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  1. #1
    family on bikes nancy sv's Avatar
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    26″ vs 700c for a touring bike: The definitive answer

    I just wrote up my thoughts on the whole 26" vs 700c issue. We had 26" on my husband's tandem and 700c on my and my son's bikes as we cycled through South America. I know this issue has come up a number of times here, so thought I would put this out so others avoid the mistakes we made!
    WE DID IT! Our little family of four cycled 17,300 miles from Alaska to Argentina! The trip of a lifetime for sure. www.familyonbikes.org

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    Canadian Chick Aquakitty's Avatar
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    I've always wondered why so many touring bikes are made with friggin' 700c. This caused me just to build a custom tourer out of an MTB frame. Did you check the spoke tension before leaving? I hear many machine build wheels are way loose which could have been the cause of the spoke breaking. Was it a 32 or 36 spoke rim? Just curious.

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    family on bikes nancy sv's Avatar
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    The wheel I referred to was the one I flew up to Connecticut to pick up. I talked with the guys and told them what I was doing and custom ordered a Rhinolyte rim because it was strong. They had a good quality hub in stock so I agreed to get that. Then they built it up with cheapo spokes. I couldn't believe it - didn't know the spokes were crap until they started breaking after only 1000 km on the wheel.

    The wheels that came stock on the RAndonee were awesome - the front one made it all the way down (the spoke nipples failed and needed to be replaced after about 13,000 miles). The rear one started cracking at around 11,000 miles so that's why I flew up and got a new one.

    They were 36 spoke wheels.
    WE DID IT! Our little family of four cycled 17,300 miles from Alaska to Argentina! The trip of a lifetime for sure. www.familyonbikes.org

  4. #4
    More Energy than Sense aroundoz's Avatar
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    "In these two countries, it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever which size wheel you have – every bike store in the continent stocks both. They carry spokes and rims for both sizes. Both sizes work equally as well and there is no reason to choose one over the other for a touring bike."

    I have to disagree with this since a lot of people, including myself, believe 700c/29er wheels roll over rough surfaces soooo much better than smaller hoops. I just sold my last 26" wheeled bike and now tour on 700c wheels and MTB with a 29er. The only reason I would ever get a 26" wheeled touring bike again is if I ever get lucky enough to tour in South America or other places where 700c parts are non-existent. The same reasons you outlined. Other than that, I will pass on 26" wheels.

  5. #5
    family on bikes nancy sv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by aroundoz View Post

    I have to disagree with this since a lot of people, including myself, believe 700c/29er wheels roll over rough surfaces soooo much better than smaller hoops. I just sold my last 26" wheeled bike and now tour on 700c wheels and MTB with a 29er. The only reason I would ever get a 26" wheeled touring bike again is if I ever get lucky enough to tour in South America or other places where 700c parts are non-existent. The same reasons you outlined. Other than that, I will pass on 26" wheels.
    That's good to know. I always toured with 26" before - this one was my first 700c bike ever. I didn't notice any difference at all, but I believe you that you do. I wonder why you feel the difference? Any idea on the physics of it??
    WE DID IT! Our little family of four cycled 17,300 miles from Alaska to Argentina! The trip of a lifetime for sure. www.familyonbikes.org

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    djb
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    I ride fairly regularly an old maybe 1998 alum Spec Rockhopper hardtail with 26 in wheels as well as an alum Spec Tricross with 700 wheels. To be honest, I think that there are so many factors that are involved that I cant really make a completely black and white opinion on the diff between them.

    the alu mtn bike has front suspension (old style, not particularly compliant, but works) and straight chainstays. I used to ride it with mtn tires, which was fun for my commute going over Mount Royal with some dirt roads,especially in fall with leaves etc. Now it has 1.5 slickish tires.
    -front suspension is easier on the crappy roads we have here in Mtl.
    -I find tires makes a big diff in how a bike feels. The Armadillo rear tire I have on it is quite harsh, stiff, so either this or the fact that the chainstays are straight means it has a harshish ride.
    -the cross bike has 28s on it, carbon fork (who knows what help it does) and splayed out chainstays--yes it is harsher than my old steel touring bike, but especially as it fits me well, with not too much weight on hands, it is actually quite a comfy bike.
    -putting a Brooks on the mtn bike takes a bitof the sting out of the rear on sharp bumps.
    -the 700 bike feels and is faster than the 26 bike---but many factors--it is newer, hubs and such probably roll better. narrow tires, lighter bike etc BUT I do ride both bikes on the same route sometimes, and the diff isnt that much.
    I have ridden another alum framed cross bike, with 32 tires at a lower pressure and it was very cushy--cuz of the tires and pressures.
    Last edited by djb; 04-30-11 at 08:52 AM.

