Tyre choice: what's out there ?

Monday, 31 July 2017 12:09

Tyre choice: what's out there ?

In our third blog we discuss tyre choice. Your tyres will be selected specifically for the type of riding you do and the wheels you choose. In this post, we introduce you to some of the considerations involved in selecting and using tyres.

What to consider when choosing any tyre:

Tyre choice can dramatically affect the handling and feel of your bike. Changes in pressure, depending on conditions and terrain, provide the biggest day to day difference in how your Dassi will ride. A wider tyre can hold a bigger volume of air than a narrower tyre, and so can be run at a lower pressure. When run at a low pressure, a tyre will depress more under the weight of bike and rider, creating a bigger contact patch with the ground. At a high pressure, the tyre will depress less. This is why lower pressures and wider tyres make for a more comfortable ride, but higher pressures and narrower tyres for a faster ride. There is a happy medium to be had, although quite what this is will depend on you.

As with all bike tech weight is also a big consideration, especially given that mass on the outside edge of the wheel has a proportionally larger effect on acceleration. Like wheels, lighter tyres will accelerate faster and climb more efficiently. Narrow tyres are lighter than their wider counterparts because they use less material. Race tyres have been getting wider over the decades but remain narrow when compared to mountain bike or cyclocross tyres. Pros nowadays will mostly race on 23mm, 25mm or 28mm depending on the terrain and conditions. Pressures vary, but most riders will run a 25mm tyre around 90-110psi (6.2-7.5 bar).

Rolling resistance is a key term in tyre choice. The vast majority of resistance when you cycle comes from the air but the second biggest factor is the resistance from your tyres rolling across the ground. The rubber of a tyre is a mixture polymers, and this compound varies hugely from one tyre to another. It needs to be a compound because no single polymer has all the attributes necessary to make a good tyre (a grippy rubber will handle well but roll slowly etc.). A tyre’s rolling resistance is dictated by this compound, the tyre’s width and its pressure. More supple compounds with a high TPI (number of threads per inch) tend to have a lower rolling resistance, although this said, a cheap tyre pumped up to 100psi will roll much faster than an expensive tyre of the same width at 20psi.

Puncture protection and durability are also concerns. High TPI counts may roll fast, but they tend to wear down quickly and puncture easily. As such, manufacturers look for the perfect compromise of toughness, low weight and low rolling resistance.

In the previous post on wheelsets we mentioned both tubular and clincher tyres—this is the final point on tyre choice. Clinchers are separate from an inner tube and hook onto the wheel rim with a wire or rubber bead. Tubulars, meanwhile, have an inner tube sewn into the tyre casing and are glued on to the rim. Tubulars have been the racer’s choice for generations and remain so today whilst clinchers have always been valued for their practicality. This practicality has forced huge development recently and clinchers are fast becoming a viable racing alternative to tubulars. Clinchers are creeping their way into a pro peloton still dominated by tubulars.

Another point in clinchers’ favour is the introduction of tubeless tyres. These function without an inner tube, as the name suggests. The tyre forms an airtight seal with the rim, and is filled with a liquid latex sealant to plug any punctures as you ride along. Moreover, the tyre can be run at a much lower pressure than a tubed setup because it doesn’t run a risk of pinch flats.

There is a lot to understand around tyre choice and some brands’ claims can be confusing or even contradictory. We will help you with your choice, and to give you an idea of what’s on offer, here are some of the leading tyres we spec to customers’ bikes at Dassi:

The big players: Continental, Vittoria, Michelin, Schwalbe

Continental Grand Prix 4000s II has long been heralded as the Goldilocks of tyres. It is neither the lightest, nor the fastest rolling, nor the toughest, nor the best-gripping tyre on the market, but is a superb combination of all four. Continental realise that overall performance isn’t governed by any one factor as a tyre needs to perform on all terrains in all conditions. The tyre is available both as a tubular and clincher.

Like Dassi, Vittoria has recently introduced graphene into its production. Vittoria claim that their new line of G+ tyres uses graphene to change the characteristics of a tyre depending on how it’s being used moment to moment. The IT’S (‘Intelligent Tire System’) allows the tyre compound to remain hard when going straight, thus offering the least rolling resistance, then to soften when cornering, allowing maximum grip. The Corsa comes both in tubular and clincher, whilst the Corsa Speed (Open TLR) is a tubeless option which Vittoria claim is their fastest rolling tyre ever.

The Michelin Power Competition uses all its manufacturer’s automobile pedigree to produce a supple, fast rolling race tyre. It is rated by some as having the lowest rolling resistance on the market. This is almost entirely thanks to Michelin’s research into car tyre resistance over the years, and the result is very fast indeed. The Power Competition is also impressively light, allowing for snappy acceleration, and boasts good grip both in the dry and the wet.

Alongside Vittoria’s fast-rolling offering, the Schwalbe Pro One leads the tubeless market. Like all tubeless tyres, it can be used with a tube, but Schwalbe state that it needs to be run tubeless to unlock its potential. The Pro One has strong racing credentials, but is as tough as many thicker, heavier endurance tyres and so offers huge versatility. Tubeless technology is part of the current zeitgeist in road cycling, and the Pro One reflects this perfectly, especially when paired with something like a super-modern ENVE rim.

There are many other good brands in the tyre game. Mavic provide tyres with all their high-end wheels and are on the verge of relaunching their range, making everything tubeless. Zipp too recommend their own tyres for their wheels. French firm Hutchinson continue to produce high-quality race tyres, whilst bike giant Specialized offer a range of fast-rolling options.

It takes time to find out what tyre works for you, let alone precisely what pressures you should run or what size you should use. We will help you choose, but tyres are the most easily replaced component on a bike, and so your choice does not need to be final. Experimentation is part of the game.

For high quality tests of all the tyres here (and almost every tyre on the market), have a look at bicyclerollingresistance.com

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