Choosing a replacement bike tire is like choosing a cycling helmet — it can get pretty detailed and a tad confusing. The cycling market is a vast sea of choices, and each of these choices yearns for your attention and dollars. The right bike tire for you depends on the type of bike you have, where you’ll ride it, the size of your wheels, and more. In how to choose bike tires, I discuss every feature and any other little thing you need to know before you fork over your hard-earned money to anyone online or offline.
Types of Bike Tires
There are two main types of bike tires namely:
- Mountain bike tires
- Road bike tires
Each main bike tire category has a couple of tire types that you need to learn before you decide to go with this or that option.
Mountain Bike Tires
Two key features distinguish mountain bike tires from road bike tires. These two features include tire width and tire tread. But not all mountain bike tires are/look/perform the same, and the same goes for road bike tires. Subtle differences may make one MTB tire the better bet just as nearly unnoticeable design differences may set two road bike tires apart.
MTB Tires vs Road Bike Tires
- MTB tires win in the grip and comfort department.
- Road tires generally outshine MTB tires in the speed department.
Generally, MTB tires are wider than road tires. Some MTB tires can be really wide, and some road tires can be really thin. The second major difference between road bike tires and mountain bike tires relates to tread. Tires designed for trail bikes and other kinds of off-road bicycles have fat-ish knobby tires that grip on rough terrain extremely well.
In comparison, road tires have extremely skinny tires that don’t have much tread. Being skinny and with little to no tread makes road bike wheels roll very very fast compared to MTB wheels.
That in no way suggests that MTBers are slower than roadies. It just means that road bikes are built first and foremost for speed while MTBs are built to withstand the rigors of cycling on rough, bumpy singletracks and rolling through unforgiving rock gardens.
But while MTB tires are slower, they offer more comfort, especially if they’re tubeless tires and you can run really low pressure.
Types of Mountain Bike Tires
Mountain bike tires fall into two main types namely:
1. Tubeless mountain bike tires
2. Clincher MTB tires
3. Tubular MTB tires
Off-road bicycles come with rims that work with either tubeless tires or clincher tires.
Clincher MTB Tires
Clincher tires are the most common tire type on beginner mountain bikes. These tires rely on steel/wire or Kevlar fiber beads to stay pressed solidly against the rim. The tube is where the air goes when you air up your tires. A valve lets you pump air in while also preventing the air from leaving (as long as you don’t have a flat).
Tubeless MTB Tires
Tubeless tires are precisely what the name suggests. They’re tires that don’t use inner tubes, unlike clinchers. These tires hook onto the rim
Many mountain bikers prefer tubeless tires over clinchers and there are reasons for that.
First off, tubeless tires are lighter than tubed tires because they lack inner tubes. Another advantage is that you don’t need to replace worn-out inner tubes.
The third reason for choosing or upgrading to tubeless tires is that you get to say goodby to flats. Because when something pricks your tires when you’re out riding in the woods, the sealant inside the tire plugs any snakebites (pinch flats) you might encounter along the way.
Here’s one more huge advantage of using a tubeless setup. They allow you to run lower tire pressure. And lower-pressure tires are more comfortable to ride. Also, running low pressure helps you reduce rolling resistance so you traverse those mellow, flowy singletracks faster.
Tubed vs Tubeless Bike Tires, What’s Better?
Tubeless tires are typically lighter than tubeless tires, even when you account for the sealant that enables tire self-repair. In terms of performance, ride quality, and cornering capabilities, tubeless choices win out because you can run considerably low pressure with them. However, tubeless tires tend to be pricier, and setting up an airtight seal can be tricky. Also, the sealant needs to be replenished once it dries out, and putting it inside tubeless tires can be messy. And if the tire burps and the sealant ends up on your clothes and cycling shoes, cleaning the mess up won’t be much fun.
How long does the sealant last inside tubeless tires? If the climate where you’re at is warm, you might have to replace the sealant a couple of times every year. Of course, the frequency depends on how often you ride. But if you’re in a cool climate region, you can get away with once a year.
