Bikes are a common mode of transportation. More than this, they are used dominantly for exercises to maintain fitness while commuting.
Additionally, being a vehicle, your modification choice greatly influences how much you will enjoy your riding experience.
For this post, let’s consider wheel sizes and see how they influence your bike.
When it comes to bikes, bigger is not always better. Smaller wheels come with a wide array of advantages over bigger wheels. Smaller wheels require fewer spokes than bigger wheels making them lighter and faster.
Can you put smaller wheels on a bike?
Yes, you can put smaller wheels on a bike. However, as much as it will fit, they are some things you should keep in mind when considering this choice.
For example, if you put smaller wheels on a bike frame meant for bigger wheel size, you might encounter the following:
- The wheels will no longer align with the brake pads if your bike has rim brakes, i.e., cantilever brakes, V-brakes, and Caliper brakes. Instead, they would touch your tires, rendering the brakes useless. But in the fortunate situation where your bike has disc or drum brakes, this would pose no problem.
- Putting on smaller wheels could make riding dangerous and peddling difficult. That is because your bike’s bottom bracket would drop closer to the ground. Also, due to this reduced length, the pedals would run very close to the ground.
- The bike would become more responsive to steering due to altered geometry. It will become quite stable too. However, this isn’t really a problem, but it’s something to take note of.
However, if a big is too big, you may not need smaller wheels but only to fit shorter cranks.
By doing so, you’d be able to put your foot on the pedal at the bottom of the crank stroke because the seat stay would be at the bottom of its adjustment.
You can find cranks for adult bikes in local bike shops as short as 150 mm, which will lift the pedal by 2cm or so compared to a standard crank.
Doing this won’t bring the top tube lower or get the seat any closer to the ground, so if placing a foot on the ground is the problem, this attempt would be futile.
Moreover, if you’re a stunt biker, I advise you to buy a bike with smaller wheels.
Trying to fix them onto another bike they’re not meant to be on would cause the problems already listed and cost you some extra bucks too.
Is it Harder to Ride a Bike with Smaller Wheels?
If the bike’s frame is small, it’ll require more effort to pedal to cover the same distance as bigger wheels. But if the frame is big, the wheels make no difference when riding a bike with smaller wheels.
A bike with smaller wheels is easier to maneuver. In addition, due to its higher pressure per square inch on the ground, small wheels respond to movements easier.
Stuntmen and daredevils who love the thrills of jumping and performing bike tricks would find a bike with smaller wheels more responsive to their stunts, hence ‘easier for them to ride.’
Bigger wheels are great for cyclists who race, travel, or just ride them for fun. The mountain bike is a great example; it has a big frame with big tires. This build helps the rider to cover more ground quickly.
Bigger wheels also are more stable; they cushion bumps on the road and give the rider a better view of the road ahead.
When it comes to wheel sizes, the usage of the bike is what matters. What do you intend to do with the bike?
If you race, ride for leisure, exercise, or travel daily on a bike, a bike with bigger wheels is better. But, a bike with smaller wheels is much better if you want to perform tricks or do stunts.
Benefits of Smaller Bike Wheels
Bikes with a wheel size of 20 or less are considered small-wheel bikes.
For example, BMXs have size 20 wheels but aren’t considered small-wheel bikes. Most folding bikes are small-wheeled, but you can’t fold all small-wheel bikes.
Nevertheless, here are some significant benefits of smaller wheels on bikes;
- Smaller wheels are more maneuverable than bigger wheels
- They accelerate faster than bigger wheels
- Have a slightly higher rolling resistance than bigger wheels
- Smaller wheels are lighter, so they have less weight.
- Lower drag and more aerodynamic
- Good fit for shorter riders
Advantages of Smaller Wheels
Smaller wheels have a lot of advantages over bigger wheels; weight aside, here are more.
Did you know that the bike that set the world speed record had a size 18 wheel? Smaller wheels require fewer spokes for stability, thus reducing turbulence and making them weigh less.
Alex Grewal, an Olympic road race medalist, pointed out that a smaller wheel is more efficient than bigger wheels in speeds up to 16mph.
According to Grewal, at speeds between 16 and 33 mph, big and small wheels are equally efficient. Only at speeds faster than 33 mph is a large wheel preferable.
Smaller wheels pick up to speed faster than bigger wheels. Since they weigh less, they create lower moments of inertia.
If you’ve ever ridden downtown traffic and had to stop multiple times, you’d know the importance of fast acceleration.
Due to their sizes, they’re easy to move, and they respond faster to movements from the handlebars.
Their better maneuvering ability is particularly helpful in going through tight corners and over wet surfaces. The bike is also sturdier due to the compact size of the wheels.
Smaller wheel bikes are easier to fit into spaces for obvious reasons. When you travel by your car, a smaller wheel bike would fit better in your car.
Many small wheel bikes are also foldable. Due to their lighter weight, they’re easy to carry upstairs and even on hiking backpacks or easily carried upstairs if you keep your bike inside.
Because smaller wheel bikes are more aerodynamic, they are a common choice for stunting and are used by clowns in carnival shows.
They are specialized for rigorous performances; an example is the BMX bike.
Better for shorter riders: If you’re short, a bike with smaller wheels would be more comfortable and easy for you to ride.
Why Do Some Bikes Have Smaller Wheels?
Smaller wheels are lighter, giving them a better performance advantage over bigger wheels. In addition, when storage is a factor, bikes with smaller wheels have an advantage.
Additionally, smaller wheels have smaller diameters with less weight, making them easier to accelerate.
Unfortunately, this means the wheels would bounce with every bump and contour on the road.
A car’s tire would go over a bump without much effect, but it would noticeably shake a small wheel if it tries to climb the same bump.
Some bikes, especially stunt bikes, have smaller wheels because they are more aerodynamic; they provide less air resistance. Also, riding a headwind makes it easier on a small-wheel bike.
Bikes with smaller wheels are great because they’re lightweight, require fewer spokes for rigidity, accelerate up to speeds faster, are maneuverable, and are great where storage is an issue.
However, they go with every bump on the road, causing shakes and vibrations when riding.
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