HOW TO CHOOSE BICYCLE TIRES – BUYERS GUIDE

Shaun George BOTS Guides, Commute, E-commerce, Mechanics, Tips & Tricks

Your tires are one of the most important elements of your bike – they’re what connect you to the ground. It’s important that they be durable, grip well, and help you move along quickly. Whether you’re building up your bike for the first time or just need a new pair, this guide will help you figure out what you should be looking for when you pick out a tire.

Wear and tear is inevitable when it comes to components. Especially when it comes to tires. If you think about it, your bicycle tires are always under constant pressure and friction when riding. They’re bound to wear out at some point. When they do, you’ll need to change them to prevent further damage.

When you are in the market for new tires, you’ll have a bunch of options – you might want to make upgrades for better speed, durability or simply all-around performance. This article will help you know when it’s time to get new tires and how and why you’ll need new tires.

WORN OUT TIRES; WHY BOTHER?

First, let’s go through some indicative signs that indicate your tires are worn out.

  1. Your tread edges are noticeably worn down and you’re getting a lot of flats
  2. Rubber is beginning to crack or flake off of the knobs or sidewalls
  3. Your wear indicators—typically one or two small dimples that begin to disappear (not all tires have wear indicators).

Now you might ask, why bother changing the tires? A worn-out tire is unsafe for multiple reasons:

  1. You lose a considerable amount of tread – this basically means that you lose traction.
  2. Worn out tires are also highly vulnerable to punctures.
  3. A tube may burst when riding causing a crash.
  4. A worn-out tire is also less efficient and may actually slow you down.

WHAT KIND OF TIRE DO I NEED?

ROAD BIKE TIRES

A road bike tire is more complex and intricate than most people would think. Tires consist of multiple different layers – each has its own function. The differences in how tires are constructed determine ride quality and the price range of the tire as the more features it has, the more complex it is to manufacture.

Almost all road bikes have a 700mm outer diameter, with widths starting at 23mm. Most road tire widths are less than 30mm, but you can also find tires as wide as 32-45mm on bikes intended for gravel roads. The most common tire width for a road bike these days is a 25mm (25C). Even professional racers these days use 25mm tires as these offer a good blend of performance and comfort.

Road bike tires have almost no tread present at all. This is in order to increase rolling and reduce friction.

To know more about road tires in detail, read our ROAD BIKE TIRES – BUYERS GUIDE

HYBRID BIKE TIRES

A hybrid/commuter bike tire is one that is specifically designed for tough urban conditions; with a higher volume than normal road tires – to provide grip and more importantly comfort, as well as puncture prevention under the tread, to help ward off any punctures.

Most hybrid bikes also use the same road bike specification of a 700mm outer wheel diameter. They do, however, vary in widths when compared to a road bike. They’re usually in the range of 32-40mm widths. As hybrids are more comfort-oriented, 32mm tires and wider are a common sight these days. Hybrid bike tires also have knobbier treads to handle some amount of off-roading. Overall grip is also enhanced thanks to this.

To know more about hybrid tires in detail, read our HYBRID BIKE TIRES – BUYERS GUIDE

MOUNTAIN BIKE TIRES

Outer tire diameters on MTB’s usually vary between 26″,27.5″ and 29″. Widths also vary considerably for different Mountain biking disciple. Raining from 1.9″ to 5″.

  • Cross-country bikes: 1.9″ to 2.3″ wide.
  • Trail and all-mountain bikes: 2.3″ to 2.5″ wide.
  • Downhill bikes: up to 2.5″ wide.

MTB tires come in a bunch of varieties. Some having different tread and knob patterns, others featuring different compounds and having the ability to be tubeless-ready. The pros usually opt for a tubeless setup when racing and in other competitions. Doing so lets you run lower tire pressures for more traction without worrying about flats. MTB tires also come in a variety of tread pattern options. Wider more prominent blocks on tires provide more traction but slower rolling. Tires with closer spaced blocks and minimal height are great for XC or light trails.

To know more about MTB tires in detail, read our MOUNTAIN BIKE TIRES – BUYERS GUIDE

EVERYTHING TIRES

SIZE

  • Bicycle tires come in a variety of sizes now a days. 26er, 29er, 650b, 700c etc are some of the common sizes now a days.
  • The size of the bicycle tire that you  could choose from depends on the circumference of the wheel (or rims) that you have on your bike.
  • The easiest way to find the size of your bicycle tire is to look at the sidewall of the tire that came installed on your bike. It would  appear in a format similar to this – 26×1.75, 29×2.25, 700x25c etc. The number before the ‘x’ will give you and indication of your tire size.

