Monday, May 9, 2016

Wheel Sensations

Since I wrote about the Bike Friday Haul-a-Day, one question I've been asked about it privately is whether it "rides like a small wheeled bike." As a some time Brompton owner, this is a question I'm by now accustomed to. The implication here is, that small wheels feel inherently different (and less nice) to ride than what are presumably "standard" wheels. And so the question is whether the bicycle manages to somehow disguise or compensate for its small-wheelness through other design elements so that it rides like a "normal" bike.

Now, the reason this way of conceptualising things is problematic for me, is that I do not really feel small wheels to be a special, less-nice category of wheels to begin with. Further, I realise that I generally do not have a fixed idea of a "standard" bicycle wheel size. For me, it's more like there is a continuum of acceptable sizes - ranging from, say, 16" to 28" - and I honestly cannot say that I have a firm preference along this continuum.

That is not to say that I'm insensitive to wheel size. Only that for me, the whole thing is highly context-specific. It depends on the bike as a whole - on its overall design and purpose.

On a go-fast roadbike, a 700C wheel feels right. And it feels rightest with a fairly narrow (<32mm) tyre. Going wider, the wheels start to feel clumsy beneath me, the bicycle unwieldy. With fat tyres, 650B becomes a much better fit, giving me the feeling of having more control over my line of travel and low-speed maneuvering. I have also tried a few roadbikes with skinny tyres on 650B wheels, and with variously sized tyres on 26" wheels, and interestingly the 700C skinny/ 650B fat remains my preference - despite the fact that I ride fairly small frames. I have yet to try a small-wheeled roadbike.

On an upright city bike, 26" wheels - oddly, regardless of tyre size - are usually my sweet spot, with anything bigger feeling a bit like operating a tractor. The one exception here are the traditional Dutch bikes and English roadsters. Though designed with monstrous 28" (635 ISO) wheels and 38m tyres to boot, their endless fork rakes and mile-long chainstays place the rider in between the wheels rather than over them, resulting in a curiously luxuriant sensation that is more boat-like than tractor-like.

For bikes meant to carry a hefty front load, I am also a huge fan of the 20" or 16" front wheel. Under an oversized crate, basket or box, it doesn't feel "small," it feels normal - whereas bikes with larger front wheels never feel quite right to me with a lot of cargo up front. Regardless of how that cargo is secured and what sort of front end geometry the bike is designed with, it will always sit imperfectly high, whereas over a small front wheel it sits just right. This is exactly why I use my Brompton predominantly as a mini front-load cargo bike, and why the Bike Friday Haul-a-Day appeals to me as a front-loader. In fact, my idea of the perfect urban utility bike is very much like this: a 26" rear wheel, a 20" front wheel, fat tyres all around, and a frame-mounted platform for a monstrous basket or crate. An all-out mini-velo design like so would do nicely as well. When it comes to utility bikes, I do not really see any drawback to smaller wheels to be honest.

When I think about what associations I have with smaller wheel sizes, it occurs to me they are all positive: Maneuverability. Toe clearance. Compactness. And, dare I say, plain old zippy fun! I do not experience the "squirrelyness" some riders report feeling on bikes with 16" and 20" wheels, nor the cornering issues, nor the alleged difficulty in maintaining speed. And I cannot help but wonder to what extent a preference for larger wheels is aesthetic, or psychological. We are adults after all. Small wheels are for children's bikes, right? Bigger is better?

In that vein, I recall my own reaction to a Strida bike I had tried some time ago. Riding it, I had the feeling that I wasn't pedaling a bicycle at all, but rather a folding ladder to which someone, as a sort of practical joke, had affixed a pair of shopping trolley wheels.

"Nonsense!" laughed the owner. "It feels like any normal bike. I ride it everywhere."

I suppose it's all relative. And how wonderful it is that we have so much variety to choose from, of bicycles with wheels large and small.

Do you sense differences in the ways bicycles with different wheel sizes handle and do you have a preference? What is your idea of the "standard" bicycle wheel size?


  1. I don't believe there is a standard size. It's a question of horses for courses. Generally the bigger the wheel the smoother it rolls over the bumps, the bigger the tyre, the more shock absorption. Smaller and or lighter wheels have less mass and hence accelerate faster.

  2. I own bikes with 20" wheels (Dahon Hon Solo, 32 mm -- actual width -- mm Schwalbe Kojaks), 26" wheels (two Rivendell road customs, 28-29 mm Compass Elk Passes), and 700C (Matthews custom road/dirt bike with 700C X 51 Furious Freds).

