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I was told by a friend that 26" wheels are better than 28" wheels for touring. Is this true? What are the pro's and con's?

  • I'm told that 26" wheels are stronger for their spoke count. What are the practical implications of this?
  • Are there other reliability concerns? and how much of a concern/win are they?
  • Does one size have an advantage in terms of ease of carrying a heavy load?
  • Does one have an advantage in terms of the sorts of terrain it can traverse?

Some context: We're going on a 800km trip in southern Germany and I'm looking to acquire a decent bike for this trip, and hopefully many other such trips (potentially more adventurous ones too). I basically just want to pick up a good base bike that I slowly build on and figure that I should invest in a frame that supports the right size of tires from the start.

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The vast majority of on-the-road touring bikes in the US roll on 700c (28") wheels. Touring bikes with 26" wheels are sold for shorter people, but are not all that common. A purpose-built touring bike will generally have 700c tires about 35mm wide. There is no significant strength advantage to the smaller wheel. Of course, off-road is a different matter, and depends very much on the specific conditions. –  Daniel R Hicks May 13 at 16:23
    
To see what's "usual" for a touring bike, the Kona Sutra is a good heavy touring bike, the Novara Randonnee is a somewhat lighter one. And Fred listed the Surly, which reportedly built like a tank. Note that all 3 have steel frames. –  Daniel R Hicks May 13 at 16:31
    
Most of them are indeed steel, but there have been touring bikes done in aluminum (Cannondale Touring 1, for example). The weigh weenie-ing isn't really a factor in touring (its not racing), but durability (and in some cases, reparibility) are key concerns (and "steel is real"). –  Batman May 13 at 22:08

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

For reference for non-Germans, 28" means 700c.

Most touring bikes do ship with 700c wheels these days (for not short riders - short riders often get 26" or 650b wheels) and they work fine for people - the key is to have well built wheels for touring (for loaded touring, this means high spoke counts, good spokes and rims and hubs and the wheel being put together properly). If you like a good touring bike which comes in 26" for your size but not 700c, then get the 26". Likewise, if you only have the 700c option, get it. This choice should mean good bike fit and decent quality components.

So, I think the answer for all of them is pretty much a wash - you can find a good wheel which works in either size for almost everybody.

Note that you want big tires for touring, so the air cushions you, but touring frames generally have this built in.

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I'd say that for loaded touring the place to start is tires, not wheel size. You need a bike that can accommodate larger tires. 32mm at a minimum and 40+ if you plan to travel on dirt roads or take on very heavy loads.

It's generally easier to find a 26" wheeled bike that can take larger tires, but if you find a 28" bike that can accommodate larger tires that will work fine as well.

In theory if you build a 26" wheel and a 28" wheel with the same rim and spoke type/count, the 26" wheel will be stronger. But there are plenty of people touring with 28" wheels.

The most important thing is to get a frame that fits you and has a comfortable geometry. If you're less than 170cm or so in height, 26" wheels might make more sense on a bike that small.

Look at bikes that are built for touring and see what their specs are in terms of geometry and wheel size. Wheel size is the last thing you should be worrying about. Look at the specs for this bike

http://surlybikes.com/bikes/long_haul_trucker

In the smaller sizes it comes with 26" wheels and 28" wheels in the larger sizes.

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The strength difference might exist, but for road and maybe dirt road cycling it doesn't really matter. The wheel quality makes a much larger difference imho. –  arne May 14 at 6:21
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I completely agree, who builds the wheel and what components they use matters much more than the rim size. –  Fred the Magic Wonder Dog May 14 at 17:23

Great article about the pros and cons. The writer chose a 28" (700c) bike for single bike, and 26" for the tandem bike.

700c vs 26inch Wheel Size for Touring

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I know it's only a link, but it is very relevant and concise, so +1 –  James Bradbury Jul 3 at 7:40
    
That's a really useful article. One thing it mentions, but it bears repeating, is that there is a distinct lack of 700c in Asia. –  headeronly Jul 3 at 8:37
    
My opinion is this reason is only valid if I want to keep on touring on cheap components. I would DHL order Rigida tyres and Schwalbe tyres, if needed. –  olee22 Jul 5 at 21:51

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