Everything you need to know about road bike tires

The first set of tires mounted on your new road bike is usually ridden without thinking about it. But when the tires are worn out and you are looking for a replacement, the large selection that the market has to offer becomes confusing. In no case should you underestimate the riding characteristics, the differences of which even road bike beginners can experience. Whether a tire is flat on the road or jumps, nervous or calm in its steering, feels hard or has a soft character, directly affects the handling and comfort of your bike. Everything about road bike tire width or road bike tire pressure will be answered in this article.

Road cyclists with a tubular system can still continue to ride slowly despite a flat tire (a big advantage of this system), whereas tubeless cyclists can only get in a new tube. That’s if they get the tightly fitting tire off the rim. A question of the right tool kit.

Maybe it makes sense for you to switch to another system? The best way to answer this question is to know what category of road bike you are in and what your tire requirements are. Weight, rolling resistance and puncture protection are the three major factors that significantly influence the properties of a road tire. It all comes down to the right road bike tire sizing. This is followed by personal preferences, experience, price, handling, and appearance.

Important tips for road bike tires

In addition to the classic clincher tires, there are also the lighter and space-saving folding tires, both of which have to be ridden with inner tubes. Tubeless tires, on the other hand, require special tubeless-ready rims and bolted valves, which together with a tire sealant form an airtight system. With the tubular system, the tire and tube are sewn or vulcanized together and must be carefully glued onto the carbon or aluminium rim.

In recent years, the trend towards wider tires in the road bike segment is clearly discernible and has technical advantages: Wider tires roll better, as numerous test series have shown. The narrow tires deform strongly due to their long contact patch when riding, so they flex more than the wider tires, which have a wider and shorter contact patch. In addition, wider tires offer more puncture protection and more comfort due to the lower air pressure with which they can be ridden.

But be careful, wide tires do not only have advantages. They are somewhat heavier than narrow tires due to the higher use of materials, and some riders find them too sluggish in handling and acceleration in comparison. Also, not all road bikes offer sufficient tire clearance for wide tires, often the brakes, the fork, and the frame are the limiting factors. The wide tires also perform worse than their narrow counterparts in terms of air resistance.

What about road bike tire pressure?

Topeak Bike Pump

Image: Topeak Bike Pump (Amazon Bestseller)

Road bike tire pressure regulates the compromise between the lowest possible rolling resistance, driving comfort, puncture safety, and tire grip. The higher the pressure, the faster the tire rolls on level ground. However, on uneven, rough surfaces – which is normally the case on most roads – too much pressure does not allow the tire to roll cleanly, grip in bends or when braking decreases and comfort decreases.

The correct tire pressure depends on the load (body weight), the tire width, the surface and of course your personal preferences. For orientation you can adjust the tire pressure according to the following graph – depending on the surface you can deviate 5-10 psi (0.5 bar) upwards or downwards.

The most common tire sizes for road bikes

23mm – the tire for purists and lightweight enthusiasts who accept a loss of comfort for lower weight and for which a road bike simply has to stand on narrow tires.

25mm – the meeting between light and comfortable for the road cyclist, who likes to compete in velothons as well as in group races.

28mm – the perfect tire for tour riders who want to ride fast and comfortable in all weathers and on bad surfaces. The extra weight of just a few grams is acceptable for the added puncture protection.

Advantages and disadvantages of different tire widths

25mm and bigger

Pros:

  • increased puncture protection
  • low rolling resistance
  • greater comfort through more volume and less road bike tire pressure

Cons

  • higher weight
  • more sluggish handling
  • increased air resistance
  • cannot be mounted on all wheels

23mm and smaller

Pros:

  • low weight
  • great agile handling
  • low air resistance
  • can be mounted on all road bike

Cons

  • worse protection for punctures
  • increased rolling resistance
  • increased air resistance
  • low comfort due to the small volume and high pressure

 

Tires for Aero racing bikes

Continental Grand Prix 5000 Tire

Image: Continental Grand Prix 5000

Fast time trial riders and lightweight fans usually want to save weight and are happy to forgo comfort and even accept the slight increase in rolling resistance, which is why they usually ride on a clincher with 23 or 25 mm wide treadless folding tires. When the narrow tires alone are not light enough for you, you can switch to the tubular system, which requires a special and more expensive tubular rim made of carbon. To increase the puncture protection, orient yourself towards tubeless, both rim and tire have to be tubeless ready.

If you are not afraid of the installation effort and regular maintenance, you can increase puncture protection with a tubeless system. Tubeless-Ready rims and tires are required to seal the system with the required sealant. Small punctures are immediately sealed by the tire sealant contained in the tire. Rather rare and unusual in the race category as it can lead to problems due to the high road bike tire pressure and has no huge advantages.

