How to Select New Tyres for your Bike

By | 7 June, 2013

If you’re considering changing the tyres on your bike, then the vast array of different options available can seem quite daunting!

The rear tyre on my hybrid bike was damaged a couple of weeks ago, and I was shopping online yesterday to get a replacement. The store listed over 300 different types of tyre available, and it took me quite a while to sort through them and find the one I wanted.

There’s lots of variety available, and it’s important to know what you are looking for.

tyres

 

Size of Wheel

Different bikes have different sized wheels, but thankfully there’s only a few standard sizes used, based on the diameter of the wheel from rim-to-rim. Confusingly different manufacturers use both metric and imperial measurements to describe them:

  • 700C / ISO 622 / 29 inches – the most common size for road and hybrid bikes
  • 650B / ISO 584 / 27.5 inches – used for some mountain bikes
  • ISO 559 / 26 inches – the most common size for mountain and cruiser bikes

Take a look at your existing tyres to work out the size you need. It’s often stamped into the rubber of the tyre, or if not you can measure the wheel yourself.  The ISO standard counts the millimetre diameter of the wheel from the middle of the braking surface (where your brake pads touch) on one side to the other.

Width of Tyre

Different wheels have different widths of tyres, which can range from a very narrow 18mm to a very wide 120mm. The width of the tyre is often limited by the width of your wheel rims and the clearance space around your bike frame.

  • Contrary to some expectations, narrow tyres don’t make you go quicker.  A narrow tyre weighs less than a wide tyre (it uses less material), and a lighter bike will help the rider accelerate quicker.  However a narrow tyre also has a higher rolling resistance (it distorts more when in contact with the road), and a higher rolling resistance slows you down. On a perfectly smooth road surface, a narrow and wide tyre are just as fast as each other, but on a bumpy surface the wider tyre is actually faster!  Only when you get to high speeds (over 30kmh) do narrow tyres give some small advantage in terms of reduced wind resistance.
  • Most road, triathlon and racing bikes have narrow tyres somewhere in the range of 18-25mm, used in an effort to save weight. Narrow tyres needs to be inflated to high pressure (100+ PSI), and give a less comfortable ride.
  • Hybrid bikes tend to have a slightly wider tyre – somewhere in the range of 28-38mm. This allows a more comfortable ride, as they are inflated to a lower pressure (50-80 PSI).
  • Mountain bikes, cruisers, and utility bikes have even wider tyres, and even lower pressure, and often have a width of between 38-65mm (1.5-2.5 inches).

Similar to the size of the wheel, the width of a tyre is often stamped on the side. And so if you’re looking to do a like-for-like replacement, then just get the same width again. The wheel size and tyre width are often written together (e.g. 700C x 35 – meaning a tyre that fits a 700C sized wheel that’s 35mm wide).

Type of Tread

A lot of people wrongly believe that a bike tyre needs a deep tread to maintain a good grip on the road. This assumption is based on the requirement to maintain a good tread on a car tyre. However, bike tyres operate differently and for roads a smooth tread pattern will provide the best grip, as it ensures the maximum amount of contact between the rubber and the tarmac.

You only need knobbly tyres if you’re going off-road onto a loose surface such as dirt or gravel, where the tyre needs to “dig in” to maintain grip. That’s why mountain bikes have a deep tread, and hybrid bikes (which are designed for both roads and a little off-road use) have a shallow tread. However you should generally avoid trying to cycling on a road with a knobbly tire, as it takes a lot more effort than with a slick tyre.

Puncture Resistance

Avoiding punctures is often a principal concern amongst commuter cyclists, and specialist tyres are available that offer increased puncture resistance. The tyre will often be made with additional materials such as kevlar that guards against sharp objects getting near the inner tube, but this is often at the expense of weight. A puncture resistant tyre will almost always weigh more, and are therefore not very popular on light racing bikes.

Of course, punctures are not always caused by sharp objects on the road. Sometimes you have get a puncture purely from having your tyres under-inflated. If you ride over a bump in an under-inflated tyre you can get something called a pinch flat (sometimes called a “snake bite” as it is characterised as two holes next to each other), which happens because the inner-tube is pinched between the wheel rim and road.

Cosmetics

Other optional things to look out for in a tyre are:

  • Reflective sidewalls – to improve visibility at night, particularly from the side.
  • Tyre colour – although most tyres are black, you can get them in other colours.
  • Studded tyres – are available for winter cycling to maintain a grip on ice.
  • Weight – some people obsess about the weight of their tyres, but unless you’re already skinny, it’s probably easier (and cheaper) to drop a half a kilo from your own body weight than off the weight of the tyres!
Coloured Tyres

Coloured Tyres

Author: Richard Bloomfield

Richard is the founder of Dublin Bike Blog. He commutes to work every day by bike, come rain or shine, on his Dutch city bike. You can read more from Richard on his blog richardbloomfield.ie.

3 thoughts on “How to Select New Tyres for your Bike

  1. Anaya

    Thanks for the info, I am new in Ireland and can’t seem to find the shops for bike tires. The only closet place is Helfords and they don’t have much variety and their prices are on the higher side. I got a Kellys viper bike with 26″ tyre. Its a Hybrid, and tyre width is 2.0. Can I use different tyre width on the same RIM? and where can I find the best priced tyres in Dublin? I live near Blanchardstown however I can travel if its a good deal. Thanks

    Reply
    1. Richard Bloomfield

      Hi Anaya,

      You should be able to use a slightly different width tyre on your rim – within the range 1.9″ to 2.2″. The real limitation, if you’re looking to get a slightly wider tyre, is amount of space between your current tyres and bike frame or brakes.

      One of the best shops in Dublin is the Cycle Superstore who are based in Tallaght. I realise this is a inconvenient journey from Blanchardstown if you’re on public transport, but it might be worth it. You can check out their stock of 26″ mountain bike tyres here: https://www.cyclesuperstore.ie/shop/pc/showsearchresults.asp?idCategory=164

      If you’re looking to save some money, you might also want to try ordering by mail order – try either chainreactioncycles.com or wiggle.co.uk

      Reply
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