  7. #7
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    To quote OP in the reference link " but in 2008 when we were buying our bikes there were no large size touring bikes with 26” wheels available in the USA. Trust me – I looked. "
    This really bothers me and I just don't understand how this could be true. Well before 2008 I owned two Bruce Gordon's with identical setups except for the wheels. One had 700cc and the other 26" wheels. And they were steel.

    Personally I did not see much difference in riding them except I felt like Clint Eastwood riding the small ponies in the spaghetti westerns on the 26" wheels.

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    Very nice write up. Thanks. I have no plans to tour outside of North America, but I still find this to be a very interesting topic.

    I did a tour on a rails to trails route in 2009 for a couple hundred miles and decided that my 700X37 tires on my 2004 LHT were too narrow. A friend had a mountain bike with 26X2.1 inch tires with a reasonably smooth tread. I rode his bike for a few hundred yards over the trail that I had just rode my bike on to see how his bike rode. My tires appeared to dig in through the veneer of loose sand overlying the harder packed gravel where his tires rolled over that with less resistance.

    reDSC00972.jpg

    When I got home I tried some wider tires on my LHT but even 5mm wider had problems with my fender mounts. I might have been able to make them work with different fenders, but I decided to buy another bike. Fortunately I can afford to buy another bike with out financial concerns and got lucky in obtaining a slightly used Thorn Sherpa frameset in my size. I built that up with 26 in wheels and used that last fall on a 300 mile rails to trails route.

    cropIMG_4860.jpg

    I understand the concept of the 29er size, but quite frankly the potholes in the road would have to be huge before I would notice an advantage in the slightly larger diameter of the 29er over the 26 in wheel. My LHT tires (Hutchinson Globetrotter 700X37) have a measured circumference of 2,204mm and the Thorn tires (Schwalbe Dureme on the front 559X50) measured circumference is 2,057mm. (Around town I use Conti Town and Country tires on the Thorn but I do not tour with them because they are too puncture prone.)

    When I built up the wheels, one of the rules of thumb that I used was that if a rim was not available in 40 or 48 hole drillings for tandem use, that was not the rim I wanted. Although my wheels are only 36h, I got the strong rims that I wanted by following that rule. On both bikes I have 36h XT steel axle hubs (Thorn has M760 front and rear, LHT has M752 rear and M760 front), Wheelsmith DB-14 spokes. The LHT has Mavic A719 rims and the Thorn has Salsa Gordo rims.

    For day trips without the load of camping gear last summer I also put 1,200 miles on the Thorn, mostly on gravel and 1,000 miles on the LHT, almost all on pavement. I concluded that I now have two great touring machines, the LHT for pavement and the Thorn for gravel.

    If I had a choice of only one bike, it would have 26 inch wheels. But, if I had only one bike, I might want a narrower tire (around 37mm width) for pavement.

  9. #9
    More Energy than Sense aroundoz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nancy sv View Post
    That's good to know. I always toured with 26" before - this one was my first 700c bike ever. I didn't notice any difference at all, but I believe you that you do. I wonder why you feel the difference? Any idea on the physics of it??
    Two of the main benefits is Lower Angle of Approach (or Attack) and that you ride over irregularities , not in them. Gary Fisher did a great job explaining it on his site years ago. He still does, in this link, but most of it is marketing and pertains to mountain bikes but it is worth looking at.

    http://youtu.be/n7xNohTerzU

    It may seem I am comparing apples to oranges but I am now able to go over obstacles on my 29er that I had a lot of difficulty with when using my 26" MTB. I used to have to pick my lines but now I just pedal and go.

  10. #10
    family on bikes nancy sv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mas-az View Post
    To quote OP in the reference link " but in 2008 when we were buying our bikes there were no large size touring bikes with 26” wheels available in the USA. Trust me – I looked. "
    This really bothers me and I just don't understand how this could be true. Well before 2008 I owned two Bruce Gordon's with identical setups except for the wheels. One had 700cc and the other 26" wheels. And they were steel.
    Pre-2008 = no problem
    Post-2008 = Surly LHT was available in 26"
    2008 = nothin' (in the US anyway - except going custom or very high end)
    WE DID IT! Our little family of four cycled 17,300 miles from Alaska to Argentina! The trip of a lifetime for sure. www.familyonbikes.org

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    djb
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    You can still see however that from a purely practical side, it just makes sense to go with 26inchers if you are going to be in diff parts of the world, for parts avail.

