Why should we even have to pay so much attention to a decision like this? It’s because bicycle tires are one of the parts that have the greatest impact on our comfort and speed. After all, they are our point of contact with the ground.
Changing our tires can completely transform our bike, for better or for worse, and that's why we should carefully consider all the possibilities and choose the best option. Also, if our aim is to build a light city bike, for example, this is where we can potentially save a lot of weight.
#1 Check what size of tires will fit your city bike
Usually this isn't too problematic, as it’s indicated on the sidewall of the tires. There will be two values determining - the diameter and the inner width of the rim.
Today's road bikes and most city bikes use 28-inch wheels. That's 700c, or 622 mm.
Wait, 3 values? Unfortunately, the bicycle industry is not the best when it comes to size standardization, and yes, a road bike wheel will be marked as 28 inches in one store, 700c in another, or 622 mm in another.
Apart from the rim/tire diameter, which is marked in a more or less accurate way, the inner width of the rim is the decisive value. This determines how thick a tire we can fit.
#2 Choose the width that matches your riding style (and bike)
The first technical aspect is one we can't ignore - different rims have different width limits, for example, a road bike rim will be too narrow to take a mountain bike tire.
The second aspect is the space in the frame. Not everyone has a lot of space, and, for example, we can’t fit tires over 25-28 mm wide on most fixed-gear frames. The Loca Bikes city bikes that we build can take tires with a width of +40 mm.
Well, what kind of rubber is better for our two-wheeler? A bigger tire allows us to ride at a lower pressure, which results in better damping and traction, but also higher rolling and air resistance (although this matter is a little more complicated and it’s influenced by many factors, from the surface to the aerodynamic parameters of the frame itself).
30-45 mm tires will be best for city riding. They’ll give us a good compromise between weight, speed, grip, and comfort.
#3 Choose a good tread
In simple terms, we can divide tires into 3 types - full tread, semi-slick, and slick.
The first ones, thanks to the knobby tread, will grip to muddy surfaces perfectly and give us more confidence when riding in more difficult terrain. The second type has tread only on the sides, making them better at cornering, on gravel, and they’ll also do quite well on tarmac. The third, with the smallest rolling resistance, will work best on smooth surfaces.
You can also find tires with a light tread over the entire surface, such as Schwalbe G-One or Panaracer Gravelking. These models will perform well for both off-road and road riding, similar to semi-slick models.
So what to choose for a city bike? If we are riding only in the city, then full slicks will be fine for us. If we’re riding on a surface other than tarmac, and often go on trips to the forests and parks, then semi-slick or a light tread on the entire tire will be a better choice.
What’s just as equally important as the tread is the rubber compound used to make the tire. To a large extent, this is what determines the grip and rolling resistance.
#4 Bicycle tires - wire or folding?
We can separate tires into two types. The first has a metal wire to stiffen it. The second has a Kevlar reinforcement that keeps the rubber in shape.
What are the differences? Bike tires with a Kevlar bead will be much lighter, stronger (with no wire to deform), and they’ll be easy to transport because they can be rolled up. The rolled models are also often made of better rubber and have better performance. Unfortunately, they're usually more expensive.
#5 Keep your tyres at the right pressure
There's a good reason why bicycle tires usually have marked on them, apart from the dimensions, the recommended pressure range. Not only will your tires perform at their best in this range, they'll also be at their most comfortable and fastest, and it means we’ll also avoid any unwanted damage, prolonging the overall life of them.
Contrary to popular belief, most of bicycle tires don't just have a maximum pressure value. A tire with too little air will be more prone to snakebites (punctures in the inner tube caused by it getting trapped between the rim and tire), and this can cause damage to the sidewalls of the tire much faster.
Keeping them at the right pressure will give your tires a long and happy life.
#6 Keep puncture resistance in mind
An anti-puncture insert is an essential element that every bicycle tire should have for city riding. We're not going to find this much broken glass in any other place on Earth.
Such form of protection is usually a special strip of material inside the tire, which provides puncture resistance from any sharp objects that try to penetrate into the tire's interior.
Tires with an insert like this are usually a little heavier, but this really is a sacrifice worth making considering the amount of time we'll save by not having to change the inner tubes every other day.
#7 Learn to find the source of the puncture
Have you been getting a lot of flats recently? It’s probably nothing serious and there's probably a very good chance you won't have to change your tire at all. Here a few simple things to check out first.
As we mentioned earlier, low pressure = snakebites. Every time we go up a curb, we risk catching the inner tube between the tire and the rim, which may result in a considerable cut. So make sure you keep your tires at the right pressure.
Inside the rim, there's a special tape that protects the inner tube from entering the nipple holes and getting cut on their sharp edges.
Sometimes, especially if the manufacturer has skimped on this or has used tape the wrong size, it can move and expose these holes. This will result in regular punctures.
Check that the tape is lying evenly in the center of the rim and is covering all the holes. If it isn't, realign it.
Small pieces of glass are often very difficult to locate. Once completely buried in the tire, these pieces will cut the inner tube just at the point it presses against the tire when you’re inflating it to a higher pressure.
If you've been constantly getting flats for some time now, it's worth taking the tire off and equipping yourself with a thin piece of wire/scissors/toothpick, or even a small hex key, and with a flashlight, look carefully over the entire tire from both sides, picking out every piece of glass.
When you remove the tire, don't rotate it, but leave it positioned at the wheel, the same position it was. Do the same with the inner tube. This way, once you find the puncture, you can easily narrow down the search.
It's also worth checking the entire surface of the rim for any sharp bumps. Over time, they’ll rub against the inner tube and this will lead to cuts. Carefully file down any bumps and burrs you find.
A leaky or damaged valve can also be the source where air is escaping from. Maybe it's actually the inner tube and not the tire itself that's the problem, and all you need to do is replace it.
Poorly glued patches can, of course, let air leak too. It's worth giving them a check and, if necessary, improving the bond.
It's also possible that the slash in your tire is the culprit. It's also worth checking your tire for any bulges that are implying that the inner tube wants to escape.
Bicycle tires and a light city bike - summing it all up
So, just to recap: check your wheel size and choose the right width - a wider tire will allow us to ride at a lower pressure and give us more comfort, a narrower tire will be lighter (on both wheels, several hundred grams will be quite a significant saving if you’re aim is to build a light city bike). Narrower tires can also be faster.
Then choose the right tread - slick bike tires will perform best on tarmac. For tougher conditions and poorer quality roads - choose semi-slick tires with a fine tread. If it’s a light city bike you’re building, focus on these two tire types. For more difficult conditions - mud, snow and forest trails, the most suitable will be off-road tires with a knobby tread, but when you're riding on smooth surfaces, these will slow you down considerably. And the last thing - if your budget allows, choose a folding model of tire.
Follow the rest of the advice, and if you take good care of your bicycle tires, they'll serve you for a really long time.
Are you looking for a versatile, light and fast bike for the city, and one that will take you anywhere? Or maybe you’re interested in the idea of owning a really nice fixed gear? Click here to check out the latest range that Loca Bikes has to offer.