    The 20" wheels feel slow -- harder to accelerate, and harder to keep up to speed. How much of this is due to the stiffer tires I don't know; Kojaks aren't bad, and the 20" ones feel slower than the 26" and 700C ones I've used.

    The 26" Elk Pass tires feel very fast, but the smaller and lighter wheels (175 gram tires, 370 gram rims) don't hold speed as well as heavier and taller wheels.

    700C wheels seem to hold momentum longer but feel less nimble. However, the Furious Freds, 360 grams and run tubeless on light rims, are hardly sluggish and roll very well despite their tread.

    Upshot: I feel distinct differences among wheel sizes, with smaller wheels feeling "harder to maintain speed", but tire quality seems to trump size, at least between 26" and 700C.

  3. What's wrong with how Tractors ride? You got a problem with Tractors? I drive my damn Tractor everywhere, I like it better than my car...

    Delbert Firebaugh

  4. Got my first folder this winter, and with that the first bicycle with 20 inch wheels since the BMXs of my youth. On the whole, I had a lot more problems to adjust to the frame of the small bike -- as I am on the edge of being to tall for it, than with the smaller wheels.

    20 inch wheels can brake a lot more brusquely though than what I am used too; that's the most significant discovery.

    And there will always be sudden surprises on that bike, like that local bicycle bridge made out of planks, with clefts between them, that will rattle the fillings from your teeth.

  5. "Though designed with monstrous 28" (635 ISO) wheels and 38m tyres to boot, their endless fork rakes and mile-long chainstays place the rider in between the wheels rather than over them, resulting in a curiously luxuriant sensation that is more boat-like..."

    I never thought of it that way, but this does describe my DL1 to a T. Do you know the actual numbers for the typical fork rake and chain stay length on these bikes?

    1. The chainstays are typically 500mm, sometimes longer.

      I do not remember the fork rake (plus head tube angle - it's their combined slackness that pushes the wheel out as far as it does) and do not currently have one of these bikes on hand, but will ask someone who does.

    2. With the rear axle near the back of the dropout slot my DL-1 has a chainstay of 20-1/4". Call it 51cm. Front center is a bit over 27" for a total wheelbase of about 47". Frame angles and fork rake are a bit squishy as the DL-1 has been made for over a hundred years if we are allowed to count ex-Raleigh works in the colonies. I can think of five different factories right now and I expect there have been more, even without counting unlicensed copies. I believe the most common angles are 66 degrees and fork rake is 3".

      How a DL-1 rides varies quite a bit with saddle position. I have my saddle clip in the normal position. Reversing the clip moves the saddle forward 2 inches. With the men's 24 inch frame, normal clip position, a few inches of post extended, my saddle is almost above the rear axle. Recently I changed out the Brooks for a 1940s Parisian saddle. That moved me forward about a centimetre. Huge difference in ride. Many stadtfiets have even shallower seat angles than the Raleigh and rider weight is almost purely on the rear wheel. Going directly from an old stadtfiets to a DL-1 will make the Raleigh feel sporting.

    3. Thanks for the figures!

      On terrain that is not overly hilly, I actually find the DL1 and its ilk to move surprisingly well. And I will never forget the time I rode a vintage and very rickety 3-speed Austrian Waffenrad (similar geo, but with lower bottom bracket and lower trail by virtue of steeper head tube) up a small but properly steep mountain in Klosterneuburg. After having already done 12 miles along the Danube comfortably, slowly but surely up we went. It wasn't fast, but it was very... "heavable"! I kept expecting to have to get off and walk any moment, but that moment never came and we made it to the top as I hardly broke a sweat. 50lb that thing weighed, too. Ahh THOSE kinds of bikes, how I love them.

