Photo by David Niddrie
Finding the right tires for your ride doesn’t have to be complicated.
Even though there are quite a few variables to consider, once you assess the style of riding you do and the type of bicycle you ride, the choice can be fairly simple. From slicks to knobbies and those many treads in between, getting rolling on the right style of tire can actually improve your ride experience.
Width, tread and puncture protection all have an impact on how smoothly your bike will sail down the road. The first thing for you to know is that different styles of bikes have different sizes of tire. In general, road bikes will run on larger 700c-sized rims that accommodate large but narrow tires, while mountain, cruiser and comfort bikes will typically use 26-inch rims paired with smaller but wider tires.
Treads – from Slick to Knobby
“Usually people come in with mountain bike knobbies and they say ‘What kind of tires do I need for the street?’” says Manny Sosa of El Maestro Bicycle Shop in Los Angeles. “We show them our slick tires. Some people go for the hybrid, with knobs on the outside, because it’s nice to have some extra grip on the edges of your tires.”
Completely smooth tires, known as slicks, provide consistent contact with the road and are best for asphalt riding where the surface will be mostly flat. If you ride on mixed terrain, such as dirt, gravel and even grass, then a hybrid-style tire, also called a semi-slick as it often has smaller knobs designed for harder surfaces, may be ideal. Knobby tires are designed for traction in loose dirt and mud and are excellent for dedicated trail riding, though less suitable for the average city commute.
Width – from Skinny to Fat
The maximum width of your tire depends on what your frame and rims can accommodate. Road and track frames provide minimal clearance between your frame and rims, being designed to run thin tires in the 23–25 mm range to decrease rolling resistance. Touring, cyclocross and commuter frames allow for greater tire clearance, allowing the use of wider tires that are better suited to heavier loads and can improve comfort on bumpier rides.
Based on the size of the tire, the width will appear in different measurements. In general, 700c tires are available in 23–28 mm widths, while 26-inch tires will typically be between 1.5″ and 2.0″ wide. Wider tires, anywhere from 32–45 mm and 2.5″ plus, are also available. They provide more contact with the road and greater stability. Wider tires can also be run at lower pressures without the risk of pinch flats, although the lower pressure creates a higher rolling resistance (meaning it will take more pedal power to get you going).
Protection from Pointy Things
To make tires less susceptible to punctures from thorns, glass and other road debris, many manufacturers are adding some form of puncture protection to their tires. Though it makes the tire marginally heavier, the difference in weight is negligible and you probably won’t notice it, unless you are racing.