We also got our heads deep the subject and compiled our top 5 picks for racing tires. (link zu top 5 reifen)

Tires for tour and endurance

Continental 4 Seasons Tire

Image: Continental Grand Prix 4 Seasons

Touring and Gran Fondo riders in the popular endurance category now roll on 28mm wide tires. Because their larger volume allows them to dampen more and offer more comfort, the longer you sit on the bike, the more they show off their benefits. Since lightweight construction is not the primary goal of an Endurance road bike, the benefits of puncture protection, comfort, and easy roll off outweigh the extra weight and slight loss in handling.

Endurance racing bikes are also best suited for everyday use with folding tires and inner tubes. This is easy to handle and changing a tube is not a problem, even on the go. It is important to use a correctly positioned rim tape, because especially with rim brakes a lot of friction heat is transferred, which can burst the tube, e.g. during long downhill rides. In the case of wheels with disc brakes, you don’t need to worry about this. A suitable replacement tube and a handy tire lever are sufficient for repairs while on the road.

Tires for gravel and cyclocross bikes

Schwalbe X One Cycloross Tire

Image: Schwalbe X-One

Gravel and cyclocross cyclists are often off-road, so the bikes are ideally fitted with profiled tires up to 43mm wide. The width and tread pattern ensure a good grip on forest and gravel soils. However, as these tires tend to be driven at lower pressure, the risk of puncture increases with a clincher rim with an inner tube.

The tubeless system offers exactly the advantages that racing bikes of the gravel and cyclocross category need, after all, the system comes from the MTB sector, where low road bike tire pressures are also used. Tube defects due to punctures are no longer a problem and, despite lower air pressure, increased puncture protection can be achieved. In the event of a major defect, a tube can still be simply pulled in at a later date, provided the appropriate tool is available.

Tubes, valves and tire sealant for racing bike tires

Butyl tubes

Most of the racing bike tubes are made of butyl (butyl rubber). This is a very elastic and extremely airtight synthetic rubber. Due to its high elasticity, a butyl tube can be used for several different tire widths. For example, a tube for 23mm tires fits 25mm tires and vice versa. However, from a width of 28mm, suitable tubes must also be used here, the recommended tire width is printed on the package and the tube itself.

Butyl tubes have the disadvantage that they are relatively heavy (75 to 120 grams). Although there are so-called Light or Extra Light tubes, which weigh only 60 grams, the susceptibility to breakdowns increases strongly even against small punctures.

Tubes made of PU (polyurethane)

PU, or in this case thermoplastic, is actually known from plastic pipes or the like, but more recently extremely high-quality tubes have also been manufactured from this age-resistant material. These are extremely light and yet puncture-proof. On the negative side, PU tubes are quite expensive and only hold the air for a short time. The road bike tire pressure should be checked and adjusted before every ride. In addition, the tubes are almost inelastic, which is why only the right size with a certain tire size can be used.

Latex tubes

Latex tubes are more elastic and puncture-proof than their butyl counterparts, but they hold the air much worse. Due to their high elasticity, latex tires roll particularly well, but here too, similar to PU tubes, they have to be pumped up quite frequently. By now only a few manufacturers produce latex tubes, because the advantages hardly outweigh the negative sides.

The biggest disadvantage of latex tubes is their sensitivity to heat. During strong braking maneuvers, such as long downhill rides, latex tubes can suddenly fail and burst. Of course, this aspect does not apply to disc rims.

Our recommendation:

If you want to ride with tubes on your road bike, it is best to use the standard butyl version. It offers the best puncture protection and keeps the tire pressure constant for a long time. Any weight savings on the tube will cost you dearly with high puncture sensitivity.

Valves

Although there are different valve types, only the Sclaverand valve, also known as the French valve, is recommended for use on road bikes.
The Sclaverand valve is fitted as standard to road bikes because its small diameter makes it ideal for narrow road rims. The biggest advantage, however, is the small lock nut that securely closes the valve seat and prevents unintentional opening and escape of air.

In addition, Sclaverand valves have a removable valve core, which is particularly practical for cleaning dirty valves. This point is particularly interesting for tubeless systems, as the tire sealant can stick the valve together.

Tire sealant for tubeless

Tubeless Tire Sealant

Image: Velofuze Tire Sealant

Most tubeless valves are designed as Sclaverand valves. The valves are not connected to the tube but are inserted into the rim by means of sealing rubber and pulled into the rim by a nut placed on the outside. This seals the tubeless valve and prevents the air from escaping.

The road bike tire sealant is a white, slightly viscous mass which is either filled directly into the tire when the tire is fitted or later supplied via the valve. About 25 to 40 ml of sealant are required per tire. After inflation, the tire should ideally be inflated with a compressor until it audibly engages with the sidewalls in the rim. It can be helpful to wet the tire sidewalls lightly with detergent. The tire sealant is then evenly distributed inside the tire by turning the wheel. Small punctures in the tire are now sealed by the sealant during the ride. Your sealant should be renewed every few months.