In today’s rapidly evolving cycling world, bike tire technology has become a hotbed of innovation, constantly pushing the boundaries of performance and sustainability.
This article delves into the latest trends in bike tire technology, exploring cutting-edge materials, designs, and engineering feats revolutionizing how we ride.
Tubeless tires have become popular among cyclists due to their advantages over traditional tubed tires. In a tubeless system, the tire and rim form an airtight seal, eliminating the need for an inner tube.
Benefits of tubeless tires
- Reduced risk of punctures. Without an inner tube, there’s a decreased chance of getting pinch flats (caused by the tube getting pinched between the rim and tire). Tubeless tires, when used with a liquid sealant that fills small punctures automatically, further reduce the risk of flats.
- Improved traction. Tubeless tires can run at lower air pressures without the risk of pinch flats. This allows for better traction and improved handling on various surfaces.
- Enhanced ride quality. The absence of an inner tube in tubeless tires reduces rolling resistance and allows for a smoother, more comfortable ride.
When choosing a tubeless road tire, it’s essential to consider factors such as your riding style, road conditions, and personal preferences for factors like tire width and weight.
“I noticed a significant improvement in ride quality after switching to tubeless tires. The lower air pressure allowed me to tackle rough roads with ease, making the long-distance events more enjoyable and comfortable. I even managed to shave a few minutes off my personal best time!”Tom Clarke, a 55 year old who regularly participates in gran fondos
Examples of tubeless tires
These tubeless road bike tires represent some of the top options in the market, offering a combination of performance, puncture resistance, and grip.
- Continental Grand Prix 5000s TR is a tubeless version of the popular Grand Prix 5000 clincher tire. It features Continental’s BlackChili rubber compound for low rolling resistance and excellent grip in wet and dry conditions.
- Schwalbe Pro One TLE is a high-performance tubeless road tire with a lightweight 127 TPI casing and Schwalbe’s latest ADDIX Race rubber compound.
Tubeless tires guide
Over the years, there has been a trend towards wider tires in road cycling, as they offer several advantages over their narrower counterparts. The primary benefits of wider tires include;
- Improved comfort. Wider tires can run at lower air pressures, which allows them to absorb more road vibrations and provide a smoother, more comfortable ride. It can be particularly beneficial on rough or uneven surfaces, such as cobblestones, gravel, or poorly maintained roads.
- Better grip. The increased contact patch of wider tires results in more rubber in contact with the road or trail, providing better traction and cornering grip. This can improve bike handling and control, especially in wet or slippery conditions.
- Increased rolling efficiency. Contrary to popular belief, wider tires have been shown to offer lower rolling resistance than narrower ones, thanks to their ability to conform better to road imperfections. Lower rolling resistance translates to improved efficiency and speed.
“Switching from 23mm to 28mm tires was a game-changer for me. The enhanced grip and comfort provided by the wider tires made cornering at high speeds much more confident, and I felt more in control of my bike during descents.
I’ll never go back to narrower tires.”Andrew Brown , a 45 year old competitive racer
Examples of wider tires
- Road. Traditionally, road bikes used to have narrow tires around 23mm wide. However, it is now common to see 25mm or 28mm wide tires on road bikes, with some cyclists even opting for 30mm or wider. Popular models include the Continental Grand Prix 5000 (25mm or 28mm) and the Schwalbe Pro One (28mm).
- Gravel. Gravel tires are generally wider than road tires, typically ranging from 35mm to over 50mm wide, to provide better traction and comfort on mixed surfaces.
- Mountain. Mountain bike tires can vary greatly in width depending on the intended use. Cross-country tires are narrower (around 2.0″ to 2.3″). In contrast, trail, enduro, and downhill tires are usually wider (2.3″ to 2.6″ or more).
Keep in mind that wider tires may require a compatible frame and wheelset with enough clearance to accommodate the increased size. Additionally, wider tires tend to be slightly heavier than their narrower counterparts, which could be a consideration for weight-conscious riders.
Bicycle tire manufacturers constantly improve puncture-resistant technologies to provide better protection against flats without significantly increasing weight or compromising performance.
Several methods and materials are used to achieve this goal.
- Adding protective layers. Many puncture-resistant tires feature additional layers of protection built into the tire casing. These layers can be made from Kevlar, aramid, or other tough fabrics that help prevent sharp objects from penetrating the tire and causing a flat.
- Denser rubber compounds. Some tires use a denser, more puncture-resistant rubber compound in the tread area, providing additional protection against cuts and punctures.
- Tubeless technology. As mentioned earlier, tubeless tires have inherent puncture-resistant properties. They can be used with a liquid sealant that fills small punctures automatically, making them less prone to flats than traditional tubed tires.