  6. I really have to Concur with almost all of your, preferences, I like 700 for road bikes (although my XO-1 was sick hot on the road) I road 26" wheels almost exclusively for many years then I embraced 650B for town/commuting bikes since I got my Rawland and I have been pretty much been stuck on that size for several years! Now recently, I have been riding 26" again and more frequently and I guess I really like the handling of my 26" bikes the best, decent acceleration too. I find the larger the wheel, the more umph it takes to get them going and the only way to counteract that is to lighten them up considerably. I have a couple super light weight cruisers and for just running around I find them hard to beat! From city errands to trail and pathway use, with robust tires, they will rarely leave you stranded and you can just ride totally stupid and not have any problems! A barrel of laughs really. I have not really ridden 20" in many years, but my main problems with them would just be the small wheels handle bumps less well, so you are pretty much forced to run a fairly higher volume tire. -Mas

  7. 26-inch wheels - ISO 559 mm rims - seem "standard" to me because that's what I've known all my life, having lived in the U.S. where that wheel size is/was the "standard" for many types of bikes for some time. In particular, for mountain bikes, 26" was the most common wheel size for adult bikes for many years (and the bikes that I've owned have all ben one form of mountain bike or another).

    that very same sensation that you described with the Strida bike - it having "shopping cart wheels" - is what turns me off from most folding bikes. It's the one other type of bike that I would consider buying if it weren't for my squemishness over the small wheels. I haven't ridden folding bikes before, so if I had the chance to try a couple of them, then I could get over that, but opportunities to try out folders have not yet come up.

  8. I suspect that wheel size has a lot to do with the person's size. As a smallish person (5'4"), when I tried my first 20" wheeled bike, I felt like I was "home". I had been riding a properly sized Trek step through frame with 700c wheels, and I liked it well enough, but it did sometimes feel awkward in tight city maneuvers. Once I rode my 20" Bike Friday, which preserves the geometry of a full size bike but with smaller tires, I realized how incredible it was to feel like the bike and I were "one". The lower center of gravity means I am leaning and twisting much more comfortably and much more stable regardless of how much stuff I cram on the various carry points of the bike. I actually get up to speed much faster on the 20" wheels, and climb better. It is not as fast going downhill but that doesn't really bother me; it's not a huge difference and I'm not racing anyone.

  9. The majority of my riding has been on the old US 27" standard (Raleigh Competition converted from 700C tubulars year ago 1-1/8" front, 1-1/4" back), a variety of 26" shod city and mountain bikes, and latest a 650Bx38 Rivendell Hilson. All have ridden similarly with the only significant difference being lower pressures on the wider tires.

    Not long ago I bought my wife a Bike Friday Pocket Companion. I find the steering on this 20" wheeled bike to be significantly quicker and more nimble than the others. Yeah, squirrely would be the right word. I enjoy the quick handling, but my wife, who is not an experienced cyclist, finds it a bit frightening.

  10. Any with more than a passing interest in the subject of this post should read two standard works. The first is Archibald Sharp, Bicycles & Tricycles, Longman, Greens, London 1896. Many reprint editions. Usually somewhat available online. The other is Frank Whitt and David Gordon Wilson, Bicycling Science, MIT 1982. David Gordon Wilson is a fabled cyclist as well as emeritus professor of mechanical engineering. Many questions are answered in these texts, as for those questions that remain, you will think about them differently after reading the discussions in Sharp, Whitt and Wilson.

    One point raised here is settled, and was settled even before bicycles existed. Large wheels roll faster, small wheels are slower. On rough pavement or rough ground large wheels have an even greater advantage. There are many reasons you might be willing to accept slower smaller wheels, it is simply fact that they are slower.

    1. Thank you for the prompt to acquire these classic tomes and forgive me for what is going to be a very unscientific comment, as I do not have evidence on hand to cite in support of this point, but:

      My understanding is that while the "large wheels roll faster, small wheels roll slower" thing is true in an "all other factors remaining equal," physics textbook, very general sort of way, it is not in fact useful to apply it to real-world bicycling scenarios. There are endless discussions on this topic among bikey folks and multiple articles that address this; I'll find some and link them up once I have more wifi time.

    2. Chapter XIX of Sharp is here:

      Chapter 5 of Whitt and Wilson

      The difference is not small. The anecdotal arguments are enormous and I could supply some myself. They are counterfactual and emotional arguments. Bikey folks hate to be confused by facts.

      My hard copy of the two "tomes" are held together with rubber bands. Infinitely entertaining and informative. The authors are writing about what they love and speaking to friends.

    3. I found this explanation from Rodriguez Bicycles very helpful:

    4. Jan Heine and his testers would disagree.

    5. Thanks. The JH article was one I'd meant to quote. There are also other, independent, studies I cannot remember where to find now that support his argument.

      I remember, as a completely fledgeling cyclist, being attracted (visually) to larger wheel (28") city bikes and therefore finding the argument that big wheels roll faster appealing. This was followed by the disappointment of discovering that the smaller wheel ones (26") tended to go faster and handle better in traffic. Certainly a lot of bike sensation stuff is psychological. But the bias can go in either direction.

