Before you decide to shell out your hard-earned cash, use this guide to learn the pros and cons for each tire type.
The 3 Tire Options1 of 7
On a basic level, there are three types of tires you can choose from to put on your road bike, though some of this decision depends on the type of wheel you own or plan to buy. They include clincher tires, tubular tires and tubeless tires.
Clincher2 of 7
This is the most popular type of tire. It consists of a U-shaped cross section where a separate inner tube fits. The edge of the tire hooks onto the rim to hold everything in place.
Clincher tires have become more popular over the years because they're easy to fix on the road when a flat occurs. Unlike other tires, clincher tires use beads to hold the tire onto the rim. Beads are most often made of a strong steel cable or Kevlar belt that runs along the edge of the tire. Because of this, clincher tires and rims are usually heavier in weight than other tire options, though with the invention of Kevlar this disadvantage has decreased significantly.
Other setbacks of using a clincher wheel and tire are the increased likelihood of pinch flats and less overall comfort of the ride.
Tubular3 of 7
Tubular tires are used most often by cyclists interested in racing. They're lightweight, puncture less often and are widely considered to be the most comfortable tire.
Since a tubular tire contains no inner tube and is glued onto the rim, it can only be used with a tubular wheel set. The downside is that tubular tires take time and patience to mount. It's often recommended to apply two or three layers of glue, which can take a few days of drying and reapplication to do it right.
If you have a flat with a puncture larger than a few millimeters, a spare tire is needed. Vittoria Pit Stop and Hutchinson Tires make flat repair canisters for quick fixes (simultaneously inflating and fixing a puncture), and though they do work in some scenarios, they won't repair large cuts.
Tubular tires are much more expensive than clincher tires. They also lack beads, which reduces weight but makes the tire not as perfectly round as the best clincher tire options.
Tubeless4 of 7
A relatively new option, the tubeless tire can be used on any clincher wheel set without an inner tube. In that sense, it is the perfect marriage between a tubular and a clincher tire, taking the advantages of each and combining them into one.
In order to use a tubeless system on a clincher wheel, a special tubeless tire and a conversion kit (Stan's makes a tubeless conversion) is needed. This is not to be confused with tubular tires, as the two are quite different. The advantage of a tubeless system is that it's light and comfortable like tubulars but are easy to change roadside like clinchers. If stranded roadside, a tubeless tire can be fitted with an inner tube as well, making it ideal for training and racing.
On the downside, the price range for a tubeless tire is usually around $100 a piece, and the current market only offers a few different options to choose from.
Tread Type5 of 7
For road tires, there are usually two options: those that have tread and those that are perfectly smooth.
Treadless Tires: The less tread a tire has, the more it conforms to the road. It's common for people to associate tread with being less slippery in wet conditions, but this is not necessarily the case.
Since pavement has its own texture, a tire without tread will deform better during contact, acquiring the texture of the road instead of working against it.
Treaded Tires: In general, most road tires don't have knobs the way that mountain bike tires do. The most popular type of treaded road tires are combination, meaning they have some smooth sections and some sections containing a tread pattern. A combination tire might be best used for riding on rough roads with gravel or if you occasionally ride on dirt roads.
Tire Width and Size6 of 7
Determining which tire size you want is dependent upon what you are going to be using them for. Most road wheels have a diameter of 700c, though some models could be as small as 650c. The other number on a tire size relates to the width. If a tire is 700cc by 25 millimeters, then the width of the tire is 25mm.
The ideal width of your tire depends on if you are using it for racing, training or commuting. The skinnier the tire is, the faster it is going to be. A 700 x 21mm tire has less contact with the road and offers less frontal resistance to the wind. The trade-off is, skinny tires wear quicker and are more vulnerable to damage to the sidewall. They also require a higher air pressure, which results in a harsher and less comfortable ride.
For commuting or training, a wider tire is likely your best choice. They make balancing and cornering much easier, offer more contact with the road, are less likely to puncture on rough surfaces and will last longer. The downside is they are heavy, not as aerodynamic and can cause problems fitting into brake calipers or certain bike frames.
The bottom line is, no single bike tire is likely to fit the needs of every cyclist. It's important to research each brand of tire and find the one that works best for you.