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An Experiment In Bicycle Tires and How to Get the Most Out Of Yours

July 2021
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This isn’t going to be a post about which tires you should choose. I ride Specialized Turbo Pro tires on both my rain bike and my good bike. I ride them because there sticky in corners and fast and they hold up to the odd piece of debris on the side of the road. They’re not Specialized’s fastest tire, but they’re an outstanding all-around tire. Others like Conti 5000s and Michelin Pros… whatever you like, this post is about a simple experiment I did in how to get the most out of the tires we use, whatever that happens to be.

Back ten years ago, when carbon fiber wheels cost $1,500 to $4,000 for a set, most of us rolled on 19.5 mm wide alloy wheels with 23 mm wide tires. The width of the rim and the wider tires created a lightbulb effect with the tires, where the tire and rim resembled a lightbulb in cross-section. If you rode a lot of miles, you’d have to rotate the tires every few weeks to keep the rear tire from developing a flat spot… or you just rode till that flat spot was unbearable and put a new tire on the front and the old tire on the back.

For several reasons, rim widths started increasing – especially with the production of gravel bikes. Carbon fiber wheels dropped in price and became much more accessible. At the same time it was deemed that wider tires, because they smooth out the ride, are faster than the old, skinny 23 mm tires. Standard tire width went from 23 to 25, up to 28 mm on a road bike. And at the same time, it was learned that wider rims with those wider tires improve aerodynamics because those wider rims cut down on the aforementioned “lightbulb effect” on the tires.

Another benefit was improved wear on the tires – and I mean vastly improved.

The rear tire will still develop a flat patch over time, but nowhere near as fast as the three to six weeks you could go before having to rotate the tires with the old 19.5/23 rim to tire combo. Remember that three to six weeks. It’ll be important in a minute. I noticed a vast improvement on my Specialized Venge using a 25 x 50 mm rim and a 26 mm tire. On my Trek, I was using a 23 x 38 mm rim with a 25 mm tire so I decided to see if I would get an improvement if I went to a 24 mm tire.

That was three months and likely 1,500 miles ago (split duty between the Venge and Trek – so 2,676 miles but I rode the Trek almost exclusively in April… 1,500 miles is about right, maybe even a little more) and I just rotated the tires for the first time.

There’s no question the aerodynamics are better (this has been tested extensively). The tires wear better (the front on my Trek is still round and looks fairly new), and the feel is plush when you take the time to get the pressure right. I run 90 psi in the 24s and 85 psi in the 26s on the Venge.

While I didn’t bother with going to the trouble of actually measuring the wear, the difference is great enough to not bother. If you want the best out of your tires, get your tires within a millimeter of your rim width. 23 mm rim and 24 mm tires is an excellent combo, as is 25 and 26 rims to tires. Going the other way is shown to be better for aerodynamics, though (25 mm rim, 24 mm tire). Oh, and one final note; don’t believe all of the hype… some people like to claim you could go as wide as 54 mm with the tires and experience little trade-off in speed. I’d argue against that every day of the week and twice on Sunday. I find that once I get over 28 mm, the tires just don’t act right when I’m sprinting for the City Limits sign.

The results I experienced during my little experiment weren’t necessarily a surprise, but they were fantastic. Ride hard my friends.


2 Comments

  1. kirkmtb says:

    Good post. Why not try BIG changes in tyre pressure? I found on my MTB that grip was less with higher pressures but rolling resistance was the same, in as far as I could measure. Would there be a difference between 75 psi and 115 psi for your speed on a road bike? (But don’t injure yourself experimenting!)

    • bgddyjim says:

      So, I’ve been at that for a while. For the longest time we rode 23 mm tires and pumped them up to 120 psi. Then the attitude changed and harder wasn’t necessarily faster because less pressure meant smoother ride. I’m no lightweight so I backed the pressure off until my tires felt squishy during sprints. Then I added a few pounds and called it good. I don’t want to go much less because I don’t want to deal with pinch flats. At the same time, the lower pressure has meant a much more enjoyable ride.

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