Tyres: Easy rolling, traction & puncture protection for any surface
The tyres influence the ride feel of a bicycle unlike any other component. They shape and influence grip and greatly influence how easily and comfortably a wheel rolls. The exact combination of low rolling resistance, low weight, high traction and good puncture protection looks slightly different for every application. Established manufacturers combine contradictory requirements with style and offer their sportive profiles in a range of variants; including folding tyres, wire mesh, with or without additional puncture protection and even with different rubber mixtures. However, your first consideration before buying a tyre should be selecting the correct size for your bike, i.e. the wheel diameter and the tyre width that can be used in the frame and the fork. This is usually indicated either in inches (29 x 2.25) or as ETRO in millimetres (56 - 622).
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When it comes to finding the right bike tyre, cyclists have a tough decision to make: should they prioritise rolling resistance, traction, weight or puncture protection? All of these factors can lead to very different riding behaviour.
The differences are hidden in the details and should be adapted to the individual needs of each rider. For example, trekking bikers require tyres with low rolling resistance and optimum safety. On the other hand, racing cyclists need the right balance of high grip, cornering and light weight. In short, finding the best tyre for you isn’t easy, which is why Continental, Schwalbe, Mavic et al. offer special tyres for every application. However, only you yourself can decide whether a tyre is right for you.
A bicycle tyre consists of three different components: the carcass, the bead core and the tread. The bead core is made of steel wire and acts as a stiffening element for a secure fit of the tyre on the rim. Only in the case of folding tyres is the bead core flexible.
The carcass is made from nylon and contains up to 120 threads per inch to ensure a firm grip and easy rolling. The value of TPI (Threads per Inch) or EPI (Ends per Inch) indicates how many steel threads per inch of fabric were used. A value of 120 promises the best running properties for a bicycle tyre, but the many thin nylon threads also increase its susceptibility to punctures. The optimum is either 50 or 67 TPI.
The tread is applied to the carcass. This consists of textile and rubber given its profile during vulcanisation in the furnace. In order to minimise the risk of a puncture, many manufacturers offer puncture protection inserts in their tyres. However, since this additional layer is also associated with a higher weight of the tyre, puncture pads are usually left out of racing bike tyres.
The exact rubber mixture is also important as it affects the running resistance, durability, adhesion to the substrate and the wear of the profile. Manufacturers i.e. SCHWALBE, Continental, try to produce the optimal tyre with different mixes for every requirement, with the following components in the rubber compound:
Rubber (both natural and synthetic)
Fillers such as carbon black or chalk
Oils and greases as plasticisers
Vulcanising agent, usually sulfur
MTB tyres have a rather firm rubber compound which provides sufficient stability even on rough terrain. Racing bicycles often have two sets of tyres, including one for rainy conditions which is accordingly soft in order to achieve the best possible adhesion. It is, of course, important to note that a sophisticated and highly-tested rubber mixture can be quite expensive, but also promises significantly longer running performance and better riding comfort.
Bike tyre types
There are three different types of tyre to consider:
Clincher tyres are the standard and offer a good compromise between stability, safety and weight
Tubular tyres come without wire reinforcement and are glued directly into the rim. They are much lighter, but they are more vulnerable to punctures
Tubeless tyres are by far the lightest. Here the rim and the tyre seal each other off. However, the disadvantage is that special rims and tyres are necessary for this type of bicycle tyre
Bike typres profile
It’s important to select the right profile for your terrain. Racing bikes usually have tyres with very little profile, because they are ridden on smooth roads and cause little rolling resistance.
MTB tyres are heavily profiled to create as large a surface as possible on the mostly rough terrain. This is important in order to transfer steering or braking forces and to make the bicycle controllable.
If, however, a mixture of road and off-road driving is likely, it’s worth looking for an all-round tyre that combines the advantages of both types of tyres – with a profile-less centre and a profiled outer side.
Wear of your bike tyres
There are a variety of factors that will affect the wear and tear of your tyre:
What is the terrain? A bicycle tyre lasts longer on a smooth road than on rocky terrain
What weather is the tyre exposed to? Rain, snow, cold, but also the sun and heat strongly influence how long a bicycle tyre lasts
How fast is the driving style? In the case of fast cornering and hard braking manoeuvres, the tyre is subjected to a high load
What is the tyre pressure? Under inflated tyres wear heavily
Conventional bicycle tyres have a mileage of 2,000-5,000 kilometres, but there are also tyres that are designed for durability and can withstand damage between 5,000-16,000 kilometres. It’s important that a tyre is quickly replaced if there’s any doubt as to whether it’s still intact. The tyre should be replaced at the latest when the anti-puncture protection or the carcass threads become visible on the tread. In addition, it’s necessary to check the side walls of the tyres at regular intervals, as these can often tear apart due to strong lateral loads such as fast cornering or too little tyre pressure.