a bicycle wheel with a chain

Image credit: Bike Rumor.

Bike Tire Buying Guide

By Valerie Farabee

You want to ride your bicycle, you want to ride it where you like, but how do you get anywhere without any – or with very badly suited – tires? You don’t, obviously. Properly fitted bicycle tires make all the difference in your ride, and Priceonomics is here to guide you through the ins and outs of picking the right type of tire for the kind of riding you do.

Whether you’re a daily commuter, a dedicated mountain biker, or the type to go on an occasional tour of the country, the type of riding you plan on doing will impact the type of tire you choose for your needs. Beyond rim size – which is to say, you must pick a tire suited to your rim – the type of riding you do is the next biggest consideration when looking for a tire.

Check Out These Rims

How do you know what size tires you’re currently using? Easy! Check the side of the tire itself. On the side of the tire you will find a set of numbers that will give you the measurements you need to buy a new tire. You don’t have to buy the exact width that you previously had, but it’s a good jumping off point for you if you decide to go for a different sizing for improved grip or stability. If you run into performance or stability issues, you may have strayed too far from your original size – go back to your original tire size and see if it helps any.

Don’t Tread on Me

You’ll want to have an idea of the surface you plan to normally ride on to get the best tire for your buck. Completely smooth tires are best for road racing or any kind of pavement biking because they have minimal contact with the rode. Knobby tires like those usually associated with mountain bikes have extra contact with ground, making them great for wet or muddy trails, and as such require more power to pedal them. Unless you are a hardcore mountain biker, you’ll want tires with a smoother tread pattern to keep your ride as easy and resistance free as possible.

The Commuter

Do you regularly pedal to work? If you are a regular commuter then your top priorities are likely flat resistant tires that are equally as affordable to replace! As a commuter, you will likely run into things like potholes, debris, thorns, and broken glass, so it’s important to find a tire sturdy enough to survive these little daily surprises. Typical widths for commuter tires range from 28 to 35mm for 700 tires and 1” to 2” for 26” tires. A wider tire is going to be more stable, but might also slow you down. If you find yourself cutting through dirt and gravel quite a lot, you’ll want small knobbies, though these will wear down faster than slick or inverted tread tires, which are speedier and offer more stability through the turns. You can buy a good hybrid bike tire for commuting anywhere between $15.99 & $65.00.

The Cross-Country Rider

If you like to get in a century (or more!) a week and live for long, epic rides, the weight of your tires is often a big consideration when gearing up. Usually a narrow, knobby tire ranging in width from 1.8” to 2.4” is perfect for this type of riding. The kind of country you plan on crossing also impacts the type of tire you’ll need; remember, easy singletrack and slickrock use a completely different type of tire than muddy, rooty, or more technical terrain. Cross country tires start at $22.99 and range up to $90.

The Mountain Biker

You’re an aggressive rider who likes steep chutes, rock gardens, and other mountain bike status terrain – aggressive tread patterns and tall knobbies are on the tire for you! Look for softer, stick-rubber compounds to help grip almost anything – and they’ll wear out just as quickly, so plan accordingly. Most of these tires will say “sticky rubber” or “silica” in their ads, but if you are unsure, feel free to ask a pro at your usual bike shop, they will steer you in the right direction for sure. Mountain bike tires can be found from $15 to $85 dollars, depending on the type of tread you need for the type of terrain you are hitting.

Roads? Where I’m Going We Don’t Need Roads

If primarily biking on pavement then you want the smoothest tire possible with minimal tread because you’d like the least amount of grip on the pavement for the fastest ride possible. Touring cyclists want something speedy, but perhaps a little wider for more stability and to help carry any extra load. You can find a road touring tire for $20, or go for a higher end tire at $100. Road racers want the lightest, fastest tire possible with a good grip to help cornering ability. Racing tires tend to be more expensive than other tires, starting at around $45 and hitting up to $150 per tire.

Tubes & Tires

Usually when you buy a new tire, you have to buy a new tube to go along with it. Getting the correct tube width is important for for flat prevention and general performance. Make sure to buy a tube in a range that matches your tire width. Road tire tubes cost anywhere from $4 to $20. Mountain bike tubes are a bit more expensive, from $7 to $30. Tubeless tires can be found for around $50 a pop, but are a little harder to repair on the road.

If you have any more questions, the bike pro at your favorite bike shop is the first person to ask and should have a host of helpful answers for you! Remember to be specific and honest with the type of riding you plan on doing to get the best tire and tread for you. Please remember to always wear a helmet and any other protective gear (mountain bikers, I’m lookin’ at you) that the style of riding you do may need.

Happy riding, folks!