Can You Put a Tube Inside a Tubeless Tire
Yes, you can run tubes on tubeless tires. By the way, it’s not like you won’t ever need to carry a pump again on your rides just because you have tubeless tires. In case your tires get gashed bad enough, you’ll have to put a regular tube inside. And since you’ll have to air up the tube, it’s crucial to pack a pump on those long trail rides or road tours.
Tubular MTB tires
Can you use tubular tires on a mountain bike? Yes, you can, and some MTBers use them. Unlike clincher MTB tires that have an opening and clinch onto the rim by their wire or Kevlar bead, tubular tires are closed, completely round. You place them on the groove on the rim and glue or tape them to it.
Those who like tubular MTB tires choose them for their performance potential at races. Once you get used to them, you’ll love how insanely fast tubular tires can be.
Tubular tires are more common in road biking/racing than in MTB, though. In fact, few MTBers use tubular tires. One reason tubular tires aren’t common in off-road cycling is that they can be a real pain if you flat in the middle of nowhere and sealant fails you.
The odds are that no one who shows up where you’re stuck is likely to help you with this tire type because few MTBers ever use them. Even worse, handling a flat can be problematic because you simply can take off the pinched tube to solve the problem. You have to have a spare pre-glued tubular road tire. And carrying a pre-glued tire for a long trail ride can be difficult.
Do tubular tires have inner tubes? Yes, but the tube stays completely sewn into the tire so that the two become one. And, you can run lower pressure with tubulars as you would with tubeless tires. But they can be quite expensive even though some say the better ones can last reasonably long.
But who knows, maybe tubular tires will become more common in the future. Why do I think so? It’s because most off-road riders prefer disc brakes on their rigs these days. And because disc brakes don’t touch the rim, manufacturers can make super-thick rims. Who wouldn’t want thicker, better-quality rims?
Those who use tubular tires say they make for great handling and have considerably low roll resistance. What’s more, they’re quite supple and offer a great ride quality. The downside is that removing these glued tires can be quite challenging if you need to do some wheel truing.
Other Types of MTB Tires
Here are three kinds of tires for off-road rigs that you need to know.
1. Low rolling resistance MTB tires/Slick MTN tires
2. All-rounder MTB tires
3. Foldable mountain bike tires
Let’s take a look at each of these three tire types.
Low Rolling Resistance/Slick and Semi-slick MTB Tires
Are you the competitive MTBer type who likes zooming past panting and sweating roadies just to make a statement? You’re less likely to teach them a lesson if you have the wrong tires.
You need low rolling resistance tires or slick MTB tires to roll over smooth asphalt at breakneck speed. These tires have no knobs and are pretty narrow (as narrow as 2 inches), narrower than any MTB tire you’ve ever seen.
Semi-slick MTB tires have a bit of tread on them, but they’re nothing like the quintessential knobby MTB tire. You can use semi-slicks for road biking on your MTB or you can mount them onto your gravel or trail bike and see how well it performs.
Foldable MTB Tires
A foldable MTB tire is just as the name suggests. It’s a tire that lets you easily fold it up and stash it in your bike bag. It’s a lightweight bicycle tire, and instead of using wire for the bead (the part of a tire that presses against the rim), bike tire manufacturers use Kevlar.
Typically, tires with Kevlar beads cost significantly more than those with a wire bead.
Try not to think of a foldable tire as a distinct type. Instead, think of it as a really good-quality lightweight option, and understand any of the MTB types described here can be a foldable choice. The Tubeless, Foldable Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro for winter cycling is also foldable.
All Rounder MTB Tires
All-rounder tires for mountain biking try to win in the traction and speed departments at once. But you can’t expect them to be as fast as a road bike tire or as grippy as the grippiest MTB tires. That said, they score decently as far as speed and grip. If your riding style has you spending some of your ride time on roads and gravel and the rest of it riding on flowy trails, get an all-rounder tire.
MTB Bike Tire Tread
Tread is simply that part of a tire that connects a cyclist to the ground. Tire manufacturers use different tire compounds and tread patterns to make tires that perform well in different kinds of terrains.
One factor you should keep in mind when choosing MTB tires is the quality or kind of surface you’ll ride on.
If you mostly ride dry, smooth, hard-packed, trails, choose tires with small knobs that stay close together.
