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Which tyres?

Your tyres are the only part of your bike that touches the trail or road. When you actually start to think about it, the contact patch is frighteningly small, in some cases only a couple of thumbprints. These tiny patches of rubber have to transmit the force of your pedal strokes to propel you along, steer you around corners in all kinds of loose and slippery conditions and bring you to a swift, controlled stop at the drop of a hat. So it’s worth spending a little time thinking about them and paying them a bit of attention.

Puncture resistance

The single factor that’s encouraged so many people to get back on their bikes in the last few years hasn’t been fancy gears or radical frame materials/design – it’s been an unseen strip of punctureresistant material woven into the fabric of tyres, under the tread. Mostly used in road tyres, a puncture-resistant strip will stop the majority of nasty little sharp things worming their way through to your tube. They make the tyre slightly heavier and more expensive, but it’s worth it.


A good-quality tyre will be made of stickier rubber, which will grip the road or trail better.


Pressure is critical. The correct amount of air in your tyres is the single thing that makes a difference to how long they will last. The correct pressure is printed on the sidewall of the tyre as it’s a legal requirement to include it. You’ll need a pressure gauge to check the pressures at first. After a while, you get a feel for what the correct pressure feels like when you pinch the tyre, but it takes a while to learn. Many pumps come with a pressure gauge included. These are worthwhile, although the number given by gauges on cheaper mini pumps should be treated more as an indication than an exact reading.


If you’re riding off-road on trails, the shape, depth and layout of the knobbles is critical. If you are riding in muddy conditions then broad tyres, with widely spaced bars running across the rear tyre, grip where nothing else can. For harder terrain, using something with closer knobbles that has less rolling resistance. Heavier riders need a wider tyre; lighter people can get away with something narrower. But for tarmac, you generally just need to maximise the amount of rubber in contact with the road, so the smoother the better. If you’re going to be riding on towpaths and the like as well as tarmac, it helps to have a smooth raised central ridge, with knobbles at the side.


Tyres are in constant contact with the road or trail. It is inevitable that they will wear out, so inspect them regularly and often. For road tyres, take a minute every week to just go round each tyre and pick out any bits of glass or other stuff, you’ll halve the number of punctures you have. It takes a while for stuff to work its way through your tyre to the tube and, if you catch it before it gets there, you’ll save yourself a tube and some hassle. Slashes and holes in the surface of your tyre are an ideal shortcut for glass. Once they’ve begun to accumulate, replace the tyre. On mountain bikes tyres, the edges of the knobbles start to wear down. This has an impact on the level of grip the tyre can offer – no matter what tyre you choose, a fresh tyre will always grip better than a worn one.

UST tubeless tyres

UST (Universal Standard for Tubeless) mountain bike tyres do away with the inner tube and seal the tyre against the wheel rim for airtightness. No inner tube means lower rotational wheel weight (ideal for racers) and no more pinch punctures (where the inner tube pinches against the wheel rim and gets cut). Tubeless tyre setups are available for road bikes, too.

Which tyres

Smoother tyres mean more grip on tarmac

See also bike maintenance tips, tricks and techniques “Removing and refitting Shimano freehubs”