bike tires

Truth about bike tires

I consider myself lucky, being a petrolhead when I was younger. That teached me a thing or two about tires…

Bike tires are overrated; dismiss all the talk about it. They are simple to understand, choose, and manufacture despite all the marketing bullshit around it – because unlike motor vehicle tires, they do not have to endure big problems like weight, aquaplaning, even weather.

I laugh at all “tire review” bullshit. Especially ones talking about “aquaplaning”; written by elementary school grade (or less) knowledge of physics. Aquaplaning is a serious threat to road cyclists. With 100 psi in your tires, you’ll have a risk of aquaplaning if you go over 160 km/h!

Another new and popular bullshit is, “wider tires have less rolling resistance”. Really? If that’s the case, we should expect wider tires on road bikes, but never seen anyone riding wide 29 inch tires at Tour de France.

All “unnatural” tire tests are bullshit, too. When you ride a few kilometers, you usually ride across different kinds of asphalt compositions, cobble stones, concrete, mud, etc – all have different friction coefficient, all perform better or worse depending on tread, and there is no single tire which adapts to all kinds of road surfaces. 25mm slick road tires are useless on mud, so is 50mm wide cyclocross tires on asphalt. You cannot judge a tires’ performance by running it on rollers. Reason is obvious. Not just because road surfaces are different – tires deform when they roll, and it’s not consistent with every surface. With narrow slicks tires running on high pressure, you’ll be jumping like crazy on country roads, which will render a Tour de France winner tire obsolete.

tour de france vittoria corsa graphene
A special tire for Tour de France, Vittoria Corsa Graphene, made for Team Jumbo-Visma, using a special silica material, they say. It’s just 26mm wide – didn’t they hear wide tires roll faster ?? Read some tire reviews!


Don’t choose a tire!

If I spent my time riding my bike, rather then choosing a tire, I’d probably ride a few hundreds kilometers more for each tire I bought!

Tire reviews are shallow, non-methodic, and includes zero scientific data. You know what? I wouldn’t even consider a close friends’ view unless we ride on same path. Expectations from a bike tire can vary drastically for people. Even car tire tests are much more scientific, its not still conclusive. This made some people entirely dismiss reading these reviews, and just buy a set instead. Maybe because of this, now we have a universal rating system for car tires!

For example, I don’t really care about getting a flat. I’ve been patching my tires since I was 11 or so, no big deal. For some, having a flat is the end of the tour. Even what is considered a flat is very subjective – I’ ve seen split tires, huge cuts, tires beyond repair. For serious tourers pedalling around the globe, having a flat is a serious problem, because they have to unload tightly fit bags, panniers, etc, which is a huge job, if you get a flat tire under a Saharan sun, after riding for 6 hours, carrying 30+ kg of extra weight. For most tourers,especially long distance travellers, Schwalbe Marathon’s are a blessing. My panniers are rarely loaded, I don’t travel around the globe (yet), and prefer speed over flat protection. That’s why I hate Schwalbe Marathons. Never ridden foldable versions, which is said to be perfect, but classic Marathons are wooden cart wheels for me.

I left reading tire reviews. I try not to buy online; because I choose tires based on an “instinct” – I shopped, tested, and used countless varieties of car tires, and I have an Otaku for car tires. For bike tires, most of my “know-how” is pretty useless, except “feeling the rubber” and checking the tire’s innards. For bike tires, what really matters is, where you’ll use them, and what kind of tire you need. Then comes the rubber and construction. Have you read any tire review shredding a tire and look what’s underneath? Exactly…

Do tire tread patterns makes sense?

Different tire tread patterns on road bike tires are nonsense. A road bike tire should be slick, period. Manufacturers choose useless tire tread patterns to make customers believe they’re doing something different then others. No. Threading doesn’t matter. In fact, a threaded tire will be noisier, aerodynamically inefficient, probably wear faster, and will not grip better.

For offroad tires, it’s a different story. Still, its no rocket science. If your tires have some thread, that can dig into mud or soft soil, that’s perfectly ok. Tire compound, construction and air pressure matters here, as long as your tire have some useful thread.

And then there is “touring tires” – these tires are heavy, generally have low TPI, stiff and thick. They also have some useless threading, as a differenciator. If you have wide touring tires, threads may serve a purpose: they make contact patch smaller, thus less friction, which is good – but they don’t “stop aquaplaning”. Bikes do not aquaplane. They just slip, because of a force acting on it, or due to poor stiction, which is almost always the rubber to blame.

Amongst all tire types, most useless ones are so-called cyclocross tires. These tires presumably designed to roll in mud. Standard cyclocross tires were 700×33 predominantly, which is a super bad idea, with lots of poor decisions involved: they were too narrow, so they exert high pressure on the mud or loose soil, which causes them to dig like hell. You have to run them at relatively high pressure, compared to proper (and wide) MTB tires, so they are also not compliant enough, its just tad better then rolling with 700×32 road slicks. They also wear like candles on tarmac, sound like bike trainers, and have the wrong grip characteristics: they dig into mud, and stick into tarmac because their tiny knobs make great contact surface. They barely roll. That’s why “cyclocross” bikes are getting wider to accomodate decent sized rubber. If your frame is too narrow to accept at least 40mm wide tires, well, you have an overweight, overpriced road bike.

continental grand prix
Tire tread patterns on tarmac have no use.


Tubeless tires

Tubeless tires is a great idea, if you are carrying a spare wheelset with fitted tires. Because, when they lose air to some degree, or you get a flat -you will- things go very nasty.

I love(d) tubeless tires, because they really roll much better, I hardly get any flat, and they are absolutely much more comfortable. I ran my tires at “normal” pressure, not some super low advertised, “tubeless tire pressures”. Downsides? Well, I’ll come to that now!

Tubeless tires are tricky, because being a bike tire, they still have to deal with lots of pressure: pressure and sealants doesnt’ get quite well. Above 40-45 psi, sealants do not work. Or, work too slow, causing the tire to lose air so much that it cannot be inflated by a hand pump anymore.

For MTB, tubeless tires are the obvious choice, if you ask me. They are OK for touring bikes, too: if you are travelling too long, you are probably carrying a foldable tire after all. So, when you get a big enough hole that the sealant cannot fix, just throw in the inner tube and you’ll be fine. Downside is, it’s gonna be a very dirty fix, as your hands will be super sticky with latex based compounds. Depending on how you ride, you may prefer to opt for tubeless, which is more dependable, more comfortable, lighter and sticks better.

For road, I’ll never get a tubeless tire, unless the tire itself and the sealant is manufactured by a far more advanced civilisation.

clement bos
Clement BOS Tubeless Tires. I really like Clement tires, now Donnely, due to licencing problems Pirelli, which owns the brand name.


So, how do I choose a tire?

Rubber matters most, as in every kind of tire, followed by construction by a very tiny margin.

Construction is what makes how tire “feels” and endures in certain conditions, but mostly not how handles. Any rubber compound is not resilient enough to make a tire that hold it together, so some form of thread, and / or weaving is used as a “carrier”. Think it like a glass fiber or carbon fiber composite: without epoxy or any other resin, cloth has no use. Or, epoxy itself not strong / light enough to make anything useful. In fact, a tire is a composite structure, indeed.


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