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Commuting Bicycle commuting is easier than you think, before you know it, you'll be hooked. Learn the tips, hints, equipment, safety requirements for safely riding your bike to work.

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Old 12-03-07, 07:59 PM   #1
JeffC
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Tire Sizes for Commuting : 622 (700) versus 559 (26 in)

I understand the tire diameter designations for common bike tires marketed in the U.S. on commuter bikes, in particular the 622 and 559, using the new ISO terminology, colloquially 700 and 26 in. respectively. However, it is not clear to me what practical difference in performance there is between 622 tires and 559 tires, assuming other relevant factors are equal, e.g., similar tire width (e.g., 37 mm, etc.), similar tire style (road, knobby, etc.), similar bike setup, etc. I've searched around here but not been able to find much. While some places describe the confusing tire size systems and the attempts at international standards, I have not found a compelling explanation of performance differences.

In bike marketing materials, some generalizations get tossed around: 622 tires roll over paved terrain better (including potholes ) and are faster, 559 are tougher. It seems like road bikes usually have 622 diameter tires and mountain bikes have 559 with hybrids and commuters usually being a mixture between the two.

It makes sense to me that, all other things being equal, if you were pedaling a bike with larger tires (such as a 622 tired bike) you would go farther with each stroke since the tire's circumference is larger than a smaller tired bike, e.g., a 26 in. tire, and therefore each turning of the pedals would bring you a bit farther in distance.

This article does a fairly good job but is written with tandems in mind, not a typical commuting situation IMO.

http://www.gtgtandems.com/tech/700-26.html

Is there something else here regarding performance and these two tire sizes that I'm missing?
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Old 12-03-07, 08:48 PM   #2
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assuming "other-things-equal," 559 tires are not inherently tougher than 622 tires. Equal tire widths, tread depth&pattern, will make the 559 tire and wheel lighter. The 622 (known in its ATB incarnation as 29 inch) will roll over bumps a bit better.

Larger rim/tire diameter can be used to compensate a bit for the bumpiness of the ride you'd get from narrow tires. Likewise, narrow tires+rims can be used to (more than) compensate for the extra weight of a larger diameter rim/tire.

Much has been said about whether rolling resistance is lower if you use a large diameter rim or a small diameter rim (other things being equal) and from what I've read, the very few studies that have been done either conflict with each other or fail to show enough difference for it matter a whole lot. For bumpier surfaces, fatter tires and larger diameter rims can both, in effect, smooth bumps out some, so that less energy is lost to the bumps. Fatter tires and larger diameter rims/tires both increase weight though, which will slow you down if you have to stop and start or go uphill.

To see a really obvious difference comparing one rim size to another, you could compare rims/tires with an outer diameter of 27 to 29 inches (on 622 rims) and rims/tires that have an outer diameter of 16 to 20 inches (BMX, folding bikes, and motor scooters).

As far as "how far on a pedal stroke", the truth is it doesn't matter a whole lot what size your wheel is. If you use the same gear ratios, smaller wheels will give you less distance per pedal stroke but make it easier to climb hills. Switching to a bigger wheel is like switching to a harder-to-pedal gear, which will give you more distance per pedal stroke and might make it too hard to pedal uphill.

In practice, bikes have their gearing chosen to suit the wheel diameter (and expected range of speeds they'll be used at), which can more than make up for a difference in wheel sizes. 20 inch wheels can be set up with gearing that is too hard to pedal uphill, and 29inch wheels can be set up with gearing that makes it almost impossible to pedal yourself up to speeds higher than 5mph.

Last edited by cerewa; 12-03-07 at 08:54 PM.
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Old 12-03-07, 09:06 PM   #3
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smaller is faster.

Bike Friday is really pushing their folders with the idea that smaller accelerates faster and if you're commuting, you're stopping and accelerating a lot.
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Old 12-03-07, 09:15 PM   #4
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If you think about it (not to come off like Cliff Clavin - oops, too late), let's say you're in x gear. No matter what size your tire, the distance travelled in one revolution of the crank will be the same. A smaller tire will advance y inches/centimeters/what have you, the larger tire will go the same distance, with a little left over. Think of it if you unroll the wheel into a straight line - helps visualize it.

As for practical application, I ride my road bike maybe 5% of the time, but when I do, I notice the weight difference, the speed difference, and relative ease in which I am able to attack hills. I like it, but I'd rather know that I can off road whenever I want to, so wheel diameter and bike weight are unimportant to me.
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Old 12-03-07, 10:41 PM   #5
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Go read Bike Snob NYC, supposedly 27 inchers are making a come back, which are actually 630 mm, which makes them bigger than the 29ers that are only 622mm. Cycling can get a bit silly sometimes eh?
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Old 12-03-07, 11:08 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Toddorado View Post
If you think about it (not to come off like Cliff Clavin - oops, too late), let's say you're in x gear. No matter what size your tire, the distance travelled in one revolution of the crank will be the same. A smaller tire will advance y inches/centimeters/what have you, the larger tire will go the same distance, with a little left over. Think of it if you unroll the wheel into a straight line - helps visualize it.
Huh? If I am reading you correctly, you are saying that one the same bike and in the same gears, you will travel the same distance per crank revolution no matter the tire size?

