Bikes are a staple of many children’s and adults’ lives. They’re the first hard skill we learn growing up and can become the center of a career for many. There’s a wide variety of them to choose from and getting the right one for yourself, your child, or your job, is important.
Here we compare 24-inch bikes against 26-inch bikes. Bear in mind that 24/26-inch refers to the wheel diameter with a tire fitted.
Pros and Cons of 24″ and 26″ Bike
24-inch – Pros
- Faster, easier to accelerate
- Good to learn on
- Suitable for children
- Light enough for trials and stunts
- Lower top speed
- Doesn’t mount objects as well
- Less availability
26-inch – Pros
- Rotor clearance
- Good for those with mountain biking/trails experience
- Higher top speed
- Easily mount obstacles
26-inch – Cons
- Longer spokes make the wheels weaker
24 vs 26 Inch Bike – How Do They Differ?
A Quick Look
|Wheel diameter (along with the tire)
|Children and short people (below 5″5′)
|Taller people (above 5″5′)
|Less clearance to pedal
|More clearance to pedal
1. Wheel diameter
As the name suggests, 24-inch bikes have a wheel diameter (including the tire) of 24 inches. These are appropriate for children, small adults, and stunt riders. The shorter spokes mean moments of force against the wheel are weaker, making it stronger.
26-inch wheels are fitted to larger frames. These bikes are well suited to adults, mountain bikers, and racers. A larger wheel radius means reduced acceleration but a higher top speed.
Longer spokes make the wheel more susceptible to lateral impacts, but you’ll also be able to mount obstacles better, making these bikes perfect for trials riders.
There’s nothing to say a larger or smaller wheel diameter is better. It depends on what you’re looking for.
Smaller bikes are, expectedly, quite a bit lighter. This makes them easily portable as well as very maneuverable. Perfect for a child to wheel around, or a stunt rider to throw about.
These bikes are usually heavier, depending on the material. 26-inch bikes built for tours and other races will be man-portable while mountain bikes won’t have so much focus on weight saving. However, the extra momentum gives them the push they need to mount sharp inclines.
Heavier bikes are harder to carry around, but they’re also more stable. If you’re looking for something lightweight, 24-inch bikes are better.
Smaller wheels translate to higher acceleration. It’s easier to pick up speed, but it’ll be harder to climb any serious hills.
Larger bikes take more effort to push to higher speeds. They accelerate slower but will achieve better top speeds.
Although they achieve lower top speeds, if acceleration is important to you, a snappy 24-inch bike is for you.
4. Wheel strength
A quick science lesson: imagine a door attached to a wall by hinges. The closer to the hinges you push, the harder it is to move the door. On the flip side, further from the hinges and it’s easier.
Longer spokes are technically weaker as forces applied to them away from their attachment points will be stronger.
As explained, longer spokes are weaker. 26-inch wheels are susceptible to forces to the spokes.
With shorter spokes, 24-inch bike wheels are better able to resist forces, making them less likely to break against blunt impacts.
Smaller bikes are fast and maneuverable, but if you’re pushing that maneuverability then you’ll need skill to keep them upright. They’re comparatively easy to throw around considering low weight and an easily shiftable center of mass.
Larger bikes are heavier, making their center of mass more difficult to move with yourself alone. They’re often used to scale mountains and tackle hard trials, a testament to their ability to stay upright.
Important when rolling over uneven rocks or flying around downhill mountain trails, 26-inch bikes and their (often) larger frames are more stable.
6. Rotor clearance
Smaller frames are often low down, giving the pedal rotor little clearance from the floor. You’re more likely to hit the pedals on something as you ride!
Depending on the bike, 26-inch frames are usually taller, fitting larger adults. Considering the surfaces they’re likely to find themselves on, plenty of rotor clearance is an important feature.
Larger wheels lift the frame further from the ground, so 26-inch bikes are less likely to catch any protrusions.
7. Top speed
A higher acceleration doesn’t necessarily mean a higher top speed. While they will get up to pace very rapidly, they won’t match larger bikes.
Larger wheels require more force to rotate so they accelerate slower. However, larger bikes achieve much higher top speeds.
If speed is your thing, then the effort to move 26-inch wheels will pay off as they achieve much higher top speeds than their smaller counterparts.
8. Tire variety
24-inch bikes cater more to children with less of a focus on variety and innovative specs. You’re less likely to find a broad range of tires to match a 24-inch wheelset.
The majority of the biking industry is built around adult use. Tours, mountain biking, trials riding etc., all require innovations in their respective sports. You’ll find it much easier to find different tires for a 26-inch bike.
A variety of tires are needed to match the different sports and environments 26-inch bike wheels find themselves in. You’ll find much more to fit a larger bike with than you will with 24-inch wheels.
Smaller and suited to learners who aren’t too focused on quality control, 24-inch bikes are often much cheaper than their larger counterparts.
Professional bikes designed for sports are often very expensive, featuring innovative materials meant to optimize for speed and weight. In general, bigger bikes are built by quality brands, so they’re likely to cost more.
Innovative materials engineering is flashy and can make a bike half your size weigh a quarter of your weight. However, it’ll be very hard on the wallet. Stick to smaller wheels if you want to budget.
When should you ride a 24-inch bike?
24-inch bikes cater to smaller adults and children around 4”5 – 5”5. They’re light, maneuverable, and easy to get the hang of. Perfect for the average learner or a rider needing something portable.
When should you ride a 26-inch bike?
26-inch bikes are what you’ll commonly see in day-to-day life. They’re versatile and quite modular. Larger wheels go faster and are very well suited to harsh and mountainous terrain. They’re stability and availability make them the perfect bike for adults between 5”5 – 6”4.
1. Can I put 26-inch wheels on a 24-inch bike?
Ans. Unless your bike is known for it, 26-inch wheels shouldn’t be fitted onto bikes designed for 24-inch wheels.
2. What age range are 24-inch bikes suited for?
Ans. 24-inch bikes are perfect for kids aged 7-11.