Having the right tires on your bike lets you ride faster, corner harder and adds confidence for tackling different types of terrain.
- What type do I need?
- Are front and rear tires the same?
- How do I find my size?
- Do I need specialty tires?
What type do I need?
Choose a tire that matches the type of surface where you do most your riding.
Smooth, with no tread, these tires have very little rolling resistance and are designed to go fast on smooth pavement. They are prone to punctures, so if you ride with slicks, bring a repair kit with you.
- Road riding
- City riding
Smooth in the middle with a subtle tread on the edges, they offer low rolling resistance, but give you some traction when cornering and riding in wet conditions.
- Road riding and commuting in winter
- Cycle-touring on paved roads
These treads have a flat surface where the tread bulges in toward the rim. They offer traction on loose surfaces without sacrificing too much rolling resistance.
- Recreational riders on paved or hardpacked trails
- Cycle-touring on mixed surfaces
Mountain bike tires with treaded knobs that stick out from the tire and are designed to bite into loose terrain.
- Smooth singletrack: use smaller knobs for speed
- Rooty or rocky terrain: go for taller knobs that provide grip
- Soft trails: wide tires with sturdy paddle-like knobs
- Hardpack: knobs that are wider at the base will help you corner
- Loose terrain or hardpack: tall, widely spaced knobs offer versatility
- Mud: widely-spaced knob shed mud as you ride
Are front and rear tires the same?
Road bikes, commuter and touring bikes generally use the same tire on the front and rear. Mountain bikers tend to switch it up with a front tire designed for cornering, and a rear tire that gives you power transmission and solid braking.
How do I find my size?
Check the sidewall of your current tire to find its size.
If you see a number like 700 x 23, it means 700 is the diameter in millimeters and 23 is the width in millimeters. Most racers use 700 tires in a width from 18 to 25mm.
Commuter, touring, and mountain bikes
If you spot a number like 26 x 2.0, it means 26 is the bead-to-bead diameter in inches and 2.0 is the width in inches. Commuter and touring bikes will often use a 1.8 to 2.4-inch width and aggressive downhill riders will use 2.5 to 3.0-inch width.
If you opt to use a wider tire than what’s currently on your bike, check that your fork provides enough clearance.
Do I need specialty tires?
These are glued onto the rim, and are predominately used for elite racing. They offer light weight, less rolling resistance, better road feel and they are less prone to puncturing. You can run them at lower pressure for more traction. The limitation is that they are compatible only with tubular wheels, not more standard clincher wheels (the type of tire that needs tire levers to pop it on off the rim).
Air sealed to compatible rims using liquid sealant, they are popular with mountain bikers, cyclocross racers and some road riders. They give you lightness, low rolling resistance, good ride feel and they’re not prone to puncturing. You can also run them at lower pressure to add traction. The big advantage is that they will self-seal in case of puncture. But they must be used with tubeless-ready clincher wheels and the setup can be messy (literally).
These use Kevlar or a similar material to form the edge of the sidewall instead of a wire bead. This makes them lighter than standard tires and they pack up much smaller for travel, making them great spares. They are however, a little more expensive than a standard wire bead.
Steel or aluminum studs with carbide pins dig into snow and ice, so these tires are great for winter riders and commuters, but like snow tires, you wouldn’t want to use them all year long.
A belt of Kevlar or similar material protects the tube from punctures. You’ll have fewer flat tires, but the trade-off is that these tires add weight and increase rolling resistance