Want to get the most out of your bicycle ride? Consider your tires, typically the most expensive part of your bicycle’s upkeep besides the price of a tune up in New York City or some other kind of wheel or bicycle calamity. The type of tire you ride on can make a world of difference in the performance of the bicycle and the enjoyment you find in the ride experience. Two main details to consider – tire width and tread. Many aspects of bicycles are counterintuitive, and tires might be one of them. Car tires and bicycle tires are quite different in their physics. A common notion is to think of bicycle tires as you would with car tires and that wisdom does not carry through. Let’s look closer.

Bicycle tires come in a variety of sizes. They start small at 12” and range up to 29 inches. What can be confusing are some of the adult sizes. From 12 to 16 to 20 to 24″ tires. 24 inch tires move up to 26 inch tires. We will get back to 26 inch tires a little later. Then it goes to 27 inch tires, which, typically  no longer come on new bikes, so these would be found on vintage road bikes. Next is the 650B which is actually a 27.5 inch tire sizing. When dealing with this tire size, most commonly found on hybrids and mountain bikes, it can appear to be a 26” tire sizing, but you won’t find a 26’ tire to fit.  Next comes the 700 size tire, which is a bit bigger than 27.5 coming in at 28″ and finally the 29er, which comes only on Mt.bikes at this point.

So, back to 26″ tires.The Schwinn Bicycle Co., in its proprietary wisdom chose to fit bicycles with a design that would draw you back to their camp for parts. The simplest explanation goes something like this- all 26” wheels+ tires have 26” diameters. Differences in rim and wheel diameters , rim depth change the sizing on the tires. Schwinn often requires a deeper sidewall, as they used a shallower rim depth, so to make up the difference they made the sidewall deeper or longer. Thus, there is a Schwinn and sometimes an English 26” road tire. If that does not confuse you, try then to match up some of the mountain bike tires and wheels that call for 26” tires. The best way to match up a tire and wheel is with the number on the sidewall that looks something like this – 32-597.  The first number references the width of the tire and the second number references the dimension of the wheel diameter in millimeters. So, 650 B tires/wheels will have a 27.5” diameter somewhere on the tire dimension markings in combination with the 650B rating.

The easiest tire to work with usually is the 700C size. The main concern for this size, as with other sizes is the width of the tire that is most desirable to match your desired ride experience. The smallest tire dimension for the 700C is 700-18. Most shops and riders will stop at 700 -23. The 23mm references the width of the tire. The widest you usually find in a 700C tire is 45mm. The frame of the bicycle determines how wide of a tire that you can put on your bike. The front fork and the distance between the seat stays in the rear controls the sizing, especially if you want to add fenders.

Knowing the wheels size leads to the decision about how wide the tire, and what type of tread will you go with on your next replacement. The rule of thumb suggests that the wider the tire the more work it will be to keep it rolling. Wider tires absorb more road vibration, so comfort can be modified by tire width. The typical around town tire width is between 28 mm to 38mm. This can easily accommodate the occasional trail ride. One of the common attitudes about tire width is that the wider the tire the more stable it is. Simply put, a tire can replace driver skill. Tires will not produce more stability if the rider has skill deficits. You can cause yourself more work with thinking than necessary.

The most common cause of flat tires on bicycles comes from under inflated tires. There may be the occasional tube failure ( about at the rate of condoms as someone in the business put it to me one time), a slice or puncture from stray roadside objects, but for the most part, pinch flats from under inflated tires. Tire materials, layers of different fibers, makes a tire tougher or more resistant to puncture, as well as allowing them to last a bit longer. The pics show the types of materials you might find in a road tire as well as the different types of tires. Pick the tire tread and width that will give you the most enjoyable ride, hopefully flat free. Another time we will discuss whiter the tire width really helps to stabilize the driver.