26 vs 700C Wheels: What’s the Difference and How to Choose!

While the 700c possesses market dominance, there are still some areas where the 26-inch wheels come in handy, as you would learn in this article.
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Last updatedLast updated: April 27, 2022
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If you just woke up from a two-decade-long coma, you could be forgiven for not recognizing today’s bikes. Sure, your average bike shop contains fewer size options than it did in the past, but the names of many modern options wouldn’t be ringing a bell. More specifically, you would be left wondering why the 26-inch wheels of your day seem to have given in to the larger 700c wheels of today. In fact, what does 700c mean? Well, all those questions could be answered here in our take on the 26 vs. 700c argument.

Both wheel sizes have their conventional uses, but for the past decade or so, 700c has been dominating the bicycle wheel stakes and have encroached deep into the market of the 26-inch options. There are other options available, but those are topics best covered after you’ve had a better grasp of these two. Read on to learn more about these two-wheel options and better suited for your cycling experience.

26-inch wheels

26 vs 700C Wheels: What's the Difference and How to Choose!

The days of 26-inch wheels being the go-to option for bicycle riders are long gone, and this is most evident in the continuous absence of their parts in bike shops of the developed world.

It is a simple case of the trendsetters having grown tired of a generally less reliable product. However, note the word “generally” because 26-inch wheels still have some functionality left in their less popular frames.

If you doubt it, consider the Kenda Tires K838, which is still racking up sales and recommendations, both of which wouldn’t be possible if people weren’t buying it. As you could probably guess, it is made for a 26-inch wheel.

Instead of concerning ourselves with all the reasons why this wheel size seems to be losing popularity, let’s look at its pros and cons to determine what the people still buying its tires are using it for.

For starters, most mountain bikes Trusted Source What are the health benefits of cycling? Cycling is a low impact type of aerobic activity that can benefit a person’s health and fitness. It is a useful exercise that many people can incorporate into their daily lives as a mode of transport, casual activity, or competitive sport. As it is relatively easy to start and suitable for most fitness levels, it is a popular physical activity. www.medicalnewstoday.com still employ 26-inch wheels on their frames because of the flexibility that they give concerning tire width and tire clearance. That said, here are specific pros and cons of using 26-inch wheels on a bike:

Pros

  • The lowest gear of a 26-inch wheel bike is relatively smaller than that of a 700c-bike.
  • 26-inch tires are more common in the developing world than 700c wheels, making it beneficial to use them in such regions.
  • 26-inch wheels are generally stronger than the 700c ones and require relatively fewer spare parts over long tours.
  • They are more suitable for navigating steep hills and rough terrain, such as mountain biking. Using these should result in fewer occasions requiring replacement of your mountain bike tires.
  • They deal with weight better than the 700c wheels.
  • Short riders (5’5” or less) might find them more suitable.
  • They have larger tire clearance to accommodate riders looking to use fatter tires. These fatter tires make them even more ideal for carrying a load or riding on rough paths.
  • Many riders report finding it easier to steer bikes with 26-inch wheels (though this is more an issue of personal preference and other conditions).

Cons

  • The developed world has mostly moved past them, and it may be difficult to find spares when you need them; quality spares would be even harder to find.
  • Due to the smaller wheel size, it requires more effort to sustain or increase speed compared to larger wheels. This lesser efficiency would be more common during commutes in the city than on rides through rough terrain.
  • They are not as suitable for rolling over potholes and obstacles as the 700c wheels are.
  • They aren’t very ideal for tall riders (5’6 and above).

700c wheels

26 vs 700C Wheels: What's the Difference and How to Choose!

The number used to describe this wheel size has lost relevance as they have developed, but the wheel itself is not irrelevant. If anything, it is currently the most popular wheel size for road bikes.

Back in the day, the “700” referred to the outside diameter of the tires, but in today’s world of varying 700c-wheel rim widths, this number isn’t accurate anymore. As for the “c,” it appears to be even more irrelevant than the number considering it was used as a classification among manufacturers. Nowadays, the classification is void, but the letter has persisted. The term by which we refer to this tire doesn’t give much information about it, and this prompts many questions from confused riders.

