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‘.