650c vs. 700c wheels?

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Hi,
I am getting my first custom road bike, and am trying to decide whether to get 650c or 700c wheels. Does anyone have any experience or advice about the pros and cons of each that would be helpful? I am 5' 1" tall.
Thanks!
Mary

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Neither ... get 26"

90% of all the bike wheels in the world are either "700c" ("road" or 622mm) or 26" ("mountain" or 559mm).

Getting 650c does make it easier for a builder scale a frame with good handling characteristics w/o the front wheel hitting your toes ("toe overlap"). But 650c (571mm, formerly popular on "tri-bikes") is a fading standard with limited tire selection; thin and thinner.

The more popular 26"/559mm is half an inch smaller. And, if you spec adequate frame-fork clearance, you have a wide selection of tires suitable club rides; loaded touring; knobbies for dirt; and studded tires for winter riding.

If you go 26", you should also spec the rear stays for slightly wider mountain hubs (135mm) vs. road (130mm). This way, off-the-shelf 26" mountain wheels will just work.

If you show this post to the builder, they'll get it immediately.

------

A practical compromise would be to spec the bike with 650c, ask the builder to allow clearance fro wider tires and space the rear at 132.5mm, so you could swap in 26" wheels. Tubes are the same. You'd just need to readjust your brake pads slightly.

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Hi, I have a custom 7 with

Hi,
I have a custom 7 with 700 wheels. I am 5' tall. Some pros: You'll have an easier time getting tubes and if you get multiple flats on a group ride and run out of 650 tubes someone will be able to help you out. My only issue is the toe over lap but mainly an issue going through the towers on the GWB. I haven't regretted the choice...

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I have two custom bikes with

I have two custom bikes with 650c wheels. (I'm 5'-3'' but have short legs so the frames are essentially 46cm.) Although Neille is correct that tire selection is somewhat limited, you really need to think about how you'll use the bike. If you only intend to use it as a road bike for club rides, and want a 23cm tire width, I'd get the 650c. I've never had a problem getting 650c Continental Grand Prix tires and the tubes are quite common, so I've never had any problem getting tubes. (the Performance Bike catalogue always has them.) It's true, you have to carry at least 2 spares because almost no one on your ride will have that size, but I've never had a real problem. (I also cary a patch kit so I can patch a tube if necessary.) If, however, you plan to do a lot of touring, you'd be better off getting the 26". You won't find many road tires (23cm width) in the 26" size, but you will have a much wider choice of touring and commuting tires.

Some people will say you don't get as much power or speed from the smaller wheel, but what you do get is faster accelleration (even while climbing). And, as has been noted, the frame builder can design appropriate frame angles for a better fit and feel to the bike. Last fall I did a 10-day tour on a bike that was my frame size but had 700c wheels. They made the bike sit higher above the road so, in addition to feeling like I was sitting high up and not feeling as comfortably balanced, I was also bruising my leg mounting & dismounting. (Yeah, yeah, go ahead and laugh.)

Good luck.
Carol

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I am also 5'1" and I have

I am also 5'1" and I have only ridden bikes with 700c wheels. I have a custom Independent Fabrication. There is toe overlap, but the only time this is a problem is for tight corners such as the turn on the NY side of the GWB. You learn how to position your pedals to compensate for it. The biggest pro to 700c wheels is when you have multiple flats, run out of spare tubes and need to borrow a tube from someone. Feel free to contact me if you want to discuss this is greater detail.

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In an emergency, a 700 tube

In an emergency, a 700 tube can be jammed into a 650 tire and will work to finish a ride.

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"a 700 tube can be jammed into a 650 tire"

Cool, but you'd want to be extra careful and visually check that the tube doesn't overlap the bead.

Have found the reverse to be true as well.  A 650c/26" expands perfectly well to a 700c tire.  No long term issues, SFAIK.

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Thanks for your comments.

Very helpful information - I'll bring these issues up with my builder.
Mary

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What does the builder say?

As touched on by Carol, smaller wheels may permit a more conventional frame geometry, whereas very small 700c bikes often have very steep seat angles and very shallow head angles (compromises needed to put the frame "between" the wheels, rather than on top of them). I'd ask the builder what he sees as the pros and cons for the overall design. I'd be a bit surprised if toe overlap is the only issue.

Neil's "practical compromise" is a neat idea, but the builder has to promise that he can hang the brakes at exactly the right height: the 650c wheels will have the brake shoes at the top of the adjustment slots, the MTB wheels at the bottom, and there is essentially no room for error. BTW, that will probably require a custom fork, all the more so as most of the off-the-rack ones won't take a tire wider than 25, or just maybe 28mm.

Who is the builder?

