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Bicycle Tires
Road or Mountain, Tube or Tubeless, 20 or 24" Bicycle Tires

Bicycle Tires are designed to match your cycling style and needs, and it is ALWAYS a conversation of compromise, weight vs peddle efficiency, low friction vs traction etc. Reality is that there are no bicycle tires that fits every applications, but here's some general descriptions.

There are two types of bicycle tires: bike racing motivation may determine your preference...

  1. Clincher Tire: This is the bicycle tire you all know and love, consisting of an outer tire and an inner tube. It is what you find on 90% of all bikes. The tire consists of two nylon sidewalls rimmed with a steel or kevlar cable, and dipped in rubber for traction on the face that meets the pavement. The rubber exterior takes on many forms, each appropriate to the rider style from very slick road tyres to very knobby and/or studded tires...bicycle rides up mountain single track certainly appreciating the later.

  2. Tubular tire: This bike tire is typically only used by the serious racer. It consists of an outer tire and inner tube assembled as a unit and glued in place to a special rim. The glues require overnight drying, thus not a style appropriate to roadside repair, but as a racer the upside is the lower weight of both the tire and rim.

Sizing: Bicycle Tires are basically sized with two measurements; the tire's width and its diameter.

Historically the diameter has related to the actual outside diameter of the tire when installed and inflated on the rim. In later years, as technology and style has changed the actual profile of the bicycle tire, these numbers have become somewhat inaccurate. A 26" tire (the most common) may only be 25" in actual diameter. The Europeans, in order to get around this confusion are now labeling tires by the diameter of the rim where the tire seats itself, irrespective of the actual size on inflation... for most of us this may be somewhat irrelevant. If it just fits over your rim then for most casual bike riders and owners it is undoubtedly the right one... so don't sweat it and put the tape away... take it seriously if your racing!

The width of your tire can vary from 1" to 2 1/4" depending on the style of riding; narrow typically for road riding, getting wider as you approach the bush. Although it is technically feasible to mount any width of tire on any width of rim, it is not always wise to do so. If you use a very wide bike tire on a narrow rim you risk sidewall collapse and lose control at low speeds. If you use a narrow tire on a wide rim you risk pinch flats and could damage your bicycle rim... thus try for an intelligent match.

Wider tires, will also have more shock absorbing capabilities so aside from any traction issues, some casual riders will go wider on the front tire to relieve wrist strain.

Rubber: As with car tires, bicycle tires use various types of rubber. Harder formulations for longer wear and softer rubbers for good traction. It is always a trade off.

Tread Pattern: extreme knobs on any tire are designed to dig into soft ground or grab on rocky surfaces, but in general road riding aggressive tread patterns create a huge amount of drag and require significantly more pedal power.

Combination Tires: Some tires designed for casual riding will include a central ridge of hard rubber and relatively fine tread, and a softer rubber and more aggressive tread pattern on the outer edges for when you hit the gravel. I have found this to be a great all purpose, city tire when you might hit the odd gravel path. Especially if used on the front wheel to offer great cornering control and then matched with a narrower, low tread tire in the back that offers greater pedal efficiency.

Remember selecting bicycle tires appropriate to your style of riding can go along way towards preventing skid outs and improved performance, but it must be understood that it can not be taken to the exclusion of issues surrounding tire air pressure and riding technique.

Related Information:
Bicycle Wheels: Tubes and Tires, Spokes and Hubs
Bicycle Parts including Wheels, Power Train, Brakes & Frames

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Products, specifications, and techniques shown are meant as a guide only.

Owners of this site assume no liability for and make no claim to the suitability of any products or information shown, other than to report history of usage, and sharing of knowledge from others.

It is the sole responsibility of the owner to adequately test for suitability and application method for a product..

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copyright Jan. 2007