Of more importance today is that 700c wheels represent a jump in size from the 26-inch wheels on the other side of our comparison. This jump in size has advantages that have made it a mainstay for road bikes and some tour bikers. Seeing as road bikes arguably still seem to be the most popular of all bicycle classifications, their preferred wheels have the same level of popularity.

This isn’t to say that 700c wheels are restricted to road bikes alone. There are still other bike classifications that use the wheel (with certain modifications), or we are left to wonder where the widely recommended 700c tour tires from Continental are being used. Here are the pros and cons of 700c wheels.

Pros

  • They are the reigning tire choice for road bikes in the developed world and, as such, their spares are readily available there.
  • The larger wheel size means they are more efficient (as regards speed) than the 26-inch wheels in maintaining speeds meaning less effort for riders.
  • The larger size of the wheel allows the bike to roll over obstacles such as potholes and speed bumps easily.
  • 700c tires are popular in the developed world, increasing potential tire options for bikers to choose from.
  • Bikes using these wheels are more suitable for taller riders (5’6” and above) because of their size.

Cons

  • It would be extremely difficult to obtain spare parts for them in the developing world, and carrying a reasonable number of spares along with you over long tours, would increase baggage.
  • They are not as comfortable for use in rough terrain as the 26-inch wheels because of their relative structural weakness.
  • It is not very suitable for shorter riders (5’5” or less).
  • Many riders report them as being more difficult to steer than 26-inch wheels.

Bicycle rim width and tire clearance

Rim width is simply the width of your bicycle Trusted Source Cycling Benefits: 12 Reasons Cycling Is Good for You Cycling is a low impact exercise that can help you manage your weight as well as prevent health risks. It’s good for beginners and advanced athletes alike. www.healthline.com rim. This would have a lot to do with the design of the bicycle frame and the wheel/tire size that the manufacturers intend the bike to use. However, it isn’t alone in determining the tire size that is used.

Tire clearance refers to the gap between the tire and other non-wheel parts of a bike. The tire clearance essentially determines the size of the tire that could be used on a bike. Too little tire clearance and too big a tire could impede your riding significantly and occasionally. As such, the tire clearance should account for dirt accumulation as well.

Frame clearance

26 vs 700C Wheels: What's the Difference and How to Choose!

This is a general parameter for bikes that indicates just how big your tires can go.

Simply put, the frame clearance of your bike would determine the tire clearance you get with certain tires. By extension, it would also determine the maximum tire size you can use. Many experts recommend a frame clearance of 3-5 mm to avoid any contact (that could prove disastrous) between tire and frame when you ride or if the tire wobbles.

As expected, the smaller 26 In wheels generally provide more clearance. This would allow for the fitting of fatter tires that should provide more traction when you need it. Note that these fatter tires would also increase the surface area of your tires with the ground, consequently reducing your speed.

Rim width

The width of your bicycle rim indicates how wide your tire can get, along with the frame clearance. The inside width of the rim indicates it; as such, there is a lot of estimation. This results in tire recommendations being within a range instead of a fixed value.

However imprecise these recommendations may be though; they should be taken seriously. Using a narrower tire than is advisable could easily result in pinch flats or rim damage when rolling over obstacles. On the other hand, too-wide tires are likely to wobble and create handling issues for the rider.

In many cases, though, the tire width would also depend on the frame clearance, as explained above. For instance, if the rim can accommodate a wider tire, but the tire would step beyond a safe clearance level, you should probably use tires of a smaller size.
26 vs 700C Wheels: What's the Difference and How to Choose!

The increased width should give more air volume and, thus, more stability for riding on loosely packed/uneven gravel-filled ground.

Based on this, accommodations can be made depending on the cycling conditions. Touring bikes that would be ridden should theoretically use moderately wider tires (close to 2 inches wide) to improve handling and comfort. This would, however, be to the detriment of speed due to the extra weight. Gravel bikes, though, should utilize even wider tires but for different reasons.

Brake clearance

Brake clearance is like frame clearance but between the tires and the brake parts instead. It is usually a problem when rim brakes are used but not so much with disc brakes. The tire would have to be narrow enough to avoid contact with the brake arms. As a result, disc brakes are favored when this is the only factor under consideration. However, there are other differences between rim brakes and disc brakes that affect the final choice of riders.

