How to Tell A Bicycle Tire Direction

Founder, Mr. Mamil

One of the important things to note when installing a bicycle tire is the rotation direction. Most tires have a rotation direction, but sometimes they can be hard to spot.

This article will discuss when and why the tire rotation direction matters and how to tell the direction.

Why does the rotation direction matter?

The direction matters to achieve maximum performance from the tires in braking, driving, and steering.

Road tires treads

The ideal thread pattern is zero or minimal, allowing the tire to have a maximum contact area with the road surface as the tire deforms. The tire threads have little influence on the grip and traction on paved and smooth roads.

Road bike tires are often slicks or have minimal threads on the sides. The tire grip and traction will depend on the rubber compound used. According to Schwalbe, the rotation direction and treads on road bike tires are for aesthetic purposes to make the tires look more dynamic.

The Schwalbe Pro One TLE and Continental GP 5000 S TR has a forward-pointing tread to indicate the direction. On the contrary, the Vittoria Corsa G2.0 doesn’t indicate any rotation directions.

Off-road tires treads

Tread pattern and rolling direction are important for off-road riding. The treads provide an interlocking contact area with the rough surface. As driving and braking work in opposite directions, manufacturers of off-road tires, such as Maxxis and WTB manufacture front and rear-specific tires.

The rear treads are designed for driving, while the front is for braking and steering.

For example,

How to tell the tire direction?

Continental Grand Prix 5000 S TR Tires 7
Tire direction (rotation) printer on Continental GP 5000 S TR sidewalls

The easiest way is to read the printed labels on the tire sidewalls. Most brands will print an arrow pointing in the rotation direction. Sometimes, the printing can be harder to locate because it’s black.

Alternatively, look at the tread patterns if you can’t find the rotation direction. They’re usually pointing forward in the rotation direction.

Can road bike tires aquaplane?

Road bike tires have a much smaller contact area and higher air pressure than car tires. Theoretically, aquaplaning can occur at speeds over 120mph (200kph).

Alex Lee at Mr.Mamil

Alex Lee is the founder and editor-at-large of Mr. Mamil. Coming from a professional engineering background, he breaks down technical cycling nuances into an easy-to-understand and digestible format here.

He has been riding road bikes actively for the past 12 years and started racing competitively in the senior category during the summer recently.