What Road Bike Tires to Buy

Last Updated on June 21, 2021
written by Cycle expert Alex Bristol
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Which Road Bike Tires To Buy

We’ve all been there before. Walking into a bike shop with the intention of buying a new set and getting bombarded with hundreds of different tire choices and words like “rolling resistance” and “traction” flying over your head.

Sound familiar?

Buying new tires for your bike shouldn’t be complicated. Unfortunately with the market being saturated with a variety of tires, it can be tricky picking out the quality tires from the bad and selecting the one that’s right for you.

Although you could go with whatever recommendation the salesperson gives and hope for the best, I like to know exactly what I’m looking for in a tire so I can go straight to the good stuff.

I’ve picked out some of the key things to look out for when purchasing new tires and decoded some of the jargon so you’re in the know when you walk into that bike shop.

 

Tire Anatomy

Tread: Tread is the part of the tire that contacts the ground and will be made from varying compounds with different tread patterns.

Puncture protection: In order to improve their resistance to punctures many tires will add a ‘sub-tread layer or ‘puncture-proof belt’. Some tires will simply feature more rubber, increasing the thickness of the tread, while others will use specific compounds to enhance their resilience. Some sturdier tires designed for winter training and commuting will feature puncture protection in the sidewall too.

Casing: The casing is the foundation of the tire, connecting the beads to one another and providing enough resistance from stretch to keep the air in while conforming to the ground surface. The casing is measured in ‘threads per inch’ or ‘TPI’. Tires with a lower TPI count provide good puncture protection but poor rolling resistance, whereas tires with high TPI counts provide a more supple ride with good rolling resistance but often with reduced puncture protection.

Bead: The tire’s bead holds the tire onto the rim and is only applicable for clincher and tubeless tires. The bead is typically made from either wire or kevlar, wire featuring on inexpensive tires, kevlar featuring on more premium options. Clincher tires with kevlar beads are also referred to as ‘folding’ tires.

Sidewall: As the name would suggest, this is the side of the tire, and is part of the casing that isn’t intended to touch the ground, as a consequence this part of the tire is the thinnest. Important details such as the wheel and tire size and recommended tire pressure will be found on the sidewall.

Choosing The Right Road Bike Tires For You

Road bikes are given this name because they are designed to cycle on roads or smooth, hard surfaces like sidewalks. Unlike other bikes, they are not optimized for uneven, rough terrain.

With that in mind, the tires you choose need to be specifically for road bikes, as opposed to mountain bike tires for instance.

Road bike tires tend to have smooth tread patterns, in other words, they don’t have grooves or rubber blocks sticking out on the tire. They are usually narrower and aim to lower rolling resistance or more efficient and better performance.

What this means is they give you max grip so you can increase your speed, since they don’t have to deal with rough roads.

With that in mind, there is still a good amount of variety in widths, tread patterns, tire types, and designs to choose from.

 

Different Types Of Road Bike Tires

When you’re shopping around for road bike tires, you’ll come across two main types: Clincher tires, and tubular tires.

Both are used on road bikes, though not exclusively, and mostly have to do with the way they fit or attach onto the rim of the wheel.

Clincher tires

Clincher tires are very common, you’ll find them on most bikes including road bikes. They are called “clinchers” by the way they “clinch” onto the wheel rim.

These tires are easy to fit onto the bike, as the bead of the tire is held onto a hook on the wheel rim instead of glued like other tires.

The main characteristic of a clincher tire is an inner tube that holds the air pressure in the tire. This tube is separate from the tire, meaning you don’t have to replace your whole tire when you get a puncture!

I love Clinchers, they’re pretty inexpensive, easily fitted onto your tire, and have a replaceable inner tube.

Tubeless Clincher road bike tires

A more modern version of a clincher tire is a tubeless tire. Just like the name suggests, they don’t have an inner tube, as clinchers do.

How does it work? Tubeless clincher tires fit the rim in a way that’s airtight. To inflate them, you need to use a special tubeless valve and rim tape that inflates the tire itself, as there is no inner tube.

These tires are coming up more and more, and it’s no wonder. They are ideal if you want something more lightweight for your road bike. They can also be run at lower air pressure than regular clinchers if you want a stronger grip.

Tubular road bike tires

Tubular tires are the kind that you will often see on fancy high-end performance racing bikes.

To use these tires, you need to have special tubular-specific rims as the tires are mounted and glued/taped to the rim itself. The inner tube is then sewn into the tire’s casing that everything is sales and airtight.