WIDTH

  • Most of the wheels on modern bicycles are capable of taking a wide range of widths once you figure out the size of your tire based on the above information.
  • On a tire, the width is specified on its sidewall where the size of the tire is mentioned. Eg. – If the tire has its dimensions as 26×2.25, the number after the ‘x’ specifies the width of the tire.
  • Road bike tires generally come in 23c or 25c dimensions, commute and touring tires range from 28c to 38c and mountain bike rims can generally take widths ranging from 1.5 to 2.5 inch widths.
  • The smaller the width of the tire, the lesser the rolling resistance. Tires with wider widths provide more grip and a more comfortable ride since they are more forgiving to being ridden at lower pressures, hence making the ride more cushy.

TREAD

  • Knobby tires – Tires with bigger tread blocks are suitable for terrain and riding styles where grip becomes a crucial factor (Eg- Trail riding and mountain biking). Such tires have a higher rolling resistance and are not suitable for long distance riding and commuting. Eg – Schwalbe Black Jack, Schwalbe Smart Sam etc
  • Semi-slick tires – These tires have lesser treads compared to knobby tires and  hence offer lesser rolling resistance making while a slight compromise on the grip provided. Ideal for city riding, commuting and touring. Eg – Schwalbe Road Cruiser, Schwalbe Marathon Plus etc
  • Slick tires – Tires that fall in this category have minimal or no tread pattern on them. These tires are generally suited for instances where speed is a crucial factor and grip is not a major issue. The lack of tread on these tires leads to a very low rolling resistance, hence making them an ideal choice for road bikes. However, one could also use them on their hybrids as commute tires Eg – Schwalbe Lugano

PUNCTURE PROTECTION

  • Flat protection becomes a crucial factor in certain cases and can play an important role in picking the right tire for your bike. For people who frequently hit the trails, having a tire with good flat protection can make the difference in between having a fun filled ride or a ride spent fixing flats for most of the time.
  • Generally, basic tires come with very minimal protection from road and trail debris (glass, thorns, sharp stones, nails). However, as we move up in the price range, flat protection is one thing that keeps improving throughout.
  • Tire manufacturers these days use composite rubber compounds to give added strength to their tires. Some manufacturers also use compounds like Kevlar to reinforce their tires and make them more resistant to road debris.
  • Now a days, there are many tubless and tubless ready options available in the market for trail riders who frequent routes that have a lot of harsh terrain and riding conditions.
  • Also, using a tire liner is an inexpensive way to provide added puncture protection to your tires. But do make sure you choose the correct tire liner based on your tire dimensions.

WEIGHT

  • The weight of a tire becomes a crucial factor when one is competing and racing at some level since lower weights mean that its easier for the rider to change momentum and accelerate, not so otherwise.
  • Factors like durability, flat protection etc play a more important role if you happen to be a recreational rider.

Why are some tires more expensive compared to others?

  • A lot of times we are left wondering why there is such a wide range of pricing associated with tires! Well, a lot of it has to do with the above-mentioned parameters. As the price of the tire goes higher, one does get superior flat protection, lower rolling resistance and in many cases, an added weight advantage.
  • Some tires also come as foldable tires. This makes the tire easier to transport compared to the non-folding tires.
  • A good quality tire goes a long way in making the riding experience more enjoyable, comfortable and hassle-free. So it is very important to choose the right kind of tire based on one’s needs and not focus too much on the cost aspect associated with it.

Foldable bike tires– A big reason to get a foldable tire is to save weight. It can be folded up, storing and carrying the tire becomes easy. Available for both mountain and road bikes, foldable tires are usually more expensive than standard wire beaded tires.

Tire thread count casing (TPI): TPI (thread counts per inch)is often a specification you see written on the outside of the tires packaging. The TPI of a tire is in the structural layer that underlies the external rubber layer on your tires—this has the greatest impact on road tires, where tire pressures are higher. Thread counts might range from 60 TPI up to 320 TPI in high-performance tires.


A good tire is the most important addition you can make to upgrade your ride and comfort. A fresh pair of tires will not only improve that but also the efficiency with which you cycle. From a safety perspective too, having a nice grippy bit of rubber underneath you is always a good thing. Choose the kind of tire according to your intended riding style.

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