In part 3 of our series on Wider is Better, we’re going to look at Tires. Over the last few years we’ve seen some riders and racers opting for wider rubber, but why?
The move from the classic 23c road tire like the Schwalbe One to anything wider seems counter intuitive: adding weight and resistance to an ultra light road bike doesn’t seem to make sense. For decades road riders who venture on to the cobbled roads of Europe have opted for 25c tires like the Continental Grand Sport Race in search for comfort. Recently those wider tires have snuck into the pro peloton for 2 main reasons: Comfort and rolling resistance. The wider tires like the Continental Gatorskin 25c allow a rider to drop the tire pressure a bit without increasing risk of pinch flats. The rolling resistance of wider road tires has been repeatedly proven in lab tests to roll as fast or faster than their narrower counterparts. This is mainly due to the change in contact patch from longer and narrower on a 23c tire to shorter and wider on a 25c tire. Continental Tires explains it in the below diagram:
With this shift in mind, new road bikes like the Raleigh Revino Carbon are coming from the factory with 25c tires, with clearance for 28c or even 30c in some cases. This wider tire clearance will also open you up to taking the road less traveled, exploring gravel roads and dirt paths without having to get on a mountain bike. With wider tires these bikes are blurring the line from traditional road bike to the new category of Gravel Bikes which have become extremely popular over the last few years.
In the dirt there is definitely a trend to going wider with mountain bike tires as well. Long gone are the sub-2 inch treads for all but the biggest weight weenie cross country riders (*cough*guilty*cough*). Those cross country riders are swapping their 1.9 Kendas Small Block 8’s for Schwalbe Racing Ralph 2.1’s or even wider Maxxis Ardent 2.25’s these days. It doesn’t take a lab test to explain this shift, just hold both of the tires in your hand and you’ll see why. More rubber means more grip, and that means more speed and fun. The tire compounds and designs have greatly improved over the years to where the weight penalty isn’t nearly what it was a decade ago, and the tread designs balance rolling resistance versus cornering grip very well.
Can you go too wide? While there are certainly weight penalties to going wider, up to 400g per tire in some cases, you’ll likely find a little more grip by going up a size from your existing setup as long as your bike has clearance. Most modern mountain bikes can fit a 2.3” wide tire, and if you need wider than that it might be time to go full fat like the Raleigh Rumson with nearly 5” of rubber on the ground. Me? I’m considering getting these Vittoria Mezcal Plus tires for the fall state series. They look nice and grippy. What’s another set of tires to the guy who’s tried the full gamut?
So is wider better with regards to tires? Mostly yes, so long as you don’t go too far and incur large weight penalties, going wider on your tires will give you more comfort, grip and will likely be faster on the road and trail too.