Road Bike Tires With Tread

Last Updated on June 21, 2021
written by Cycle expert Alex Bristol
Topics we've covered

Road Bike Tires With Tread

Have you ever taken your car to the garage and got told you need to change your tires as they have no tread?

Bike tires obviously get worn out and need to be changed too, but the effect of tread just isn’t the same as on a car.

I’ve often been asked, what difference does the tread make, if any, on a road bike tire?

I like to experiment with different tires for my bike and that includes different tread depths. Since tires are kind of the main component of your bike, it’s good to know what you’re getting into.

There are so many different tread depths, and patterns, all sorts of grooves and designs, how much can they affect your bike’s performance?

 

A Bit About Treads:

There’s so much that makes a good tire including the beads, the casing, the right size, and also the tread.

Since the outside of the tire is what comes into direct contact with the ground, tread affects the way the tire grips the ground.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. More tread equals more grip, right?

Not necessarily.

Unlike cars, bikes don’t need tread to have a grip on the road. In fact, slick tires, or smooth ones with no tread, offer the best grip out of all the bike tires, with the extra benefit of speed.

That’s because the more contact the tire has on the road, the stronger the grip. For instance, if 10% of the tire are grooves on the tread, that 10% is not in contact with the road. That means 10% less grip.

Road bikes are designed to be cycled on the road, or a hard, smooth surface like tarmac. In this case, you won’t need tires with any tread, you’ll find you can go a lot faster and with a lot less rolling resistance with slick tires.

That being said, the tread can still come in useful depending on the type of ground you cycle on, and the kind of weather conditions. Let me explain.

 

Types Of Tread

Sub-Tread: Sub-Treads are very common on tires that need extra protection against puncture.

Not all tires have a sub-tread, it could be simply an extra layer of nylon under the tread in the tire that helps prevent sharp objects from puncturing the tube.

This is a good example of when tread can come in handy if you’re looking for extra protection against punctures. The downside is they weigh slightly more.

Tread: The piece of rubber that meets the road is known as the tread. Having tread on-road tires means extra weight and more wear.

You need to strike a balance between a smooth ride and durability.

Harder rubber lasts for a longer time while the softer rubber results in a better grip around the corners. You can also find tires with both of these qualities. These dual compound tires have excellent traction and are super durable.

 

How To Pick The Right Tread For Your Road Bike

When you have a bike, you’re going to be riding in n a variety of conditions, and maybe even terrains. Having the right tread can help you stay safe and get the most out of your bike.

Dry conditions:

If you’re cycling in dry conditions, on hard surfaces such as roads, you pretty much don’t need tread. Racing cars and racing bikes don’t use tread as you can actually get a better grip and higher speed without it.

That being said, some tires may have a very smooth tread, and that works fine too. Personally, I like to use slicks if I know I’ll be riding out on a sunny day.

Wet conditions:

Here comes the major difference between the tread on cars and on bikes. Cars need tread to avoid hydroplaning and skidding across the puddles when it’s raining.

Bikes don’t.

Bikes have a much smaller tire, therefore a much smaller contact point on the road. This combined with their increased pressure and low speed means they won’t hydroplane. Even with slicks.

The best type of tire you can buy to increase your grip on a slippery road would simply be a wider tire. More rubber in contact with the ground so more grip, with a very light tread or grooving.

Mountain bikes:

This is the only time where tread can be pretty important. Mountain bikes are usually ridden across uneven ground, and maybe even rocky or gravel surfaces.

Having chunky tread in this case can help protect against punctures and help you grip where the road isn’t smooth.

Tread can also come in handy when you need to cut into the ground, such as in mud. The blocks or chunks of rubber can help you to dig into the ground and grip more.

When considering how much tread you want on your bike tires, think about what kind of bike you have, and the kind of surface you travel on.

 

Tire Tread Disadvantages

  • Slower Having grooves in the tire can mean much more rolling resistance and an uneven balance for acceleration or braking. Most of that energy is simply not used and therefore 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 don’t 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.
  • Vulnerable to punctures – Having different-sized rubber bits on the tread tire can make it easier to puncture. If a chunk of glass 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, damaging the tire. You may have even noticed this on your bike if you have tread tires, the puncture is always on the tread!

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Does tread give a better grip?

Not really. In the case of road bikes that cycle on hard surfaces, slick tires offer much better grip as there is more rubber in contact with the road. If you’re on a mountain bike, the extra tread can help you cycle on soft or uneven ground.

Are slick tires safe?

Yes! Slick tires are used for racing cars and racing bikes because they are the fastest tire, and they have the best grip on the market. Bikes can safely use slick or smooth tires on the hard ground safely

Can bikes hydroplane?

Unlike cars, bikes don’t hydroplane. They have a much higher pressure on the road than cars and a smaller profile on the ground. They can never reach the speed of a car so won’t ever go fast enough to hydroplane when it’s wet, even with slick or smooth tires.

Should road bike tires have tread?

Most high-performance road tires have smooth or close to smooth treads, as these roll fastest on dry roads. For wet weather riding, we recommend a slightly wider tire (for a larger contact patch), with some grooving in the tread. Mountain bikes can make great pavement riders with a different tire tread too.

Why do road bike tires have no tread?

The fact that they have no tread at all means all the energy you put into 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.

 

Summary

There are a lot of myths about tread being the best way to get grip on a bike. The truth is, the tread is useful depending on the kind of ground you cycle on, but for the most part if you own a road bike you probably won’t ever need it.

It’s good to be informed about the effect of tread so you can get the best type of tire suited to your needs and if you want to take your cycling to the next level for example a marathon, triathlon, or professionally then knowing how tread affects your performance will come in handy.

So, now you’re a fully-fledged expert on tire tread and know just about everything it does for you and your bike. Whether you use it or not it’s always useful to know more about how our bikes work.

Keep pedaling!

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