If the trails where you’re at are mostly loose and relatively muddy some of the time, go with tires that have relatively big, widely spaced traction knobs.
You need a tire that digs into loose pretty well while also boasting decent cornering capabilities. Bad news! Very few bike tires will keep you stable on loose dirt while refusing to wash out during cornering.
Also, few trails are 100% loose dirt. Trails almost always have hardpacked portions.
That’s why most riders use a mixed-wheel setup as far as the tread. I use a Minion DHF tire for the front wheel and a Maxxis High Roller I for the rear wheel. And this setup gets me through loose dirt and hardpacked just fine.
Rooty, Rocky Terrain, and Wet Roads
If the trails you ride have tons of rooty obstacles and rocky patches that pack lots of baby heads, go for tires whose tread will withstand that level of rough abuse.
For this kind of technical terrain, choose tires with a grippy tread pattern. Siped bike tires are typically a great option for this kind of riding situation. Siped tires are tires whose tread pattern boasts numerous slits all over the surface.
Also, if you ride over really smooth and wet/slippery roads a good portion of the time, go for siped MTB tires. Siped tires offer increased traction, and more traction translates into more safety out biking.
I’ve never siped mine, but I know that some MTBers groove and sipe their tires to give them more road grip. Many bike tires today come already siped, some more than others.
Go for more siping if your terrain is super rocky and rooty or if you do lots of riding over really smooth or wet roads. One siped tire I and many MTBers like is the Schwalbe Hans Dampf.
Muddy, Sandy, Icy, Snowy Surfaces
When the winter season rolls around and you want to venture outside and generate some heat, you need tires designed for those slidey snowy surfaces. These tires have large, widely spaced knobs with studded ends.
Tire makers add aluminum or steel studs to the rubber knobs. These protrusions dig into snowy or icy surfaces, and the terrific metallic grip keeps you secure and safe during those chilly morning rides.
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Cycle tires with studs are also a good option for biking through soft, sandy conditions (evening beach rides?) as well as muddy surfaces. If your beginner fat bike didn’t come with spiked tires, consider getting these tires for winter cycling. The Tubeless, Foldable Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro is a worthy bet.
Road Bike Tires
One thing you notice when you look at a road bike tire is its width. These tires are very, very thin compared to their off-road counterparts. Also, they don’t have little to very little tread, and that means they’re less grippy compared to the knobby,bush-conquering MTB tires.
It’s elementary physics: a thinner tire has less of it touching the riding surface than a thicker tire. And because there’s less tire on the road, there’s less friction, and less friction means more speed.
Types of Road Bike Tires
1. Clincher tires: Clincher road bike tires clinch onto the rim, and they have an inflatable tube inside. These are the most common tire type on road bikes. Be sure to pack everything you need to handle pinch flats.
2.Tubular road bike tires (Race-day Road Bike Tires)
As explained above, tubular tubes stick to the rim via glue or special tape. They’re round and have neither wire nor Kevlar bead. Because these tires have the tube and tire merged and have no edges for clinching on the rim. For that reason, they’re quite light, and being lightweight is something roadies really value.
When it comes to professional road cycling, tubular tires have become pretty much the standard at racing events due to their great performance. And if a tubular tire flats out on the road, the tire stays on the rim. That means you can keep pedaling without losing much control.
One big reason recreational road cyclists don’t use tubular tires a lot is that these aren’t the most practical option for everyday road biking. You need to carry a spare pre-glued tire for when you have a puncture, and that can be cumbersome.
Another big reason tubular road tires aren’t a staple for everyday road cycling is that they’re expensive. In fact, tubulars are some of the most expensive tire options in the market today. The finest ones cost well over $100.
3.Tubeless Road Bike Tires
As explained above, tubeless tires (whether MTB or road tires) don’t use inner tubes and you can run them at pretty low tire pressure. Also, they roll fast due to their being low-resistance options.
Also, the sealant used in these tires helps reduce pinch flats. But not everyone likes handling potentially messy sealants. And some roadies who prefer clincher bike tires claim that fixing pinch flats takes about the same amount of time as messing around with sealants.
