Translation of this article (earlier version):
Note: this article is about how to measure rims for tires. We have another article which describes how to measure rims for spokes.
What size tire do you need to buy for your bicycle? There are so many different tire sizes and different systems for marking tire sizes that have been used over the years that this is often a serious problem, especially for older bicycles.
We have a major article on this web site explaining the different tire sizing systems. Whenever possible, you should try to match your new tire to the old tire, using the ISO/E.T.R.T.O. size number, if it is marked on the tire or rim.
If the ISO/E.T.R.T.O. size number matches, it means the tire will fit on the rim. Tires are also designated for different widths, but you can interchange tires of different widths as long as you match the ISO/E.T.R.T.O. size number and the widths are not wildly out of line.
But what do you do if you don't have the original tire, or if the markings are not legible? All is not lost! If you have a tape measure, you can measure the rim to determine the ISO/E.T.R.T.O. Bead Seat Diameter. You can measure either the diameter or the circumference.
The rim's diameter will generally be 5-10 mm larger than the ISO/E.T.R.T.O. bead-seat diameter, depending on how high the rim flanges stick up above the bottom of the rim channel.
Lay your measuring tape or ruler across the rim from one side to the other. Get the largest measurement, between two points directly opposite one another. Slide one end of the tape back and forth along the rim until the measurement is largest. Measure across a few different diameters and take the average, in case the rim isn't quite round. (If it's way out of round, don't use it. If it's a millimaeter or two out of round, the spokes will fix that.)
Next you get out your pocket calculator or smartphone app, or if you attended elementary school before such things existed, you could use a paper and pencil. As an example, the measured diameter of the rim shown in the photo is 20 7/8 inches, or 20.875 inches. Multiplying by 25.4 gives the diameter in millimeters, 530 mm.
The table below gives common (and uncommon) rim sizes with the corresponding bead seat circumference dimensions. 530 mm is the outside diameter, and the ISO/E.T.R.T.O. diameter is a few millimeters smaller, so this is a 520 mm rim.
If you are working with an empty rim, it is easiest to measure the diameter, but if you have a built-up wheel, the hub will get in the way of the tape measure, making it difficult to get an accurate measurement. For a built-up wheel, it is easier to measure the rim's circumference. It may also be helpful to take a circumference measurement to confirm that the diameter measurement was correct.
Instructions on measuring using the circumference are below the table.
|Traditional Designation||Applications/Notes||ISO Bead Seat Diameter||Bead Seat Circumference
|36 inch||Mostly unicycles||787 mm||2472 mm||97.3 inches|
|32 inch||Mostly unicycles||686 mm||2155 mm||84.8 inches|
|28 x 1 1/2, 700 B||English, Dutch, Chinese, Indian Rod-brake roadsters
(Also marked F10, F25, 700 B)
|635 mm||1995 mm||78.5 inches|
|27 x anything
except "27 five" and rare Danish 27 x 1 1/2
|Older road bikes, went out of fashion in the early 1980s||630 mm||1979 mm||77.9 inches|
|700 C, 28 x 1 5/8, 29 inch
(28 x 1 1/2 F.13 Canada)
|Most newer adult bikes for road use use this size, including most road bikes and hybrids. 29 inch are fat tires, same rim diameter. Also 700C tubular.||622 mm||1954 mm||76.9 inches|
|27 x 1 1/2||Rare Danish size||609 mm||1913 mm||75.3 inches|
|26 x 1.25, x 1.375||Very Rare U.S. size, 1940s and older. Not available.||599 mm||1881 mm||74.1 inches|
|26 x 1 1/4 EA.1,
26 x 1 3/8 (S-6), 650
|Schwinn "lightweights", older English "club" bikes||597 mm||1875 mm||73.8 inches|
|26 x 1 3/8 (E.A.3), 650 A||Most 3-speeds except Schwinn; department-store or juvenile 10 speeds||590 mm||1853 mm||73.0 inches|
|700 D, 26" tubular||Oddball size formerly used on some GT models. Not available. 590 mm or 584 mm tires may work. Also, older Mavic 26" tubulars||587 mm||1844 mm||72.6 inches|
|650B, 26 x 1 1/2,
26" tubular, "27 five"
|French utility bikes, tandems, and loaded-touring bikes; some mountain bikes.This size is currently undergoing something of a renaissance. "27 five" are fat MTB tires. Some 26" tubulars.||584 mm||1834 mm||72.2 inches|
|26 x 1, 650 C,
|Triathlon, time-trial, high-performance road bikes for smaller riders. Some 26" tubulars.||571 mm||1793 mm||70.6 inches|
|26 x 1 3/4||Schwinn cruisers|
|26 x 1.00- x 2.125,
and wider on fatbikes
|Most mountain bikes, cruisers, fatbikes||559 mm||1756 mm||69.1 inches|
|24 x 1 1/4, 24 x 1 3/8 (S-5)||Rare British or Schwinn juvenile||547 mm||1718 mm||67.7 inches|
