As you can see, 26inch is slightly smaller than 700c

700c vs 26 Inch Wheel Size for Bicycle Touring

What’s better in the 700c vs 26 Inch battle?
The simple answer is that all wheel sizes work well if you use good quality components.

But let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of both sizes in any case.

700c vs 26 Inch
26inch wheels are slightly smaller than 700c.

Why Go 26 Inch?

– The tyres and tubes are easier to find in developing parts of the world
– 26inch wheels use shorter spokes than 700c to build a stronger wheel
– 26inch touring frames generally have greater tyre clearance for fatter tyres
– There are more 2+ inch touring tyres available in 26inch
– 26inch wheels are MTB tyre compatible, for off-road adventures
– A 26inch bikes lowest gear is effectively smaller than a 700c due to the smaller wheel size

Why Go 700C / 29 Inch?

– Larger in diameter, therefore they can roll over holes and depressions on roads in a smoother manner
– There are more slick and city tyre options

Touring in Remote Locations

Riding in remote locations is the main reason bicycle tourers turn to 26-inches.

But just say that you are running 26inch tyres and your sidewall blows out while you have no spare. The tyre that you find in the closest bike shop (for argument’s sake, in northern India) is low-quality with no puncture protection. It’s going to get you going but isn’t a great long-term solution.

My point is: you won’t find good quality spares for any wheel size in remote locations.

In places like India, I suggest carrying a spare tyre, 2-3 tubes, 1-2 rim tapes and a bunch of spokes. That way it really doesn’t matter what size wheel you’re rolling on.

Tourers often use 26inch wheels when touring in remote locations
Carry adequate spares and it won’t matter what wheel size you ride with.

My last pair of Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tyres lasted 25000km with only a couple of slow leaks (review HERE). Spare tyres work out at about 650g each, which isn’t much for the piece of mind. If you do need additional spares, freight companies will get gear to you all over the world at good rates (provided you shop with the right companies).

What About 650B (27.5 Inch)?

650b wheels (or 27.5″) have been a popular size on randonneur bikes for some time, but have only recently become the must-have size in the mountain biking world, driven by huge marketing campaigns. 650b is the middle size between 26inch and 700c (actually it’s a bit closer to 26inch), so a bike with these wheels tends to have a mix of both 26inch and 700c riding characteristics.

26 vs 27.5 vs 29
650b is the middle size between 26″ and 700c.

The issue with 650b currently is spare parts. There are barely any touring specific rims and tyres available in this size. Good luck finding 650b tyres and tubes in your average bike shop: 700c is sometimes hard enough! In the next 10-20 years we may well find that 650b will replace 26inch, but until there are the parts available, it’s best to stick to the mainstream sizes.

Wheel Overlap on Small Frames

A 700c wheel increases the chances of toe overlap compared to the smaller wheel sizes. This is one reason why Surly only offer 700c wheels on their touring bike frames over 56cm. If you are on the smaller size, it makes sense to use 26″ wheels that reduce toe-overlap and the stand-over height of your bike.

Toe overlap can be reduced by using a 26inch wheel over a 700c
Toe overlap can be reduced by using a 26inch wheel over a 700c.

Why Do I Choose to Use 700c on my Touring Single?

I like the feel of a larger diameter wheel rolling over uneven surfaces. Durability and spares haven’t been a problem for me in the past as I generally use high-quality components and carry adequate spares when I travel.

Why Do I Choose to Use 26inch on my Touring Tandem?

My priority for the tandem wheelset is strength over all other factors as a loaded touring tandem is really, really heavy! 26inch wheels provide shorter spokes which I lace up to super strong Rigida Andra 30 rims.

What Rims and Tyres Do I Recommend?

Ryde makes the best rims for bicycle touring. The Grizzly 700c and Andra 30 26inch are the strongest around by all accounts. Rim brake users can get these rims with a CSS carbide coating to reduce rim wear. My review of the Andra 30 is available HERE.

Schwalbe makes standout tyres for touring. The folding Almotion, Mondial, Dureme and Supreme are light, durable and puncture resistant. You can read my Schwalbe article HERE and review of the Mondial HERE.


– If you choose a high-quality 700c wheel and tyre you are able to reap the rewards of a faster and smoother rolling wheel.
– If you use good quality parts, you’re less likely to have issues in remote locations. Carrying spare parts will allow you get to less-remote places to restock.
– Not everyone can afford the highest quality wheel and tyre parts. If this is you, a 26inch wheel will offer more strength for your buck.

  1. Thank you. This is the most informative comparison I have seen in any website. 

  2. I went through the whole 700c vs 26″ thing too when I was originally shopping for a touring/commuting bike. My final opinions on the matter was much the same as what you have put together in this article: there really isn’t much of a difference, but generally the 700c is a better option for most people using a standard or larger sized frame.

    Having good quality rims, spokes and tyres is more important than what size it is. I use Schwalbe Marathon tyres which came stock on my Vivente World Randonneur touring bike and they have performed well. Smooth ride, good traction on wet surfaces and low rolling resistance. 

  3. We use 26″ on the tandem for the extra wheel strength (as we have such a heavy load), and as we like to run 2.00″ or wider touring tyres that are not available in 700c (Marathon Mondial).

  4. If I recall correctly, “Wheel Energy” in Finland was one of the testers, but unfortunately I cannot dig up that resource anymore.

