There’s a lot to take into account before taking the big jump into choosing a new set of tyres. Rather than just replace a worn out set like-for-like, it’s a great opportunity to unlock your bike’s real potential. Our best bike tyre buying guide will get you back on track!
The mysteries of tyre size, tyre width, tread pattern, tyre pressures, rubber compounds and tubeless options are about to be unravelled.
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Round, rubbery, knobbly things, that’s all MTB tyres are … right?! If we’re talking in a literal sense then yes, but if chosen well tyres are so much more.
Mountain bike tyres are charged with the unenviable task of providing traction in all types of conditions. A new set of tyres is hands down one of the most dramatic yet cost effective changes that you can make to a mountain bikes handling.
MTB tyres utilise aggressive tread patterns to deliver grip in tough off-road terrain, while still providing a balance of speed and riding comfort. There are a huge range of MTB tyres on the market in lots of sizes designed for different riding disciplines, terrains, and weather conditions. So it is helpful to understand some of the basic concepts behind their construction and design in order to choose a set that will really suit your riding.
There appears to be lots of different brands each with lots of different models, where do I start?
Buying new tyres is like buying a new frame or even an entirely new bike; you have to be honest about where and what you’re going to be riding. Think about the local trails you spend most of your time on and how your current tyres perform on them and what they could be doing better.
The tyre you choose will depend on the your wheel size, frame and fork clearance, and the conditions you ride in. Your tyre choice would be diffrent depending on whether you ride on hard-packed, man-manicured trail centres or on steep, root-scattered techfests. If you ride on a bit of both, then you might choose an all-rounder.
Tyres is always a bit of a compromise. For example, super-light XC race tyres may benefit riders in competition, but wear too quickly for everyday use, and likewise spiky winter-specific tyres do not perform well in warm dry weather. Increasingly, manufacturers are producing both front and rear-specific tyres too and on top of all this you’ll also need to work out if you want to go tubeless …
Lets start with size. There are so many sizes, which is right for me?
First of course you need to select what size of wheel you have. Mountain bikes are currently built in one of three main diameters: 26”, 27.5” (650B) and 29”. There is also a growing trend for 27.5+, 29+ and Fat Bike wheels which allow the use of specific high air volume tyres. Less common is the 24″ wheel which tends to feature on kids mountain bikes or dirt and jump bikes.
The wheel size will normally be printed or embossed on the size of your existing tyre followed by the tyre width.
Tyre width is also an important consideration. Unlike wheel sizes which are unique to each bike frame, there is more flexibility with tyre width. There are many more tyre widths than wheel sizes, especially with the recent addition of +sizes and fat tyres too which have much larger air volumes than typical MTB bike tyres.
Not all widths will fit on all bikes, +sizes and fat tyres generally only fit on bikes and wheels designed specifically for their use, and some mountain bikes will not accommodate wider sizes. Only fit and use tyres that leave you enough clearance between your tyre and bike frame or fork. If you are unsure about tyre widths, you can always refer to the bike manufacturers bike guides.
Generally speaking narrower tyres are more suited to harder, and smoother surfaces, are generally faster, but offer less traction on loose surfaces. Wider tyres on the other hand have more rolling resistance so therefore roll slower, but offer much more traction on loose surfaces. The choice of tyre width combined with tread pattern (which is covered shortly), can have a real impact on bike handling. It is always best to pick something suitable for the terrain you are riding on. That brings us to the next important question, should I use tubes or run them tubeless?
… but my tyres have tubes; what is tubeless, and how does it work?
Tubeless tyres dispense with the traditional inner tube by attaching themselves to the wheel rim. They can also feature a sealant liquid inside which will automatically plug and harden in the hole made by a puncture.
Tubeless tyres have many performance advantages over a ‘regular’ tubed set up; they’re lighter, they resist pinch flats better and can be run at lower pressures. The only real downside is getting the airtight seal required to seat the tyre on to the rim, this can make them tricky for a novice to install. That said with a whole range of new tubeless pumps, no longer are tubeless veterans having nightmares involving sealant spraying everywhere or tyres refusing to seal.