If this is the case, then no that is not correct. For simplicity sake, let's say the chainring and the rear cog are of equal size. Then one revolution of the crank will be one revolution of the wheel. Let's just say the tires in question have a diameter of 27" and 26", then the distance traveled will be 3.14 x 27= 82.78" and 3.14 x 26= 81.64", slightly more than 1".
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Old 12-03-07, 11:22 PM   #7
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Here is a thorough treatment of the subject from the pro 26 inch camp:

http://www.thorncycles.co.uk/why26inchwheels.html
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Old 12-04-07, 12:25 AM   #8
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I have both and I commute on either one, depending on weather and my mood. I would not assume one is faster than the other. If I had a shorter commute (< 5 miles) and poor road conditions, I would lean toward the 26". For long commutes and good roads, I seem to go a little faster on my 700c.
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Old 12-04-07, 12:58 AM   #9
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gearing and wheels

If you ride bikes with 630mm, 622 rims and with 559 rims and they all have a 60 inch gear they will all travel 60 inches for one revolution. That 60 inch gear will require different tooth numbers/combinations of sprockets and chain rings to get the 60 inch gear but allowing for that, you still travel 60 inches, regardless.
The only difference is a smaller lighter wheel accelerates faster and slows down faster and a larger heavier wheel accelerates slower and decelerates slower also. For rough road surfaces a wider, softer, larger diameter wheel, tends to roll easier, losing less speed to road vibration. The smaller narrower wheel however has less wind resistance but that only applies at higher speeds, in practical terms. Big, wide and soft tires are great for comfort and flat resistance and that makes your wheels last longer and improves comfort. For all the speed gains you might get using narrow, high pressure, speed wheels you might find yourself on the side of the road repairing flats more often thereby losing any gains. The other effect of skinny and hard tires/wheels is your body & bike gets beat up. There is a trade off either way and when you are talking variable road surfaces the large fat tire gets the nod in my opinion. Its hard to beat 26 inch wheels since they are abundant in good quality wheel sets and quite inexpensive. Good commuter tires for them are everywhere. 700c/29 er wheels/tires are not scare either but somewhat more expensive for good 32 and 36 spoke sensible ones. 20 inch folder bikes have a lot going for them and are quite versatile and convenient. Keep in mind that commuting is not racing and nothing from a racing perspective applies unless you have a pace car following you to work every day.
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Old 12-04-07, 12:59 AM   #10
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Huh? If I am reading you correctly, you are saying that one the same bike and in the same gears, you will travel the same distance per crank revolution no matter the tire size?
Not at all - the smaller wheel will complete a full revolution, the bigger wheel will complete same distance travelled (rubber to road and all things being equal), but will have some 'wheel' left over.
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Old 12-04-07, 09:32 AM   #11
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I have both and I commute on either one, depending on weather and my mood. I would not assume one is faster than the other. If I had a shorter commute (< 5 miles) and poor road conditions, I would lean toward the 26". For long commutes and good roads, I seem to go a little faster on my 700c.
Agree completely. It seems the 700 is a little faster than the 26, but that may be because of the weight and gearing involved. The 700 is an aluminum frame older rb modified w/a 48t single and a 28x12 8 sp cassette, 20mm airless 105psi tires. The 26 is a steel frame older mtb w/a 46t single and a 26x12 7 sp cassette, 1.75 pneumatic street tires w/tuffy liners.

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to ride into town(I live rural, now) and chose to use my rb. It's 40 mi one way and asa I got into 'urban' traffic I wish I'd ridden my mtb because of all the contributing factors. Especially when going back home as I rode much of my old commute in the dark and didn't realize how much I'd taken the 'nimbleness' of the mtb for granted. Skinny tires, bar-end shifting and a low sightline don't mix well w/rush-hour traffic. Once I got out of town it was a different story as the rb is smooth and lite.