  5. You seem to have taken images directly from the Schwalbe website about contact patch shape and tire deformation, yet completely reversed things. A narrow tire deforms MORE than a wider tire, and a narrow tire has more rolling resistance consequently. You can clearly see how much more a narrow tire deforms in the images showing the contact patch shape.

    From the Schwalbe page that some of these images were lifted from:
    “The flattened area can be considered as a counterweight to tire rotation. Because of the longer flattened area of the narrow tire, the wheel loses more of its “roundness” and produces more deformation during rotation. However, in the wide tire, the radial length of the flattened area is shorter, making the tire “rounder” and so it rolls better.” – http://www.schwalbetires.com/tech_info/rolling_resistance

    This article needs updated to reflect that 700c tires deform MORE and thus have MORE rolling resistance than 26″ tires at similar pressures and tire construction.

  6. Thanks for the comment, Daniel. What you’ve said is 100% correct when comparing tyre widths: narrow vs wider tyres. However, this resources is a comparison between wheel sizes, and that means comparing equal tyres (say 26×1.5 vs 700×38) at equal pressures. I made a note about this below the section that refers to deformation, but I will try to rephrase things further to avoid confusion. Alee

  7. I think you’re still wrong, and that section is significantly misleading. The reason larger wheels are faster is because they literally are turning at a faster speed per the same input. Larger tyres are slower to accelerate but reacher higher speeds compared to smaller wheels. Additionally the extra weight of bigger wheels and that weight being further away from the centre of rotations plays an impact. I don’t know enough to offer more details.

    The best information available on tyres and their relation to speed etc is Jan Heine at http://janheine.wordpress.com and that information contradicts what your saying here about contact patch.

  8. I might just pull that section from this resource as it may make it seem there’s a significant speed difference between the two wheel sizes. The ACTUAL difference in rolling speed is absolutely minimal when you take into account factors like wind resistance. Alee

  9. Here’s another angle. I’m more of a bikepacker than a tourer, but I really like internal frame-bags for their aerodynamics. With my Small 29 inch wheeled Karate Monkey, my frame bag is tiny. Why? for stand-over height. My 26 inch wheeled MTB by comparison has a massive area within the frame for a frame bag, because the wheels/axles are smaller/lower and I don’t need a sloping top-tube to get the stand-over groin clearance. So thats a 26er plus. I do like my 29ers tho : )

  10. Careful
    People are quoting Jan Heine and Bicycle Quarterly like he is the new Sheldon Brown.
    He has made some comments that I question and people are accepting as if it is gospel.
    Like braking with the front stops faster then using both front and rear.
    My motorcycle instructor would question that assertion. Also his many pages of tires that must be supple. No where in the article did I see a clear definition of what is meant by supple.

  11. Great article and a great site, thanks first of all for that.

    Something else to drop in this mix might be: a smaller wheel is also stronger because the curvature of the rim is higher. I think there’s a more technical way to describe what I mean, and maybe this reflection is so obvious that it doesn’t really need mentioning, but there you go.

  12. Hi, my 700c hand built wheels for my Bianchi Volpe consist of 36 holes Phil Woods hubs, Sun Rims Rhyno Lite rims and DT Swiss spokes double butted 2 – 1.8 – 2 (I think Competition model). so far no problems in India (Manali Leh) and in Pamir Highway, though I never rode on long transcontinental tours, what do you think about my wheelset as components? At my time (8 years ago) the Rhyno rims used to be claimed as the strongest rims in the market…

  13. I think it is important to keeps facts separated from fantasy. Fact 1. Smaller people will always need smaller size wheels, ie. we will always have 16, 20, 24, 26 inch wheels, or similar, on the market. Larger wheels may well be here in 100 years, but saying that 26 could be replaced by 27,5 is the same as taking the idiotic view that every rider is a male over 170cm. In contrast I read Honda had scientifically found out that 16 inch wheels are the quickest of all. Well, tyres and pressures may confound this, but added speed and strength and lower weight for the same price will press smaller wheels out to a larger user base, suggesting 26 inch could be used still more than today. Advantages of larger wheels are stability and smoothing out unevenness, so staying with 16 inch wheels all your life is obviously possible on smooth surface, but not practical, and frankly i am unsure if it would be quicker in real life. So Fact 2. The factory can always choose to make a stronger and lighter 26 wheel using the same materials for the same cost or less, but in the shop the price could be anything, usually the same. I am not sure this fact is a law, but many people say this and it is not possible for me to think of an example to the contrary.

  14. In Norway using both brakes is even a part of the bike education for kids. theoretically this is so elementary that it is difficult to take any other assertions seriously. However, the back brake helps little and can confuse the rider, so in practice whatever you do faster is faster, and for most people that means not thinking but gripping both brakes. Locking up the back wheel will often occur with good brakes, and that should be prevented to get the last percentages of braking power.

  15. I just like to add that for chubby guys like me 700c wheels for a loaded tour won’t do it, I used to ride a 700c Fuji Touring bike and suffered with spokes braking and going loose in every trip I did, since I built my Surly LHT on 26″ Xtreme MZ-X 19 wheels I have never had a single spoke fail on me and I weight 95 kg and my bike another 16kg plus a good 15kg worth off gear jumping true rocks and touring off road, really if you are a fat guy like me go for 26″ wheels with double wall and 36 spoke holes, you will not regret it.

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