Join Date: Oct 2004
Bikes: All 70s and 80s, only steel.
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You should post in Classic & Vintage about this. Switching tires from 27" to 700c can be a hassle because brakes won't always reach. I've used straight rim 27" wheels, and Sheldon's correct--they work fine, as long as you keep the pressure a bit lower. There are quite a few of the wider (27 x 1 1/4) sized 27" tires that have recommended of 80-90 psi, so don't worry about "being out of the norm." The wider the tire, the lower the pressure you can run it "safely." You wouldn't want to be using these as "racing" road wheels because the low pressure would just create too much drag and rolling friction, but for a nice, comfy ride, they'll work fine.
If you want to upgrade the rims, then yes, you'd want to get hooked bead rims, and you could use either 27 x ___ or 700c. If you switch to 700c rims, be sure to make sure you can adjust your pads in the brake arms far enough down, i.e., towards the hub of the wheel--you'll need 4mm more for it to work. Note that 27" tires are plentiful and available, so if, as you say, you'd like to use what you've got, your cheapest option is just to get yourself some 27 x 1 1/4 tires. I use some from Performance Bicycle that are usually around $10-$15 and often on sale.