How To Choose Bike Tires Based on Your Cycling Style

October 06, 2021 0 Comments

Close-up of a commuter bike wheel against a brick wall

When it comes to optimizing your performance and comfort on your road bike, your tires shouldn’t be an afterthought. 

Tires significantly affect how the bike feels and handles on the road. Additionally, different sizes and types of bicycle tires provide different levels of resistance — making it easier or harder to go as fast as you want. 

Yet, most cyclists don’t give their tire size much thought. They simply keep buying the same tires that came with their bike or they ask around on online forums for other riders’ opinions. If you want to be sure you have the right tire size for your bike, though, you need to consider what kind of riding you do. 

Luckily, we have our good friend and longtime cycling coach, Darryl MacKenzie, on hand to help you learn how to choose bike tires based on your riding style

How To Read Bike Tire Sizes

When you’re shopping tire sizes, you’ll notice a couple of numbers that are usually front and center. A typical tire would be listed as, for example, “700 x 25.” Just what do these numbers mean?

The first number signifies the diameter of the tire, or its height from the ground to the top, in millimeters. It’s important to note that this number is rounded up — it’s not exact. So, a 700 tire will be roughly 700 millimeters in diameter (though it’s actually 622 millimeters). 

This number isn’t all that relevant to you, though, as you can’t change the diameter of the tire you put on your bike. It will always be 700 for a standard road bike and usually smaller for hybrid or commuter bikes.

The second number is where you should focus, as this measures the width of the tire. So, looking down on the tire from the top and measuring across from side to side, a 700 x 25 tire would measure about 25 millimeters in width. Changing this number will directly affect how your bike rides.

The Myth: Thinner Is Always Better

Now that you know how to read bike tire sizes, we’ll need to tackle a common myth about tire size before getting too far into the process. Conventional wisdom says that a thinner tire is always the way to go for a road bike. Why? Thinner tires mean less tread and less rolling resistance. They’re also more aerodynamic. So that means they’re faster. 

Generally speaking, that’s true. Some studies have shown that you can make wider tires faster by pumping them up to the same pressure as your thinner tires, but that’s not really a good idea if you don’t want to risk exploding your tubes. So, yes, thinner is faster.

However, thinner is also less comfortable for bumpier rides. There’s less tire to absorb the shock, so that means you’ll feel those bumps a lot more. Depending on what type of riding you do, it may not be worth the tradeoff.

That’s why you need to consider the whole picture when you’re choosing tires for your bike.

How To Choose Bike Tires Based on Your Riding Style

“The thinking cyclist knows that the most important thing to consider when selecting the best tire for you is to identify the type of riding you do and roads you ride on,” says Coach Darryl.

As he explains it, there are three types of riders, and it’s easy to think about them as you would in terms of vehicle preferences.

  • The off-roader: If you like to take your vehicle off the beaten path, you need beefy tires that can handle the rough terrain. It’s the same with your bike — and that’s why mountain bike tires are so thick. But even some road bikers tend to veer off on trails or less neatly paved paths. If that’s you, you may want to go for a wider tire.
  • The luxury rider: Just like someone who purchases a luxury sedan, this cyclist puts comfort at a premium. A little bit of speed may be nice, but they’re willing to trade some of it for a more comfortable, cushioned ride. If that’s you, you might not need the widest tires, but you don’t want to go road-racer thin, either.
  • The sports car driver: The sports car driver is all about speed, and this is the No.1 priority for some cyclists, too. If you want the fastest, most aerodynamic ride, go for a thin, lightweight tire.

See why you can’t simply go by another cyclist’s tire recommendations on a random forum? If you don’t know how that cyclist likes to ride, then their tire preferences don’t mean anything to you. Even a lot of professional tire reviews will focus only on evaluating rolling resistance without providing context for different types of rides.

In the end, we can’t summarize it any better than the folks who ran a detailed study on different tire sizes: 

“If you want to go as fast as possible, choose your required comfort level and pick the smallest tire that can provide that comfort for you.”

That about sums it up. The next time you need new tires, think about how you ride, the feel you want, and your need for speed. Choose your tires wisely — and enjoy your ride.


Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.

Photo by Manny Becerra on Unsplash