    6. Al
      Heine's coast down tests could not possibly be so sensitive as to distinguish a difference in rolling resistance between 26" and 27" wheels. Failing to find a result no one would ever expect to find proves nothing. Not that there would be a plausible method of creating an apples to apples test anyway. For a 20" to 27" comparison the notion of an all things equal test bike would just be laughable.

      Any who prefer heroes and magic to physics and mathematics are free to do so. One consequence of that is no discussion means anything.

      You are entirely confounding wheel weight and wheel size. The Steyr and the Gazelle and the DL-1L had archaic and enormously heavy wheels. For a lightweight rider with as yet little muscle mass that would have been a real problem.
      If you were expecting those bikes to be quick and nimble you were certain to be disappointed. At the speeds you were capable of then all that mattered was inertial resistance, rolling resistance would not have factored at all.

    7. If you read the article, you would see that the test was not "coast down"

      For the magazine
      Bicycle Quarterly, we tested different
      wheel sizes on various surfaces with a
      power meter in a carefully controlled
      experiment. We found that there was no
      difference in speed between the three
      popular wheel sizes (26 inches, 650B,
      700C), even on equivalent cobblestones
      and certainly not on smooth pavement

    8. Al

      Perhaps those carefully calibrated cobbles were passed over out of kindness.

      Differential rolling resistance of different sized wheels is measurable and has been measured repeatedly. I do not believe David Gordon Wilson invents references. I will trust MIT Press over self published. If you don't like Wilson's references then Delong has a completely different set of references which measured the same thing. If Heine's test protocols cannot discern the difference then his test protocols fail. His protocols are pure Rube Goldberg.

      I rode cobbles yesterday. I will probably ride them again later today. Part of my daily rounds. I use 622-48. The cobbled neighborhood is the direct route to where I'm going. Automotive traffic moves sedately over the cobbles. Before the current very full range of tire sizes could be had I tried for decades to make that neighborhood rideable. With 559-54 it was still preferable to go the long way around and face the traffic. 622-42 made it possible to ride. With 622-48 it is easy and pleasant and trouble free. Thousands of riders have done the same experiment in recent years. You could try it yourself. Heine can't find the difference even with cobbles. That is an alternate reality and not an interesting one.

  11. You obviously have some reason for showing that little red bike with the huge gear, training wheels and hand brakes all on grass….Poor kid!

  12. I have owned a Worksman Cycle Truck built to the specification you describe above - 26" fat rear, 20" fat front, frame mounted basket. It was a truck. No fun. I have a fair amount of experience with Schwinn and Raleigh trucks to the same design and they were trucks too. It does sound like it should work but three times out of three it comes out pretty bad. Revising to lighter wheels/tires and getting best possible handlebars made no difference. Test rides on a Workcycles FR8 make me think of that one as a much more capable and pleasant truck, still quite heavy and slow. Nothing there that holds a candle to the longtails you have tried. Have you ever tried a true porteur? Not a porteur-inspired or a porteur concept but a genuine French porteur des journaux. Only a brief test ride for me but a lot of fun.

    For hardcore third world load carrying tricycles and sidecars. If you think about it long enough you'll realize the only good way to carry majorly outsize items like lumber or ladders is a sidecar. I have come up with ways to carry lumber and ladders and I would never recommend that anyone repeat what I did. And have only seen good-looking sidecars in photos.

  13. Interesting discussion. My spouse and I have a bike such as you describe, a mantis-green Ahearne Cycle Truck, with the 26" rear wheel, 20" front wheel and big shelf in front. It's a great bike for carrying anything, even a person sitting on the shelf, and the gearing is magnificent for climbing or carrying heavy loads. I don't notice the small wheel on the front as much as I notice the small wheel in the rear on my folding bike.

    1. I am petty sure I've seen pictures of your Ahearne bike, and am glad to know it works so well for you!

  14. Moulton still holds some speed records set on small wheels...

    1. Fifty years ago Moulton paid some riders to reset some extremely obscure and long dormant city-to-city records. Given that the roadways and urban areas in question are completely transformed and that no one is much interested those records should be safe forever. More recently Moulton claims some sort of record for upright riding position together with full streamliner fairing.

      Current production Moultons have substantially larger wheels than the sixties record holders.

