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Using undersized wheels on a bike sometimes causes problems. Can you put 26in wheels on a 29-in bike, and what problems may it cause?
Three inches too small is much worse than one inch too small. Is it difficult, uncomfortable, or unsafe to ride a bike with the wrong-sized wheels? Is it sometimes ok to use undersized wheels on some bikes?
With undersized wheels, the pedals might hit the ground, which could make you wipe out if you are riding fast and turning. You will also put a lot of unnecessary strain on your bike parts by riding it with undersized wheels. Some people have more luck than others, so it might work for you.
A difference of only one inch may not cause any problems. However, three inches is too much of a difference. You may be able to ride the bike, but it probably won't work nearly as well as with the right size of wheels for your frame. If you learn a little about wheel sizes, you can know what to expect in advance.
In my experience, putting 26-inch wheels on a 29-inch bike doesn't work and leads to the pedals touching the ground. It is not comfortable to ride. However, other people have a better experience with undersized wheels, so it might work better for you.
Your Pedals Might Hit the Ground
There was one time when I attached smaller than normal wheels to a bike, and my pedals hit the ground when I was riding it. This did not quite make the bike completely unrideable, but I didn't continue to use the bike until I found some better wheels for it. Many other people have had the same problem when trying to ride with undersized wheels.
Riding a bike even though the pedals hit the ground is bumpy and uncomfortable. At high speeds, it will be unsafe. You should go slow if you are riding a bike with undersized wheels.
You might also damage the bike if you ride it even though the pedals hit the ground. It will be unnecessary wear and tear on other parts of your bike. The repeated impact of the pedals hitting the ground could eventually cause a part of your bike to break.
You Might not Be Able to Attach Your Brakes
However, other types of brakes may not work if your wheels are undersized. Rim brakes won't work at all because they will no longer touch the rim.
Riding a bike with no brakes is risky and should not be done for the "thrill." If you want to do something daring, do something other than riding with no brakes. Riding a bike with no brakes isn't safe for other people.
It May Work Better On the Road than On a Trail
Some people get better results than others when attaching undersized wheels to their bikes. There is no guarantee that the pedals will hit the ground; they might remain clear of it.
You might find that your bike works well on the street but performs poorly off-road. On the road, the pedals may not touch the ground, but on a trail, your pedals might frequently hit rocks and branches. There is likely not any solution other than getting wheels of the appropriate size.
Again, it can be dangerous to use undersized wheels. If you do something like make a sharp turn while pedaling fast, you could wipe out and get hurt if your pedal touches the ground.
Your Axles Must Be Right Size For the Wheels
If your axles are not the right size, you will run into even worse problems or won't be able to attach the wheels at all. Sometimes, putting a different pair of wheels on a bike is impossible.
Undersized Wheels May Strain Your Fork and Frame
Even if your pedals don't hit the ground, you may still put unnecessary strain on your bike. A 29-inch bike is designed to work with 29-inch wheels.
With 26-inch wheels, the weight distribution will be different from what the bike is designed for. This may wear out parts of the bike faster than normal. The fork is particularly likely to weaken with so much strain.
Smaller Wheels Might Work Fine
While I got poor results putting 26-inch wheels on a 29-inch bike, some other people report that their bike works fine. It may depend on the size of the pedals - if the pedals are not very large, they won't hit the ground. Sometimes, how you ride the bike might matter.
Putting 26-inch wheels on a 29-inch bike won't always move it 3 inches toward the ground. It might only move down 1.5 inches. 1.5 inches less ground clearance might not be enough to make your pedals hit the ground.
What Kind Of Bikes are 26-Inch Wheels For?
26-inch wheels are very common. 26-inch wheels are some of the smallest wheels commonly used for adult bikes. Smaller wheels are for specialty bikes and kids' bikes.
26-inch wheels are common on hybrid bikes, off-road mountain bikes, and folding bikes. They are a mainstream size and are used for bikes of all kinds. 26-inch wheels have been common since the beginning of the 20th century.
Wheels have a large range of sizes (you can find a bike with 12-inch wheels or huge 36-inch wheels), but 26-29 inches is the most common. There is less demand for adult bikes outside of that range. Very big and tall people can find bikes with 30+ inch wheels or get them custom-made.
What About Larger Wheel Sizes?
27-inch wheels are also common. You can find them on mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, and road bikes. 27.5-inch wheels are also common and are arguably the ideal size for mountain bikes.
The largest common size is 29 inches. Twenty-nine-inch wheels are not good if the bike aims to be lightweight, but they can go over obstacles better than smaller wheels.
If you put 26-inch wheels on a 29-inch bike, you may have trouble going over obstacles even if the smaller wheels don't cause any real problems.
Do Smaller Bikes Have Any Advantages?
Yes, smaller bikes and wheels are better in some ways. It is easier to pedal with a smaller wheel, which can help when pedaling is difficult.
You can also make tighter turns with a smaller bike and smaller wheels. However, most people prefer 29-inch bikes. After you are used to a 29-inch bike, a 26-inch bike seems like a step-down.
Are 29 Inch Bikes Better than 26 Inch Bikes?
Most likely, you will like a 29-inch bike better. A 29-inch bike allows you to put more power into riding. Every turn of the pedal pushes you harder if you have a bigger bike with bigger wheels.
Of course, a 29-inch bike isn't better if it is too big for you. It depends on how tall you are and what you want to do with your bike. If you want to do tricks, a small stunt bike is better than a large mountain bike.
You Can Travel Faster On a 29-Inch Bike
Usually, you can travel the same distance in a shorter time on a 29-inch bike, especially off-road. If there are sticks and stones in your way, you may be able to ride over them on a 29-inch bike. There is a significant, very noticeable difference between a 29-inch bike and a 26-inch bike in what you can ride over smoothly.
With a 26-inch bike, you may have to ride around small obstacles. With a bigger bike, you may ride over them. You can go around a dirt track a tenth to a quarter faster with a 29-inch bike.
Undersized Wheels Will Slow You Down
Even if your bike works reasonably well with wheels 3 inches too small, which it probably won't, 26-inch wheels are usually still a disadvantage for most people. Getting a bike that is a bit bigger than the recommended size for your height is usually better than getting a bike that is a bit too small.
There isn't much of a chance that you will find your bike performs better with 26-inch wheels. However, if 26-inch wheels are all you have and you don't want to get proper-sized wheels right away, you could try putting the undersized wheels on.
There is a chance that your bike will perform acceptably well without proper wheels. However, even then, you should get bigger wheels for it and not keep the smaller wheels on all year. You may wear out parts of your bike faster because of the awkward weight distribution.