Ask a Mechanic: Selecting the Right Road Tire

Anthony asks: “I’m looking at buying a new set of tires, but am a bit confused about how to select the appropriate one for me. Any advice you can offer would be helpful.”

Hey Anthony. Great question. Because I don’t know what type of riding you are doing, I’ll just give you a general overview of how to go about picking your road tires.

First and foremost, you’ll want to decide on how many TPI you want in your tire. “TPI” refers to threads-per-inch and as a rule of thumb, the lower the TPI, the more durable and long-lasting the tire will be. However, will that durability, you get less traction and a rougher ride. Most racers run tires that are anywhere between 160 and 320 TPI because it provides a more supple feel and better traction. Bike tourists, serious commuters, and trainers should probably shop tires that are in the 27 and 120 TPI range.

You’ll also want to decide on compound. Some tires utilize a single compound tire, while other tires utilize a dual compound tire. There are advantages and disadvantages of both. Dual compound tires place a softer compound rubber on the outside of the tread for better traction in the corners and a harder rubber in the center for less rolling resistance and better wearability.  In a sense, this gives riders the best of both worlds: cornering traction and long-term durability. Dual compound tires do, however, tend to cost more money, so if you’re trying to save a few bucks, then a single compound tire will be the way to go.

Picking tire bead is usually quite simple because it’s mostly just a matter of cost. Wire bead tires tend to weigh a lot more than folding tires, but are typically a whole lot cheaper. Folding bead tires are lightweight and also more expensive, so pick whatever bead best suits your wallet and your application.

Finally, you can ride tubeless tires, clincher tires, or tubular tires.

Tubeless tires like Schwalbe’s ONE allow you to run your tires at lower pressures for better traction and help to prevent pinch flats while riding. Tubeless tires tend to weigh about the same as an average trainer tire, but considering you don’t have to run tubes, you’ll save about 80 or so grams per tire of rotational weight.

If tubeless isn’t for you, then you can look into a clincher tire. Clinchers are the workhorse of tires and the go-to for most applications. The advantage of a clincher is that, should you get a flat, you’ll be able to remove the tire and change out the flat tube. Clincher tires also tend to be the cheapest of all tire options.

Lastly, there are tubular tires, which require being glued to the rim. The advantage of tubular tires is their incredible road feel and their ability to run much higher tire pressures for less rolling resistance. Considering that tubular tires require extra time, money, and leave you without the option to change a flat, tubular tires are typically reserved only for racing applications.

In the end, tire selection is a very personal choice and is something that might require a bit of trial and error through the years.