare parts for 26-inch wheels because the bike manufacturers have turned towards manufacturing bigger wheels such as 700c.
What Are the Pros of 700c Wheels?
700c wheels tend to have less rolling resistance which makes them more efficient. This is the reason 700c wheels don’t lose speed when coming across bumps on the trails.
Plus the hubs and chains of the bike do not cause much friction in the system because large wheels do not need to revolve as quickly.
Large wheels have significantly more inertia which means that once you get them rolling and create the momentum, they will keep moving even if you stop pedaling in between.
This helps riders use less energy to maintain speed while increasing efficiency.
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Tackle Bumpy Roads
700c wheels have a large diameter, so they can effortlessly cover large bumps, holes, and other obstacles on the trail. Unlike small wheels, large ones can’t be swallowed whole by the holes on the trail; they can just roll right over them.
Large wheels can also pull themselves over the bumps with ease. This helps the riders tackle technical and challenging trails easily. The riders can easily maintain their stability and comfort on the bike.
Easily Available Spare Parts
700c wheels have taken over the bike world as almost all new bikes have 700c wheel sizes nowadays.
Therefore, it’s quite easy to find 700c spare parts such as spare tires, tubes, or rims since they are available at every bike shop.
Even if 26-inch spare parts are more commonly available, 700c wheels are not much behind. In most countries, 700c wheels are easily available, however sometimes one may have to travel to a capital city to find 700c wheels parts.
More Tire Options
Nowadays, 700c wheels have gained more popularity, and bike manufacturers have started to design a variety of options for this size.
One can easily find every style of tires in a 700c version ranging from 18mm road tires to 3-inch mountain bike tires.
Covers More Distance in Less Time
700c wheels can allow the riders to cover more distance in less time because they have less rolling resistance once they gain momentum which takes less energy to keep them rolling.
Therefore, the riders are significantly more comfortable and less fatigued. This is why they go commuting for a longer period of time with maximum speed which is ideal for riders who want to travel long distances.
More Frame Options
Most bike manufacturers have switched to creating frames designed for 700c wheels nowadays. This is why there are a large variety of bike frame options to choose from.
Smooth and Stable
Bike riders must know that large tires are meant to be stabler since they have a better grip on the ground and the ability to tackle bumps on the trails.
700c wheels offer more stability to the riders as well as a smooth ride without getting stuck over bumps.
What Are the Cons of 700c Wheels?
Less Tire Clearance
A bike frame clearance can limit the maximum tire width and height. 700c wheels have less clearance for high-volume tires because they are large.
The max one can fit tires up to 42mm on the same bike frame which makes a big difference when riding the bike off-road.
700c wheels are structurally weaker as compared to 26-inch wheels because of their large diameter and long spokes. Longer spokes tend to break or bend very easily than shorter spokes. They often buckle under a lot of stress or pressure.
This is why 700c wheels can’t handle heavy loads without their spokes breaking or bending.
This makes them less durable, however, if they are built with high-quality components they will last more no matter the size of the spokes.
Expensive Spare Parts
The spare parts of 700c bikes are too expensive to buy brand new. The 700c wheels, tires, and tubes are larger in size which means they use more material, therefore, costing a lot more.
Moreover, there aren’t many options available in used spare parts for 700c wheel size.
Since 700c wheels are heavy and large, it takes much more energy to get them rolling. Because of their air resistance, they don’t immediately start spinning fastly after a stop.
This can potentially slow down a rider if they are riding in a city where they have to make sudden stops again and again.
Since 700c wheels are large in size, they are built with more materials which adds weight to the overall weight of the bike.
700c wheels are large which means they don’t turn as fast as small wheels. Since steering is less responsive it makes navigating around the trail a tough task and makes it hard to handle around technical terrains.
A bike with a 700c wheel size significantly has a high gearing. This is because the wheel is much larger in diameter which makes carrying heavy loads uphill a hard task on a 700c bike.
One has to walk the bike uphill if the hill’s too steep.
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Overall, the decision really comes down to the personal preference of people. Both 26-inch and 700c bicycle wheels have their own pros and cons. So you should decide what you want on a bike.
If you want a touring bike that is easy to handle, budget-friendly as well as suitable for heavy loads then a 26-inch wheel bicycle may just be the right choice for you.
However, if you have a need for speed and want to ride on challenging terrain then you might just be well fitted for a 700c wheels bicycle.