There are a number of different types of tubeless systems designed to make things a bit easier. The UST (Universal Systeme Tubeless) system is one of the most popular. This system features a uniquely designed thick side-walled UST tyre that locks into a specific sealed-bed UST rim. This provides a stable, high-performance tubeless tyre with or without sealant. The UST system can be usually be identified by the letters UST printed onto the tyres and rims. Although the system is very popular it can be a little pricy and slightly limit you in terms of overall tyre choice.
Another option is the growing number of tubeless kits such as Stan’s No Tubes. These kits allow a tyre and rim to be converted to tubeless using a liquid latex sealant and a rubber rim strip to seal and stop air loss via the rim.
Your final option is Tubeless Ready. With this, some manufacturers offer rims and tyres that are intended to be easily converted to tubeless using a sealant kit. To identify them Tubeless Ready is typically written on these rims and tyres.
Right, once I get that figured out then, what sort of tread pattern should I look for?
As with any kind of tyre, there are two main elements to consider; tread pattern and compound.
Tread patterns used on tyres vary enormously. Some tyres may have directional tread patterns (often with a ‘v’-shaped pattern) which are designed to roll in one direction for increased speed, whilst other tyres are uni-directional. Tread spacing is often key; tightly spaced, shorter knobs eek every gram of grip from a dry trail whilst taller, wider spaced knobs spear through mud and clear quicker.
Chunky side knobs feature on most mountain bike tyres and are designed to boost cornering traction when the tyre is on it’s side.
Tyres are made from a range of different rubber compounds with the durometer being a measure of how soft the rubber is. Tyres with a durometer of 70 are cheap, hard, fast-rolling and long-lasting, while softer, stickier tyres (with a durometer of under 50) offer much improved grip at the expense of durability and speed. Many riders find a compound rating of around 60 gives the best all-round compromise for long tyre life and optimum performance across a variety of conditions. Super-soft DH racing tyres may hover around the 40 rating and prioritise grip over everything else.
Some manufacturers now offer double or even triple-compound tyres which sees different parts of the one tyre being constructed from different compounds to boost it’s overall performance.
OK, I’ve got my new tyres and fitted them. What do I now need to keep an eye on?
As with any other tyre, pressure is key to how it performs and we’d definitely recommend paying attention to what yours is doing. Consult the manufacturers packaging (or even the sidewall of your tyre) and find out the optimum window of operating pressure they advise. If your tyre is too soft then you’ll be wasting energy but if it’s too hard then you’re not giving it the opportunity to use all of it’s traction.
We’d definitely recommend investing in either a digital tyre pressure gauge or a track pump with an easy to read gauge to make sure that you’re always getting the most from your rubber.
MTB Tyre Glossary
MTB tyres in their most elemental terminology:
- Beads: Two strong hoops of steel or Kevlar which hook the tyre into the rim of the wheel to keep it in place. Steel-beaded tyres (often referred to as ‘wire beads’) are the cheaper option whilst Kevlar beads are lighter weight and fold for easy storage (so Kevlar-beaded tyres are known as ‘folding’ tyres).
- Carcass: The body of the tyre, made from woven fabric.
- Rubber: The exterior of the tyre which covers the carcass. Tread patterns and rubber compounds are important considerations when choosing tyres (see below).
The majority of MTB tyres using inflatable inner tubes to hold air, but tubeless tyre systems are growing in popularity as they dispense with the extra weight of the tube and can also be run with liquid latex sealant inside the tyre to automatically seal punctures when they occur.
- Tread: The thickest rubber on the tyre and the part that is designed to dig into the ground, producing grip.
- Sidewalls: Usually coated in thinner rubber to save weight, sidewalls account for a lot of how the tyre feels under side loads.
- Compounds: The durometer of the rubber(s) used. Typically ranging between 70 for hard-wearing utility tyres right down to 40 for DH-specific gravity rubber. Tyres can feature as many as three different compounds to help each section do it’s job better.
- Inner tubes: Thin, inflatable tubes located inside the tyre charged with keeping it inflated.
