Shopping for the right bike tires can seem overwhelming. The selection of brands is large and diverse, and choosing the wrong ones can significantly impact the quality of your ride and your bike’s performance. How do you know what kind of tread to get or whether to go tubeless? This article provides an overview of the types of bike tires and the variations within them. Get familiar with your options before you commit to buying.
Types of Bike Tires by Bike
Tire size is determined by width and diameter. Diameter and width affect speed and stability. For example, a larger diameter tire will go faster but will be less stable. A wider tire is slower but more stable. Choosing the right tire is typically a compromise between the two. However, the first step is to look for the tire that fits your type of bike.
Commuter Bike Tires
Commuter bikes, or urban bikes, are heavier than road bikes and are most often used for short to long rides between work and home or on errands. Commuter bike tires are typically light on the tread and wider for more comfort. Urban riders most often prefer a tire with more volume and puncture protection to keep them moving when on a schedule. They often sacrifice stability for speed. College students might need a bit more tread to get across different kinds of terrain as they bounce from road to grass.
Road Bike Tires
Slim, slick, and high pressure are generally what you can expect from road bike tires. Road bikes are designed for smooth surfaces, such as asphalt and pavement. The texture is not of the utmost importance because road conditions are fairly predictable. However, you might want a bit more tread for seasons with inclement weather.
Mountain Bike Tires
Mountain bikes have the most varied among the types of bike tires. They are used for an array of conditions and come in many sizes. Riders that prefer easier bike paths with few obstacles will not need the same type of tire compared to riders that like a hilly off-road adventure with many bumps. However, all mountain bike tires are often wider than the standard tire and have a more aggressive tread pattern.
Fat tires are often used on mountain bikes. They are wider, thicker, and have deep treads for better grip. The appeal of fat tires is that they can be ridden on basically any terrain:
- Heavy snow and ice.
- Sandy beaches and dunes.
- Wet stone.
- Muddy bike paths.
They handle steep hills better and are designed with built-in suspension, which allows you to ride them in comfort with lower tire pressure.
Cyclocross tires are best categorized as a hybrid of mountain and road bike tires. They are used for riding on gravel, therefore they have two types of tread, more shallow in the middle for less rolling resistance and deeper on the outside to help maneuver the bike on gravel. These are also good for road bikes that are used on tougher roads.
Types of Tires by Features
Bike tires come in a variety of features. As always, the features you need depend on how you intend to use your bike.
- Foldable tires contain an aramid-fiber bead that allows them to fold. Travelers prefer these because they are easily carried along and are lightweight.
- Puncture-resistant tires either have a belt of aramid fibers or thicker rubber to make them resistant to punctures. These are popular with commuters because they last longer and have fewer flats.
- Tubeless tires allow you to ride on lower pressure. Because they do not have tubes, you need special rims. You can also buy a kit that converts your standard tires and rims to tubeless, but the process is lengthy.
- Studded tires have studs on the treads to create better traction in the winter on snow and ice.
- Tubular tires have the tube sewn into the tire and are typically glued to the rim.
- Clincher tires resemble car tires in that they are open on the bottom and clinch to the rim.
A feature that all bike tires have is the valve. Your rim will either be drilled for a Schrader or a Presta valve. You can fit a Presta valve in the Schrader hole with a little extra room, but you need an adapter for the other way around.
Types of Tread
Tread is made up of grooves along the entire length of the tire and is used to increase traction. Some tires need extensive treading and others, known as slick tires, need none at all. Below is a more in-depth look and the types of tread available how they are used.
Mountain Bike Tread
Tread patterns are a vital component of mountain bike tires. They come in a variety of depths and are chosen based on the rider’s preferred riding style. If you prefer dirt trails that are hard-packed or paved, you may need a shallow tread with short knobs along the side to help you take corners carefully. For slightly more precarious surfaces, you need knobs that are longer to help you avoid sliding. Wet surfaces need knobs with more space between them to help you move through the mud more efficiently.
Road Tire Tread
Road tires almost always have no tread. These are the slick tires that you need to navigate smooth surfaces quickly. They support speed and less resistance, and traction comes from the level of rubber softness. If you are riding in the rain, road tires typically just push the water to the side of the wheel. If they have any tread, it is usually the same shape running consistently around the tire.
You also have the option to put tires with different types of tread on your bike. This is common among mountain bikers. Deep tread in the front creates more traction and stability, while a slick tire in the back generates more speed.
Choosing the Right Size
All the personalizing is found in the width and features, but there is no preference in diameter. The type of bike that you have determines the right diameter of your wheel. You can find the exact correct number on the rim or look at the old tire.
Choosing the right width is different. You have to consider several components:
- Looking at the brand of stock tires and fork originally on your bike matters because even the same size can vary by manufacturer.
- Consider the space needed for the wheel and frame flex and clearance for fenders and mud.
- If your bike has caliper brakes, consider the space you need for your stoppers.
You have to factor in the intended use for your bike as well when considering width. A slim tire is better for smooth rides and a wider tire is better for bumpy paths.
Once you find the right tires and start enjoying your bike, remember to look for signs that it is time to replace them. Mountain bike tires need replacing when they show signs of damaged or missing knobs and sidewalls. Road bike tires will have cuts or embedded debris. Find a bike shop that will dispose of them in an environmentally friendly way.
For more information on finding the right tires for your bike, turn to the cycling enthusiasts at BikeLVR.