Bike Tire Guide

01
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Different Kinds of Bike Tires

Bikes in a row
Gaetan Lee/Flickr

Bike tires are a little like tools. Each one has features designed to help it accomplish a specific purpose. Find out here about the differences in tires for mountain bikes, road bikes, commuter bikes and more.

Before You Buy Bike Tires

This photo series offers pictures of each, and shows you what the tread looks like, talks about the ride and performance each will will bring as well as discusses why each type of tire works the way it does.

02
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Mountain Bike Tire

Ritchey Z-Max MTB tire
Ritchey Z-Max mountain bike tire. (c) Ritchey

This is a tire for a mountain bike. Notice the wide knobs on the tread. These give good traction on off-road riding, as they grip well on dirt, sand, rocks and other irregular terrain.

Mountain bike tires usually are not inflated as high as road bike tires. You want them to be softer so that they can grip the ground better and give you a more comfortable ride.

Before You Buy Bike Tires

03
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Commuter Bike Tire

Panaracer T-serv commuter tire
Panaracer T-serv commuter tire, 700 x 28.

This is a tire that you see on many hybrid bikes, which are general used for urban/commuter riding. These types of tires are designed with foremost with durability in mind. They need to last a long time, surviving daily riding under tough conditions, and so they incorporate special features like kevlar lining to help resist cuts and punctures that can cause flat tires.

Notice how this tire has more tread than a tire for a racing bike to help provide better traction and grip to sometimes wet paved surfaces, yet not so much that it'll slow you excessively as if you were riding a bike with the big old knobby mountain bike tires.

These tires will also sometimes feature reflective sidewalls, to increase rider visibility to others.

Before You Buy Bike Tires

04
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Road/Racing Bike Tires

Michelin Pro 2 racing tire
Michelin Pro 2 racing tire.

This is a tire for a racing bike, also called a road bike. These types of bikes are designed to be ridden on pavement and for going very fast, and their tires are part of that strategy.

To minimize friction with the ground, road bike tires are smooth, with no tread. They are also inflated to a very high air pressure, often in the range of 110-120 psi. This makes them very hard, so that they roll more efficiently.

Because bike racers want their bikes to be as light as possible, road bike tires are often thinner than tires you'd use for everyday riding. Though this keeps the weight down, they can also wear out more quickly.

Before You Buy Bike Tires

05
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Touring Bike Tire

Marathon Supreme Touring Bike Tire
Cutaway view of Marathon Supreme touring bike tire showing layers of high-density woven Vectran for flat protection. (c) Schwalbe tires

This is a tire used for long distance touring. Very similar to tires designed for daily commuting, touring bike tires are designed with foremost with durability in mind to provide for long wear and flat avoidance. Touring tires too also must support heavier loads over longer distances but still offer the cyclist a comfortable ride.

Manufacturers of touring tires tout how their tires combine durability with a relatively light weight. Schwalbe, makers of the Marathon Supreme shown above, writes ad copy like this in describing their tire: "An extremely densely woven fabric made from Vectran protects the new top of the line touring tire . . . yet is nearly 50% lighter than any other touring tire."

Touring tires have more tread than the slicks you'll find on a racing bike to help provide better grip, but they're still definitely more smooth than knobby for lessened rolling resistance.

Before You Buy Bike Tires

06
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Balloon Tires for a Cruiser Bike

PT Cruiser Beach Bike
PT Cruiser Beach Bike with balloon tires.

The cruiser bike shown above offers a great example of balloon tires, which are perfect for a bike path, beach or boardwalk, where comfort is more important than speed.

These types of tires have relatively low air pressure, all for the sake of increasing the smoothness of the ride. The cushy tire absorbs the bumps instead of transferring it to your backside. Also, notice how w-i-d-e these tires are. That's to add stability and allow the bike to stay on top of soft surfaces like sand wherever possible, rather than letting it sink in. And the whitewalls add a snazzy touch indeed.

Before You Buy Bike Tires

07
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Snow Tires for Bikes

Nokian W240 extreme studded snow tire
Nokian W240 extreme studded snow tire. (c) Nokian

For those hearty souls that keep riding regardless of the weather, specialized tires for riding on snow and ice can help maintain traction under trecherous conditions. Studded snow tires are available commercially, like the ones shown above, or can be made by do-it-yourselfers by running small machine screws through a tire from the inside out.

In both cases you'll want to use these tires only when there is ice and snow present. Running around with them on dry pavement will either wear down the studs or damage the tire or both.

Just as a side note, one McGyver-type I heard of used plastic zip-ties around his rims and tires to give extra traction. That's pretty much a single-use solution however, as you can't then remove your tire again until you cut off the zip ties. Plus, another minor consideration is that if you have caliper brakes that slow you by squeezing brake pads against your rims, this zip-tie solution really isn't an option at all.

Before You Buy Bike Tires