- Tubeless: A system which negates the use of inner tubes and instead relies on hooked beads/rims, air-tight rims and sealant to keep the tyre in place.
- Sealant: Liquid Latex which helps to make the join between rim and tyre airtight and plugs any puncture holes thanks to escaping air pressure
Road cycling, whether it’s shoulder-to-shoulder crit racing, tackling your first sportive or simply commuting to and from work, is more popular than ever. Tyres for road bikes appear broadly similar but can be among one of the biggest and best value upgrades that you can make to your bike.
There are however varieties in sizing, construction and performance that are important to take into account before making a purchase. Here’s everything that you need to know.
They all seem to look the same. What do I need to look for to make sure I get the right tyres?
You will need to consider the day-to-day conditions in which you ride in order to choose a tyre that will offer you the correct balance between comfort and performance.
High-performance tyres designed for the rigours of competitive racing are built with different criteria than those designed for commuting duties or winter training (e.g. light weight at the expense of durability), so automatically buying the most expensive tyre may not actually be the answer.
There is always a trade-off between durability, weight, puncture protection and rolling resistance. Many riders will therefore opt for an all-round tyre that provides the optimum performance balance for their needs.
OK, I see. Are they all at least the same size?
Well, broadly… Road bike tyres come in a variety of sizes but the most common diameter is 700c (for most adult road race bikes) .
The big variable however tends to be width which really depends on the tyres intended use. Many racers will opt for skinny 23mm tyres (or even 20mm) which can be inflated to a higher pressure for maximum speed. However increasing numbers of riders are choosing more comfortable 25mm tyres for everyday use, winter training or sportive events, as they find the extra cushioning worth any sacrifice in overall speed. Some events or surfaces may even call for 28mm tyres (the classic Pavé cobblestone) surfaces of European races such as the Paris-Roubaix, for example). These wider options have gathered a bit of a cult following of late with even some pros trading up to the more voluminous sizes.
It’s impossible to make sure that your frame and fork offer enough clearance before committing to a larger width than your bike currently uses however.
And will any tyre fit on any rim?
No. There are two main types of tyres; clincher and tubular.
The vast majority of wheels will use clinchers, a term used to describe the traditional beaded tyre/inner tube/rim set-up.
Tubular tyres on the other hand are more specific to racing. They are a sealed unit with an inner tube sewn into the casing of the tyre. They are designed for rims which do not have the hook for the bead (and so are lighter), being glued in placed with tubular cement or secured using special tape. They can be inflated to a higher pressure than clincher tyres meaning in turn that they can run faster.
Tubular tyres (or ‘tubs’ as they’re known) have long been the choice of the racing professional who value their performance advantages. Compared to clinchers, they are lighter, offer better rolling resistance due to higher inflation limit and their round profile aids in cornering. But for leisure riders clinchers are generally considered the better option due to their availability, affordability and ease of repair.
Developments in tyre technology including Kevlar beads have meanwhile narrowed the weight gap between clincher and tubular tyres, while the difficulties in carrying a spare ‘tub’ while riding mean that they are impractical for riders who are not supported by a team car full of spares.
That sounds quite complicated…
Slightly more than clinchers, yeah. Sizing for tubular wheels is slightly different to clincher wheels with manufacturers still using imperial sizes (26” equates to 650c and 28” to 700c). In order to be certain of sizing when choosing new tyres you can use the five-digit ISO number printed on the rim to pick a matching tyre. This number gives gives the tyre section (in millimeters), followed by a dash, followed by the tyre diameter at the bead where it sits on the rim. A 700c rim, for example, measures 622mm in diameter. A tyre with an ISO number of 25-622 therefore is equivalent to 700x25c. So yes, it is a bit more complicated…
Right, I think clinchers might be the way forward. Is there any difference in tread or are they all just bald slicks?
When it comes to tyre tread, a deep tread pattern is generally unnecessary for road racing bikes, as the surface of the road is rougher than any tread and provides plenty of traction. Some tyres for all-weather use may feature a shallow tread to aid in shedding water or to provide extra grip on the shoulders for when the bike’s leant over.
