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The Great Bike Debate: 26-inch-wheels vs 29er

If you want to stir a lively debate among cyclists, simply ask which is better: 26 inches or 29er? Many mountain bikers will extol the virtues of one wheel size over another, but what benefits do larger wheels offer commuters?

700c vs. 29 inches

29erMany commuters have been rolling to work on 29-inch-wheels for years.  All road and cyclocross bikes are built with 700c wheels, which are 29 inches. However, 700c wheels are designed to accommodate a thinner tire. Many come in widths ranging from 18 to 23 millimeters, with touring tires ranging from 25 to 28 millimeters. Wider tires offer a plusher and smoother ride, but the additional rolling resistance results in slower speeds. On the flipside, the wheels on a 29er are beefier and were originally designed for off-road use. The tires are designed to roll over obstacles, while making more contact with the ground. Mountain bike tires are much thicker than a 700c, with widths typically falling between 1.8 to 2.4 inches.

The 29er

A 29er is more than just a wheel size. The bike’s overall design and geometry varies as well. Because of the larger wheels, the bike tends to accommodate taller riders and these frames offer greater ground clearance for a rider to navigate obstacles. The bikes also have a varied geometry and will handle differently than a 26-inch mountain bike or a 700c road, touring or cyclocross bike.

Big-wheel advantages

Companies such as Surly have caught on to the 29er craze, offering bikes, such as the Karate Monkey, that are designed for commuters and fixed-gear trail riding. For bicycle commuters, 29-inch-wheels help dampen bumpy roads and potholes, are often a more comfortable option for larger rides, and they tend to carry a rider’s momentum better than a 26-inch-wheel. These larger wheels also make it easier to roll over soft surfaces. A fatter tire increases the bike’s traction and corning ability, making it a more stable ride, especially in inclement weather or on gravel and dirt paths.

Other considerations

Any thicker tire will carry a speed disadvantage and a larger wheel will also increase the bike’s weight. While 29ers help carry a rider’s momentum, they’re slower to accelerate and brake.

Bicycle Trailers and 29ers

Many bicycle trailers will fit bicycle’s with 29 inch wheels, but always ensure that if they attach via rear axle, they will accommodate the wheel size of the bicycle.  For more on bicycle trailers download our FREE ‘Bicycle Trailer & Cargo Carrier Buyers Guide‘.

 

5 Comments

  1. Sptster1200 October 13, 2012 at 1:02 am

    With the 26 inch wheel you gain strength in the rim by virtue of it being a smaller diameter. The difference in scrolling resistance is negligible if you are running the same type of tires (slicks for instance). With the 26 inch wheel you”ll usually gain a taller sidewall giving you roughly the same outside diameter of the 700c wheel with tire. Bonus being less pinch flats.

  2. John Lovell January 13, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    Also not specifically noted is that a 29 inch wheel is a “bigger gyroscope” and will present more resistance to being steered so turning the handlebars at speed will be just a little harder or more suggish on a 29ner.

  3. artist_formally_known_as_cWj March 12, 2013 at 5:24 am

    My question is which is better for hills/has higher accelerations potential.

    Wouldn’t that bet the 26? It lowers the gear ratio and is going to get moving faster (most things being same/similar) isn’t it?

    • Maya Cycle Team March 13, 2013 at 1:42 am

      Hi Artist! Thank you for your question. I believe that you are correct and for going up hills and for acceleration, it may be easier to use a 26″ wheel bike.  However, the new 29ers out there have some crazy suspensions and gears designed for this purpose as well.  I think when it comes down to it, its preference… BUT I am not an expert on the matter. To get the facts, ask your local bike shop where the staff is trained and knowledgeable about different bikes and riding styles. Hope that helps!

  4. hopfully helpful January 5, 2014 at 12:24 am

    I bought a 29 inch mountain bike about 3 years ago, I have noticed that I have a lot more traction climbing steep loose gravel roads. some of the roads I was unable to climb on a 26″ mountain bike I can now climb on a 29.

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