Road Bike Tires Slick vs Tread

Last Updated on April 20, 2021

What’s the difference between slick tires and tread tires on road bikes?


Now, this is a question that keeps coming back to me, and with good reason.

Choosing the right set of tires doesn’t have to be a Herculean task, but it can be the difference between a good bike, and an awesome bike.

People have asked me “Alex, are slick tires faster?” and “Do tread tires give more grip?” and other variations of the old Slick vs Tread tires, and so I wanted to dispel some of the myths surrounding slick and tread tires so you can decide the best tires for your bike.

In order to select the best tire for your needs, we’re going to look at the differences between slick tires and tread tires, including how they measure up to important factors such as rolling resistance, traction, and speed on a bike.

In essence, a slick tire is narrower than a tread and contains no grooves or tread. The tread counterpart can come in a variety of tread patterns, deeper or shallower grooves, and is often wider.

Since both are used on road bikes, what are the advantages and disadvantages of each one, and which tire should I use?



Slick vs Tread tires

Before we decide which tire is best, let’s set out the major differences or similarities between a slick tire and a tread tire.

Slick Tires

Every aspect of a slick tire was designed to maximize speed, allowing racers to tear across the track at top velocity. This is why you will usually see racing cars and formula 1 sporting slick tires, but the effect is the same on bikes.

Here’s a myth buster:

Contrary to what a lot of people believe, the lack of grooves or tread in the tire means that there is actually more grip, not less. Slick tires offer better grip out on the road and less rolling resistance.

Slick tires are narrower, have a thick, smooth layer of rubber that is even across the whole wheel, and are great at offering speed, grip even on wet surfaces, and overall great performance tires.

Slick Tire Advantages

Faster– Whether or not you have a need for speed, you will still want a tire that offers the most efficiency when cycling, and slicks do not disappoint in this regard.

The fact that they have no tread at all means all the energy you put in pedaling on your bike, goes into driving force and getting you from A to B in a flash.

Without the bunch of grooves, there is more rubber in contact with the road, so the tires are able to grip more, taking you places much faster.

More grip, means less rolling resistance and friction, so there is nothing standing in your way of getting some real speed out on the road.

Better grip– I’ll say this once, and I’ll say it again- Slicks have more grip than Tread tires! Yes, you heard that right.

Anyone whos ever ridden even a racing car with slicks can tell you that the grip is insanely good. That’s because it comes down to how much rubber is in contact with the road.

When tires have grooves on them, where some parts are sticking out, there are chunks of rubber that are not in contact with the road. This means there is less grip than if the whole tire was smooth and flush against the road.

This is even the case both on dry surfaces and wet surfaces. The acceleration, braking, and cornering forces are equally distributed on the wheel, so you that little extra traction and less friction.

Higher resistance to punctures – Now, I bet you didn’t see this one coming, but slick tires are less likely to get punctures.

Let me explain

The slick tires’ main unique feature, that of having no grooves, makes it stronger against punctures.

This is because the rubber is thick and even across the whole tire. On a tread tire with grooves, there are thicker chunks, but inside the grooves, the rubber is much thinner and vulnerable.

On a slick tire, the tire offers thick rubber all the way around. So if a shard of glass stabs the tire, there are no weaker areas it can penetrate, and it will be more likely to just fall off as the wheel turns.


Slick Tire Disadvantages

Not so good on mud – This one is more of a general road bike disadvantage, but having slick tires gives a great grip on a strong unyielding surface such as a road. However, these tires won’t be as convenient if you were to use them on a mountain bike and you’re traveling on uneven ground or soft mud.

That being said, you can use slick tires on many different surfaces, even sand or snow, but soft ground such as mud requires tires with deep tread to cut into the ground.

If you’re using a road bike for general sports or for fun, this one shouldn’t affect you much.

Tread Tires

Tread tires are super common, as soon as you walk into a bike shop there will be an array of different treads and patterns, so you’d think they’d be the best choice right?

Wrong. Unlike popular belief, tread tires do not offer very good grip. Don’t be fooled by the little grooves on them that give the illusion of a better grip.

They’re usually slightly wider than slick tires and are made more popular by manufacturers.

Tread tire Advantages

Good for mountain bikes– To be honest there aren’t many advantages to having tread tires. Tread tires are much more useful on a mountain bike where you will encounter different uneven surfaces that require deep tread or to help you get grip on soft surfaces such as mud.

If you’re using tread tires on a road bike, the chance you will need this feature- next to never probably.

Tread tire Disadvantages

Slower- Having grooves in the tire can mean much more rolling resistance and an uneven balance for acceleration or braking.

In plain terms that means you will be going a little slower and make less efficient use of energy when you pedal. Most of that energy is simply not used and lost.

The wider tire and chunks of the tire in the tread mean it won’t be gripping the road fully, so you won’t reach the potential for speed that a slick tire can provide.

Bad grip – This is the biggest myth surrounding tread tires, and as we’ve seen, it’s more of a marketing ploy than scientific reality.

These tires do not have a good grip because of the grooves, the tire does not completely touch the tarmac. If 10% of the tire surface is tread, it will have a 10% smaller area that will be in contact with the tarmac as compared to slick tires.

Ironic isn’t it?!

Vulnerable to punctures – As we saw in slick tires, having different-sized rubber bits on the tread tire can make it easier to puncture.

If a shard of glass ends up hitting a thicker chunk on a tread tire, then that’s very convenient and lucky. However, if it happens to get stuck inside a groove, it won’t take much to penetrate the thin rubber and can even stay stuck inside the groove, further damaging the tire.

You may have even noticed this on your bike if you have tread tires, the puncture is always on the tread!


What about aquaplaning?

When people try to tell me that tread tires are better it’s usually for this reason. Remember when we said slick tires have a good grip on wet and dry surfaces? Well, this is the main difference between using slick tires on a car and on a bicycle.

Racing cars are the only cars to use slick tires for the obvious reasons of speed, grip etc. The reason we use tread tires on regular cars is because of the risk of aquaplaning- losing grip when there is water on the road.

However, this risk isn’t true for bikes. The difference in the wheel profile, bikes have a round profile which is different from a car’s flat profile, the increased pressure on the wheels of a bike, and the huge difference in speed mean that bikes don’t go fast enough to aquaplane.

That being said, you can rest assured that slick tires will maintain a strong grip whether on dry surfaces or on wet puddles which is a big contrast with cars.

Are Slick tires better than Tread tires?

The answer to that question is a big YES. Slick tires are much more convenient on road bikes.

They maintain a good grip and give you better speed. In addition to this, they work really well on both dry and wet surfaces, unlike their treaded counterparts.

“Why isn’t everyone using them?!” you may ask. Not many people know about slick tires, especially with the myth that tread = grip.

With tread tires being kings of the tire industry, you’re likely to be seeing them for a while. But now you know about both of these tires, which ones will you use?

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