How to Choose the Best Tyres for your Bike

The world of bike tyres can be a complicated one. Not only are there different types of tyre for different types of bike, but there are also different systems of measurement depending on your country.

In this article, we aim to break it all down and help you get your head around the options that are available so that you can identify the best tyres for your bike.

Tyre measurement systems

There are three main types of tyre measurement systems: British/American, French and the European Tyre and Rim Technical Organisation (ETRTO). The first two systems are effectively imperial and metric measurements, while the final system is an attempt to develop a unified approach that can be used worldwide.

  British/American French ETRTO
Definition Approximate diameter x approximate width of tyre when inflated in inches Approximate diameter x approximate width of tyre when inflated in millimetres Approximate width of tyre when inflated – exact diameter in mm
Example 29x2.2” or 26x2.0” 700x23c or 700x45c 23-622 or 50-559
Rules for replacement tyres The diameter must be the same when buying replacement tyres, however the width measurement can vary depending on what your wheel rims and/or frame can support. Most bikes have room for 0.1 or 0.2 inches of movement either side of the original tyres. The diameter must be the same when buying replacement tyres, however the width measurement can vary depending on what your wheel rims and/or frame can support.

Most bikes have room for movement in width. Road bikes usually support up to 28c-wide tyres at least and hybrid bikes can be anything from 30-50c.
The diameter must be the same when buying replacement tyres, however the width measurement can vary depending on what your wheel rims and/or frame can support
Bike types This is the most common way of measuring mountain bikes, kids’ bikes and some hybrid bikes globally.

Note that tyres marked with a fraction instead of a decimal point are not compatible – these are British imperial sizes and require a tyre specific to that size.
This is the most common way of measuring road bikes and some hybrid bikes globally. Most tyres have this marking on them as it’s used by manufacturers to get the exact size correct and arguably, should be the universal way of sizing tyres globally.

Tyres by bike type

Road bike tyres

Key facts

  • Road tyres are mainly used for cycling on smooth roads at high speeds.
  • Adult road bikes come with 700c wheels (or 622mm using the ETRTO system). So the wheel rim specification will be 700x(width)c or (width)-622.
  • You can also get tyres in 700c size that suit riding on gravel, commuting or leisure riding.

Tyre thickness

  • Road tyres generally comes in widths ranging from 23c to 32c (the number refers to the width of the tyre at its widest point, in millimetres).
  • If your frame allows, we recommend 25c tyres for most road bikes. These are widely recognised to be the best compromise between comfort, weight and performance.
  • If you ride on particular rough roads, or are a heavier rider, then 28c or 30c tyres could be a better choice.

Tread patterns

Tyre tread refers to the pattern on the top of the tyres and this pattern can affect performance. Tyres grip smooth surfaces like tarmac, because of the way the rubber interacts with the road at a microscopic level. However, while you’ll see tyre treads on car tyres, road bike tyres don’t need a patterned tread because a bike never goes fast enough to build up a layer of water under the tyre and skid. The best tyres for road use have either a very light tread pattern or none at all.

  • Road tyres often come with slick or smooth designs, as this helps reduce rolling resistance and increase grip on smooth surfaces.
  • Many wet weather-specific tyres will have grooves on the sides of the tyres. This helps to displace or dispel water from the tyre, preventing a loss of traction and slippage.
  • If you ride primarily on smooth asphalt roads, then opt for our range of road tyres.
  • If you like to ride on gravel or tow paths, then choose a tyre with a bit more tread that can grip the loose surface.
Shop all Road Bike Tyres

Mountain bike tyres

Key facts

  • Mountain bike tyres are suitable for terrains like trails and mountains, with their greater width helping with traction.
  • Mountain bike tyres have three common wheel diameters: 26, 27.5 and 29” (or 559, 584 and 622 using the ETRTO system).
  • Across these three rim diameters, the rim width measurements are broadly the same. They range from 19mm for lightweight cross-country-style rims to 40mm for downhill bikes.
  • The only exception is ‘fat bikes’. Here, rims range in width from 44 to 100mm to supply sufficient seating for their oversized tyres, which range from 3.7 to 5” (94 to 127mm) in width.

Tyre thickness

Wider mountain bike tyres offer more grip, but for a weight penalty. Thinner tyres with less tread will be faster, but with less grip when cornering or on loose ground.

  • Wider tyres provide better traction, stability, ride quality and air volume
  • Thinner tyres provide less weight and less rolling resistance

It’s not uncommon for mountain bikers to run a wider tyre up front and thinner one at the back. This provides maximum grip on the front wheel when cornering, while allowing the back to be a bit more agile to help navigate around tight corners. Less tread on the rear wheel also allows you to roll a bit faster, helping to maintain speed.