  15. I'm always interested in bikes with un-orthodox wheel sizes but especially the people behind some of those ideas. I'm also always eager to cobble together something with whatever the new revolutionary configuration is and give it a whirl.

    Few things speak to a willingness to stray from convention and court disgrace and ridicule like going tiny or big in the wheel department. You really gotta want to do it with all the challenges of tires and gearing for non-standard applications though, especially since most mainstream bikes kick ass remarkably well with whatever size wheel the forces of compromise and tradition have settled on. The people who come up with these things are sometimes Crazy Smart and sometimes just Crazy. I've got time for both types. Guys like Alex Moulton, Victor Vicente, Kirk Pacenti and those Whackos in Alaska that welded MTB rims together to make the first Fatbikes. All people worth keeping an eye on even if just through a binocular.

    I've got bikes with 16",20",24",26",a 650b in the works,700c,27",28",and 29" wheels, with tires from 21mm to over 70mm. In Mountain bikes alone I have a bike with a 24" rear and 26" front, a couple with 26" and one 29"+. They all ride different if you really focus on the details but if you don't they sort of just ride like bikes. If you put the nice 27" wheels on the old Puch I've got set up fixed, ride it for a couple days then put the 700c wheels back on(sort of a PITA with re-adjusting the brake but worth it for the comparison) you can ABSOLUTELY feel all sorts of REAL differences if you want to, or you can just ride it and not really notice a thing except you can go a bit faster downhill on the 27s before it starts trying to fling you off. Of course none of my bikes are particularly special or cutting edge so maybe they're not good examples, but they are BIKES.

    My old Mongoose BMX Race Cruiser with the 24" rear and 26" front is set up as a singlespeed MTB and is as much fun as the On-One SS I've got with 26" wheels. Those bikes are SO different in So many ways but you can do anything on one you can on the other, and if you can't you must be going faster over bigger stuff than me. My 29+ bike is supposed to roll over ANYTHING with it's fat, soft 3" wide tires, but I'm not convinced it's more than a little better for how I ride it than any of the others, and some of it's bad characteristics keep me from wanting another one.

    But every one of those configurations was at one time "The Greatest Thing Ever". When I was about 15 I wanted one of Victor Vincente's Topanga! MTBs with 20" BMX wheels and tires. For back then it was an amazing bike that raised the bar in some significant ways, mostly because it had nice race tires on light, super tough wheels. Once MTB technology got better than BMX tech those bikes were obsolete. But they still went just as well on a trail as they did when they were the hot thing.

    On bikes that I care about all the little variations in dynamics or where a certain wheel size allows a better compromise in geometry or packaging I'll go to great lengths to optimize wheel size along with everything else, but on the others I try to remember not to obsess and take some of the fun out of trying wacky things like your cool Cargo Bike.

    Cool post. More please.


    1. "I've got time for both types."

      Intersting. I thought "having time" for someone was an Irish saying and had never heard (or read) it from an American until now.

    2. Hi Spin

      I will specify that on any remotely technical terrain I would just try to keep your rear wheel in sight and learn something.

      I had one of the original Bianchi Project 7s. Pretty much the first available attempt at a 29er. They got a lot wrong. No racing around here so I took it down to Slatyfork. Everyone laughed and told me if I thought I could race a CX in Pocahontas County I should've stayed home. So I lined up for the hillclimb. Biggest hills I have at home are 20 meters tall. When the starters pistol went off I was busy test riding someone's P-22. Or maybe it was a P-23, this is a long time ago. So I start all alone and 20 seconds behind. Took second place. About ten seconds behind the winner. Then everyone wanted to ride the Bianchi. And everyone thought it was fast as snot. At least until they took it off in the very rough and discovered all the problems.

      29ers were not an industry thing. It was years and years before there was anything but repurposed city bike tires available. Guys built specials because the big wheels were fast. Fast and fragile, only roadie rims available. The industry had a lot of sunk costs in 559 wheels. Riders all had a barn full of 559 bikes and spares. And everyone who rode a niner kinda noticed they were fast. In the meantime there were lots of good developments in the 26" mtbs. All kinds of good tires. Good forks and good rear suspension too. The standard mtbs were fully mature and easy to work with. 29er meant constant figuring and approximating and parts searching.

      29er is the whole market now. Smaller wheels are for much smaller people and for tiny niches. I was just at mass marketer REI for some Yakima parts, they only had 559 in city tires. Because the big wheel is fast. Because real world everyday obstacles you can roll over on a 29 just stop a 26 cold. Or they stop the 26 cold if the rider is less than very skilled and very familiar with the old way of getting the job done.