  12. #12
    family on bikes nancy sv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by djb View Post
    You can still see however that from a purely practical side, it just makes sense to go with 26inchers if you are going to be in diff parts of the world, for parts avail.
    Exactly. And we knew that and wanted 26" for exactly that reason. I just wish more bike manufacturers realized that not all Americans will only tour in America and made it easier for us to get the bikes we need. I realize that we are a small percentage of bikes sold, but still....
    WE DID IT! Our little family of four cycled 17,300 miles from Alaska to Argentina! The trip of a lifetime for sure. www.familyonbikes.org

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    djb
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    in hindsight Nancy, even if you had to go with 700 wheels like you did, wouldnt it have been worth it getting some super strong wheels built by a very reputable wheel builder? Like the toss-up of going with custom built frames, I imagine super strong wheels would be rather expensive. I guess as with all things in life, the reality of budgets play a factor, and its not like you had a crystal ball and knew that you would have to spend X dollars on flights to get another wheel (or the brifter that time)--but as I began, in hindsight, do you think it would have been worth it spending on really strong handbuilt wheels?

    Im thinking this more in the angle of suggestions to someone doing an extensive trip, either in length or location? (and less hassle, worry etc --Im not a wheel guy at all, so I dont know if a super built wheel would be problem-free for the sort of trip you did, but I suspect it could be)

  14. #14
    family on bikes nancy sv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by djb View Post
    in hindsight Nancy, even if you had to go with 700 wheels like you did, wouldnt it have been worth it getting some super strong wheels built by a very reputable wheel builder?
    Actually, no. The wheels I took off with were awesome - stock wheels from the REI Novara Randonee. Those wheels made it all the way to northern Peru before the rear rim started to crack. I feel that any rim would have fatigued in that amount of time given the roads and weight that was on my bike, so was very happy with what came on the bike.

    I actually DID have a special wheel made up after the stock wheel started to crack - and that's the one that gave me trouble. I requested an extra strong rim and good hub - figured it went without saying that I wanted good spokes. They built it with an awesome rim, a very good hub, good quality spoke nipples and crappy spokes. I guess you have to specify every single part that you want to be good quality.
    WE DID IT! Our little family of four cycled 17,300 miles from Alaska to Argentina! The trip of a lifetime for sure. www.familyonbikes.org

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    djb
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    that sounds pretty goofy, or rather, that the wheel builder wasnt really a proper craftsman for letting low quality go in there--I mean it seems in everything in life there are people who will let underpar work go thru. I mean especially in a case like this where the small amount of dollars difference between mediocre spokes and hi quality stuff must be very little overall, but then I wonder if the build quality required for your specific usage was underpar also, or that the wheelbuilders experience was not up to snuff vis-a-vis him or her knowing what you were throwing at this wheel abuse wise (roads, weight)

    I strongly suspect that someone with lots of experience building touring wheels or tandem wheels, would know exactly what to ask about the conditions the wheel was going to be used in (and especially the context, your trip I mean) and then overbuild the sucker--and/or convince/tell you that you NEED to spend $50 more on X doodad quality, or you WILL have problems....

    Honestly though, did you give money constraints that was a factor? ....anyway, its done and gone, I dont know enough about wheel building to know about the specific parts you mention, or if perhaps you did some damage to the wheel with an impact or something that would have caused issues no matter what. What I do read often is that its just not the parts, but a big part is the wheelbuilders experience and technique putting a wheel together, that will make a diff in its long term life.

    also, thats quite impressive about the stock wheels, quite a testament.

  16. #16
    family on bikes nancy sv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by djb View Post
    What I do read often is that its just not the parts, but a big part is the wheelbuilders experience and technique putting a wheel together, that will make a diff in its long term life.
    Yep - they're experience is HUGE! I remember Mark Beaumont, who broke the world record when he cycled around the world in 195 days, talking about his wheel. He had had it built by one of the best wheel builders in Britain, but it started popping spokes right away. By the time he got to Turkey, he knew he needed to do something about it.

    He pulled in to some tiny, podunk bike shop in Turkey and asked them about rebuilding the wheel. They did it and got it back to him within an hour.

    Mark was concerned about that since the professional wheel builder had taken hours to get it "just right", but he had no choice but to deal with it. When he talked with the guys in the bike shop they told him that the spokes were WAY too tight for what he was doing - that tension was fine for racing, but could never handle bad roads with a weighted bike. They rebuilt it with more play in the spokes and that wheel lasted for a long, long time.

