The first decision to make when it comes to wheels is which size to use. Your choice is between 26” wheels or the larger 700c size.
If you’re planning to mostly tour in North America or Europe, wheel size doesn’t matter so much. Both are common sizes and should be easy to replace if your wheels fail during a tour.
Once you start travelling further afield, the internationally standard 26” wheel becomes the better choice. That way, if your wheel fails while you’re on tour, you can be much more sure of finding a replacement.
If you pay extra for anything on your bicycle, make it the wheels. They should be strong and well built. Photo by TravellingTwo.com.
Other factors to consider when it comes to wheels are:
- Hand-built – If you can only afford one luxury item for your bicycle, make it a hand-built wheel. No machine has yet been able to match a talented wheel builder when it comes to reliability and strength. Anything that saves you the hassle of broken spokes and wheels that fall out of alignment is worth paying for.
- Spokes – Most touring wheels will have 32 or 36 spokes. Anything less and the wheel will struggle to support the weight of your body and all your bags. A good wheel will also have spokes that cross each other at least 3 times.
- Double-walled Rims – Cheaper rims are made from a single layer of metal. If you’re in a pinch, a single-walled rim will get you to the next decent bike shop. It might even last a few thousand kilometers but don’t invite trouble. Start out with solid, double-walled rims.
- Decent Hubs – We’ve traditionally used Shimano hubs, and we find they’ll last thousands of kilometers with minimal maintenance. Go for hubs from the LX range rather than XT because the newer XT models aren’t as durable as they used to be. If you have more cash to spend, you might look at hubs by manufacturers such as Phil Wood and Hope. To generate your own electricity, a SON dynamo hub is fantastic – although quite pricey.