It’s a bit of a stressful thought but, next time you are careering down a hill at 30 mph and you take a corner, remember that the only thing gluing you to the road is a tiny patch of rubber on both the front and back wheel that’s in contact with the road!
But it does make you think about the importance of your tires or tyres if you are in the UK. They really are too easily forgotten as tires aren’t really that glamourous at all when compared with bike computers and carbon frames. The tires on your bike are the very first thing that are in contact with the road and so are one of the primary bike components that effect your safety. They also have a direct impact on performance and a good set of tires, maybe rather than the ones that came supplied with your road bike, can make a big difference.
Changing your road bike tires for performance
If a tyre can manage to grip the road in all conditions, offer very little rolling resistance, be extremely light weight, offer the rider some extra comfort and also be puncture resistant then it would basically be the perfect tire! Unfortunately you can have maybe one or two of these attributes but generally not all of them at the same time! It makes sense that, for a road bike tire to be lightweight and offer very little resistance ie be a fast tire, it needs to be made of thin materials and be small. This, of course makes the tire more prone to punctures and the smaller the profile of the tyre the less comfortable ride it produces.
Some riders change tires for different road conditions and might well have a slightly heavier tire for winter conditions that will offer more comfort, be more resistant to punctures and might have a bit more grip in the wet. In the summer you can then change to “slicks”, that is light weight, thinner tires that should run a bit faster and are much more suited to dry summer road surfaces.
To a certain degree most tire manufacturers offer tires that are good “all rounders” and will be a good compromise of all of the factors above and a majority of riders will settle for one of these tires rather than changing them every time the weather changes. Imagine doing that in the UK – it would be crazy!
So, apart from changing your tires when you want to for road conditions and performance considerations when else might you need a change of rubber and what are the warning signs?
You have hit a huge pot hole
Pot holes are a pain in the butt – literally! In fact I would go as far as to say that they are probably the most dangerous hazard for a cyclist. When I’m out on my bike I always think that I’m fairly unlikely to come off due to my own error, probably a bit more likely to come off due to the error of another road user but much more likely to come off after hitting a pot hole.
They are so bad that there are even apps available that let you easily report them and keep a record of them so that other road users know where they are. Crazy but true!
Anyway, if you do hit a large pot hole and live to tell the tale you should immediately get off your bike and look for damage to the rim of the wheel and, more likely, to the side wall of your tires. The sudden trauma of hitting a pot hole at speed can cause cracks and tears which might lead to a loss of tire pressure immediately or could also very well lead to a sudden puncture further down the road. Have a good look round all four sides on both tires and replace of you are in doubt.
You are getting repeated punctures
Everyone gets a puncture once in a while but, if you are getting them regularly, it’s a sign that you are either riding your bike over broken bottles all the time or your tires have worn so thin that they can’t repel sharp objects any more. Try to avoid cycling on obviously bad stretches of road where there is sharp gravel or lots of broken glass but, by and large a puncture should be a relatively infrequent occurrence. If you are getting them frequently your tires are most likely very worn and should be replaced ASAP.
The tire profile has gone flat
A healthy springy, young and fresh tire should have a rounded profile. Like most of us, the older it gets and the more mileage it does the more it gets squashed and dumpy (quite a sad analogy!) A worn tire will look flattened where it has been in contact with the road and it’s profile will have a more squared off appearance.
Wear to the tread
This is an interesting one as some slick tires don’t really have any tread on them anyway and, unlike car tires, the tread doesn’t really have any effect on the tire’s grip to the road. On a car tire the tread helps to remove water from between the tire and the road surface when it’s wet to prevent aquaplaning. You would need to be going at about 100mph on a road bike to induce an aquaplaning effect with a narrow road bike tire so it’s really not so much of an issue!
However, check the centre of the tire where it is in contact with the road and if it looks thin and worn at this point it will need replacing.
Tread wear indicators
Some tire manufacturers build in a wear indicator into the tire and this will show when the tire is worn. If you are not sure what the indicator on your tire a quick Google of the tire type should do the trick and this can provide a reassuring and accurate means of assessing wear.
Wear to the side wall
As above check the side wall for bulges and abrasions. Often they will not cause an immediate problem but a worn tire side wall will mean that the whole tire will need replacement as it could break down at any point or cause a loss of air pressure. Similarly if the side wall is old and worn the rest of the tire is likely to be past it’s best as well and should be replaced.
Check for sharp objects and abrasions
It’s also a good idea to regularly check for sharp objects and abrasions in the tires. You should really do this before each ride or at least once a week as often bits of flint or sharp gravel can remain in a tire for some time before actually causing a problem. If you do remove them check for damage or at least keep an eye on the tire to make sure there is no loss of pressure. Often prevention is better than cure!
How many miles can I get?
A road bike tire should last for a few thousand miles. The back tire should last between 1500 and 3000 miles and the front one between 2000 and 4000 miles. Obviously the back tire gets more wear as more of your weight goes on it and the power is transferred through it. You might be tempted to swap the front and back tires over to even out the wear but this is considered to be not a great idea as the tires apparently mould to their job and swapping them over can cause a bit of an imbalance.
Generally speaking tires are relatively inexpensive. They are also your prime contact with the road and one of the major contributors to safety and performance. It makes sense that, if you are in any doubt, you should change them and keep a good fresh set of rubbers on your bike.
After all the last thing you want on your mind at 30 mph in a corner is that bulging side wall on your rear tire. Get it changed and enjoy the peace of mind!