|600A||French juvenile, very close to the nearest British size.||541 mm||1699 mm||66.9 inches|
|24 x 1 1/8, 24 x 1 3/8 (E.5)||British juvenile, most wheelchairs. French 600A is 541 mm, close enough. Saavedra 25" tubular||540 mm||1696 mm||66.8 inches|
|24 x 1, 24 x 1 1/8,
|High-performance wheels for smaller riders; Terry front, most 24" tubulars.||520 mm||1633 mm||64.3 inches|
|24 x 1.5- x 2.125||Juvenile mountain bikes, BMX cruisers||507 mm||1593 mm||62.7 inches|
|22 x 1 3/8||Wheelchair||501 mm||1573 mm||62.0 inches|
|550 A, 22 x 1 3/8||European juvenile, folding bicycles||490 mm||1539 mm||60.6 inches|
|550C, 22 x 1 1/4",
|European juvenile and racing bicycles (rare); 22" tubular||470 mm||1477 mm||58.1 inches|
|22 x 1.75; x 2.125||Rare juvenile size...Schwinn||457 mm||1436 mm||56.5 inches|
|20 x 1 1/8; x 1 1/4; x 1 3/8||Juvenile lightweights, BMX for light riders, some recumbents, Bike Friday Pocket Rocket||451 mm||1417 mm||55.8 inches|
|500 A||European juvenile, folding||440 mm||1382 mm||54.4 inches|
|20 x 1 3/4, 20" tubular||Rare Schwinn juvenile, specialty racing bicycles, older Easy Racers recumbents||419 mm||1316 mm||51.8 inches|
|20 x 1.5- x 2.125||Most BMX, juvenile, folders, trailers, some recumbents||406 mm||1275 mm||50.2 inches|
|18 x 1, 18 x 1 3/8||Wheelchair||400 mm||1257 mm||49.5 inches|
|450 A||European juvenile||390 mm||1225 mm||48.2 inches|
|17 x 1 1/4, 18" tubular||Alex Moulton AM series, 18" tubular for specialty racing bicycles.||369 mm||1159 mm||45.6 inches|
|18 x 1.5- x 2.125||Birdy folding bikes||355 mm||1115 mm||43.9 inches|
|16 x 1 3/8||Older Moulton, Brompton & other folders, recumbent front, Greenspeed trikes, juvenile||349 mm||1096 mm||43.2 inches|
|400 A||European juvenile||340 mm||1068 mm||42.1 inches|
|16 x 1 3/8||Very rare mystery tire||337 mm||1059 mm||41.7 inches|
|16 x 1 3/8||Very rare Polish juvenile||335 mm||1052 mm||41.4 inches|
|16 x 1 3/4||Rare Schwinn juvenile. Probably the same rim diameter as 16" tubulars.||317 mm||996 mm||39.2 inches|
|16 x 1.75- x 2.125||Juvenile, folders, trailers, some recumbents||305 mm||958 mm||37.7 inches|
|12 1/2 X anything.||Juvenile, scooters, trailers.||203 mm||638 mm||25.1 inches|
|10 x 2||Wheelchair casters||152 mm||478 mm||18.8 inches|
|8 x 1 1/4||Wheelchair casters||137 mm||431 mm||16.9 inches|
You may measure the circumference of a rim by wrapping a measuring tape all the way around the rim. You derive the diameter from the circumference.
A narrow, metal tape measure -- 1/4 inch or 6 mm wide -- will fit into the well of the rim. (A wide metal tape measure won't fit into the well of the rim and and won't curve smoothly around the rim.)
Don't trust a fabric measuring tape as used in fitting clothing. This kind is usually inaccurate, because the fabric stretches.
Use the metal tape measure as shown in the image below.
Here are the steps to measure using the circumference:
If you don't have a narrow tape measure, you could wrap a length of thin, flexible electrical wire or bicycle cable inner wire around the rim, mark two places on the wire which line up with one another, lay the piece out flat and measure the distance between the two marks.
Our example rim is a hook-edge rim without clearly-defined bead seats, so we'll measure from the well (but not the bottom of the recessed spoke holes) to the outside of the rim and then subtract twice the typical flange height. Our highly-sophisticated tool for this task is a bicycle spoke. We are also using a small ruler as a bridge across the rim flanges. Holding the spoke with a thumbnail against the ruler gives us a good enough measurement for our purposes.
The measurement can be transferred to the ruler:
Now, calculating, the circumference of the well measured as 64 1/8 inches, (64.125 inches). Multiplying by 25.4 gives 1629 mm; then dividing by pi (3.142) the diameter is 518.5mm. 16mm additional (twice the depth of the well) gives 534 mm, but the bead seat diameter is be about 10 mm smaller, and this is a 520 mm rim.
This article has featured common, inexpensive and improvised tools. More sophisticated tools such as a caliper with a depth gauge can make the work go faster.
Measuring rims involves some elementary-school or pocket-calculator math. Sheldon quoted Robert Heinlein at the end of the article:
--Robert A. Heinlein
More about that quote. OK, so Heinlein (actually, a character in one of his books) said that, and Sheldon quoted that, but anyone who cannot accept that other people have different abilities and educational opportunities shows an unfortunate lack of compassion! -- John Allen, whose wife teaches immigrants who never got to attend school in their countries of origin.
But also there's this:
I'm hoping that this article provides an easy guide to some practical math, and helps to dispel math anxiety. Also, a longer discussion of the Einstein quote is online, in case you're interested...