Besides all the road racers and mountain bikers, there are also those who use bikes to commute from one place to another on a daily basis. This group of cyclists will have requirements that are different from road and mountain biking. Commuters face a wide variety of terrain. But in general, commuter tires should have a good balance of low rolling resistance, traction, and comfort. They should also be resistant to flats. This article will provide answers to any questions that you might have before buying a suitable set of tires.
What to look for in tires for commuting
No matter what type of bike you use, they all have one of 3 kinds of tires – Clincher, Tubeless, and Tubular. Each type has its pros and cons due to the different structure of each.
Clinchers: Most commonly found in road and urban bikes, clincher tires have simple installation and are relatively easy to fix when you get a flat. An inner tube sits under the tire and holds air. If it is punctured, it can be replaced by prying off the tire from one side. The beads of the tire hook into the rim to keep it in place. Clinchers are quite cheap and are usually run at high pressures which give them low rolling resistance.
Tubeless: Having been widely used in mountain bikes and other bikes for off-road use, tubeless tires are also becoming popular for road bikes as well. As the name suggests, there is no inner tube. Rims for tubeless tires are designed to create an airtight seal with the tire beads. The main advantage with this design is that pinch flats are no longer an issue. Meanwhile, small punctures can be taken care of by the liquid sealant used in all tubeless tires. Moreover, the tire can be run at lower pressures for better grip and shock absorbing abilities. However, they are expensive and can be difficult to install.
Tubular: Similar to clinchers, tubular tires also have an inner tube. However, this is sewn shut inside the tire which is attached to the rim with glue or double-sided tape. This makes it a real hassle for use in everyday life. Tubular tires are mainly used for racing due to their high performance. They are not suitable for commuting.
The diameter is often referred to as just ‘size’. Nearly all bikes used for commuting such as road, urban, or touring bikes come with 700C wheels. So, you have to buy tires of the same size. There are some other sizes as well, so be sure to check the size markings on your current tires before buying new ones. In case you want to use a mountain bike, there are three possible sizes – 26” (or 650B), 27.5”, and 29”. Fortunately, the tire diameter does not matter for commuting purposes, as long as you match the size with your wheels.
|Common Bike Tire Sizes|
|Size (wheel diameter)||ETRTO/ISO size (mm)|
Commuter tires typically have a width of around 28-42 mm. This is wider than most road tires but narrower than MTB tires. Wider tires offer better traction due to the larger contact area with the ground. They also have a larger air volume which allows for lower pressures. This improves comfort for the rider and further improves the grip. Conversely, narrow tires are lighter and slightly more aerodynamic.
Choose a tire width according to your needs, but in general wider tires are better. Also, before buying tires, you need to ensure that your bike can accommodate them. Due to frame clearances, rim widths, and the use of rim brakes (if any), there will be a limit to the maximum tire width that you can use.
Tires for commuting should be quite resistant to punctures and flats. You may come across roads with broken glass, sharp gravel, or nails frequently, and you don’t want to fix your tires every time you do. For this reason, most manufacturers make the casing more dense and/or provide an extra layer underneath the tread. Sometimes they simply thicken the tread itself. Higher end tires will also have reinforced sidewalls.
The more protection you get, the heavier the tire will become. Hence, you should first consider what type of terrain you are riding over, whether there are lots of puncture hazards or not. If you are commuting on smooth pavement, then no need to overboard with puncture resistance.
Unlike for mountain biking, a knobbier tread pattern does not mean better grip. On relatively smooth ground, too many large knobs reduce the contact area and hence, you get less traction. This is why road bike tires are so smooth. When commuting however, many riders may have to go through slightly rougher terrain such as cobbles or gravel. Therefore, a less aggressive pattern might be required. Most commuter tires feature only a light tread pattern. You could use smooth road tires if you ride on smooth pavement all the time.
A valve is the part through which you can pass air into the tire. Generally, there are two types of valves on bike tires – Schrader and Presta. They can be distinguished from the fact that Presta valves are narrower than Schrader valves. Each type requires a different type of connection to pumps. Presta valves are found mostly on more expensive bikes and can be opened and closed by a lock ring on the valve. Whereas, Schrader valves require a pin. They are found on entry-level and recreational bikes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. What are bike tires made of?
Ans.: The main components of a tire are as follows – casing, bead, tread, and sidewall. Some tires have an additional layer within for puncture resistance. The casing is the base of the tire and is made of a densely woven fabric. On either end of the casing are the beads which hold the tire to the rim of the wheel. These are two long wires made of steel or kevlar and run the entire circumference of the tire.
On top of the casing is the tread which is made of a rubber compound. The tread might have knobs and patterns, or be completely smooth depending upon the tire’s intended use. Joining the tread to the beads on either side are the sidewalls. This is also made of rubber but it is a thinner layer than the tread. The sidewalls do not touch the ground.
Q2. What is the best tire pressure for commuting?
Ans.: The right tire pressure will vary from rider to rider. The tire type, terrain, and even your weight has to be considered for the correct tire pressure. Higher pressures will give you low rolling resistance and minimize the chances of pinch flats. On the other hand, lower pressures will offer more traction and comfort. As a starting point, you could try the following settings:-
For tubeless tires: 38 psi/2.6 bar at the front, 40 psi/2.75 bar at the rear
For clincher tires: 50 psi/3.4 bar at the front, 55 psi/3.8 bar at the rear
Adjust the pressure until you feel like you are getting the optimum performance from your bike. This might require some trial and error but eventually you will achieve the perfect pressure.
Q3. What type of bike should I use for commuting?
Ans.: This will again vary from person to person. There are multiple types of bikes that can be used for commuting. Urban or city bikes are a common choice for their durability and comfortable seating position. If you want high performance, then go for a road bike with flat bars. Touring bikes are a great choice if you carry heavy loads with you frequently. You can also use your mountain bike if you replace the tires with a slicker pair.
Hybrid bikes and gravel bikes are highly versatile and perform great both on the road and off-road. For commuting long distances or in hilly areas, you could buy an E-bike which assists your pedaling using an electric motor. Note that E-bikes are a bit pricier than other types.
Tires play an essential role in affecting your riding experience, not only for commuting but for all cycling disciplines. After all, they are the part of the bike that actually makes contact with the ground. Therefore, it is important that you carefully consider your options when looking for new tires. Be sure to not skimp out and invest in good-quality tires as they will return many folds.