Selecting the Right Bicycle Touring Tires

By Shular Scudamore

Tires are a very important part of your bicycle trip. I wore out the set I started on when I rode coast-to-coast on the Northern Tier Route. I rode on Continental Contacts on the last 1200 miles of that route. I used wider Continentals on my journey from Canada to Mexico on the Pacific Coast. For the Southern Tier from San Diego to St. Augustine, Florida I switched to Schwalbe Marathon Plus. When I started bikepacking on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route I rode a different bike, rolling on 2.1x29 Vitorria tires. You may wear out one or more sets of tires crossing the United States on a bicycle. Tires or tyres, if you are from the United Kingdom, vary in size and load carrying capacity. Over the years I have often seen heavier riders trying to ride on tires that were just too narrow for them. On the other side, you will create a lot more work for your self, if you choose mountain bike tires. So which tire is right? One of your first considerations is what type of bicycle will you ride on your trip. Here are some of things to consider when selecting the right bicycle tire:

Schwalbe Marathon Plus tour tire
  • tire clearance at fork and frame
  • tire load capacity
  • puncture resistance
  • rolling resistance
  • ride quality
  • handling and traction
  • wheel rim width

Take a look at the space between your fork and your tire now. Also look between the chain stays. My old Bianchi Volpe touring bike is fitted with 700cX37 tires. It has room for fenders ( mud guards ). My primary road bike accommodates 700cX25 tires. My old Bianchi road bicycle will take 700cX28 tires. If you have a touring bike, a crossbike or a mountain bike you will have more size options.

As your load increses you will need wider tires. Research on rolling resistance shows wider tires at lower pressure perform well, if they have supple casings. In addition to the tire size, you will need to be concerned about load capacity. When you overload a tire you are very likely to experience pinch flats sometimes know as snake bites because of the two small holes that are created in the inner tube. Higher pressure may provide lower rolling resistance, up to a point. Most road bike tires will do well at 90psi. Sure some folks pump them up to 120psi. This will generally reduce ride quality without significantly improving rolling resistance. Heavier people riding narrow tires may need more pressure.

Tire construction varies by manufacture and tire quality. You can look at the Threads Per Inch (tpi) count. Vittoria offers a tire with 320tpi. This is great for handling. Tires with lower tpi will usually wear better, but ride quality will suffer. You will find a variety of tires to choose from from bicycle tire manufactures like Schwalbe, Continental, Michelin, Vittoria, Specialized an others. Today you will also find tires with a Kevlar "sub-tread" to reduce punctures.

You can compare tires like the Continental Gator Hardshell; the Michelin Erilium2® ; Specialized Armadillo; and the Vittoria Randonneur Touring. Hutchinson has announced a new airless bicycle tire named Serenity. It should be available soon. Some riders are reporting very good results with the Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour available in 700x35c. Schwalbe uses an effective puncture resistant belt called the SmartGuard. On my bicycle tour I met serveral riders using Schwalbe touring tires. I am using Schwalbe Marathon Plus now.

Remember to look at the width of your bicycle wheel rim when selecting a tire. If you mount a narrower tire on a wider rim, you will flatten out the tread and make the sidewall more susceptible to damage.

Links of Interest