Other Types of Road Bike Tires
1.Slick Road Bike Tires
If you mostly ride on smooth asphalt, the best tire option for you is slick. Slick road bike tires have pretty much no tread on the entire surface. For that reason, these guys see very little roll resistance. These are the tires you need for pedaling your ride into lots of speed on smooth roads.
2.Semi-slick Road Bike Tires
Semi-slick road bike tires are designed for mostly smooth-road cycling and a bit of off-road riding. These options have a relatively smooth center tread that makes for reduced rolling resistance for smooth roads and other surfaces.
But these tires also have aggressive side tread that makes for great cornering capabilities especially on rough-ish surfaces.
3.Inverted Tread Road Bike Tires
Inverted-tread road bike tires are a sweet spot where decent rolling speed on smooth roads/surfaces meets considerably good grip 0n not-so-smooth surfaces. So, if you ride your road rig on gravel some of the time and high-quality asphalt the rest of the time, this is the best tireset for you.
4.Foldable Road Bike Tires
Foldable road bike tires can be folded with ease and packed for a long ride. They’re also lightweight options, which means they tend to cost more than most other choices. Unlike clincher tires, foldable road bike tires have a Kevlar fiber bead, and this bead type accounts for the higher price point.
Bike Tire Compound
When it comes to bike tires, rubber isn’t just rubber. It could be natural rubber or synthetic rubber, but the whole compound includes many other different compounds. Bike tire manufacturers mix different compounds in different formulas to produce tires with varying performance capabilities. In general, there are hard rubber tires and soft rubber tires, but there are tons of formula varieties across the divide.
Dual-Compound, 3-Compound, and 4-Compound Formulas
Most bike tires are produced using dual-compound tire formulas. But some can be 3-compound formulas with the best-quality options being 4-compound formulas. Each compound in the formula is included to achieve a certain performance-related quality. In the end, the formula you need depends on the kind of riding you do and the kind of surface you have.
Generally, soft rubber bicycle tires are stickier and offer more traction. But soft, sticky tires tend to wear down quicker. In comparison, hard-rubber bike tires give you more durability, but you’ll get less grip in most cases.
The more compounds and the more cycling technology and expertise poured into the manufacturing process, the costlier the tire. Multi-compound bike tires may be more expensive, but they enable you to ride on different kinds of surfaces without issues, for the most part.
The best tire compound considerably promotes rolling efficiency, durability, puncture resistance, comfort, and grip while not adding too much weight to the product. Professional cyclists and all serious riders pay lots of attention to tire compounds. Because the tire is what connects them to the road or trail. And if the ride quality and handling aren’t great, rider performance suffers.
Bike Tire Pressure
How much air pressure should you run on your tires? The amount of pressure needed in a bike’s tires depends on tire width and rider weight. Other factors to keep in mind when deciding how much air to pump in are the quality of the surface and the desired ride quality.
Manufacturers usually indicate on the tire the right amount of PSI for that tire. But you can go lower or higher than the recommended PSI depending on all the factors mentioned above.
Below is a general road bike tire pressure (PSI) guide for your information.
What if you weigh 140lbs or 250lbs? One quick and dirty trick to determining how much additional PSI you need is to add 1% of more air pressure for every extra kilo/2lbs. For example, if you’re a 150-pound cyclist (20 lbs heavier than 130 lbs from the table above), a good PSI number to experiment with would be (11.81lbs + 85psi = 97psi).
How to Size Bike Tires
How do you know what size your bike tires are? The sidewall of a bike’s tires usually shows two tire size numbers. The tire’s outer diameter is stated in millimeters for road bike tires and inches for MTB tires while tire width is often expressed in inches. These numbers are usually printed or embossed somewhere near the brand name.
Road Bike Tire Sizes
If you look at a road bike tire, you’ll see the tire size expressed like this: 700C/650C x wheel width in inches. 700c means that the bead-seat diameter is 700mm. 700c road tires are standard, and 650c road tires are usually used by smaller riders for competing in high-performance triathlon races and other road races. A road bike tire with 700c x 23mm printed or embossed on the sidewall means that the tire is 700mm in diameter and 23mm wide. By the way, 700c x 23mm tires are pretty common in road biking.
