Deciding on comfort hybrid bike - need help choosing wheel size!
So we're looking at the comfort hybrids, because we're not avid bicyclists, just looking to get some exercise, ride to work sometimes, and maybe take off on a light trail sometimes too. The biggest complaint we've had in the past was discomfort so this style of bike appeals to us.
We're considering bikes like the Trek 7100/7200, the Cannondale Adventure 4/5, which all have the skinny large-diameter tires, and also the Trek Navigator and the Cannondale Comfort, which have the wider but smaller tires and would be better off-road.
Can you help us choose? How much off-road ability do we give up if we go with the skinny tires? How much comfort/efficiency do we give up with the wider tires?
Some bikes. Hell, they're all the same, ain't they?
Flip a coin.
I'd say two things --
At this point, you can't say where you'll be riding more, whether on pavement or in the dirt. You can get fatter tires and find yourself on pavement ALL the time, or skinny tires and end up trying to ride into the mountains. To put a positive spin on it: you can't go wrong with a first bike -- just use what you learn to choose your second (or third, or fourth ) bike(s).
The only thing that can affect your tire choices are the clearance under the fork & frame and brakes. You can get the skinny-tire'd 700c bikes and put fatter tires on them later if you find that you'd need them; you can also put skinnier tires on the 26" wheels. This way, again, you really can't go wrong, as either wheel can be made to work better for your preferences.
I didn't realize I could really go any wider if I bought the skinny tires. The bikes I mentioned all come with 700 x 35c (Trek) or 38c (Cannondale). Now that I'm doing the math - if the Cannondale is 38mm wide, that's 1.5". The larger tires on the other model has a 2" width. So it's not as much of a difference as I thought when in the store!
It seems logical to me to get the skinny wheels now (which are taller and thus more efficient with each pedal revolution) and upgrade to a wider more knobby tire. Sort of best of both worlds. Is that a good idea ya think? The trek has Matrix 750 rims, the Cannondale has proprietary "C3" rims.
Some bikes. Hell, they're all the same, ain't they?
You could also "upgrade" to a skinnier, faster tire if you find yourself on pavement all the time like I have. I've got three bikes with 700c wheels, and two have 700x28 tires, with the third running on 700x23's; I actually ride the bike with 23's the most.
You can go as wide as 700x40, or even wider if you count 29er mountain bike tires (basically just fat tires on 700c wheels).
The problem I have with "best of both worlds" is that it's rarely the "best" of either world. You can go faster for longer with a road or touring bike with its more aero sitting position and multiple hand positions, and you can go over rougher stuff off-road with an honest-to-goodness mountain bike. The bikes you're looking at will be good for getting started again, tooling around town for family outings, riding trails without much in terms of tree roots & rocks, and getting accustomed to bike commuting.
After a while, though, you'll probably find yourself wishing for better performance. You'll want less weight, better aerodynamics, fast tires, and no energy-sapping suspension fork for commuting; you'll want a better-performing suspension for going further offroad.
Buuuut... don't worry about those things yet. Take them for test rides and get what you like best. Pay attention to riding position and how they "feel" (if they don't seem to shift right, they simply need to be adjusted, which the shop should do with extra care before they're actually sold).
A 700x35 will be fine for light off-roading. Nothing majorly technical or a lot of jumping - because...
... all other things being equal, a 700c wheel will not be as strong as a smaller 26" wheel. I mean, it's fine for most things - but if you think you'll be carrying heavy loads (which it doesn't sound like it) or doing a lot of abusive stump hopping (again, doesn't sound like it) a 26"er will take the abuse better than the 700.
On the other hand, the 700's on my bike feel considerably faster than the fatty 26er it replaced.
Given the type of riding you suggested in your first post, I'd say that everything else (frame geometry, comfort, brakes, ability to put a rack/fenders, etc) will take precedence over the particular wheel size. Ride the bikes, go with what works best, and don't worry about the choice of wheel sizes.
If you happen to go with a Trek, pay a little extra for the 7200 since it has a stronger rear hub if you plan on carrying panniers. Plus the 7200's rear hub will take the added road shock that the higher pressured skinnier tires generate.
Thanks, everyone - we test rode a 7200 this morning and loved it. Ended up calling every dealer in the area (which is a friggin lot of dealers) and found one 7300 2008 leftover for me, and went someplace that supposedly had one for my wife too. They didn't end up having it, and made us a great deal on a 2009 7200 for her.... so we pulled the trigger and although we've spent more on gas today than I'd like to admit, we are once again bicyclists with new Treks in the garage.