Tread patterns

Tread pattern makes a huge difference to the performance of a mountain bike tyre. The smaller and more tightly packed the knobs on the tyre, the faster the tyre will roll but the less grip it will offer.

  • Grip is essential, but the amount you require will vary depending on the specific surface you’re riding on. A low-profile tread pattern will give you plenty of grip on hardpack trails, while you’ll need more aggressive, high-profile pattern for loose surfaces.
  • Tyre choice is always a balance between grip and straight-line speed. The best tyre tread pattern will be different for different riding styles, as well as different trail conditions.
  • An important consideration for UK riders – particularly if you like to ride natural trails – is how well the tyre can clear mud. If your tyre clogs up with mud easily, you’ll lose grip more often. Dedicated mud tyres have wide gaps between the tread, allowing mud to clear quickly.
  • A good all-rounder mountain bike tyre will have a relatively open tread pattern, a reasonably sized mid-tread and aggressive side knobs. This offers the ideal balance between grip and rolling resistance, without running the risk of the tyre becoming clogged up with mud in the wet.
Shop all Mountain Bike Tyres

Commuter/hybrid bike tyres

Key facts

  • Commuter/hybrid tyres are specifically designed to cope with the demands of the daily commute.
  • They often have a higher volume than standard road cycling tyres to help them roll effortlessly over uneven road surfaces, as well as increased puncture protection.
  • While they’re often slightly heavier that road tyres, they usually still have a slick, or semi-slick, tread pattern to help you zip through the urban jungle at a reasonable pace.

Tyre thickness

Commuter/hybrid tyres are generally sold in larger widths than standard road bike tyres to provide added comfort and grip, as well as reduce the risk of punctures.

  • Most commuters will have tyres between 28 and 42mm.
  • When it comes time to replace the tyres on your bike, the width can have a major impact on the way your bike rides. Wider tyres offer increased grip and comfort as they have a larger air volume and lower tyre pressure can be run.
  • Most commuting and hybrid city bikes have 700c wheels. This is the same size as standard road bike wheels, because they roll fast and handle well.
  • If your wheels are 700c, look for a tyre width of between 28 and 35c.
  • If your tyres are 26 or 27.5”, look for widths between 1.5 and 2.0”.

Tread patterns

As a rule, if a tyre can’t dig into a surface (like a pavement) then the tread doesn't add much, if any, grip. When choosing a tyre for a commute, think about the surfaces you’ll be riding on.

  • If it's paved all the way, a slick or lightly-treaded tyre will be your best pick.
  • If there’s some gravel or dirt, a bit of tread might be a good idea. Prioritise shoulder tread as this is what provides grip in the corners.
Shop all Hybrid Bike Tyres

Tyre types, bead types and compounds

Once you’ve identified the best tyre for your bike, it’s time to choose the type and quality.

Tyre types

Outside of road, mountain bike and hybrid, there are three overarching types of bike tyre:

  • Clincher: This is the most common type, where the tyre hooks to either side of the rim using a bead.
  • Tubular: In this type of tyre, the tyre and inner tube are one and glued to the rim. Tubular tyres are mainly used for road racing due to their high performance, yet lack of serviceability.
  • Tubeless: Tubeless tyres use a special layer to help keep sealant in the tyre and allow you to ride on a tyre without an inner tube. This leads to better grip, less punctures and a lower weight.

Bead types

This is the part of the tyre that holds the tyre to the wheel rim. There are two different types:

  • Wire bead: Tyres with a wire bead use a thin piece of wire that runs all the way around the tyre on either side to help it hook to the rim and keep it in place. This is the most cost-effective way to attach a tyre.
  • Folding bead: Tyres with a folding bead use a material (normally Kevlar) to hold the tyre to the rim. These tyres are usually a lot lighter than those with a wire bead and allow for a tubeless set up. There’s also more movement in the Kevlar to allow for a tighter fit.

Compound

This is the make-up of the rubber and other materials that give the tyre its ride qualities. There are three main types:

  • Puncture resistant: A lot of tyre companies use a protective strip on the inside of the tyre to create an extra barrier between your inner tube and the road.
  • Sidewalls/casing: Some tyres mix other materials into the sidewall and casing of the tyre to prevent road debris or sharp rocks from damaging the side of the tyre.
  • Rubber tyres: It’s common to find tyres with softer rubber in higher-end tyres to allow for more grip while sacrificing longevity. At the other end of the scale, some tyres have a hard rubber compound to prevent punctures and increase the life of the tyre while sacrificing grip.

Tyres at Halfords

Our Road Bike Tyres Buyer's Guide and Mountain Bike Tyres Buyer's Guide go into a little more detail about what to look for in each of these types of tyres. If you're still unsure what you're after, pop into your local store and speak to one of our colleagues who'll be more than happy to point you in the right direction.

Shop all Bike Tyres