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Road Bike Tire Basics

If you ride your road bike far enough or often enough, sooner or later you’re going to have to replace worn tires. Thinking about trying bike commuting? You might want to consider installing wider tires with more tread and a measure of puncture protection. Or, maybe your bike came with relatively wide and heavy tires and you’re looking to lighten things up a bit with a narrower, high-performance variety. Whatever the case, you’ll find a dizzying assortment of choices available when it comes to selecting new road bike tires. Find Road Tires »

Road Tire

Tire Sizes

Determining what size and type of tires are already on your bike is a good starting point for choosing replacements. Relevant information, including the tire’s size and recommended pressure can usually be found printed on its sidewall. Your road bike tire will most likely be a 700x23, 700x25 or 700x28, with 700 being the tire’s diameter and the second number referring to its width in millimeters. Bikes sized specifically for women will sometimes be equipped with 650mm rims, which - no surprise - require 650mm tires. As long as you replace your existing tires with tires of the same diameter, you can generally choose a wider or narrower width to suit your intended purpose. The exception to this generalization would be instances where a particular frame may be too narrow for extremely wide tires. If in doubt, check the fit of your existing tires to determine how much additional frame clearance you have on either side of the tire.

Selecting a Width

Distinguished by their large diameters and smooth tread patterns, road bike tires come in a variety of widths  including narrow 20mm race models, 28mm varieties suitable for training or commuting, and 35mm tires for commuting and cyclocross. In general, narrower tires roll faster and more easily, but at the expense of comfort. Conversely, wider tires have more rolling resistance, but provide a more comfortable ride. The type of riding you do will determine which width is the best choice for your needs.

Road Tire Widths

Wide Tires

  • Use wider tires (25-28mm) for training, where extra traction, comfort and durability are desirable
  • Wider tires are popular with commuters because they resist pinch flats, protect the rim from damage, have lower rolling resistance, and deliver a smoother ride on rough roads
  • For maximum grip, run wide tires at the lowest pressure possible

Narrow Tires

  • The top choice of riders who want to go fast
  • Can be run at higher pressure (up to 160psi on some models), for less rolling resistance
  • 23mm tires are the most popular size for training and racing
  • 20mm and narrower tires are fast and lightweight, but produce a less comfortable ride than wider tires

Threads Per Inch (TPI)

Bicycle tire casings are made of cloth consisting of non-woven strands of nylon or other material arranged in plies. The more threads per inch a tire’s casing has, the thinner and more supple its sidewall and the lighter the tire.

High Thread Count Tires

  • Tires with tpi of over 100 are more supple and puncture-resistant
  • Best choice for fast riding and racing
  • Can be run at higher pressures for lower rolling resistance

Low Thread Count Tires

  • Low thread count tires (less than 100 tpi) are durable and economical
  • Thicker sidewalls make them more resistant to cuts
  • Heavier than tires with high thread count

Bead

The bead is the portion of the tire that holds it in place on the rim. A thin cord of woven steel or aramid fiber extending around the inner circumference on both sides of the tire, the bead hooks under the lip of the rim, securing the tire tightly.

Folding Bead Tires

  • Lighter than wire bead tires
  • Can be folded for easy transport and compact storage
  • Usually more expensive than wire bead tires
  • Can be harder to mount than wire bead tires, especially when new
  • Used for racing and when lowest weight is desired

Wire Bead Tires

  • Wire bead tires hold their shape even when not mounted
  • Usually less expensive and easier to mount than folding bead tires
  • Excellent for training due to their low cost and ease of mounting

Tread Compounds

The composition of the tread determines how well a tire grips the road, how easily it rolls and how well it resists wear. The major component of tread compounds is butyl rubber, with various additives imparting specific performance attributes.

Carbon Black Compounds

  • Carbon compounds impart durability
  • Not as sticky as synthetic compounds
  • Suitable for resistance trainer use

Silica and Other Synthetic Compounds

  • Can be engineered for a variety of desirable attributes
  • Good traction
  • Not recommended for trainer use due to their poor heat dissipation properties

Multi-Compound Tires

  • The best of both worlds - A hard compound in the center tread enhances durability; a softer compound on the sides provides more grip in the corners

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