The Ins and Outs of Road Bike Tires
Your tires (should be) the only contact between you and the road while you are riding your bike, so the type of tire you choose is super important. From tire width, to tread, and the rubber compound, the tires you choose to ride make a huge difference on how much traction you have while you’re riding and how fast you can go.
Parts of a Tire:
Selecting Road Bike Tires
Are you riding on paved surfaces? Good, then this is the right category for you. The first question you need to ask yourself when selecting tires is where will I be riding? Even if you are sticking to the road, your route and the surrounding terrain can make a big difference on the tire you select. For example, if you are planning a long-distance trip, you might choose a wider tire with a small amount of tread for comfort and grip, thicker sidewalls and tubeless capability for resistance to punctures, and a harder compound for durability. When you’re making tire selection decisions here are some of the things you want to think about:
- 23mm, 25mm, 28mm, 32mm
- Wider tires will provide more comfort, because you can run lower tire pressure without risking a pinch flat.
- In general, rolling resistance for each size tire should be about the same.
- Wider tires will have better traction and control.
- Narrower tires are more aerodynamic.
- Most racers are now moving to wider tires, switching over to 25mm from 23mm for standard road races.
Smooth: Smooth road tires will roll faster and offer good grip on smooth surfaces (like asphalt and concrete) because it offers a larger contact area to the ground
Treaded: Some road bike tires have a minimal amount of tread, these tires will also sometimes be thicker and heavier. These are good choices if you are riding long distances on rough roads or if you may encounter some gravel roads. Tires with larger knobs will give you more traction if you are riding on unpaved surfaces or very rough roads, but are not recommended if you are mostly riding on pavement. Tires with lots of tread can caused reduced grip when riding on smooth paved surfaces.
Type of Tire
Clincher - uses a bead that sits inside of the edge of the rim. Traditional clincher setups use a tube inside of the tire, which can be replaced quickly and easily, should you get a flat.
Tubeless - newer to road bikes, tubeless tires also have a bead that sits inside the edge of the rim but do not require a tube to inflate. Tubeless tires offer many benefits: lower tire pressure for increased comfort and grip, liquid sealant replaces tubes creating zero risk of pinch flats, and they are easy to maintain. Learn more about tubless systems HERE.
Tubular - used almost exclusively for racing because, without an inner tube, the tire is glued directly to the rim and must be used with tubular wheels. They are lightweight, and comfortable to ride, but expensive and hard to maintain.
In other words, what the tire is made of. Tires aren’t entirely made of natural rubber, they are a mixture of organic and inorganic polymers.
The compound you choose will be directly related to what you want to do on your bike. For touring, you want a compound that is durable, yet ads comfort. You’re not as concerned with rolling resistance. For racing, you’ll want a compound that is very elastic and efficient on the road. Some tires have a different compound in the center of the tire (faster rolling) and edges of the tire (grippy) to provide the best of both worlds.