An awesome pair of tires can truly make any ride—on any bike—better. Our guide covers the basics of bicycle tires, including sizing, construction, and how to know when you need a new set. It’s a great place to find the information you need to help you pick the best bike tires for however you ride.
What are bike tires?
Bike tires are the treaded rubber hoops that are mounted to your wheels. They connect you and your bike to the ground, and they play a critical role in making your ride great.
For example, a tire that’s too smooth for your terrain will not offer sufficient grip and traction, and conversely, a tire that has too much tread for the terrain can slow you down.
Think of tires like the bike itself: You wouldn’t want to ride a road racing bike through a deeply wooded forest with rocks, roots, and loose dirt. Same goes for tires—you wouldn’t want to race a road bike with knobby, grippy mountain bike tires!
Bikes can go almost anywhere, so there are lots of tires to choose from that cover nearly any type or riding and riding conditions you can think of—from fresh, glassy-smooth blacktop to the muddiest-of-muddy mountain bike trails.
What types of bike tires are there?
Most bikes come with tube-type tire setups that rely on an inner tube to hold air. For most riders, this is the best place to start when looking for replacement tires. Some higher-performance tires may be tubeless ready, meaning they don't need to be used with tubes. Instead, they can "go tubeless" by combining them with tubeless ready wheels and sealant for a boost in performance. There are also tubular tires, used mostly by Professional road racers that have a tube sewn into the tire.
Clincher bike tires
Most bike tires are clincher tires, including almost all city, hybrid, and kids' tires available.
Tubeless bike tires
If you have compatible wheels, tubeless bike tires allow you to almost eliminate flats because instead of tubes these tires use a liquid sealant inside of them that is designed to seal punctures and keep you riding even when a piece of glass or thorn cuts the tire.
Tubular bike tires
Tubular bike tires combine the inner tube and tire into one. The tire is then glued onto the wheel with a special glue. These tires are less common, and generally only used by professional racers, as they require a specific wheel and special skills to install properly.
Bike tires vs. bike tubes
Bike tires are what you see attached to the wheel while the inner tube is hidden inside the tire and is what holds the air. If you get a flat tire, it is important to check the tire for any large cuts that may require a new tire, otherwise it is quite common to only have to replace the inner tube. Also, make sure to look for the cause of the flat—such as a nail or piece of glass—and remove it from the tire before you replace the inner tube. If you don't, you could get another flat!
What bike tire size do I need?
Tires come in a wide range of diameters and widths. The best place to start when searching for a replacement is on your existing tire’s sidewall. Look for a number printed on the sidewall—typically it’s two numbers with an “x” between them, like 700x23 or 29x2.3. The first number represents the bike tire diameter while the second number is the bike tire width in either millimeters or inches.
Generally, mountain bike tires are 26˝, 27.5˝ (also known as 650b), or 29˝ in diameter while road bike tire sizes are usually 700c. If you decide to go larger than the width of your original tire, it’s important to check to make sure your frame and fork have adequate clearance.
What bike tube do I need?
It's also important to make sure you pick a tube with the right valve. Options include Schrader, Presta, as well as Dunlop for many European countries. Valves also come in different lengths for different rim depths. For example, deeper, aerodynamic road wheels often need longer valves in order for the valve to pass through the entire rim and be able to inflate the tube.
Bike tire pressure
Tire pressure makes a huge difference in the performance characteristics of a tire. You can find recommended bike tire pressure, measured in PSI (pounds per square inch), printed on your tire’s sidewall. It might be listed as a range, a maximum, or a minimum. A tire’s pressure is highly dependent on the model and size, so unfortunately there is no universal bike tire pressure chart.
Mountain bike tire PSI and road bike tire PSI are generally very different. A mountain bike tire has a lot more volume, and therefore requires less overall pressure while a road bike tire has much less volume and therefore requires much more pressure.
When is it time to replace a bike tire?
Some tires have built in wear marks, and when the tread is worn down to those marks it’s time to replace your tires. For tires that do not have wear marks, look for signs of wear on the treads, any leveling-off of the treads, and especially any internal threads starting to show through the rubber or any dry-rotting rubber (rubber that looks dry, faded, or cracked).
It’s important to make sure your tires are properly inflated before each ride. Rubber is naturally a little porous so you may notice a slow decrease in your tire’s PSI over time. Riding with improper tire pressure can result in premature tire wear.
Pro tip: Regularly check your tire pressure and inflate with a floor pump as needed. Checking your pressure and inflating your tires is quick and easy, and will make your ride better!
What kind of bike tire and tube should I buy?
What is rolling resistance, and why does it matter?
Rolling resistance is a measurement of how fast a tire rolls on a surface. Your tire’s rubber compound and tread design play a large part in determining how fast it will roll. When choosing your next set of tires, start with a tire that has the right amount of tread needed for your most frequent riding conditions. This helps ensure that you have enough tread to give you traction, and that you don’t have extra tread that will just slow you down.
So, how do you know if your tires have the right amount of rolling resistance? By taking them for a spin! If you pick a tire with too much tread, you’ll notice a slower, less efficient ride. If you choose one without enough tread you’ll notice that you lack grip and traction, especially on corners and uneven surfaces. Of course your local bike shop is more than happy to help you select the right tires for your ride, saving you time and money spent in trial and error.
Bike tire anatomy
Although tires may seem like simple rubber objects, they are actually super complex technological marvels! They’re made with special casings, rubber compounds, tread patterns, and even puncture-protection technologies, all designed to ensure you have an awesome ride.Learn more about the parts of a bike tire
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