The performance on these tires is amazing, but they are not convenient to change if you get a puncture. They are more expensive than the common clinchers.

 

The Best Road Bike Tire Width

There are three widths usually found on road bike tires: 23c, 25c, and 28c. Tires widths are measured at their widest point in millimeters, for example, 23mm, 25mm, and 28mm. The “c” is just a category used more in the past where there was a, b, c categories.

Although bike tires used to be made narrower, it’s been observed that wider volume can offer better grip, less rolling resistance (or energy lost/more efficient), and overall a more comfortable ride.

What size tire width is best?

The only way to answer this question properly is to first consider the kind of bike you own, and then what you’re looking for.

Size of your bike To get the best fit, you need to check your wheel rim width and frame size are compatible with your new set of tires.

Ideally, the tire needs to be wider than the width of the rim of your bike. You also need to ensure it’s not so big that your bike frame doesn’t let the wheel rotate with the tire on it. There needs to be enough room

What will give you the best comfort and performance? – The most comfortable tires are not so good on performance, and the highest performing or speedy tires are not very comfortable.

Want the best of both worlds? Most bikes will use tires with 25mm as this is the best balance between performance and comfort, however, it all depends on your preference.

I recommend going a little wider with 28mm if you cycle along rough roads.

Road bike tire diameters

If you wanted to replace your current tires and are unsure of the sizing, look at the sidewall of your current tires. Most are 622mm diameter or 700c on the tire wall. If you are replacing tires on a kid’s bike, it may be 650c tires or 571mm.

 

The Best Road Bike Tire Tread Profiles

Tread on a tire is all the grooves and dents and chunks of rubber on the tire, basically the opposite of smooth.

Some tires are slick, meaning they have no grip and offer really good grip, others such as mountain bike tires need something to cut into the soft earth and use deep-tread tires.

If you are riding on smooth asphalt roads, you won’t need tread and will be able to get a better grip and go faster if you use smooth or low tread tires.

If you will be traveling on gravel roads or different road types, a bit of tread can come in useful.

The Best Tire Pressure For Road Tires

If you are confused about the air pressure range for your tire, you need to check the tire itself. At the very least tire pressure needs to be high enough to support your weight, and the maximum depends on how much the tire can hold.

The air pressure will fluctuate depending on each rider’s weight and the conditions you ride in. In wet conditions, it’s best to reduce your air pressure slightly to improve your grip on the road.

When you are inflating your tires, it’s a good idea to check if you have a Schrader valve or a Presta valve as this will also affect the tire you get and the pump you use to inflate them. Schraders are much more common and you can pump them up anywhere including a gas station.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I choose a road bike tire?

In general, rolling resistance for each size tire should be about the same. Wider tires will have better traction and control. Narrower tires are more aerodynamic. Most racers are now moving to wider tires, switching over to 25mm from 23mm for standard road races.

How many miles should road bike tires last?

The general consensus is that your road bike tires last anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 miles. High-end tires should last at least 2,500 miles.

What size road bike tires should I use?

We recommend 23mm and 25mm wide tires for recreational road cyclists. The 25mm width is nice for long-distance riding since it will provide a more comfortable ride. Narrower widths are worth considering for racers that are looking to save weight or are time trialing where aerodynamic considerations are more important.

Do road bike tires puncture easily?

A very soft tire is more likely to puncture when riding over a rough road and it’s possible to pinch the inner tube between the tire and rim if you hit a pothole with sufficient force. In terms of a road tire, you won’t go far wrong if you pump them up to 100psi and you can easily go 10psi less with a tubeless tire.

Do I need a special pump for road bike tires?

We recommend that every cyclist should have two bicycle pumps, one that’s carried on rides to repair flat tires (commonly called a “frame” or “mini” pump), and another for checking and topping off tires before rides (called a “floor” pump).

Summary

It can be a headache when you need to buy new tires for your bike and you’re trying to figure out exactly what you need. Don’t be afraid to ask questions at your local bike shop and compare different tires. A good set of tires can really make a difference to your ride.

It’s always daunting at first especially when you don’t know what you’re looking for but with a little research into road bike tires and this guide, you’ll soon become an expert on them and know exactly what to keep an eye out for.

Make sure you get your tires for a good price and with a warranty of some kind if you can so you have that extra layer of security should the tire not work in the way you want it to. But most importantly, have fun and…

Keep pedaling!

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