Over the last 5 years or so the move toward bigger tires on all types of bikes has really gained traction (pun intended). The advantages of large volume tires at low pressures are improved grip and faster speeds. This may seem counter intuitive, but the truth of the matter is there’s really no downside. Gravel and touring bikes seem to benefit the most from this new movement. Being able to ride from pavement to dirt and gravel on the same bike has opened up new more diverse routes for riders the world over.
When shopping for bikes, new or used the first question you should ask is “how big a tire will fit?” Classic cyclocross bikes were the beginning of riding drop-bar bikes on dirt, the typical size tire for a cross bike has traditionally been 34c, as regulated by the race officials. 34c tires seemed big back in the day, but now tires on road style bikes have ballooned up to 47 and 50c (2.0”). If you are looking to retrofit an older bike be sure to check the clearance around the rear chainstay and up at the front brake, these two areas have the tightest fit. My words of advice are run the biggest tire you can fit without getting too close to the frame or brake. Having 2 millimeters of clearance is as close as you want to go.
“Being able to ride from pavement to dirt and gravel on the same bike has opened up new more diverse routes for riders the world over.”
Tread patterns can vary quite a bit on these new bigger more supple tires. Unless you’re planning to ride in wet muddy conditions, I recommend smooth or near smooth tread design. The speed you will gain from smooth tread will far outweigh the lack of traction. The lower the pressure the more traction you will get, without sacrificing efficiency. If you must have some knobs on your tires, be sure that the knobs are toward the outside of the tread for cornering, leaving a smooth path in the middle. Remember you’ll ride a lot on pavement as well, so don’t error on the side of rough roads, trust me the large smooth tire at low pressure will work just fine.
Lastly, there are many brands of large volume tires on the market and more coming daily. Price, durability, and weight should all factor into your decision. Most of the brands we like and stock come from companies like Rene Herse, Panaracer, and WTB. Check the key features of each and match up your needs with the choices that are available. There’s a lot to consider and we are here to help, so give us a call or better yet bring your bike in, and we will guide you through all the choices. You will be glad you did.