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A Guide to
Bicycle Tyres

 

Commuting Tyres

 
The type of bike you use to commute on will define what type of tyre you use for commuting. If you use you a road bike, then a puncture protected 700c road commuter tyre is the ideal choice.

If you commute on a cyclocross-style, bike then a larger volume semi-slick will offer greater comfort than a narrow slick, and on tarmac will be faster than a knobbly off-road tyre. Commuter tyres like Continental's TopContact Winter II are ideal because they feature a tough Vectran breaker belt puncture protection strip (or similar protection) underneath the outer tread.

The best commuting tyres will offer puncture protection and grip, irrespective of weather conditions – and these should be the most important considerations when choosing commuting tyres.
 
 

Mountain Bike Tyres

 
The tyres on your mountain bike are what connect you to the ground, so you should choose your mountain bike tyres with care! Picking the best MTB tyres can be a daunting prospect, with many brands pushing a range of tread patterns, widths, compounds, weights and sizes. Pick the right tyre, and you’ll find it can give massive improvements to how your bike rides.
 
Choosing the Right Tyre

To help decide what tyre to buy, it’s easiest to work out what you want from a mountain bike tyre. It’s also worth remembering that the best mountain bike tyres are the ones most suited to the riding you do. If you’re looking to cover ground, whether it’s up or down, quickly and efficiently, a good start will be a tyre which is light (sub-700g), with a low profile tread for fast rolling.

Less weight rotating around a wheel will help it accelerate easily, and low tread patterns will lessen rolling resistance. The Schwalbe Racing Ralph is a classic fast rolling tyre with reasonable levels of grip. The trade-off with MTB tyres like this is that you’ll get less grip in wet or slippery conditions, and lower puncture resistance. Tyres with reinforced sidewalls, like Schwalbe’s Snakeskin variants, can combat how susceptible tyres are to punctures.

If you’re after a mountain bike tyre that offers more grip in a wider range of conditions, you’ll want something with chunkier treads. These will dig into loose ground better, but consequentially will have a higher rolling resistance. Some may have ramped knobs, which help them roll a little quicker. Weights will be around 700-900g.
   
Those who look for pure downhill performance will be after loads of grip and puncture resistance, but may be less concerned about weight. Some Onza Ibex tyres have reinforced sidewalls and come with soft compound rubbers – ideal for giving grip over wet roots and rocks.

In wet conditions, a super soft compound tyre with big spikey treads will help cut through the soft stuff. Soft, spikey tyres can also come up narrower than their counterparts, which helps them cut through the mud and make contact with harder ground below. Be warned though, they tend not to be great on wet rocks.

On top of tread style/patterns are variations within individual tyre models – usually consisting of changes to compound, sidewalls and width. Then there are tubeless options.
 
Tyre compounds
Tyre compounds generally range from 45-60, with lower numbers denoting softer, grippier tyres, which may wear out quicker. Harder tyres may roll over hard ground faster, but can get a little skittish when pushed hard. Tyres that come on new bikes are often made of a harder compound, and you may notice a big improvement in control by switching to softer rubber.

Sidewalls
Sidewalls have a big impact on how a tyre rides, with thicker tyres providing more support at lower pressures, and also offering more protection from pinch punctures. However, the thicker they are, the heavier they will be.

Width
Wider tyres generally offer more grip and puncture resistance, at the expense of weight. To get a decent profile, they need to be run on wider rims – check your rims for tyre width recommendations. If your rims have an internal width of 17-19mm, we’d stay away from tyres much bigger than 2.25 inches wide.

Tubeless
Tubeless-specific tyres don’t need sealant to let them work without inner tubes, but many tyres are now tubeless ready, meaning with a bit of sealant and a rim strip, you can convert your wheels to tubeless. The sealant helps repair small tears and punctures, often before you realise it’s happened, and while it can be a faff to set up, reducing punctures and weight is great!
 
 

Road Bike Tyres

 
The most common kind of road bike tyres are called clinchers. Clinchers use an inner tube to inflate the tyre, which is held in place by a bead that hooks into the rim of the wheel.

Professional riders can also use tubular tyres, which require a specific wheel rim, on to which the tyre is glued. The tubular tyre is fully sealed with an internal innertube. The advantage for professionals is because it’s glued on, a tubular won't roll-off if you puncture and you can keep riding (albeit slowly) until help arrives in the form of your team car. Tubular tyres tend to be far more expensive than clinchers, and also tend to be made of higher-grade and softer, more supple materials.
 
The latest top quality clincher tyres like the Specialized S-Works Turbo or Continental Grand Prix 4000 are far closer than ever to the quality of tubulars.

Another type of road bike tyre is the tubeless tyre. In mountain biking, tubeless tyres have become increasingly popular, but on road bikes few tubeless wheel systems and tyres are available, but that is set to change in the future.

There is a whole spectrum of different tyres available for road bikes, from lightweight racing slicks to treaded and puncture protected tyres for training and use in poor weather. The most common tyre size is 23c, which is what you'll find on most new bikes. Over recent years the trend has been to switch to a slightly larger 25c tyre. Recent testing has shown that a 25c tyre can have better rolling resistance (at the expense of a little extra weight), and better comfort over rougher road surfaces.
   
Choosing the best road bike tyres for you means selecting the right tyre for the conditions and the type of riding you do. For racing and smooth roads, opt for a lightweight slick like Continental's GP4000s . Continental road bike tyres like the GP4000 combine low weight with a soft gummy rubber compound perfect for high speeds and grip through fast corners. Tyres like these will give you a speed advantage, but the downside is that they won't resist punctures as well as a protected tyre.

If you use your bike for everyday riding, long weekend rides and even the occasional sportive or charity ride, you may want to opt for a fast, slick tyre that also has some protection from punctures. Specialized's Armadillo All-Conditions Elite II still features a softer compound with a tread for great grip, but sandwiched underneath surface is a kevlar belt which will protect from some (but not all) punctures. The higher durability of this type of road bike tyre makes it a great all-rounder and a great choice if you also use your bike for commuting. These are also some of the characteristics you will want if you’re looking for winter road bike tyres.
 
 

 
 
This story was last updated on 25/08/2014

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