Used to do 100-150 mpwk as an urban commuter and hadn't been in a rush-hour situation, though I'd ridden into town many times, for a while. The thing that struck me was the shear 'intensity' of the experience and how much one's senses are 'ramped up' in dealing w/so many life threatening situations in the space of about 1/4 mile. I've been a cycle-commuterfor over 20 years and can't imagine having the cojones to start from scratch again. Oops, sorry for the thread drift.
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Old 12-04-07, 10:33 AM   #12
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Old 12-04-07, 11:36 AM   #13
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It all boils down to preference, and until you've ridden both, who's to say for you? I ride both. I prefer 700cc. But my go-to commuter currently sports 26" wheels with 1.5" slicks. Go figure. Supposedly, smaller wheels = more responsive, but harsh; larger wheels = less responsive, but more comfy. I guess a generalization could be made for smaller wheels in the city where you certainly need to be able to change direction and stop quickly, whereas if you're riding longer distances in more rural settings, 700cc makes more sense. But I'm not sure I'm riding at a level in either setting where performance makes much of a difference. Or rather, any small gain afforded in either situation by tire rim size is more than offset--by a large margin--by my lack of skillz.
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Old 12-04-07, 11:49 AM   #14
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smaller wheels = more responsive, but harsh; larger wheels = less responsive, but more comfy.
This has been my experience. My 20" folder was maybe TOO responsive and definitely too harsh, and my 700c tourer was pretty comfortable, but I didn't like the lack of maneuverability. (But maybe that was the flats v. drops thing, too.) So I stuck with 26".
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Old 12-04-07, 12:10 PM   #15
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The article on testing tandems gives the nod to 700c's for speed and stability. Interesting. The theory is that a longer "contact patch" is better than a shorter and wider one.

Practically speaking, road bikes are usually 700c and MTBs are usually 26" but there are sub groups of each that promote alternative wheel/tire sizes. I used to commute year round on my MTB and would switch tires for winter. This past summer I agreed to do a triathlon and started to commute on my road bike as part of my training.

At first it felt weird and uncomfortable in traffic. It's an old 80's bike and downtube shifters aren't exactly ideal for commuting. However I quickly got used to it and now prefer my road bike for commuting over an MTB. I like the fact that my center of gravity is lower. I carry my stuff in a messenger bag and my back would sometimes get sore on the MTB. It's less of a problem on the road bike because the forward riding position spreads more of the weight to my arms and puts less on my spine.

Plus I go faster. Way faster.

Now it's winter and I'm back to the MTB. It definitely has more of a "plush" ride but I need to get rack on it and offload some of the weight I carry because the plush ride doesn't compensate for the sore back. I also feel less stable because I'm up higher, although I'm sure that's more feeling than reality. Riding higher also makes me a bigger target for those nasty North winds we can get.

To me an ideal year round commuter would be a cyclocross bike. They have the riding position I like, are relatively light, yet they're a bit tougher and can accommodate wider tires than a standard road bike.

I don't see a pure cyclocross bike in my near future but I can see selling my MTB in the spring and picking up a used hybrid with 700c wheels in the fall and someday putting drop bars on it.

Anyway, as far as wheel sizes go, everything else being equal, I think the nod goes 26" if you're dealing with uneven/rough terrain and 700c otherwise. I'm sure the 29er and 650b camps disagree with me but I believe 29ers are popular with larger/stronger riders, which I am not. In any case, the tires, gearing and riding position probably make a lot more difference in comfort and performance than the wheel diameter does.
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Old 12-04-07, 12:17 PM   #16
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In the normal daily riding the only thing that really matters is application. What kind of riding are you going to do? If you have good roads,700cc wheels with thin tires will make the ride easier. If you ride on trails and/or in snow,26" wheels with wide tires will be safer.

For me,I like the 26" wheels on my Safari. I can run skinny,high psi slicks in the Spring/Summer,and fat treaded/knobby/studded tires in the Fall/Winter. And I have many choices for both skinny and wide tires that are readily available at local shops. If I were running 700's,skinny slicks would be easy to find,but I'd have to search the web for tires much over 35mm.
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Old 12-04-07, 12:22 PM   #17
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Not at all - the smaller wheel will complete a full revolution, the bigger wheel will complete same distance travelled (rubber to road and all things being equal), but will have some 'wheel' left over.
All things being equal except the size of the wheel, one crank revolution will take you further on a larger wheel.

Using a 700x25 and a 26x1 with a 170mm crank and 52x13 gearing, the 700 takes you ~8% further per crank revolution.

http://www.sheldonbrown.com/gears/ (Use Meter Development)
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Old 12-04-07, 01:16 PM   #18
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All things being equal except the size of the wheel, one crank revolution will take you further on a larger wheel.

Using a 700x25 and a 26x1 with a 170mm crank and 52x13 gearing, the 700 takes you ~8% further per crank revolution.

http://www.sheldonbrown.com/gears/ (Use Meter Development)
So??? You're cranking for a longer time and the wheel's heavier. I think it has been proven that the efficiency difference between the wheels is next to nothing.
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Old 12-04-07, 01:28 PM   #19
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So??? You're cranking for a longer time and the wheel's heavier. I think it has been proven that the efficiency difference between the wheels is next to nothing.
We are not talking efficiency, this is purely mechanical ratios.

