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26-inch Wheels vs 700C Wheels, Big Deal or Not?

There’s been a discussion on the Google Surly Long Haul Trucker’s Group about whether you could put a 26-inch wheel on an LHT designed for a 700C frame.

The LHT is sold with 26-inch wheels on frames from 42 to 54 CM and 700C wheels on frames larger than that.

700-vs-26-inchIs the bigger wheel faster?

When I went from my 26-inch-equipped Trek Navigator 300 comfort bike to a Trek 1220 road bike with 700Cs, I picked up about two miles per hour. I attributed it to the larger wheel size. I don’t know if that’s what it was, but it was as good a theory as any.

My 52CM LHT comes with 26-inch wheels

I was a little concerned about having to go back to 26-inch wheels on my new LHT, but enough folks assured me that it wouldn’t be much different. They also said it’s a lot easier to find 26-inch tires around the world than 700Cs.

I have to admit that I can’t tell much difference. Once the LHT gets up to cruising speed, it seems to take little effort to keep it going. Of course, most of my riding is on flat ground.

The 700 IS quite a bit larger

I’m of the generation that is metrically challenged, so I didn’t have a real grasp of the sizes. (I’m like the kid who will take a nickle instead of a dime because it’s bigger.) While I was cleaning out my shed, though, I happened to grab the rim that came off my old Trek when I had my SON built into a new wheel for my LHT. At the same time, I also grabbed the original wheel off my LHT.

The 26-inch wheel fit inside the 700 with room to spare

700-vs-26-inch-closeupWow! That puppy IS bigger.

I’ll leave it up to folks who understand physics and rolling round things to explain to me exactly what performance differences to expect (feel free to chime in).

11 comments to 26-inch Wheels vs 700C Wheels, Big Deal or Not?

  • You should calculate how many revolutions each tire does over the course of a mile.

    Obviously, a smaller tire will make more revolutions per mile. Does that mean the smaller tire will wear faster? I’m sure that is the case. If the smaller tire wears faster, does it cost more or less than a big tire?

    If tires for both wheels cost the same amount and you have to replace the smaller tire more often, how much more are you going to end up paying over the course of your bike’s life because you went with a substandard tire size?

    Let me know.

    —Matt

  • SLM

    Yeah, what Matt said AND let’s say a train was leaving the station heading West at 24.7 mph and weighed in 40 tons and took on 3,000 gallons of water at the half-way point of it’s journey while another train leaving from another station heading East at 24.7 mph and weighed in at 40 tons and took on 2,000 gallons go water at its half-way point of it’s journey. Now which train will hit the other train first?

  • kls

    The consensus of the Surly folks is that you can’t easily put the smaller wheel on a bigger frame because the brakes wouldn’t hit in the right place and it would lower the overall bike so much that pedal strike might be an issue.

    Somehow or another, I don’t really worry about the tire wearing out because it spins more times per mile. My unscientific thought is that the smaller wheel would be faster and more nimble to get up to speed, but the larger tire would maintain that speed easier.

    I’ve seen that thread debated for weeks in the bike forums. To me it’s about as interesting as counting the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin. I’ve got what I’ve got and all the analysis ain’t gonna make any difference.

    As far SLM’s two-train question, assuming that both trains are on the same track, I don’t think it makes much difference to the engineer and fireman riding in the engines WHOSE train hits WHOSE first because I think they’re on their way to the Pearly Gates at about the same time.

  • SLM

    Bigger wheel, thinner (not thickness) tire will help you pick up some extra speed, less rolling friction is how that all computes out math wise.

    As far as the train crash, you made my point for me, does it really matter if you aren’t concerned about it to begin with?

    Matt – (thinner tires, more air pressure….)

  • LOL. i like the train question-

    what ya’ll failed to realize was that these are two identical trains heading towards each other at the same speed, who cares how much water was taken on because they BOTH stopped at the HALFWAY point…. they both hit each other.

  • Ben

    Wow! These are the sorts of conversations I need to get in on. How does one join the LHT google group?

  • Ben,

    This link should take you there. Join it like you would any other Google Group.

    http://groups.google.com/group/surlylht

  • Jim

    I grappled with this concept when trying to determine what was better, the 27″ x 1 1/8″ or a 700C X 25 (26.5″). I’m curious though, because I have a vintage road bike with a 27″ tire and a track bike with the 26.5″ 700C tire. The track bike is lighter, but the road bike more than makes up for that with gearing, but how much is lost in all that serpentine of chain and tensioners. So many other factors too, like my 27″ takes 105 psi and the 700C’s only take 100 psi, 5 psi makes a difference in rolling resistance, even at 100+ psi. There’s also the contact strip with the road that effects this. I thought about converting/upgrading a vintage 27″ to new size 700C. I like my 27″, also like the 700C. I’ll stay with what came with the bike. As for a 26″ road tire, I’ll avoid that based upon commonality & availability, no special tires for me (which is what my Vintage 27″ wheels are becoming, a specialty tire). I like choices and now that I have a 27″ that is obsolete, finding a tire for it is difficult, not to mention choice is limited. The 700C, those are x 25, but as I understand it, I came put x 20, x 23, x 28 on it. Choices ! So a 26″ road tire, keep that one, faced with 2 bikes with either on them, I’ll buy the 700C’s.

  • I am helping fix up a bike for this girl I know. It has 26″ 1 and 3/8 tires. She wants purple tires. My first question is does anybody know here to find those purple tires in 26″? If not I heard I could put 700c wheels on there. Is that true?

  • JW

    A question I have for Surly is why they think that short people are better off with smaller diameter tires than tall people. Seems to me the opposite would be the case.

  • Lame

    I know this is a little late, but neither train is going to hit the other. on leaves the station going west, the other east. Both trains will drown in the ocean long before they hit each other

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