“I used to suffer from frequent punctures during my daily commutes during the winter, which was incredibly frustrating. After switching to puncture-resistant tires, I’ve noticed a dramatic decrease in flats, allowing me to reach my workplace on time.”Lee Miller, a daily commuter to work
Examples of puncture-resistant tires
- Continental Gatorskin (road) features a durable, puncture-resistant casing with a layer of PolyX Breaker fabric underneath the tread, providing good protection against flats without sacrificing speed or ride quality.
- Schwalbe Marathon Plus (urban/commuting) is well-known for its exceptional puncture resistance, thanks to its SmartGuard layer made of special, flexible rubber that offers excellent protection against sharp objects. This tire is particularly popular among commuters and touring cyclists.
- Specialized Armadillo (various disciplines). Specialized offers a range of Armadillo tires with a proprietary casing incorporating a layer of aramid fabric for increased puncture resistance. These tires are available in various road, gravel, and mountain biking models.
- Maxxis EXO (mountain). The EXO series from Maxxis features a lightweight, puncture-resistant layer in the sidewalls that provide added protection against cuts and abrasions, making these tires suitable for rough and rocky terrain.
It’s essential to consider that puncture-resistant tires may have some trade-offs, such as increased weight, reduced ride quality, or higher rolling resistance than standard tires. For many riders, the benefits of reduced risk of flats outweigh the downsides, especially in urban commuting or long-distance touring where puncture protection is crucial.
Advances in materials and manufacturing processes have allowed for the development of lighter bicycle tires without sacrificing durability, puncture resistance, or performance. Lighter tires can improve a bike’s acceleration, handling, and overall ride quality, which is particularly beneficial in competitive situations or for riders looking to maximize efficiency.
Tire manufacturers achieve lighter tires through various means, such as;
- Lightweight casings. Tire casings can be lighter using high-quality, high-thread-count fabrics, such as 120 TPI (threads per inch) or more. These casings offer a supple ride quality and lower rolling resistance while maintaining adequate strength and durability.
- Advanced rubber compounds. Bike tire manufacturers have developed new rubber compounds that balance low rolling resistance, grip, and durability while keeping weight to a minimum. These compounds often involve a combination of different types of rubber strategically placed in the tire’s tread and sidewalls.
Examples of lightweight tires
- Specialized S-Works Turbo RapidAir (road) is a lightweight, fast-rolling tubeless tire. It features a 120 TPI casing and a Gripton rubber compound, providing excellent grip and low rolling resistance.
- Schwalbe Pro One TLE (road) is a lightweight, high-performance tubeless road tire with a 127 TPI casing and a fast-rolling rubber compound.
- Michelin Power Road (road) uses a 3x 120 TPI casing and an advanced rubber compound with low rolling resistance, excellent grip, and durability. It is available in both tubed and tubeless versions.
- Maxxis Aspen (mountain) is for cross-country racing. It has a 120 TPI casing and dual-compound rubber for a good balance of low rolling resistance, grip, and durability.
Bear in mind that lightweight tires may sacrifice some durability or puncture resistance, which could be a concern for riders in rough conditions or those who prioritize reliability over weight savings. It’s important to balance weight, performance, and durability based on your riding style and needs.
Better wet-weather performance
Improvements in rubber compounds and tread patterns have led to tires with better grip and handling in wet or slippery conditions. These advancements help cyclists maintain better control and avoid crashes when riding in the rain or on wet surfaces.
- Rubber compound: One of the most critical factors in wet weather performance is the rubber compound used in the tire. Tire manufacturers have developed specific compounds that better grip wet surfaces. These compounds usually have a higher silica content, which increases the tire’s ability to conform to the road surface and maintain grip in wet conditions.
- Tread pattern: The tread pattern is crucial in channeling water away from the contact patch, improving the tire’s grip on wet roads. Manufacturers have optimized tread patterns with water-dispersing sipes and grooves, allowing the tire to maintain better contact with the road even when it’s wet. Sometimes, these patterns are directional, ensuring optimal water evacuation as the tire rolls forward.
Examples of tires with good wet-weather performance
- Vittoria Corsa Control G2.0 (road) is for racing in challenging conditions, including wet and slippery roads. It features a graphene-enhanced rubber compound and a textured shoulder tread pattern for improved grip and stability in wet conditions.
- Continental Grand Prix 4 Season (road) features a special DuraSkin and Vectran Breaker layer for added puncture protection and durability. The rubber compound includes silica, providing excellent grip and performance in wet conditions.
- Michelin Power All Season (road) is ideal for year-round use, with a special compound that maintains grip in cold and wet weather. The tire also features a progressive tread pattern that helps disperse water and maintain traction on wet surfaces.