    3. They stole it from me so they did...


  16. I'm a real headcase: I really liked the ride I got from 650A wheels/Panaracer Col de la Vie tyres mounted to an aluminium cantilever cruiser frame. The frame bought it last year, and the wheels haven't worked as well on a range of other frames (ride quality and fender line issues, among other things). Oh, well...

  17. This discussion will become passe once Hoverbikes hit the market. Then we'll all be discussing Newtonian vs. Relatavistic levetators and Quantum motivators vs. the "traditional" method.

  18. I'm more interested in the photograph than the wheel sizes. If I'm not mistaken that's a glider canopy beside the little bike. Have you been up in the air again?

    1. Why yes it is. My husband is a glider pilot and instructor, so I am at the local club pretty frequently and go up in the air occasionally - most memorably as P2 on a 300k cross country flight!

    2. Good for you! I looked up the original article that I had remembered. You seemed like you weren't that sure about the experience. I guess you are now! Now plans to swap handlebars for a stick and rudder controls?

    3. I've had a few lessons but have not taken it further. Gliding is the kind of thing that is so commitment-intensive and costly that it doesn't make sense to pursue it unless it's a real passion. I do enjoy being around the club though, taking photos of the gliding activities, and helping rig/derig. There is quite a bit of overlap here between glider pilots and cyclists, so it makes for a nice social hangout all around.

    4. Funnily enough I have a pal who, for a while, was a bona-fide gliding obsessive. It is indeed one of those hobbies that takes a lot of commitment and a lot of funds. Even more funds than cycling! What killed it for him really was the lack of good cross country gliding weather here, in Scotland, and so he swapped two wings for two wheels and rides his bike almost every day instead.

      Cycling still gives the sense of adventure but without the requirement for everything to come together in quite the same way. And you get to stop for coffee and cake.

  19. All the sizes have their place.

    My big bike has big wheels with decently fat tires. It's slow, but I don't think it's the wheels; it's the dynamo, plus the dirty chain, plus the weight, plus the tires themselves, plus the bottom bracket, plus whatever else. It cruises along nicely and rides great.

    My little bike, a Brompton, feels (and is) quicker. Squirrelly handling sounds negative; it's sporty. While terrific on the the whole, its main problem is that it's harder to ride one handed, meaning signaling for turns is harder. However, my suspicion is that that is a function of the low-trail as much as it is an issue of small wheels.

    I view so much of wheel size as one variable among about 1,700. Some bikes are fast, some are slow; I bet if you were to change the wheels on any given bike, not much would change about the bike's speed or handling. Maybe a little, but not a ton.

  20. ' "I've got time for both types."

    Interesting. I thought "having time" for someone was an Irish saying and had never heard (or read) it from an American until now.'

    Well, I'm an American and it seemed an unremarkable phrase till you pointed it out. Maybe it's a South vs. North thing, as I seem to remember your background in the US was all in the Northern states?

  21. It's certainly a common enough expression in England, though usually as the rather more enthusiatic "I have a lot of time for ..."

  22. I ride a Pashley with 26" wheels and find it extremely comfortable, even over long distances. I also have a Brompton with 16" wheels and find it a little harsher and a little harder work to ride any distance, particularly on a "headwind" day. But I love the Brompton more because it's presence on my plot means cycling has become part of my everyday life, very happy to compromise on its being a little harsher to ride. I think the Brompton rides better the more weight (shopping / luggage) you pile on to it. Extraordinary little wheeled wonder.

  23. Riding through the city of Berlin on my converted Raleigh Pro with 650b wheels (40mm trail / always lowish psi) I came to realize i actually prefer the lighter 'Hutchinson 650B x 32mm' (barely 30mm of height on my rims) to the 41mm Hetre (although the Hetre looks nicer on that bike). I think it's because of: lot's of stop lights, low top speed and mostly good pavement. But: If i ride my training route, there is this one long curved downhill stretch that i go really fast. And yes, in these conditions the steering lacks precision with the smaller tyre compared to the same bike wearing the Hetre. And this is very noticeable, although the difference i am talking about here is tiny: barely 1cm of wheel diameter and 150g / wheel.