Riders who do wish to improve their grip can choose a tyre with a softer compound (meaning the rubber used in the tread construction is softer) or opt to run a tyre at lower pressure to increase the contact area with the surface of the road. A softer-compound tyre will give better traction, but at the expense of more rapid wear.
Some manufacturers offer dual compound tyres whose shoulders may be made of a softer compound to add some extra security when cornering.
Useful hardware to help you stay on top of your tyres
- Tyre levers: Investing in a decent set of levers will make swapping tyres far easier particularly as road tyres tend to sit quite snuggly on their rims.
- Track pump: A floor-based, high volume/pressure pump not only means that inflation takes a matter of seconds but many now offer built-in pressure gauges to help make sure your tyres perform to their optimum.
- Digital pressure gauge: A handy toolbox essential perfect for pre-race or sportive checks.
- Puncture repair kit: It’s never ideal having to mend a puncture but carrying a decent repair kit (or even a new inner tube) can save a ride.
Road Tyre Glossary
The what and the why of tyre speak
- Clincher: The most common form of bike tyre consisting of a tyre which hooks into a lip inside the rim and is kept inflated via an inner tube.
- Tubular (or ‘tubs’): A more racing-specific form of tyre which sees an inner tube sewn into the tyre and the whole assembly being glued or taped to a special rim.
- Beads: Two strong hoops of steel or Kevlar which hook the tyre into the rim of the wheel to keep it in place. Steel-beaded tyres (often referred to as wire beads) are the cheaper option whilst Kevlar beads are lighter weight and fold for easy storage and transport (so Kevlar-beaded tyres are known as folding tyres).
- Carcass: The body of the tyre, made from woven fabric. The number of threads per inch (TPI) used in the construction of the carcass is often an important indicator of the quality of the tyre. The higher the TPI number, the thinner and more flexible the tyre fabric is. Thin-wall (high TPI) tyres tend to be lighter and have lower rolling resistance, but they are more prone to damage.
- Rubber: The exterior of the tyre which covers the carcass. The thick rubber on the part of the tyre that comes into contact with the ground is called the tread, while thinner rubber covers the sidewalls between the tread and the beads.
- Dual compound: A tyre constructed from two different durometers of rubber, typically softer at the shoulders for increased grip.
BMX tyres are designed to cope with one of the widest myriads of usage of any two-wheeled sport. Whether it’s carving bowls in the skatepark, nailing rails during a street session or powering through a rhythm section on a race track, you need to be sure that your tyres are up to the job.
No matter where you ride, here’s our guide on how to make sure your next set of rubber will help you to get the most from your bike.
So basically, they’re small and round, that’s it?
Well no, there’s a bit more to it than that, but you’re not far off. BMX tyres are smaller in diameter than road bike tyres to fit the smaller standard BMX wheels, and wider in order to provide ample cushioning. Unlike MTB tyres however most BMX tyres aren’t ridden in challenging off-road conditions and so feature a smooth or shallow tread for pavement, skate park or racetrack use.
But they’re all the same size, right?
The majority of BMX tyres are 20” in diameter. However, increasingly manufacturers are producing smaller 18” wheeled bike for younger riders and now even 22” wheeled versions for older or taller riders and the more old-fashioned 24” ‘cruiser’ standard.
Which tyres will work best for where I ride?
While pro and serious amateur riders may opt for discipline-specific tyres, most BMX riders will be looking for a good all-rounder that offers the ideal balance of durability, toughness, comfort, weight and price.
There are a number of variables to take into account when choosing a BMX tyre, including construction, sizing (diameter and width), tread pattern and air pressure.
BMX racing tyres boast chunky knobs for ripping into loose dirt whilst flatland tyres feature little tread for smoother rolling in car parks.
For street riding tyres, the ability to handle high pressures (up to 100psi) are commonplace as are increasingly chunky 2.4” diameters are both currently popular.
Are they all made from the same stuff?
Rubber, yes. BMX tyres are available in different rubber compounds, with harder-compound tyres being cheaper, harder, faster-rolling and longer-lasting whilst softer, stickier tyres offer much improved grip at the expense of durability and speed.
