From saving weight to better performance, there’s a lot to be said for investing in good mountain bike tires — and it doesn’t necessarily mean spending an arm and a leg.
It does, however, mean spending more than 20 bucks at Walmart.
“A $20 tire is not going to last very long, and it’s going to be heavier,” said Clay Schwark of Wilderness Sports in Frisco.
Cheaper tires are made of lower-grade rubber that can be brittle and can wear faster. In the long run, going cheap can end up costing just as much as buying a better quality tire, because the cheap ones need to be replaced more frequently.
Another benefit to spending a little more on a tire is weight savings.
“A tire is the most effective place to save weight on a bike,” said Kris Carlsted of Podium Sports.
But at a certain point, price is “as much marketing as anything,” he said.
That means you can spend $100 on hand-made name-brand German tires, but you don’t have to. Both Carlstead and Schwark said you can get a solid bike tire for $55 to $65. A tubeless tire may cost a little more.
When thinking about a new bike tire, there are a few things to consider. The focus here is on mountain bike tires, but for the most part the same rules of thumb apply to road bike tires.
Steel bead vs. Kevlar
One of the biggest factors in tire weight and price involves the bead, which is the part of the tire that hooks into the rim.
The choice is between a steel bead or Kevlar/folding bead. Generally a cheaper tire will have a steel bead, which is heavier but maintains the tire’s form. Schwark said that steel-bead tires are generally more difficult to put on a rim, since the steel band keeps them rigid.
Durometer: Hard or Soft
Different kinds of rubber will perform differently on the trail. Rubber’s hardness is rated using the durometer system. A tire with a higher durometer will last longer but won’t grip or conform to a trail as well.
“They’ll be slick on rocks and roots and stuff,” Carlsted said.
A softer tire, with a lower durometer, will be stickier and grip terrain better, but it will wear faster. Softer tires conform better to hard terrain, Carlsted said.
Harder tires will perform well in softer, loose or muddy terrain, but a softer tire will handle slickrock terrain better.
It’s a matter of what kind of riding a person wants to do.
“You want to grip more, get the grippier tire,” Schwark said.
Some tires offer a little of both. They’ll have a higher durometer tread in the center, with softer rubber on the outer knobs of the tire.
The thickness of the sidewall of a tire is also a factor. A tire with a thick sidewall will be heavy, but it will also be more durable and less susceptible to punctures from the side in more rugged terrain.
Size does matter
Both in tire width and size of tread, size is a major consideration to tire performance. Schwark said most manufacturers will put a wider tire on the front of a bike.
“It’s what’s steering,” he said. A wider tire in the front can give a rider more control.
He also suggests a knobbier tire up front for traction. “More tire on the ground.”
And with more of a biker’s weight on the back tire, a smaller tire will still provide plenty of traction. A 2.3-inch-wide front tire and a 2.2 rear is fairly standard in our area. Although oversized “fat tires” are gaining popularity. An average bike frame may not support a tire much larger than 2.3 inches wide.
Schwark also pointed out that the tires on a bike with 29-inch wheels don’t need to be as wide as those on a bike with 26-inch wheels, since more area of the tire is on the ground at a given time.
Whether a rider chooses knobby or not-so-knobby tires depends on what kind of riding he or she will be doing.
“A low-knob tire rolls better but grips less,” Schwark said. He said that in recent years knob design and rubber quality have made less-knobby tires more efficient.
In the end, selecting a tire comes down to the individual, Schwark said.
“It’s a huge personal preference.”