    Sidenote: When I am riding my bike i seem to notice even the smallest changes quite a bit. Believe it or not i even notice if my water bottle is full or empty. However i am completely unable to tell if these things contribute to an actual change in comfort, watt output, speed or any empirical/quantifiable difference at all. All i know is that a certain tyre on a certain bike/wheel combination under certain conditions feels 'more fun'. And i have no choice but to thrust it (until the next issue of BQ).

  24. Hi, I am Arthur and I live in Clermont-Ferrand. I own an old hiker Tendil in 650B. I love your site, your walks, your advice, and your bikes. Furthermore you live in a great country, very green and hilly. I communicate to you on my site link:
    I thank you and continue to make me dream.

  25. Ah, so it's in words now! Thanks for writing this, and while I know wheel size preferences are ... well, preferences, yours seem to coincide with mine. Ever since I "started" actually knowing bikes, my old Raleigh Sports has been my favorite ride and the steel 26" (590) rims feel most natural to me for general city riding. I really love the feeling with 700x32 Continental Tour Ride tires on my beater road bike, but any wider and the tire feels a bit un-natural. Like, on my current purpose-built "practical bike," a 3-speed mixte, I'm running 700x37 Continental Sport Contacts and they are not a heavy tire but something about them just feels too large and/or weighty. Possibly jiggly. But then as you said, the 28" monsters that really measure almost 29" on the DL-1 feel natural, to the point that I can even haul up hill fairly easily. Weird, huh.

    And the timing of the post is uncanny, as I have most recently acquired and rebuilt a Raleigh Twenty. Aside from the steering being "dampened," as they are from the factory, the bike feels surprisingly natural to me. So much so that I am beginning to ride that bike more and more ... and the small, fat tires ride just fine.

  26. Nice article, Velouria !
    A question like this generates a lot of comments from experienced riders with clearly deep technical expertise.
    I live in Flandres and for my daily errands I ride a stanard touring bike with standard wheel size, that is 700C - 35 mm wide tyres. This rides good.
    For my commute I use a folder bike (Dahon mu xl) with 20 inch weels (tyres 1.6 inch wide, Schwalbe Marathon Supreme). Actually for my commute I drive my car untill I reach the city limits, where I park my car and get my smaller bike out of the trunk and continue the last 12 km to my work place inside the sity.
    I feel very comfortable on the 20 " dahon folder, and do not feel the "squirrelyness" or difficulty to steer. But it is true you have to pay some more attention when taking corners, as this can be must faster than with a 26 " wheel size.
    What I do like most on the folder bike, is its lightweight compared to the standard bike. this means it goes much faster to get it started, because a smaller wheel has a smaller inertia. That 's just physics: the bigger the wheel and heavier the rim and tyre on it, the bigger the inertia, so more difficult to start rolling, but it "keeps" its speed easyer.
    The standard 26 inch bycicle I prefer for doing errands, it is more comfortable when you are (heavily) loaded, especially when you use one hand at the steer.

  27. Interisting article, Velouria, thank you !
    I live in Flandres and ride 2 bikes: a "standard" touring bike (Thomson) with 700Cx35 wheels, I use for my daily errands in and around my village; and a folder bike (Dahon mu xl) with 20 inch wheel size (and 1.6 inch wide tyres Schwallbe Marathon Supreme) which I use for my daily commute (I get the Dahon out of my car trunk when I arrive at the Brussels city limits parking place and continue the last 12 km in the city on my folder bike).
    I like riding on both of them, but I prefer the standard bike for daily errands, as it is more comfortably to ride when you are (heavily) loaded, especially with 1 hand at the steering; and I prefer the 20 " folder because it is lightweitgh and starts easily. I do not experience the "squirrelyness" some riders say on the smaller wheel, but you have to be more carefully when taking turns, as this goes much faster. It also stops faster.
    For the rest it is pure physics: the bigger the wheel size and heavier the rim + tyres on it, the more vinertia the wheel has: this means more difficult to start rolling, and the easier it keeps this speed. Regarding this last point, I do not feel the 20" to have difficulties in "keeping its speed", it rides very smooth.

  28. Pop quiz time.
    How much power is required to propel your bike at 10mph?
    At 20mph?
    How much of that power goes to overcoming tire rolling resistance at 10mph?
    At 20mph?

    Almost no one could provide accurate answers to these questions off the top of their head. If you are interested in wheel sensations it would be worth looking up. Posters here are expressing expectations two and three orders of magnitude out of line with what small variations in tires will cause. Having some sense of proportion helps understanding.