Peter Storey

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I'm looking at IF

Thanks for the info - I am asking the builder about the pros and cons as well but wanted to get some advice from people with wider experiences and a range of opinions. I am considering Independent Fabrication. One of my concerns is about sluggish geometry. I want it to handle like a road bike, not a compromise.
Mary

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IF

If your concern is sluggishness, tell IF your concerns and preferences. My IF bike is very responsive. I went from a Trek which rode comfy like a cadilac to my IF which rides like a porsche (not talking about the engine ;-)

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"I want it to handle like a road bike, not a compromise."

Great phrase.

Someone once made the observation that Americans regarded the word compromise as a negative (an agreement that no party is happy with):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compromise

Whereas the British, consider the word a positive; ie, groups had reached an agreement which allowed them to move forward on a common agenda, etc.

[My personal history in theater was that a "compromise" should NOT be "I'll put up with your s__t, if you put up with mine."  Rather a compromise would be a meeting of the minds devising a plan superior to that which any of the individuals could come up with themselves.]

In your case, the compromise is not about ride quality.  Unless you intend to race in "criteriums", I don't think you want a bike that is so twitchy that it will swerve at the slightest input.  That would would be exhausting and unsatisfactory outcome.  Sounds like you don't want a touring bike either, although I would consider a stable, comfortable ride to be the lesser of the two evils.  Neither has to do with slow or fast, rather how the bike responds to steering input.  Good news is that if Independent Fabrications builds it, and you have some of the better bike shops in the city (IF-resellers) fit you and spec it out, I think there's virtually no chance of a bad outcome.

But back to your original question of 700c vs 650c.  

Get the smaller wheel size (be it 26" or 650c).  That will allow the builder to side step the logistical compromise of having to fit wheels too large for the frame.

And since Independent Fabrications also makes forks, you might ask them to spec the fork-frame with a smidgeon more clearance for fenders and slightly wider tires.

And since the two sizes are so close, it then it becomes a question of which WHEELS to get.  If you get 650c/571, then you will have a small but excellent selection of racing tires, but virtually nothing else .  If you get 26", you will plenty of touring options but still have excellent road options - Specialized, Continental, Schwalbe make road tires in the 26"/559 size. 

FYI, my first road bike was an IF Planet X cyclocross.  I sell computers and traded with a former manager of Sids Bikes for his.  Fast enough for the A-SIG, tough and versatile enough for panniered touring.  Great road manners.  Loved that thing.

http://gallery.me.com/nww#100080

PS.  Note to webmaster, paragraph returns seem to be lost.  It all defaults to "Unabomber" mode.

 

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Both my bikes are IF.  They

Both my bikes are IF.  They build great frames and know how to fit.  One of my frames is the Crown Jewel road bike and the other is the Club Racer light touring frame (a little more relaxed than the road frame). 

 

Just to correct something Neille said, I use Continental Grand Prix 650c tires.  They are not "racing" tires; they're very sturdy, hold the road well and give a comfortable ride.  I rarely get flats (uh-oh, I've just jinxed myself).  I use them on my touring bike and they've handled all kinds of road surfaces - the only thing they didn't handle was deep sand, but that was in Estonia.  So if what you plan to do on the bike is road riding and maybe some light touring, I'd get the 650c.  But talk to the guys at IF.  They'll be helpful as long as you tell them what kind of riding you want to do. 

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Congratulations

Mary--Congratulations on your decision to get a custom bike. You will have it for years to come. And if the lean years ever come, you will be even more glad you invested during the fat years.

I am 5'3" and have three bikes with roughly 46c seat tubes and 650c wheels. Two frames are off the shelf, one is custom. I love them all.

 

 Previously I had a 49cm Fuji with 700c wheels. While it was a good value as a road bike, I was too stretched out on it and ended up with lower back pain after several years. A friend loaned me a beautiful steel Bianchi, and while I loved the smooth ride, my first encounter with toe overlap was frightening.

 When I first considered going to a smaller frame and wheel size, I bought a stock Terry bike with 650 wheels. (Titanium frame--not cheap, but a bargain by today's standards.) After riding that I realized what I was missing and so ordered my custom steel fixed gear to have 650 wheels. I later bought a stock 46cm steel bike with 650 wheels for commuting; it is now my "west coast" bike. (My fourth bike, a Brompton, has 16" wheels. ;) 

My understanding, based on practical experience not math, though it has been explained to me more than once, is that 5'4" is about the cutoff for comfortably sizing a frame for 700c wheels. I think so-called full-size wheels, frames, etc. are oversold to women, half of whom are 5'4" or less in height. I like the Terry Bike line-up because they are sized specifically for girls--even the frames that use different sized wheels for front and rear--they put function first. (Maybe Terry is no longer making those bikes.)

