1 February 2009

why small-wheeled bicycles are better

Why smaller bikes are better:
 - Bike has bigger wheel-distance (given a fixed length of the bike) and its ride is therefore more stable.
 - Accelerates faster (because the wheels have less momentum) and therefore also decelerates faster.
 - The rack (and therefore the cargo) sits lower, making the bike and the ride more stable.
 - Small wheels are more robust (lower leverage of destructive forces hitting the spokes).
 - Hub dynamo turns faster, thereby generating power more efficiently. (A lower-weight dynamo can be used.)
 - Bike needs less space.
 - Most small wheelers can be folded, needing even less space.

Why small-wheeled bikes work so great:
 - Gear mechanism entirely makes up for smaller wheels, resulting in exactly the same development as big wheelers (but more acceleration, as stated above).
 - Wide tires make the ride smooth and even offer full suspension for rider and luggage.
 - Modern frames offer the same riding positions as big-wheeled bikes: be it sporty or casual, small or tall rider; everything is available.
 - Most components are standardized and are either the same as for big-wheelers or go by their own standard. So the bikes can be repaired and tuned as easily as big ones.
 - For example, same standard as big bikes:
   + Bottom brackets, pedals, and chains.
   + Gearing-mechanisms (execept that the gears are a bit higher). So if you want to tune your gearing by replacing chainwheels or sprockets just take any made for big-wheelers.
 - Example for a separate small-wheeled standard:
   + Wheels come in 16 or 20 inches. The selection of tires for those is virtually the same as for big-wheelers. (Equally the selection of hubs and rims, if you want to build your own wheel.)
   + Front hubs are usually narrower than on big-wheelers: 74mm instead of 100mm. But there are still hub-dynamos available (e.g. from Dahon and from SON).
 - Even with the wheel-size fixed, there are still plenty of bikes types to choose from: highly portable ones like the Brompton, others which offer a better ride, but don't fold as well, and then those who don't fold at all, and thereby combine advantages of small-wheels with a one-piece frame. Many of the non-folders can also be packed up in very small packages (e.g. Bike Friday, Dahon P.A.Q.)
 - Recumbents and tricycles nowadays use also 20" wheels. (And recumbents are the fastest bikes on the planet.)
If you use your bike for daily transport (as opposed to sport or leisure), you'll notice that the small size (and the ability to fold the bike) increase your mobility a lot:
 - Partial folding reduces the parking space needed, e.g. fold the handlebars and pedals down when parking in a narrow in-doors hallway
 - Extra points if you have a Brompton: with one simple gesture the bike sits on its rack, takes very little space, and doesn't need a kick-stand. Getting the Brompton to sit is even faster then pulling a kick-stand down!
 - Keep your bike with you all the time. E.g. get a ride with friends and then still be able to bike home. Or take transit and bike the remainder of the way. Possibilities are endless and there's no need to plan ahead!
 - I usually ride the bike over long distances even if there is a subway I could take. The advantage of being able to take the subway back home, just in case, is the thing which matters. 
Too many people are unhappy with their bike because it's not useful enough, or they don't even have a bike, because conventional bikes don't seem useful enough. I will from now on offer free rides on my small-wheeled bicycles to advertise their advantages.


Seth said...

Why small bikes are a pain, they usually can not accommodate a normal derailleur!

Robert said...

No idea about that: my bike Bunny has a normal derailleur; Speedy has a normal gear hub, both parts are original from the big bike world!
What kind of frame did you have?

Are you also blogging about bikes?

Seth said...

I used to blog about my bikes but I just got to busy to keep it up!

I have a Dahon Speed D7, which has a proprietary Neos (SRAM) shifter and trust me, it shifts like crap! Other wise its a fine bike for commuting.


Robert said...

Oh, yes, the Neos... this construction looks so good on paper, tiny and tidy, I would like to try it out...

But I don't know much about dérailleurs since all my serious bikes use hub gears. Unfortunately they are not very common in America and Asia. In Germany even Dahon are selling half of their models with hub gears. Have you ever tried those?

Seth said...

If I had it to do over, I would of gone with a internal hub model, the Neos shifter is terrible. It skips and is hard to adjust. I will never use a bike with that type of shifter again!


Kate said...

What about small wheels on dirt trails and mud/large puddles, how does it handle going over those? (I'm looking forward to seeing if speedy is as good as you make him out to be, but is he not upset with you now that you have bunny?)

Robert said...

Kate, do you mean puddles as those on the way to our sailing club? That's what we have fenders for...
So far, Speedy has run over quite a bit of dirt (Toronto example: the belt-line trail) and also roots coming out of asphalt (Toronto example: the Don Valley Bike Path, DVB).

Anonymous said...

I love my twenty inch wheeled folder so much that I no longer use my "traditional" touring and mountain bikes too often. 700c and 26" wheels look silly and impractical to me now- Kind of like how people clung to high wheeled penny farthings when they were clearly obsolete once the safety bike was introduced. You don't need the mechanical leverage of a large diameter wheel when you can have any gear ratios you wish! Cars stopped having large diameter victorian wagon wheels 100 years ago.I will admit that I use my small wheeled bike mainly as a townie- for really long tours recumbants are the best, I feel.

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