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Would someone explain wheel sizes.

If I am not mistaken, the wheels on my Trek 520 touring bike are 700C. There are no markings, and of course, no documentation of any kind. I assume 700 means 700mm, so 700 / 25.4 = 27.56 inches.

If I measure the rim however, its diameter is approximately 25.1 inches.

If I buy Continental tires, the size is 28 inch, but I have to buy 27 inch Bontrager tubes.

To make matters worse, per this link, tires come in sizes of 26, 27, and 28 inch, and size 700.

How can I determine my wheel size, and are these various sizes interchangable. Also, is the 'C' suffix important, and what does it mean?

Of course the tires are marked, but I am under the impression (per the dealers comments) that Continental marks their tires differently than everyone else. Also, the tire markings don't help for ordering a new wheel.

With so many tire sizes available, how can I know if I am using the correct size.

After reading the various answers here, I should explain that my confusion on this matter stemmed from the fact that I used to work as an auto mechanic. In the auto industry, car tires are based on wheel size, 13", 14", 15" etc, and there is no possible way to mount a 15" tire on a 13" rim for example.

So when I saw all these different tire sizes, I assumed they all required a different wheel size, but in fact, there is essentially just one wheel diameter for my type of bike, which they refer to as 700C, which is actually 622mm.

I also initially assumed that the C referred to the wheel's width, but that isn't true either. The C is apparently just antiquated terminology.

So at least in theory, I can mount a 26", 27" 28" or 29" tire on my 700C (622mm) rim. I just need to verify the width of the tire is suitable my wheel width, which is what Sheldon Brown's article explains.

Also, I measured my Continental tires, which are marked as 28 inch. They actually measure 27 inches (fully inflated), which must be why my dealer calls their sizing non standard.

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It would be very unusual if there were not markings on the sides of the tires. They often don't seem to make sense, but if you relay them here we can decipher them. Also, of course, see Sheldon Brown. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 22 '13 at 15:32
It should be noted that, at least in the US, standard (non-exotic) adult bikes are currently sold only with 26" or 700c wheels. If the tire was manufactured some time in the past 20 years or so a 700c tire will have "622" (the ISO diameter) stamped on its sidewall somewhere. 26" wheels are a bit more variable, and the diameter tends to vary with the width, with ISO numbers between 571 and 597. Older road tires may be 27" (with a 630 ISO number). (Yes, a 27" wheel is larger than a 29" wheel.) – Daniel R Hicks Aug 22 '13 at 18:34
(In general 27" and 700c tubes are interchangeable -- the difference in diameter is slight.) – Daniel R Hicks Aug 22 '13 at 18:38
Note that if you're ordering a new wheel the ISO number is the number you want. It may be shown as "28/622", for a 700c28 tire, or "xx/571" for a 26" tire with millimeter width xx. The rim you order will have a similar designation, only the first part (the bead seat width) will be much narrower than the tire width (about half). – Daniel R Hicks Aug 22 '13 at 18:41
TL;DR: 700C = 28" = 29" = 622mm. 26" and 27" tires are not compatible with above. – Mladen Jablanović Aug 27 '13 at 5:15

3 Answers 3

I too own a Trek 520 and the bike does indeed come with 700C wheels and has for quite a number of years.

The labeling of a 700C tire is somewhat misleading due to historical reasons.

Originally, tires were sold in sizes based on the outer diameter of the tire. 700A, 700B, and 700C tires were all 700mm in diameter. However, the 700C tires were the thickest and the 700A tires were the thinnest. This difference was made up by using a smaller diameter rim for 700C tires and a larger diameter rim for 700A tires.

Nowadays, all tires labeled as 700C mount on a 622mm rim. Most tires will have both labels on them. 622 is the size recognized by the International Organization for Standardization, or ISO but 700C has become so common that it is the de facto industry standard label and is how most people will refer to that size.

Tire widths are (sort of) an additional complication. This page has a chart showing what widths tires are compatible with what width rims. However, I have run all sorts of widths on my 520, have never worried about rim compatibility, and have never had a problem in that respect. (I have mounted one brand of 700x35 that was big enough to rub on my frame, even though lots of others worked fine.)

All of this information and more is available on Sheldon Brown's tire sizing systems page, which is a fascinating read if you want to dork out over tire sizes for a while.

The following is in response to your edit:

It is not correct that you can mount a 26" or 27" tire on your 622mm rim. 26" and 27" tires are two different entities and each mounts on a different size rim. A 26" tire mounts on a 599mm rim and a 27" tire mounts on a 630mm rim.

Also be wary of 28" tires. While some mount on a 622mm rim, others mount on a 635mm rim.

When in doubt, trust the ISO number and stick within the widths on the chart mentioned above.

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In general, you can mount any width of 700C/622mm tire on a 700C rim. My 13mm inside width rims came mounted with 35mm tires from the manufacturer. There's only really a limitation that you can't (reliably) mount tires much narrower than the rims. – Daniel R Hicks Nov 20 '13 at 23:00… has a year by year list of most trek 520's. – Batman Nov 21 '13 at 14:00

Take a look here.

Page five lists 700C as french marking for 28". Be sure to read their preceding discussion, where they explain that correspondences are somewhat arbitrary and it is not impossible for 28" tyres to not fit perfectly on your rims (your dealer was probably correct).

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28" is an entirely different size, incompatible with everything else. – Daniel R Hicks Jul 11 at 23:49
Its a bit tricky. There are two or so sizes which are called 28". One is ISO 622 (also known as 700c) while the other is ISO 635. The use of 28" to mean 700c seems to be particularly common among Germans. – Batman Jul 12 at 1:58
I am sorry for misleading the OP. In my country, and to my knowledge, the standards 28", 29" and 700C usually refer to rims of 622mm tire bead diameter. – Vorac Jul 24 at 7:59

Understand that traditional bicycle wheel sizes have generally referred to the diameter of the tire, not the rim. Thus a 26" wheel will have a diameter of roughly 26 inches with the tire on it and inflated (though the actual diameter is often not reliable enough to size the wheel).

And, in particular, 26" wheels (and smaller) have different rim diameters depending on the tire width -- a wider tire will tend to have a smaller rim diameter, so that the overall wheel size comes closer to 26". (Further, a 26 x 1-3/4 tire is not the same size as a 26 x 1.75 tire -- go figure.)

So the only sensible way to match tires to rims is via the ISO sizes (which are tied to the rim size, not the tire). 26" tires have ISO sizes from XX/571 to XX/597 (where the XX is replaced with the tire width in mm, and the 571, eg, is the bead circle diameter in mm -- the critical number to match. And, while 26" tires vary, 27" tires are (almost) always XX/630.

700C tires are always XX/622. (And this includes "29-inch" tires that are really 700C tires, only marketed to guys who don't wears spandex shorts.)

As to the XX value, that is the "nominal" tire width -- approximately how wide it would be (in mm) when mounted on an "average" rim. Of course, rim width varies (it's stated as the inner width, between the two flanges), and (since tires are flexible in the width direction) it need not be a particular precise value. Rim width should be narrower than the tire width (by roughly a factor of 2), but there are a lot of differing opinions as to how wide/narrow, compared to the tire width.

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