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Our Guide to Buying: Bicycle Tyres

What are Bicycle Tyres?


In a nutshell

A bicycle tyre sits around your wheel, it is held in place on the rim by the pressure from the fully-inflated inner tube inside the tyre. Tyres provide grip, traction and comfort to your bike ride. The right set of tyres will help your bike perform to its best. Our buying guide is here to help you find the perfect type of tyre for your bike.

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Commuting Tyres


How do I choose the best tyres for cycling to work?

The type of bike you use to commute on will define what type of tyre you use. If you use a road bike, then a puncture protected 700c road commuter tyre is ideal. If you ride to work on a cyclocross-style, bike then a larger volume semi-slick will offer comfort, plus on tarmac it will be faster than a knobbly off-road tyre. The best commuting tyres will offer puncture protection and grip, irrespective of weather – and these should be the most important considerations when choosing commuting tyres.

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.



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 and adapt them to the terrain you are riding! 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.


How do I choose the right type of mountain bike 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. No matter how great your bike not adapting your tyre choice to the conditions will impair its performance. If you take your riding seriously it is worth having a number of different tyre choices available.

What tyres are best for long-distance riding?

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 which performs best in dry conditions. 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.

What tyres are best for all-round mountain biking?

For mountain bike tyres that offer more grip in a wider range of conditions, you’ll want something with chunkier treads. These will dig into loose ground better, but will have a higher rolling resistance. Some may have ramped knobs, which help them roll a little quicker. In wet conditions, a compound tyre with big spikey treads will help cut through the soft stuff. Soft, spikey tyres can also come up narrower than their counterparts helping them cut through the mud and make contact with harder ground below.

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.

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.


Road Bike Tyres


What are clinchers?

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. Another type of road bike tyre is the tubeless tyre. In mountain biking, tubeless tyres have become increasingly popular, and this is beginning to extend to road biking.

Which road bike tyres are commonly used by professionals?

Professional riders often use tubular tyres, which require a specific wheel rim, onto 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.

What are the different types of road bike tyres?

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. Whilst 23c remains a common tyre size over recent years the trend has been to switch to a slightly larger 25c tyre and more new bikes arrive with these as standard.

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.

Which road bike tyres are best?

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 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 additional protection from punctures.

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. Specialized's Armadillo All-Conditions Elite II still features a softer compound with a tread for great grip, but sandwiched underneath the 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.


Cyclocross, Adventure Road or Gravel Bike

If you ride a cyclocross bike or adventure road bike, it’s likely you are covering mixed terrain, and the sort of riding you’re doing will impact tyre choice.


Which tyres are best for cyclocross bikes?

For a muddy cyclocross race or a ride where you know you’ll be tackling thick mud, you will want to choose a tyre that promises maximum traction. Look for a thick tread with mud shedding capabilities. However if you are racing, a supple compound will allow faster rolling. If you’re looking for something more extreme, go for a sturdy, mud shedding tyre, that’s a little wider.

A wider tyre will allow for greater grip and puncture protection, but will of course weigh a little more – so you need to decide which asset is most important to you.

To get the best traction in the wet, you’ll want to run your tyres at a lower pressure – and many competitive racers opt for tubeless tyres, which prevent the chance of pinch flats at a lower PSI. The Challenge Limus 33m 700c tyre is a very popular race option, and comes as a clincher and a tubular.

What tyres are best for hybrid bike styles?

If you are planning rides that cover road and off-road terrain, on hard packed paths, with some grassy sections or perhaps gravel roads, you’ll want a tyre with faster rolling resistance. Look for a tyre that offers puncture protection via a Vectran of Kevlar breaker layer, to cater for the grit you may encounter, and opt for a medium width which will give you grip, without creating a sluggish feel on smoother surfaces.

A Kenda Small Block tyre, for example, will feel smooth enough on the road, while still catering for light off-road use.


Tyre Styling


Tyre Compounds - hard tyres vs soft tyres

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.

What are the benefits of tubeless tyres?

Tubeless-specific tyres don’t need sealant to let them work without inner tubes, but many wheels and tyres are now tubeless ready, meaning with a bit of sealant and a rim strip, you can convert your wheels to tubeless tyres. 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!