In the end, ride what you got, shift for your needs.
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Old 12-04-07, 01:55 PM   #20
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So??? You're cranking for a longer time and the wheel's heavier. I think it has been proven that the efficiency difference between the wheels is next to nothing.
If the crank arms are the same size, why would you be cranking for a longer time (assuming you're feet are moving at the same speed) ?

The larger wheel will be heavier of course, -all else being equal, but you've got to spin the smaller wheel faster to cover the same distance so now the aerodynamics of spokes and what not come more into play. I would guess too that there's more friction issues at the hub on the smaller wheel, since it has to spin faster, but I think the larger wheel would actually have more friction with the road (smaller wheel would curve away more sharply). On the other hand, the spokes on the smaller wheel would be shorter and that might compensate for the additional drag of having to move faster... ;-)

Interesting stuff but there's probably not that much difference in practical matters since the wheels aren't radically different in size and 26" tires tend to have taller sidewalls anyway so the effective difference is probably even smaller.
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Old 12-04-07, 08:21 PM   #21
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Thanks, that gave me a lot of things to consider. I had not thought of the trade off between responsiveness and harshness with 559s as contrasted with the lack of responsiveness but comfort with 622. I also had not given much thought to road conditions, gearing and style of commute (more rural with long stretches versus more stopping/starting in a more urban area) . I also liked that article on the Thorn webpage.

I'd primarily be using a bike with one of those tire sizes, 622 or 559, for a 25 mile round trip commute, mostly on the MUP in the Washington DC area. I might use for it shorter trips on the weekend and the occasional tour but now I'm so time strapped (toddler, job, old house repair, etc.) that would probably be a few years away.

Maybe it reflects the fact that I currently am using a well inflated 559, but the MUPs I use seem pretty harsh and clearly have lots of ruts from tree roots and the like. At times I hit a smooth spot on the trail and have one of those "Ahhh" moments (think of a coffe drinker on a cheesy 1980's commercial for Folgers or Maxwell House) coasting along on smooth pavement.

I don't have much experience with 622 sized tires so maybe I need to rent one and try it out for a longer ride so I have some basis for comparison.
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Old 12-04-07, 08:38 PM   #22
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Keep in mind that talking about 559 and 622 tires to most American cyclists will get you blank looks.
I had never heard of 406 until I got a 'bent with 20" wheels in 2006. This bike with relatively "fat" 1.5" 100psi tires is much happier on smooth surfaces, but tolerates bumpy stuff.
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Old 12-09-07, 05:50 PM   #23
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Don't waste your time worrying about the difference between 622 vs 559. You're talking about a 10% difference in a quantity that hardly even matters.

If you really have a situation where all other things are equal, then the most significant difference between 622 and 559 will be tire selection/price at your LBS. If there's anything else that isn't equal then it will likely be more much more important.

The color of the paint job is probably more important than a 10% difference in rim diameter.
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Old 12-09-07, 08:56 PM   #24
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I think Cerewa got the clearest explanation.

Regarding gearing, what usually happens is that if you were to use 44/14 on a 700c bicycle, you are likely to use 44/12 on a 559 (26") bike. Either of these set-ups would require the same kind of effort level; you would travel the same distance per crank revolution and therefore you would travel at the same speed.

Two factors that weren't mentioned yet:

1. In either case, get slicks. This is the best thing you can do to improve performance and reduce noise level.

2. Do you have another bike? If so, size standardization might be good. For instance, I like the fact all my bikes use 700c tubes and tires. That way, I only need to carry one spare in my pannier. And when I move from the tandem to the single bike, I don't have to worry about having the wrong tube size, for instance.
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Old 01-08-08, 10:04 PM   #25
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26 does not = faster acceleration unless that wheel is LIGHTER. Most MTB wheels are wider and heavier than their roadie 700c counterparts. Mass matters and lighter wheels will accelerate faster. Larger, lighter wheels will also slow down more quickly because of mechanical advantage (think longer lever/distance to hub) when using rim brakes.

Think if the MTB wheelset at 2100 grams shod with 600 gram 'light' tires while a 'beefy' set of 700c wheels weighs 1800 grams with 700x28c tire coming in at 300 grams. Total package on the MTB is 3300 grams while the 700c bike is 2400 grams. The difference of 900 grams or 100 grams shy of 1lb. I'm using my cyclocross bike set up for comparison which is heavy by roadie standards.

Mountain bikes can feel more responsive in traffic because of the leverage at the wider handlebars and higher relative bottom bracket height. Also, most 26 mountain bikes o have a gearing advantage with 42/32/22 chainrings and 34 teeth on the largest rear cog compared to a road bike's 50/34 or 52/39, unless you have a triple, with usually 25-26 teeth on the largest rear cog.

So, you can build a very nimble and quick bike with 26'' wheels, you just have to choose your components very carefully. I think my son's Cannondale M900 with its very light frame would be great start (... drifting off into planning mode... )

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