Wheel strength

We have established how to wheel strength could vary between 26 inch and 700c wheels, but the opinions expressed are based on the belief that high-quality wheels would be used. This isn’t the reality, though. The wheels employed by bike riders or available as spares will not always be of the highest quality.

We would advise you to opt for the highest quality within the capacity of your pocket/wallet. If you do that and go for quality, it increases the chances that the following effect would have over your wheel strength.

Number of spokes

26 vs 700C Wheels: What's the Difference and How to Choose!

When it comes to spokes on a bicycle wheel, a bit of balance is needed.

More spokes would mean more wheel strength but the less aerodynamic advantage and less speed. As such, the choice of a number of spokes should be dependent on how fast you want to go versus how much weight you imagine the bicycle would be carrying.

The differences stated above would further translate into the type of bike you would be buying. Tourist bikes would generally have the greatest number of spokes. In contrast, you should be expecting gravel bikes and mountain bikes to sport fewer spokes.

It should be noted, though, that the speed advantage gained from a lesser spoke count is marginal. This explains why only pro racers seem eager to risk wheel strength for it.

Material and quality

Spokes are usually overlooked when people are considering bicycles, and it is a surprise considering they will be carrying your weight. People look at the seats, the pedals, rims, brakes but pay little attention to the spokes.

Unfortunately for those careless enough to overlook their spokes and unlucky enough to end up with poor quality spokes, the strength of the spoke largely affects the strength of the wheel. Furthermore, the strength of the spoke is largely dependent on the material it is made from.

Most spokes are made from stainless steel, and this should be good enough for most bike riders, but there are also titanium spokes, aluminum spokes, and carbon fiber spokes. All of these have varying strengths, with titanium being the strongest and the latter two being the weakest.

Strength and quality

Even after selecting a material, the design of the wheel could still impact its strength. For example, a double wall rim made of titanium would be stronger than a single wall rim made of the same material, provided the quality of material used in both are the same.

The quality and condition of the hub would also have a say in the overall quality of the wheel. There are a variety of designs for hubs, and proper maintenance would ensure that any of the designs used in your bike would last well enough to provide good value.

What to choose?

All the factors and considerations listed above are quite valid, but the final decision on your wheel type/size depends on what the bike is to be used for and where it is to be used. If you need a bike for exercising or commuting in the city, the 700c wheels are the better choice, especially if speed is important to you.

On the other hand, if you are going to be touring a long distance, touring in the developing parts of the world, or riding over rough terrain, opting for the 26-inch wheels would save you a lot of headaches. The first reason for that is the relatively greater strength of the wheels. It is unlikely to suffer broken spokes along the way, thus, minimizing the need for spares.

When you do finally need spares in the developing regions of the world, it’s significantly more likely that you’d come across 26-inch parts than 700c. This doesn’t mean that you may not come across shops or other riders with 700c tires, but don’t stake your mental health on this, especially if you are hundreds or thousands of miles away from home.

An interesting option to simply being a tire-purist is to consider using hybrid tires to limit the disadvantages of your favorite wheel size. Such a choice could make it possible for you to positively affect wheel/tire performance without shifting from your preferred wheel size.

Final thoughts

If you’ve read through the entirety of this article, you should have gotten the idea that anybody can ride any bike anywhere. However, there’s an argument that could be had for comfort especially considering that, over long rides, any discomfort felt at the beginning is only likely to increase.

That said, the discussion (or argument) of 26 vs. 700c can be easily summarized in a few short sentences for riders. If you require speed and the road is smooth enough to allow it, go for the 700c wheels. For riders looking to tour long distances or conquer a particularly rough course, the 26-inch option is best for you. Remember, it’s not a matter of 1s and 0s with your wheel choice; it’s more an issue of relative comfort or rapidly increasing discomfort.

References

1.
What are the health benefits of cycling?
Cycling is a low impact type of aerobic activity that can benefit a person’s health and fitness. It is a useful exercise that many people can incorporate into their daily lives as a mode of transport, casual activity, or competitive sport. As it is relatively easy to start and suitable for most fitness levels, it is a popular physical activity.
2.
Cycling Benefits: 12 Reasons Cycling Is Good for You
Cycling is a low impact exercise that can help you manage your weight as well as prevent health risks. It’s good for beginners and advanced athletes alike.
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