What wheels size should I ride for gravel.
In recent years, bicycle wheel size has become a topic of passionate debate in the cycling world. Much has been said and written about which sizes are best suited to which types of bikes. For us cycling enthusiasts, having a diverse set of options, including several wheel sizes to choose from, can certainly be a good thing. But such a broad menu of possibilities can also be rather confusing. Let’s have a quick look at the current options in the gravel cycling world, how they differ and what applications are best suited for.
Many early gravel bikes were essentially modified road bikes, and accordingly inherited the 700C wheel size dominant in road cycling (equivalent to 29er wheel diameter in mountain bikes). There are many benefits to the 700C size, including the lower rolling resistance associated with larger diameter wheels. Still, some riders who were not quite satisfied with the limitations of the 700C wheels, including reduced tire clearance when attempting to run larger volume tires for better off-road handling characteristics. This is where 650B (equivalent to 27.5in wheels in mountain bikes) opened new possibilities. The smaller diameter wheel allows the tires to sit lower in the frame and thus makes it possible to fit larger volume tires in frames where the maximum tire size at 700C would be too small for gravel riding.
With the current rising popularity of gravel riding, bike manufacturers have focused on making their gravel bike offerings compatible with a wide range of wheel sizes, with many brands offering bikes that come in both 700C and 650B configurations. This increasing versatility reflects the essence of gravel riding, being about adventure and exploration, and allows riders to set up their bikes in the ways that offer them the ride and handling characteristics that are most important to them on the type of terrain they plan on riding.
So which wheel size is best for me? Comparing 700C vs 650B
One thing to keep in mind is that no one wheel size is best in the absolute. Different wheel sizes offer different advantages and disadvantages, and the one you choose will depend on your own riding scenarios.
- Larger diameter offers lower rolling resistance
- Holds momentum better once up to speed
- Best suited for mixed-terrain rides in which speed and efficiency are a priority, such as gravel races
- Allows for larger volume tires, which makes it possible to run lower tire pressures for better comfort and improved traction, especially on technical terrain
- The smaller circumference wheels accelerate faster and give a better low-end gear ratio (you’ll feel like you have a lower climbing gear with the same drivetrain compared to 700C wheels)
- Best suited to rides which are mostly off-road on long stretches of dirt roads and loose gravel
- Great for backpacking and touring bikes, where the larger volume tires will offer better handling on bikes with loaded panniers and frame bags
Whether you're a gravel racer looking for the fastest and most efficient setup, or you're planning a multi-day, mixed-terrain bikepacking trip, there is a wheel size for every application! It is important to be aware of the advantages and limitations of each wheel size, and accordingly be able to pick the best wheel size for your riding plans.