Close up of bike tire on a bridge

How To Choose the Best Bike Tires

Buying a new set of tires is an opportunity to customize your ride to match your style and terrain perfectly

Whether you wore out your tread, keep getting flats, or need every advantage to keep up on the group ride, it might be time to buy new bike tires. Buying a new set of tires is an opportunity to customize your ride to match your style and terrain perfectly. Here’s how to navigate your choices for both road and mountain bikes.

Ask Yourself These Questions

What kind of riding will I be doing?

Road: Determine if you’ll mostly be riding on rough city streets, pristine tarmac, dirt paths, or something in between.

Mountain: Do you like to ride on hard-packed dirt or are you someone who likes getting out in wet and loose conditions?

Do I value speed or comfort?

A cushier ride is possible, but often involves sacrificing speed. You can choose to focus on speed instead, but you’ll likely feel every bump and jitter in the road. 

How much do I hate changing flats?

You can prioritize puncture resistance, but that usually means a heavier tire. 

Tubes or Tubeless

One of your first considerations will be whether to run tubeless or the more familiar clincher tires.


Clincher tires are the type of tires that you are likely most familiar with. Clincher tires use an internal tube to hold air pressure within your tire.

Pros: Innertubes can easily be swapped if you get a flat. They’re easy to install and replace, and are relatively affordable. 

Cons: Tubes are vulnerable to getting pinch flats with hard impact. To help prevent this, they often require more pressure than their tubeless counterparts.


Tubeless tires work much like clincher tires, but rather than an innertube helping the tire seal, a liquid sealant fills any gaps between the tire and rim. 

Pros: Tubeless tires get fewer flats, since you can’t get a pinch flat when you don’t have an innertube. And you can run tubeless tires at lower pressures, which improves traction and comfort. 

Cons: Installation and changing a flat can be complicated, plus you need a compatible rim.


Tubular tires are used mostly by the pros. The inflatable tube is sewn directly into the tire itself and then glued into the rim of your wheel. That saves weight, but most riders won’t find it’s worth the cost or hassle.

Pros: They’re lighter than other styles.

Cons: Difficult to change a flat, expensive. 

Parts of a Tire

A basic understanding of tire construction will help you navigate the choices. 


The bead is what locks the tire into the rim. Inexpensive tires will have a wire bead while higher-end tires will have a Kevlar bead that is lighter and more flexible.


The casing is what holds the various layers of the tire together. Casings are measured in threads per inch. A higher TPI will give a better feeling ride but won’t be as durable. A count of around 60 TPI provides good durability, but it will be heavier than higher TPI options. 


The sidewall is the part of the tire that extends from the rim up toward the tread. This is where the information about your tire size and appropriate inflation PSI is found.


This is the part of the tire that touches the ground, and affects both traction and speed.

Additional Puncture Protection

Do you frequently ride on rough terrain? There are a few strategies. Some tires have reinforced sidewalls, kevlar layers, a second ply of the entire casing, or just a second ply under the tread. While these extras improve puncture resistance, they add weight. 


For inflating tires, there are two common types of valves: Presta and Schrader. Your rim will be designed to accommodate one type of valve or the other. You’ll also need the appropriate pump (or an adaptor). 

Schrader: This is what your car uses. Schrader valves are easy to use, serviced by almost every pump, and incredibly durable. 

Presta: These are narrower than Schrader valves and have a screw top that you have to open before inflating them, and a screw in valve-core that can be removed. They’re better at handling high pressure, and their narrow size makes them popular for skinny road tires. They also have advantages for mountain bikers. The removable valve core makes it possible to refill your tire with sealant if you are running tubeless tires. 

Deflated bike tires bundled in a box.

Mountain Bike Tires

Tire Diameter

Mountain bike tire sizes are most often expressed in inches, with common sizes of 26, 27.5, 27.5+, and 29. (The “+” in tire size indicates a wider tire, often nearly 3 inches or more.) Your tire size will be written on your tire’s sidewall, make sure your new tires fit your bike’s rims. 

Tire Width

Mountain bike tire width is measured in inches, commonly anywhere from 2 inches for a cross-country bike to as much as 4 inches for a fat tire bike. A narrower tire will move faster and weigh less than a wider tire, but traction suffers. A wider tire, though heavier and slower, can give you better traction and run at lower pressures without flatting as easily, and also provides a softer ride over rough terrain. 

Be sure to check your bike’s tire clearance—the amount of room between the arms of the front fork and the seat and chain stays, as your bike’s frame may not have room for wider tires. 

Tread Compound

Tires are made with a variety of rubbers. Harder rubber rolls faster and lasts longer, but it’s not as good in corners. Softer rubber is great for cornering and grip but will roll more slowly and wear more quickly.

For most riders, it’s best to get a dual compound tire that balances hard rubber in the center for durability and speed and a softer rubber on the outsides to give you better grip as your tire leans in a turn. Some manufacturers will mark the hardness of their rubber with a Shore Hardness rating on a scale of 0-90. On this scale, 40 is a common rating for soft and grippy downhill tires while 70 is a harder, more durable, and faster rubber great for cross-country riding. 

Tread Design

The design and layout of the tread is a major factor in differentiating tires. Most tread is broken into three sections, the center (at the center of the tire), the transition (to the left and right of the center), and the shoulder (the outside of the tread next to the transition). The size and shape of your tread varies in these sections to balance speed and control. 

The center is often smoother to keep speed in the straights while the side lugs are bigger and beefier to provide better grip as you lean into a turn. The transition lugs are in between and help you move smoothly from upright to leaning into a turn.

Short lugs laid out closely together usually work best for dry hardpack conditions, while big, spaced out lugs provide great grip in wet, muddy and loose conditions. Some treads have sipes as well; these slits cut into the tireo give better grip on hard surfaces like slickrock.

Road Bike Tires

Tire Diameter

Most modern road bike tires are 700mm across the outside diameter. If you have a vintage bike (or a kid’s bike), check your current tire’s sidewall for size. 

Tire Width

As with mountain bike tires, a narrower tire weighs less and helps you ride faster, while a wider tire can provide better traction and run at lower pressures without flattening as easily, which means a softer ride. Road tire widths range anywhere from 19mm to 30mm, though most road riders use tires in the range of 22mm to 28mm. 

As events like cyclocross and gravel riding increase in popularity, though, it’s more common to see tires as wide as 35mm or even 40mm. These wider tires get better traction, and give a softer ride, though they won’t roll as quickly.


If you’re looking purely for speed, road slicks with hardly any tread will be your best option. But if you find yourself in loose or rougher conditions, you may find yourself wishing you had a bit more texture on your rubber. In that case, you can get tires with a subtle texture, known as semi-slicks, to get a bit more grip. If you ride primarily on gravel or in sloppy conditions you can get tires with more significant texture and knobs to give you maximum grip. Just remember that the more tread you have, the more weight you’ll carry and the more slowly you’ll travel, but that can be a worthwhile trade for many riders. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.