Some manufacturers now offer double or even triple compound tyres, with a harder centre section for fast rolling and softer shoulder for cornering traction.
Additionally, many manufacturers also offer different levels of density in the tyre carcass – this is expressed as the TPI (threads per inch) number, with a higher-density carcass offering improved rolling resistance and better resistance to punctures.
Your BMX tyre’s recommended PSI (Pounds per Square Inch) is a measure of the level to which it should be inflated. Street, park and flatland riders will require a tyre than can run effectively at lower pressure in order to maximised the contact patch with the ground and improve control, comfort and traction, while race riders seek high-pressure, high-speed tyres. For general use a tyre with a recommended PSI range of between 40 and 70 is ideal, while race riders will look for a max PSI over 100.
To ensure that you can get to such pressures, we’d definitely recommend a high quality track pump and a digital tyre pressure gauge to ensure accuracy.
BMX Tyre Glossary
- Beads: Two strong hoops of steel or Kevlar which hook the tyre into the rim of the wheel to keep it in place. Steel-beaded tyres (often referred to as wire beads) are the cheaper option – Kevlar beads are lighter weight and fold for easy storage (so Kevlar-beaded tyres are known as folding tyres).
- Carcass: The body of the tyre, made from woven fabric.
- Rubber: The exterior of the tyre which covers the carcass. The thick rubber on the part of the tyre that comes into contact with the ground is called the tread, while thinner rubber covers the sidewalls between the tread and the beads. Tread patterns and rubber compounds are important considerations when choosing tyres (see below).
When it comes to bike tyres, cyclocross tyres are one of the most interested hybrids out there. They share many characteristics with standard road bike tyres but with one major difference; an aggressive, knobbly tread designed to offer grip in the wet, wintery, slippery conditions that make up cyclocross race courses.
So what should you be looking out for in your next pair of cyclocross tyres? Here’s our essential guide.
Aren’t cyclocross tyres just smaller mountain bike tyres?
Sort of yes and sort of no… Cyclocross tyres feature tread patterns that grip on loose and slippery surfaces but which will also shed mud and avoid getting clogged. They are similar to MTB tyres in some ways but slimmer in profile in order to fit the narrow clearances of a CX bike frame, and to cut through soft mud to the (hopefully) firmer ground beneath.
Like road bike tyres, they’re also available in both clincher and tubular forms.
Clincher tyres consisted of a beaded tyre which hooks onto the rim of the wheel and is used with an inner tube, while tubular tyres or ‘tubs’ are sealed units with an inner tube sewn into the casing of the tyre. The whole thing is then glued onto a special rim.
While many purists over the years may have favoured ‘tubs’ for competitive racing, the latest generation of clincher tyres delivers light weight, suppleness and performance almost on a par with tubulars, with the added advantages of being massively more user-friendly, more affordable and easier to replace.
OK, so there’s a bit more going on but what does more money buy me then?
Well, cyclocross tyres are made of three constituent parts: the beads, the carcass and the rubber. The beads are two strong hoops of steel or Kevlar which hook the tyre into the rim of the wheel to keep it in place. Steel-beaded tyres (often referred to as wire beads) are the cheaper option. Kevlar beads are lighter weight and fold for easy storage and transport (so Kevlar-beaded tyres are known as folding tyres).
The carcass is the body of the tyre, made from woven fabric. The number of threads per inch (TPI) used in the construction of the carcass is often an important indicator of the quality of the tyre. The higher the TPI number, the thinner and more flexible the tyre fabric is. Thin-wall (high TPI) tyres tend to be lighter and have lower rolling resistance, but they are more prone to damage.
The exterior of the tyre which covers the carcass is made from rubber. The thick, knobbly rubber on the part of the tyre that comes into contact with the ground is called the tread, while thinner rubber covers the sidewalls between the tread and the beads.
Additionally, as with MTB and road tyres, cyclocross tyres are available in different rubber compounds (or in dual-compound models), where softer, tackier rubber compounds deliver better traction at the expense of speed and durability.
What size should I go for?
