Bicycle Touring Pro reader, Thomas Hickenbottom, recently sent me the following email:
There’s the debate going on about whether to use 26″ wheels/tires or 700c…whats your take on this …also what about clinchers versus disc brakes…thank you for your consideration….I’m going to have a touring bike built soon and would love to have your input on these two very important considerations…thank you for your time and watch out for cars!!!
First of all, I don’t know if there is any reason to debate wheel sizes. In my mind at least, it’s just a personal choice you get to make when selecting the bike you plan to take on your trip.
However, the choice you make depends very much on where exactly you plan to go on your travels.
26 Inch Wheels
While most traditional touring bikes come with 700c wheels, those traveling to remote areas of the world are usually better suited with a pair of 26 inch wheels. There are two main reasons for this:
1). 26 inch wheels are the kind you see on most mountain bikes. So using these types of wheels/tires is usually better for travel on dirt roads, rocky trails, and in areas where the streets are less than perfect.
2). But more than anything, 26 inch wheels are best to use in remote places of the world because the bike shops in these areas are unlike to carry 700c wheels/tires. The 26 inch wheel is standard just about everywhere in the world… where as 700c wheels are not. So if you take a bike with 700c wheels on a trip around the world and then find yourself in need of a new tire in a place where they only carry 26 inch tires, you’re gonna to be stuck!
This alone is huge. And this, in my opinion at least, is the #1 reason you should go with 26 inch wheels if you are planning to travel to a place in the world where bike shops are few and far between.
On a personal note, I just got finished riding my bicycle through Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia… and the entire time I was in these countries I was unable to find a bike shop that carried 700c wheels. There may have been one… somewhere… but I couldn’t find it. 26 inch wheels, on the other hand, were absolutely everywhere.
That said, most bicycle tourists don’t travel around the world or go to especially remote places. Most people who travel by bike stick to paved roads and many of them cycle in areas where 700c wheels are easy to find at local shops and repair houses.
For cyclists in North America, Western Europe, and a few other spots around the globe, finding 700c wheels/tires won’t be a problem. So, if you plan to ride in one of these areas, then using a bike with 700c wheels is an excellent choice.
Disc Brakes vs. Rim Brakes
Here too, it’s not really an issue of which is better (although disc brakes probably are a lot better for quick stops), but an issue of availability when you are out on the road.
In much the same way that finding parts for a 700c wheel is difficult in remote areas of the world, finding the parts/brake pads for disc brakes can also be extremely difficult.
So you see, it’s not really about which is better… but instead, about 1) personal choice and 2) where you plan on going.
If you’re going to stick to the roads and cycle in a relatively modern locale, then 700c wheels and disc brakes will be great. But if you’re planning to head off-road and/or cycle through a part of the world where bike shops carry just a few standard parts, then 26 inch wheels and your standard rim brakes are the way to go!
What do you think about my advice here? Is there anything else I should add? How did you decide what type of wheels/brakes to use on your touring bicycle?
Bicycle wheel photo by Duchamp