    So - what was the experience of the shop manager who built my wheel? Racing? Commuting? Recreational riding? I don't know - but I bet he hadn't built many wheels for loaded touring on bad roads.
    WE DID IT! Our little family of four cycled 17,300 miles from Alaska to Argentina! The trip of a lifetime for sure. www.familyonbikes.org

  17. #17
    Slow Rider bwgride's Avatar
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    Interesting read and I am glad you posted your observations and experiences. One brief note, however, about availability of bikes with 26" wheels. Surly LHT was introduced before 2006, not sure whether it was 2004 or 2005. The smaller frames were and are designed for 26". The earliest net reference I can find to LHT is the LHT owner's group, which began March 2006:

    http://groups.google.com/group/surly...6-3?scoring=d&

    Maybe the frame sizes were too small for your family at the time so you could not benefit from the 26" then.

    Update: Just found first reference to LHT in late 2003. Did not realize LHT had been around for 8 years now:

    http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread...g+haul+trucker
    Last edited by bwgride; 04-30-11 at 08:30 PM.

  18. #18
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    Interesting story, I've heard a lot of stories about people running into trouble with 700C wheels in South America. I notice that Surly has started offering the LHT with a choice of 26" or 700C wheels in the larger sizes, as well as building all the smaller sizes with 26" wheels.

    I'm not sure what to make of all the claims made by supposedly top-notch wheel builders. One person will say Brand X spokes are the best and brand Y are garbage. Another supposedly top-drawer wheel builder will say that Brand Y is the best and Brand X is worse than garbage. They can't all be right, can they? My solution has been to read all I can about wheels and wheel building, apply what little knowledge I have of physics and engineering, and build my own wheels when I need wheels. After a couple decades of that, I think I've got a pretty good idea of what constitutes a good wheel, but I'm sure that someone will be along to tell me that I'm full of crap and I'm going to die a horrible death if I even look crosseyed at those lousy wheels I've built.

    The nice thing about reading up on wheels and maybe building a couple of your own is that you're not completely at the mercy of the self-proclaimed master wheel builder you're dealing with. You can always compare his/her recommendations with your own knowledge and ask for things to be done differently or find a wheelbuilder whose views coincide with your own. Then if anything goes wrong you can kick yourself if the wheelbuilder isn't within reach.

  19. #19
    HomeBrew Master! Gus Riley's Avatar
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    My LHT and Santana triplet both have 26" wheels. I am sure they roll slower than 700mm wheels, but I am also pretty sure they will take a lot more punishment than the larger wheels. So, I guess for my upcoming TransAm I'll be very surprised if I break a spoke or rim during the entire trip (hoping I'm not jinxing myself), or before my 700mm equipped team mates. Of course because my LHT is slower I may be a few miles behind them if they do have a problem...but that's okay too, I'm the mechanic in the group.
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    djb
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    to put things in perspective, I toured with 700s and never broke a spoke, on stock 36 spoke wheels, but did have a good wheel guy go over them before a trip. I rode on paved roads just like you will on a TransAm.

    I see it as, with a reasonable wheel, adjusted well, if you dont have a crapload of weight and are careful not to ride into potholes, etc, in general it will do fine. I weigh 140, and only had maybe 40 lbs of stuff or so on my bike, maybe 45, so I put less weight on wheels than others.

    on good roads thats one thing, but on really bad roads, I would definately go 26 from what I have read now.

    MARKF, good point and a good way of putting it (diff opinions of spokes etc by diff people) It would be neat to learn how to build a wheel.

  21. #21
    HomeBrew Master! Gus Riley's Avatar
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    djb,
    You and your gear weigh much less than mine. My LHT and gear together weigh in at 87 lbs, and that is without food. My gear is weighing in at about 53 lbs. I think it is a bit heavy but close to average? I weigh in at an astonishing 177...I'm hoping to drop seven of those by the start of my TA trip. One of my team mate's gear load weighs even more than mine...I suspect he will be shedding some weight somewhere during the trip. He rides a Kona Sutra with 700mm wheels. Anyway, he's starting out heavy...I'm thinking there will a chance for him of breaking a spoke. Our third team mate rides a Specialized Tri-cross with stock 700 wheels. I think his load is a little less than mine (including bike of course which is much lighter than my LHT). Still of all of us I think he is the most susceptible for spoke issues.