Smaller wheels give you good acceleration. So you have to carry a couple of tubes. You should do that anyways.

 If you plan to go offroad or to tour, Neil's advice about the 26" wheels is probably good to take. My needs aren't so complex so the skinny 650s are fine for me. (I think that the choices would be more plentiful if more women and short folk demanded them.)

 

Responsiveness vs. comfort will be affected by the angle of the seat tube (steeper is more aggressive) and the fork rake. No one wants a sluggish bike, but who wants a twitchy one?

A custom bike is a big investment, so hopefully you can test ride a few before taking the plunge. You are welcome to check out my 19" Terry after I return to NYC next week. Some mfrs are starting to make smaller stock frames so it's not always necessary to get a custom build first.

Good luck!

 

Carol 

I can't tell how this formatting works.  I tried to break my comments up by they are one unreadable block.

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I am < 5' and ride a bike with 700c's

I am < 5' and ride a road bike with 700c wheels. It's a women's design Specialized Ruby and it works because the seat post is built with a bit more forward angle. People say there is a toe overlap issue, then, but my bike has virtually no toe overlap. I love riding this bike; and its been a faithful steed for 4 years. 

I don't really see the point of going to 650c unless you really need a specific kind of geometry, whether you have unusual bodily proportions or are riding a bike with certain geometry for time trialing or track (my fixed gear has 650's). 

For a long time I thought about custom, or a Terry, but have been really, really happy with my bike. Truthfully, I think people get a bit too obsessive about fit, wheel size, etc. That's fine if you have the $ and time, and specific injuries like Carol mentioned, but personally I think it's better to put that money and energy into smart training and a good bike fit. And if you care about going fast, I don't think the sacrifice in speed is a good thing, even if you can accelerate better in a climb... then again, I haven't ridden a road bike with 650c. That would be interesting, to feel the differences on a long hilly ride. 

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650 wheels

 

i'm 5'2" and also ride 650s -- have been a long time advocate as the bike just fits (me) better.  but i do have to warn you that finding good wheels is basically like being trapped in the sixth ring of hell as most manufacturers have stopped making decent wheels (wheel building is an option, if you want wheels weighing in at 1600 g on low end mavic rims).   fit and safety on the bike should be the primary (and actually only) consideration -- this is more a heads up. 

the speed thing is a fallacy: (i) i've heard emma pooley rides 650 c, and that doesn't seem to be holding her back too much and (ii) 650s are largely only available in the high end tri market (zipp 404s, some seriously expensive HED), as promoted as having an advantage in time trials and crits.  

if you do go with 650s, happy to discuss the wheel options as just spent two months dealing with it post being run over.  i did end up with great performing wheels (american classic 350s, although they were phased out in 2011).  only issue is the decals, which are truly hideous and clash with my bike (focusing on the important things!)

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Thanks for your thoughtful comments

Thanks to everyone for all this good info.  I was leaning toward 650 (and considering the Great Compromise). Then I talked to the builder, and he assured me he could build the bike with 700 wheels and a not-sluggish geometry, and minimal toe overlap (similar to what I have on my current bike, which is not a problem), and then of course I'd have a wide selection of wheels and tires. And as a couple of people pointed out with IF I am pretty much guaranteed to have a good result. Still not decided though, as I think the smaller wheel will give me a more comfortable geometry and the kind of ride I'm looking for.

Mary

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mary can the builder give you

mary can the builder give you a test ride on the geometry? i am really dubious about that as it sounds like the holy grail that no one has ever seen. and i want to amend my wheel comment: if i still lived in ny, i would buy zipp 404s and be v v happy.  and just found this: emma pooley, the top female cyclist, is def on 650s. what is interesting, in my view, is that most builders put 700 c on 48 cm frames. 

At just 1.57m (under 5’2”) tall Pooley has often had trouble getting bikes, particularly time trial bikes, to fit. Riding for Cervélo allows her to race time trials with smaller 650c wheels though, not an option with all bike sponsors. “I’m on the smallest size [48cm] of P3 or P4,” she confirmed. “Its great, it’s so much better, it’s just so much easier to get the position right and actually the handling is much easier in crosswinds because there’s so much less surface area on the cross section of the front wheel. I really am super happy with my P3!”

Read more: http://www.velonation.com/News/ID/4165/Emma-Pooley-Interview-Winning-for-the-team.aspx#ixzz1HhwZbKPK

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Stacey - I will ask but I

Stacey - I will ask but I don't think so.  I'm skeptical about this also. I am actually going to try to rig my Sequoia with 700c wheels to some of the specs he gave me and see what that feels/looks like. I know it's a totally different kind of bike but it might give me an idea anyway. Thanks for the link - that is very interesting. 

