Photo by David Niddrie
Rubber to the Road(From top to bottom) Hutchinson Serenity Urban Tour, Fyxation Session, Rubena City Hopper, Bontrager h2, Continental Comfort Contact, Schwalbe Big Apple, Vittoria Voyager, CST Ciudad, Kenda Karvs, Panaracer Pasela, Hutchinson Low Rider
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.
“When it comes to tires and you’re riding out in the street, you’re going to want something you can depend on,” Sosa says. “That’s where everything starts on a bike: tires.” And since it’s your tires that are keeping you moving, flat protection is a major factor you should consider when it’s time to replace them.
Several tire manufacturers have developed different materials and technologies to provide flat protection and high-mileage wear on their tires. Continental, Schwalbe, Hutchinson, and Rubena all offer tires equipped with strong synthetic fibers known as aramids, the most common of which is Kevlar, the same material used in bulletproof vests.
What do all those numbers and markings mean?
Tire dimensions: This set of numbers defines the dimensions of a tire. This number will be listed as 700x(Y) or 26x(Y). The first number states the outside diameter of the tire, usually 700c or 26 inches, though there are other sizes including 650b and 29 inches. The second number in the set defines the width of the tire, measured in millimeters or inches.
PSI/ BAR: This is the tire’s pressure rating; it tells you how much air to put in your tire. Narrow tires generally run at a higher inflation pressure for minimal rolling resistance. The added volume of wider tires allows them to run at lower pressures with less risk of pinch flats and rim damage because the tire and air inside can absorb more of the impact. Maximum and minimum tire pressures are listed in psi (pounds per square inch) as well as Bars.
→: This arrow indicates the direction the tire should roll so that the tread is facing in the right direction.
How do you know when it’s time to replace your tires?
“When I recommend new tires, it’s because there are skid patches, punctures from glass, or the threads are showing. Sometimes there are a bunch of thorns – too many to take out, so it’s best just to replace the tire,” said Sosa.
If you see any of these signs of wear, it’s time to replace your rubbers:
- Uneven wear in the rubber
- Threads or wire bead showing
- Cracked or split sidewalls
- Significant punctures that will allow debris into your tire
- Tube is visible through the tire – replace immediately!
Krista Carlson commutes on her fixie and plays bike polo in Los Angeles. She loves pizza, sugar and showing visitors the “real L.A.” Catch up with her at kryxtanicole.com.