    I could be (and most likely will be) proved totally wrong in my thinking by the end of our tour. It is going to be fun to live through it and see what issues confront us concerning the differences in our equipment, bikes, bodies, and personalities.
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  22. #22
    family on bikes nancy sv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bwgride View Post
    Interesting read and I am glad you posted your observations and experiences. One brief note, however, about availability of bikes with 26" wheels. Surly LHT was introduced before 2006, not sure whether it was 2004 or 2005. The smaller frames were and are designed for 26".
    Yep - I even test rode a Surly and was seriously considering it for our trip. In the end, I decided the LHT and Randonee were nearly identical bikes, but the Randonee was much cheaper so I went with that option. However - it wasn't until 2009 that Surly started offering the option of wheel size on the larger frames - I'm six feet tall so need a large bike. In 2008, the LHT in larger frame sizes came with 700c. If I had only waited 8 months....
    WE DID IT! Our little family of four cycled 17,300 miles from Alaska to Argentina! The trip of a lifetime for sure. www.familyonbikes.org

  23. #23
    family on bikes nancy sv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by djb View Post
    to put things in perspective, I toured with 700s and never broke a spoke, on stock 36 spoke wheels, but did have a good wheel guy go over them before a trip. I rode on paved roads just like you will on a TransAm.
    My stock 700c wheels that came on the Randonee made it all the way from Alaska to Peru with no problem at all. At that point, I got a new wheel built because the rim had started to crack - totally acceptable mileage, in my opinion. The new wheel was built with crappy spokes and they started to break almost immediately.

    What I'm saying is that 700c wheels are just fine - if I could make it 11,000 miles fully loaded over the roads we cycled with no problem, there is no problem with the 700c in principal. The issue is the lack of replacement in the event that something does go wrong or wears out if you are touring outside the USA/Canada.
    WE DID IT! Our little family of four cycled 17,300 miles from Alaska to Argentina! The trip of a lifetime for sure. www.familyonbikes.org

  24. #24
    djb
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gus Riley View Post
    djb,
    You and your gear weigh much less than mine. My LHT and gear together weigh in at 87 lbs, and that is without food. My gear is weighing in at about 53 lbs. I think it is a bit heavy but close to average? I weigh in at an astonishing 177...I'm hoping to drop seven of those by the start of my TA trip. One of my team mate's gear load weighs even more than mine...I suspect he will be shedding some weight somewhere during the trip. He rides a Kona Sutra with 700mm wheels. Anyway, he's starting out heavy...I'm thinking there will a chance for him of breaking a spoke. Our third team mate rides a Specialized Tri-cross with stock 700 wheels. I think his load is a little less than mine (including bike of course which is much lighter than my LHT). Still of all of us I think he is the most susceptible for spoke issues.

    I could be (and most likely will be) proved totally wrong in my thinking by the end of our tour. It is going to be fun to live through it and see what issues confront us concerning the differences in our equipment, bikes, bodies, and personalities.
    ya 53 lbs and more in your friends case, thats a lot of weight. Climbs are going to be a slog, but hopefully you have low gearing. I realize that for a long term trip like Nancys family, its pretty much inevitable that there will be more stuff than with what I toured with for 3-4 weeks. But Im sure you will figure out what crap you can send home if you really arent using it. Again, being a slight fellow, I appreciate every pound I can take off my bike+stuff.

    Tricross-I have one and the stock wheels are 32 spokes, I have often wondered how they would hold up to various weights touring. I would guess, or suggest , that especially his wheels get a looking over by a very knowledgable wheel person (with touring experience as nancys pt showed) I would also probably suggest that he is careful of weight. The stock Tricross Sport gearing here in Canada is 50/39/30 and a 11-32 cassette. I have always known that if I loaded it up, I would change teh granny from the 30 to a 26 and teh low gear would go from about a 25 gear inch to a 21 or 22, which is very doable for climbs and loaded. It would be an easy and cheap change, I'd suggest it to your friend to ask at a bike store.

    look forward to hearing of your trip and how all bikes handled things.

  25. #25
    djb
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    Quote Originally Posted by nancy sv View Post
    My stock 700c wheels that came on the Randonee made it all the way from Alaska to Peru with no problem at all. At that point, I got a new wheel built because the rim had started to crack - totally acceptable mileage, in my opinion. The new wheel was built with crappy spokes and they started to break almost immediately
    [/B]
    certainly makes it all the more galling doesnt it? Stock wheel of a reasonably priced bike does a good job all that time,,,,then the new "custom" one.....

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