Basic Bike Setup – no 2

Posted: February 24, 2011 in 2011, General Ramblings

Maybe this should be called my tyre rant as I am going to bang on about tyres once again.

Let’s make a leap of faith here and assume that you have read the first post of this series and are now fully prepared to accept that having your tyres pumped to the right pressure (more or less) is going to ease your two wheel assisted passage to work, to the shops or more importantly, the pub. I want to delve a little deeper into the mysteries of tyres. Myth number one – all tyres are the same; well they aren’t. Strange as it may seem, to keep the discussion on a generic level, mountain bike tyres are generally intended for use off road (mud, gravel, rocks etc) and road tyres (slicks or tyres with a light tread) for use on the road.

Those black knobbly things sticking out from the carcass of the tyre are designed to promote grip when you ride off road. They are designed to be run at comparatively low pressures and can do a damn good job of keeping a rider upright or maintaining traction through gloop. They are worse than useless if you are looking for an efficient passage on the other medium common to cyclists… tarmac. It is beyond me why manufacturers produce bikes that look like mountain bikes, that will only ever be used on the road (they would literally fall apart if taken off road and given even a normal XC ride) and equip them with tyres with the grip profile and weight of something more suitable for a DH monster than a commuter or run about. It is entirely possible to use a tyre that is a sort of cross over compromise, light tread pattern in the middle and medium knobbles on the outside but no… they all look like the old WTB Velociraptor rear tyres but without the weight saving. Before I wander off into a prolonged and mindless rant, if your bike is only ever going to get road or light off road use, then make sure you get the right sort of tyre. It isn’t a style thing, it isn’t some sort of warped velo-snobbery, it just makes sense from every perspective. Oh yes, and if you do decide to fir your machine out with the right sort of tyre, make damn sure it is as light as you can afford (more of that another day).

Tyres for road bikes, mountain bike a likes or shoppers – ideally you will have slicks or tyres with narrow tread patterns. The reason is that they reduce rolling resistance and either help you go faster or allow you to expend less energy. They are designed to be run at higher pressure – and thereby reducing rolling resistance. It isn’t for fun or novelty that road racers have tyres pumped up to 120psi and track riders even higher. Having your tyres pumped up this hard is not comfortable, but it is very efficient!

If you are commuting, I’d say that you would want something like a 700 x 23 Schwalbe Durano or Marathon. They are basic tyres, not too heavy but they have puncture protection. This also makes them ideal for your winter hack bike (if you have one). If you are riding a 26 inch wheel then there are plenty of slicks that can be run firmer (Tioga City Slickers,  Schwalbe City Jet, Continental Gatorskin Mountain Bike Tyre for example). I’d always suggest you go for something which can be pumped up quite hard and has enough body to it to soak up the bumps and won’t puncture when you hit one of the inevitable potholes !

Finally, one last word of wisdom to all you commuters and leisure cyclists out there. The heavier your tyre is, the slower you will go and the harder work it will be. You don’t have to get uber light rubber but save yourself some effort and at least make sure you get a mid weight tyre, you’ll thank me in the long run. 🙂


  1. Ross Burton says:

    They come with knobbly tires for the same reason that most of the 150 quid “cycle to town” bikes have full suspension. ‘cos they look good and people don’t know any better.

  2. slowjo61 says:

    Rhetorical question Ross 🙂

    • Ross Burton says:

      Yeah I know. 🙂 It just bugs me how whilst about 1/4 of the bikes at Ely station are proper road/commuting bikes, a good 2/3s are your typical 100 quid knobbly tyres full suspension (with a very suspicious looking frame design) bikes with a very rusty chain.

      The remaining few are proper mountain bikes that, poor things, apparently never see the mud. We should print out Timber flyers for handing out to people with decent bikes. 🙂

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