Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Small wheels are better?

Bike Friday NWT in touring mode

Change is good. Instead of using a foldie, I took my Bridgestone XO5 hybrid for our Wed ride to Point Walter today. It has 700c wheels, the standard issue for racers and it was a most satisfying ride. It seemed to glide effortlessly on the road and because of its largess circumference, it offered a more comfortable ride compared to the 20" or 16" offerings I'm used to, especially over road irregularities. On the other hand, I found it a bit like cycling on a Penny-farthing - hard to steer and not very responsive. This was apparent when maneuvering around pedestrians on the shared path.

Its interesting to note that the reason for the popularity of the 700c tire today can be due more to a "sheep" mentality rather than for its obvious advantages, argues Velocio, a French bicycle designer who lived 100 years ago. Then, the logic was to fit the biggest possible tire onto the standard bicycle diamond frame.

The famed British designer, Alex Mouton, challenged this sacred belief and went about to re-design the bicycle to make it "more pleasing to own and to use". His idea was to use high pressure small tires with suspension (Sir Moulton after all, designed the Mini's unique suspension system). The results speak for themselves when his Moulton bicycle broke the Cardiff-London speed record in 1962.

It would be foolhardy for me to discount the advantages of big wheeled bicycles but my point is, for all intent and purposes, small wheels are often under-rated by the normal cyclists as well as bicycle manufacturers. They offer so many benefits over the "normal" wheels and you can read more about it in this excellent article by US Cycling Journal Cycling Science.

Velocio's words, some 100 years ago, are a fitting conclusion for the case of smaller wheels.

"That universal agreement has fixed on 70 centimetres as the proper size for wheels does not in any way prove that this diameter is best; it simply proves that cyclists follow each other like sheep.... Make no mistake, uniformity is leading us directly towards boredom and towards routine, whilst diversity, even though it distracts us, holds our attention, our interest and the spirit of enquiry always on the watch. To change is not always to perfect, and I know that better than any others newly come to cyclo-technology. But to stand still, to sink into a rut, that is the worst of things for industries and for men."

So are small wheels better? For the type of riding I do, I would say yes most times. They may surprise you.


Taurus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Taurus said...

Nice article!

I myself have a regular bike and a foldable one. Love them both for different purposes.

And those are my only vehicles!

Cheers from Rio!