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Practical question

You never said, but what kind of rides you want this bike for?  Club rides?  Touring?  Racing?  [Tri-bikes have a specialized geometry.

If you decide on the smaller wheel size, just ask the builder to spec the rear stays at 132.5mm -- which will effectively accommodate both stock 650c wheels (130mm) as well as 26" (135mm).  A custom bike is a purchase you should intend to enjoy for years, so you'd keep your wheel options open as your riding habits evolve.

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I'm not doing triathlons or

I'm not doing triathlons or racing (except against myself). I'm using the bike mostly for medium-long rides (Piermont, Nyack).  Would be nice to be able to use it for some touring also, so your idea of being able to use 26" wheels is attractive. But would also have touring option with 700 wheels.

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"But would also have touring option with 700 wheels."

Speccing a bike that takes both 650c/26" AND 700c might be a "bridge too far".   But 26" wheels with enough clearance for wider tires are a great option for touring:

"The ‘Long HaulTrucker is available in a 26” wheel size across the size run, with an option for 700c in 56, 58, 60, and 62cm sizes.  Some people prefer  the larger diameter 700c, and that’s cool.  26" is a more popular size around the world, however, so you’ll more easily be able to find replacement tubes, tires, and rims should the need arise. Smaller wheels are also stronger than their 700c counterparts, so they’ll stand up better to rough roads and heavy loads. 

http://surlybikes.com/bikes/long_haul_trucker_complete/

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I'm 5' 10", but never had an

I'm 5' 10", but never had an off the rack bike that didn't feel at least a little too long in the top tube, no matter how short a stem I used. So when I got a Waterford custom touring frame I had it made with the shortest top tube the builder thought reasonable. I was warned that I'd have toe overlap. 

I like the shorter top tube, though it could be a tad longer– I do have a longish stem on it. If I had to do it again, I'd have it made to fit 650c wheels.

The toe overlap is only a problem with fenders, otherwise I miss the tire by a hair.

When I had a Seven road bike made, I got 700c wheels and a slightly longer top tube. That fits fine.

If you want to fit the greatest variety of wheel sizes, you could have the bike made to use disc brakes.

If I was having a new bike made, I'd go with a smaller wheel, either 650c or 26".

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650c is good

I'm 5'10" and one of my favorite bikes has 650C wheels. It's not a tri bike, but a regular road bike with a fairly "relaxed" geometry. I run the very nice 23 mm Michelin tires, or sometimes wider 28 mm Terry Tellus.

Your builder can certainly make a frame that will use 700c wheels, but things won't be quite so tight with 650C - there's more room for water bottle cages, your toes, etc.

I used to build bike frames, and I built several road bikes that used either 650C or 26" wheels. By a happy coincidence, one bike can use both. I went through most of the B-18 SIG years ago using these bikes and they didn't hurt my performance at all. I was in exactly the same place - next to last - when I rode 700C wheels! One of the SIG leaders, Ivy Pool, had a custom frame (a Vanilla, before they became impossible to get) built around 26" wheels. The bike was perfect and she was always fast.

I haven't updated my blog in years, but I wrote about this topic at length in a couple of posts:

http://www.tonyrentschler.com/Bicycle_Site/Blog/Entries/2007/10/18_Why_I...

http://www.tonyrentschler.com/Bicycle_Site/Blog/Entries/2007/10/16_MY_SI...

Hope this helps.

Tony

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Somewhat related
Good fit, and not so good fit is clearly illustrated in a photo in this month’s NYCC bulletin. http://www.nycc.org/current-bulletin. If you scroll down to the first picture in the article by I. Rivera, the rider on the right is comfortably seated on her bike, I’m guessing around size 48 cm. Even with a good fit, her center of mass is somewhat “between the wheels”. She can be perfectly happy and comfortable with the bike, but with smaller wheels, the handling would be a bit different if CoM is “over the bike” (further back). The rider on the left is poorly fitted on her bike. The picture clearly shows hunched shoulders (from overreaching). The bike might be the ride size for her. If she is able to roll her pelvis forward, she might be able to bend her elbows a bit and bring her shoulders down (relaxed). The flexion of her lower spine just looks painful, tilting her pelvis forward will save her from back problems down the road. Take a look at Emma Pooley’s picture with her arms (and shoulders) in a “racing” fit (Stacy's post #17). My apologies if anyone was offended by referencing the picture, it’s a good article about the La Vuelta Puerto Rico. Conclusion, fit is more important than wheel size. Bike sizing also includes body awareness (flexibility), torso and arm length, so 700c wheels is not out of the question. You’ll have more wriggle room with smaller wheels. Enjoy your new ride whatever you decide.