Mountain Bike Tire Sizes
Mountain bike tires traditionally have had a bead-bead diameter or wheel size of 26″. Mountain bikers like to call bikes with 26″ wheels 26ers. These days, many riders are using 650B/27.5″ and 29″ wheels. Smaller wheels (26ers) are more nimble and accelerate faster than either 650B and 29″ wheels. However, 26″ wheels see more roll resistance (they’re slightly slower) than either 27.5″ or 29″ wheels.
But when it comes to riding over rocky terrain/rooty terrain, taller wheels work better than smaller-diameter wheels. If you’re really tall, like way over 6′ 4″, you might find that 29ers/niners work best for you.
Also, higher-diameter wheels roll faster than smaller wheels, but it doesn’t mean you’ll always best 26er riders and get KOM or QOM every time. For the most part, how fast you zip around depends on how good a rider you are.
When it comes to mountain bike tire width, some tires can be as narrow as 1.6″ (that’s super narrow) and as wide as 2.6 inches. Wider off-road tires can measure up to 3.5 inches, but 2.6″-3.2″ tire width is more common.
Fat Bike Tires Measure 4″-5″ Width-wise
But then there are fat-bike tires which are the widest bike tires in the market. While many people consider 3.5-inch MTB tires to be an ideal size for fat-bikes, 4.0-4.5″ inch fat bike tires are more like the standard. But some fat bike tires can be extremely wide, measuring up to 5″ bead-to-bead.
These plus-size tires are what you need if you’re a complete beginner mountain biker. Because they roll much better on rough terrain, which means they’re the most comfortable wheels available.
Fat bike-style tires are also a great option for riding in sandy, muddy, icy, snowy conditions. Fat tires are known to have the ability to float over these soft surfaces as opposed to digging in and getting you stuck.
Match Tire Width with Rim Width
It’s possible to mount a tire onto a rim that’s too wide or too narrow for the tire in question. If there’s too much rim for the tire (too wide a rim), the shape of the rim tends to change. And the result is reduced traction and loss of bike control.
But if the rim is too narrow relative to the tire, the rim’s ability to support the tire is compromised. With rims that are too narrow for the tire, you’ll experience increased roll resistance, less grip on climbs, and reduced maneuverability when negotiating turns.
All these negative scenarios are happening the rim width/tire width mismatch diminishes sidewall support. Below is a rim width vs. tire width guide that can give you an idea of how to choose the right bike tire width.
What’s ISO Bike Tire Size?
The ISO bike tire size is a type of globally accepted and more reliable way of expressing tire sizes. By the way, ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization. If you can learn how to read tire sizes stated in this sizing system, you’ll keep confusion at bay when choosing bicycle tires.
Every bike rim is designed to work with a specific bead seat diameter. What’s bead seat diameter of a bike tire? Bead seat diameter refers to the distance from bead to bead of a tire in millimeters. This ISO bike tire size number isn’t equal to the size in ” and mm as described in product descriptions. Nothing confuses new riders than seeing the tire size stated as the following: (23-622)
If you received a bicycle tire from Amazon or wherever labeled with 23-622 printed on the package, that’s the ISO size. You’re looking at a 700c x 23mm modern road bike tire. That also corresponds to a 29″ tire. And if the number is 571, that’s a 650c tire for a high-performance time trial road bike, especially for a smaller rider.
In mountain biking, 622 corresponds to the regular 29″ MTB tire. ISO size 584 corresponds to 27.5″ or 26″ x 1 1/2 modern MTB tires while ISO size 559 corresponds to classic mountain bike tires, 26 x 1.0 – 26 x 2.5.
Here’s a detailed and accurate ISO bike tire size guide and what it converts into in terms of regular sizes. Think of it as a bike tire size or a bike tire size converter.
Choose the Right Tire Width for Your MTB Discipline
Different mountain biking styles require different tire widths. It’s your job to choose a tire width that’ll work well for your off-road riding style. But few mountain bikers have only one riding style. You could be an enduro-style rider as well as a downhill MTBer. Or a cross-c0untry guy/girl who does tons of regular singletrack trail riding the rest of the time.
If you dabble in two or more MTB disciplines, it’s best to choose different tires for each discipline. And if the bike you have will work across two or more disciplines, simply switching to the right tire would be about it.
