Choosing the right bike tires depends on the style of riding you want to accomplish, the style of ride you enjoy most and acceptable compromises of performance to function and ability. Find the right tool for the job and you'll find yourself having more fun riding, staying out longer and feeling a better connection to the road or trial below.
It's also important to consider the kind of environmental challenges you'll encounter. If you're in your happy place winding down hairpin mountain switchbacks the best tire for that job won't necessarily be the best for the rough dirt path back to the trailhead.
Finding the right balance between all of the types of riding you're wanting to do will improve your performance and help you have more fun on your next ride. Read on to dig into more of what goes into bike tire tread design.
Slick vs. Knobby: Bike Tire Tread Design Simplified
All bikes come equipped with two types of tires: slick or knobby. There are several factors that influence tire treads and patterns, but a bike tire's treads are designed as a compliment of the road surface being ridden on; loose rocky surfaces are matched to taller lugged treads.
Ideal for smooth surfaces so to maintain the largest constant contact patch possible with the ground surface.
Example Surfaces: Road, Tarmac, Pavement, Hardpack, Asphalt, Indoor Track, etc.
Ideal for rough loose surfaces so to maintain the largest constant contact patch possible with the ground surface by, “biting,” the surface.
Example Surfaces: Gravel, Dirt, Sand, Rock, Mud, Grass, Leaves, Roots, Branches, etc.
The Bike Tire: Tread Section Breakdown
Many factors are taken into consideration and designed into a tire tread, some are outwardly exhibited and, for the most part, fairly easily distinguishable so long as you know and understand what to look for. Below is a breakdown with brief description of each of the above labeled tire parts that effect ride and performance.
Bike Tire Width
Tire width has a dramatic effect on speed and grip, the wider a tire is the more grip it will have because it increases friction and enlarges the contact patch of the tire with the riding surface. Alternately, the more narrow a tire is the greater potential there is for a faster tire due to a smaller contact patch and less rolling resistance.
Tread pattern, as a whole, is comprised of sections objectively designed to accomplish specific desirable characteristics that correlate to better handling, grip, and speed; additionally molded channels in the tire can help evacuate water and/or other small debris out and away from the tire to maintain grip with the ground.
Located on the sides of the tire tread pattern. The outer tread is often made up of short to tall grippy lugs for added grip on rougher surfaces. Additionally, the outside tread section of the tire can be manufactured to a different durometer, or “hardness,” to provide different handling characteristics.
Located in the middle of the tire tread pattern. The center tread can be nearly smooth for straight-line speed, or alternately, covered with large lugs for lots of off-road grip. The center tread can also be manufactured to a different durometer, or “hardness,” when compared to the outer tread to provide different handling characteristics.
Found primarily on road bicycle tires sips are thin slits cut or molded into the surface of the tire tread. These thin slits are designed to aid traction in wet slippery surface conditions, particularly wet pavement.
Tire lugs typically have a ramped, or angled, front leading edge. This is most common on tires that are directional-specific, meaning they have a bias of rotation. The ramping of the lugs is usually concentrated along the center tread and is supposed to increase straight-line speed potential.
A bicycle tire is manufactured using proprietary blends of rubber, silicone, and other ingredients that aid grip, longevity, and puncture resistance. Durometer (or hardness) of the rubber is also engineered to positively effect grip and handling characteristics as well as durability and tire life. Finding that magic balance of weight, longevity and grip is what makes riders die-hard fans of particular brands of tires.
Proprietary rubber are often mentioned in the tire's product title. Look for descriptions include things like EXO (Maxxis), BlackChili (Continental), and so on.
A bike tire's rubber compound is often where the cost of the tire can be accounted for. A high performance tire is going to cost a lot more than a budget tire, but will last and perform longer.