Saturday, 14 June 2014

How to Tell if Road Bike Tyres Need Replacing

How to know when you should replace your road bike tyres can be a tricky question for beginners, mainly due to the fact that road bike tyres have little to no tread on them which would usually be an obvious indicator the tyre is worn.

Luckily, if you know what to look for there are a couple of easy ways to tell:

1. Multiple rips and tears in the rubber.
I remember the top photo was caused by a bit of glass so that doesn't really count but the bottom photo is a better example of small rips where the rubber has got very thin and is easily torn by road debris.

side wall tear in road bike tyre

worn road bike tyre tear

2. Squaring/flattening of tyre profile
In order to keep the contact patch as small as possible to reduce rolling resistance and make you faster, new tyres have a very round profile. As this contact patch wears the tyre will become 'squared off' rather than rounded. In the photos below you can clearly see how flat the profile has become compared to a brand new version of the exact same tyre on the right (Schwalbe Ultremo ZX in case anyone is interested).

worn road bike tyre which needs replacing

worn vs new road bike tyre comparison

You will notice the rear tyre is likely to wear noticeably more than the front one. This is because it carries the most weight and also has to deal with all the transfer of power from the bike to the road.

If you want to make the most of both tyres before throwing them out it's better to rotate them regularly before one of them becomes excessively worn meaning you will have to mismatch both old and new at the same time.

My personal feeling is that mismatching old and new tyres would result in an unpredictable ride (even if the exact same brand and model are used) due to the differences in grip between a worn and brand new tyre.

Rotating tyres every 3-6 months (depending on how many miles you do) should ensure wear is evenly distributed between both tyres.

How often you will need to replace road bike tyres will depend on several factors:
  • The compound the tyres are made from - generally tyres designed for racing will have more grip but will wear faster.
  • The type of riding you do i.e lots of harsh stops and fast accelerations
  • Your weight
  • Road conditions
  • Mileage
Check your tyres regularly!
Tyres should be checked before every ride for bulges, embedded objects, rips or anything else out of the ordinary. The best outcome of not checking tyres is getting a flat (changing a tube in the middle of a winter ride is not the most enjoyable task as I'm sure anyone who has had the misfortune will attest to). The worst outcome would be a blow-out at 45mph down your favourite descent...not pretty.

Comments and questions welcome below.

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