Below is a simple bike tire width range guide for 5 common MTB disciplines:
|Suggested Tire Width
When to Replace Bike Tires
Replace your rig’s tires when:
1.You keep getting pinch flats out riding
2.Your tires wear down substantially and the degradation is easily noticeable
3. The tread pattern looks rounded or noticeably uneven
4.Siping such as the narrow slits found on tires designed to increase traction on wet surfaces get worn down and all but disappears
5. You see a tread pattern that looks like hashtags on your tire’s sidewalls
6.The tire becomes noticeably distorted for whatever reason
7. You see numerous tiny cuts on the rubber and in those cuts lodge small pieces of glass and other pierce-y objects
8. Your tires have tire wear indicators, order replacement bike tires when you get too close to the wear indicator. Usually, the wear indicator is a small (or two) dimple-like depression on the tire, but not all wheels have these wear indicators.
9. Your rig’s handling has been deteriorating progressively and now you’re almost hating riding the thing
10. You’re seeing several cracks on the sidewalls
11. The rubber on the sidewalls and knobs has been flaking off
How to Choose Bike Tire Tubes
How do you size bike tire tubes correctly? Size bike tire tubes the same way you size tires. But there’s one little thing you should keep in mind when sizing bicycle tubes. Bicycle replacement tubes come with a stated width range in inches. Make sure the stated tube width range accommodates your bike’s tire width range.
Look at the Valve Type on Your Rims
If you’re shopping for replacement bike tubes, make sure the valve on the new tube is compatible with the holes in your existing rims. There are two types of bike tube valves:
1. Presta tube valves
2. Schrader tube valves
1. Presta Tube Valves
Presta tube valves are typically found on road bikes. They look really narrow compared to Schrader tube valves. Unscrewing a small nut on the end of this valve helps you open it so that you can pump in air pressure. Presta tube valves fit all kinds of holes on bike rims, including Schrader rim holes.
Does that mean you can use Presta tube valves on Schrader rims? Yes, you can, but y0u’d have to make find a way to make the hole smaller. You’d have to use an adapter to solve the hole size issue. But why endure all that pain when you could just match Presta valves with Presta rims?
2. Schrader Tube Valves
Unlike Presta valves, Schrader tube valves are pretty wide and short. Also, unlike Presta valves, these valves are too wide that they won’t fit in Presta rims. You’d have to gride the area around the holes on Presta rims to make these Schrader valves fit. But why do all that when you could just choose the right valve type and sidestep migraines?
Schrader bike valves are pretty much like car tire valves. They rely on a valve and a removable valve cap to keep things nice and sealed inside the tube after you inflate to the air pressure limit you want.
Can You Use a Gas Station Air Pump on a Bike Tire?
Yes, you can use a gas station air pump to inflate a bike tire, but NOT ALWAYS. For example, you CAN’T use a regular gas station air pump to air up a bike tire that uses a Presta-type tube valve. However, if absolutely necessary, you can use the pump at a gas station to put air pressure into your tire if it features a Schrader-type inner tube. That’s because a Schrader-type bike tire tube and a car tire tube share an identical valve.
Bike Tire Thread Count in the Casing
When buying sheets for your bedroom, thread counts per inch in something you pay attention to, and the same goes for when choosing tires for your rig. If you could somehow peel off the outer rubber casing, what you find underneath is a structural layer that consists of a web of threads. And the higher the thread count in that under-rubber layer, the better the tire quality.
While thread count matters both in MTB and road bicycle tires, this aspect matters more in road cycling. If you’ll recall, we agreed that you can run lower pressure on MTB tires.
But when it comes to road bike tires, you need to run much higher pressure to reduce roll resistance. More pressure pushes the sidewall outward, and a high thread count tire pushes back more strongly. High-performance road bike tires can have a TPI figure of as high as 320 (320TPI).
Final Thoughts on Choosing Replacement Bike Tires
Choosing the right replacement tire for your road bike or mountain bike can be a big headache if you don’t know what to look for. But if you know how to choose the right tire size, find the right tread pattern for your riding surface and style, and know how to select replacement tubes that will work for your rim holes, you’ll be good. I hope you found this bike tire buying guide useful.