Cyclocross tyres typically come in a standard diameter of 700c and in widths between 32 and 35mm (33mm being a common standard for an all-rounder tyre).
And are all the tread patterns basically the same?
Cyclocross tyres feature an aggressive, knobbly tread similar to that of an MTB. The individual knobs of the tread dig in to provide grip on loose or slippery surfaces.
The type of tread pattern you choose will depend on conditions. Drier race days on hard-packed or dry grass courses will call for a tread with lower-profile, closely-spaced lugs (or even a slick centre strip, with shoulder lugs only) in order to deliver straight-line speed. At the same time, thick, gloopy mud needs a tyre with long, grippy lugs and an ‘open’ tread pattern in order not to get clogged, rending them useless.
Many riders will choose a good ‘all-rounder’ tread pattern and rubber compound to avoid the hassle of changing tyres between races and also to take into account that many race courses will feature a range of conditions.
What sort of air pressure should I run in my CX tyres?
Cyclocross riders will run tyres at varying air pressures depending on conditions – lower pressure for increased traction and control in loose conditions, harder pressure for fast hardpack courses. Check the sidewall of your tyre for the recommended PSI (Pounds per Square Inch) inflation range.
To ensure that you can get to such pressures, we’d definitely recommend a high quality track pump and a digital tyre pressure gauge to ensure accuracy.
The beauty of a gravel bike is in the wide range of tyres to choose from, with everything from fat slicks for road cruising to treaded tyres for ploughing through mud and tyres that strike a happy balance between these two extremes. But what is the right tyre for you and the terrain you’re riding in? Let’s explore the options.
What are the best gravel tyres for the terrain I ride?
Before you choose a tyre, you need to decide what terrain you want to ride because this will ultimately influence the tyre you opt for. Get the right tyre and you’ll have a brilliant ride, but pick the wrong tyre for your riding and you’ll be cursing your choice. So be honest and really think about the terrain you’re riding, whether it’s local to you or further afield. There are many tyres that will be suitable for a wide range of riding intentions too.
What width of tyre should I use?
How wide a tyre you choose is down to personal preference and how wide a tyre your gravel bike will accommodate. Some of the very latest gravel bikes will take a 2.1in mountain bike tyre or 45-55mm being increasingly common, while older gravel bikes might max out at 35-40mm. So check how wide you can go and sometimes it’s possible to go slightly wider than the manufacturer recommendations but at the expense of mud and frame clearance, so be careful.
A wider tyre can be run at lower pressures which both maximise comfort, as a bigger cushion of air between you and the ground helps isolate the vibrations, and provides more traction for cornering, braking and accelerating. Wider tyres can be heavier though and less aero and a very popular width are 40-42mm for all-round gravel riding as it strikes a sweet balance.
What size should my wheels be?
The other factor is wheel size. Most gravel bikes use 700c wheels but the smaller 650b wheel size is increasingly popular. Its key benefit is allowing a bigger tyre to be used in roughly the same space as a 700c tyre. So instead of a 700×42, you might be able to choose a 650×55 setup. The exact specification varies across the gravel bike world but if you want to fit the biggest tyres, 650b is the way to go.
The ratio of road to off-road can also influence the tyre width you choose. If you plan to ride predominantly off-road and it’s challenging terrain, the wider tyre will be a more natural choice. If it’s hardpack gravel with plenty of tarmac, a narrow tyre will suffice. If you’re not sure what sort of riding you might encounter, or if you think you might encounter both extremes, there’s a wide selection of gravel tyres that aim to provide the best of both worlds. A fast-rolling centre section for low rolling resistance on roads and hardpack gravel, with aggressive shoulders for cornering traction on looser trails.
So what is the best way to decide what tyres best suit me?
So the terrain is ultimately the deciding factor in the tyre. There really isn’t one kind of gravel surface, but more like four or five varieties depending on where you live and ride. At one end of the scale, there is fine gravel that is very smooth can could be ridden on a road bike with a narrow slick tyre. And at the other end of the scale, there are mountain bike trails with rocks, roots, drops, loose surfaces and possibly mud, and where a much more aggressive gravel tyre will be desirable.