- Schwalbe Magic Mary (mountain) is an aggressive mountain bike tire known for its excellent grip in various conditions, including wet and muddy terrain. The open tread pattern sheds mud effectively and provides ample traction on slippery surfaces.
It’s important to note that while these tires offer better performance in wet conditions compared to their standard counterparts, no tire can completely eliminate the risks associated with riding in the rain or on slippery surfaces.
E-bike specific tires
As electric bicycles (e-bikes) have become more prevalent, tire manufacturers have recognized the need to develop tires specifically designed to handle the additional weight and torque produced by e-bikes.
E-bike tires typically focus on durability, puncture resistance, and grip to ensure a safe and comfortable ride.
- Reinforced casings. E-bike tires often have reinforced casings to accommodate the increased weight and forces exerted by e-bikes.
- Puncture resistance. E-bike tires often incorporate additional protective layers to minimize the risk of punctures. Given the added weight of e-bikes, puncture-resistant features become even more crucial, as flats can be more challenging to repair roadside.
- Improved grip. E-bike tires must provide sufficient grip to handle electric motors’ increased torque and power output, particularly when accelerating or climbing steep hills.
Examples of e-bike specific tires
- Schwalbe Energizer Plus (urban/commuting). This e-bike tire is designed for everyday use and offers excellent puncture protection with its 3mm GreenGuard layer. It also features a durable, high-mileage rubber compound and an optimized tread pattern for improved grip and handling.
- Continental E-Contact (urban/touring) is a versatile e-bike tire with a reinforced casing for added durability and a rubber compound designed for e-bikes.
- Maxxis Rekon+ (mountain) has a reinforced casing and dual-compound rubber for increased grip and durability. The aggressive tread pattern provides excellent traction on a variety of surfaces.
- Vittoria e-Agarro (mountain) is an electric mountain bike tire that combines a reinforced casing with a specially formulated rubber compound to handle the increased weight and power.
When selecting e-bike specific tires, it’s important to consider the riding you’ll be doing and the compatibility with your e-bike’s rims and frame clearance. Always check the tire’s ECE-R75 certification, which indicates that the tire has been tested and approved for use on e-bikes up to 31mph (50 km/h).
What is ECE-R75 certification?
ECE-R75 certification is a European safety standard specifically designed for electric bicycle (e-bike) tires. The certification is issued by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and serves as a quality assurance for e-bike tires, ensuring that they meet the required safety and performance criteria.
E-bikes, due to their electric motors, can be heavier and generate more torque compared to traditional bicycles. This results in increased stress on the tires, necessitating higher levels of durability, load capacity, and stability. The ECE-R75 certification ensures that tires are capable of withstanding the unique demands of e-bikes and providing a safe and reliable riding experience.
To obtain ECE-R75 certification, e-bike tires must undergo a series of rigorous tests that evaluate their performance, including load capacity, speed capabilities, and resistance to deformation and wear. Tires that pass these tests and meet the specified criteria are granted the ECE-R75 certification and can be marked accordingly.
Sustainable materials and production
As environmental concerns become increasingly important, some tire manufacturers started focusing on using sustainable materials and production methods to reduce their ecological footprint.
- Natural and renewable materials. Vittoria has begun incorporating natural and renewable materials like bio-based rubber into their tire compounds. These materials can help reduce reliance on petroleum-based resources and lower the overall environmental impact of tire production.
- Recycled materials. Michelin has used recycled materials, such as reclaimed rubber or recycled polyester, to construct their tires. This helps reduce waste and conserve resources by giving new life to previously used materials.
- Eco-friendly production methods. Pirelli has implemented more sustainable production methods, such as using solar or wind energy to power their factories, reducing water consumption, or minimizing waste throughout production.
Examples of tires with a focus on sustainability
- Vittoria Air-Liner is a mountain bike tire insert made from a unique foam material that is 100% recyclable. This insert provides additional support and protection for tubeless tires and can be recycled at the end of its life.
- Michelin E-Wild is an e-bike specific mountain bike tire that uses Michelin’s eco-designed Regenerative rubber compound, which includes recycled rubber from end-of-life tires.
- VEE Tire Co. Mission Command is a fat bike tire made with VEE Tire Co.’s eco-friendly DCC rubber compound derived from renewable resources and offers excellent grip and durability.
Sustainable materials and production methods can sometimes come at a higher cost than traditional methods. However, for environmentally conscious riders, the benefits of supporting eco-friendly practices often outweigh the added expense.
Airless tires, also known as solid or non-pneumatic tires, have been gaining attention as an alternative to traditional air-filled tires. Their primary advantage is the complete elimination of flats, as they are not susceptible to punctures or pinch flats.
What are airless tires made from?
Airless tires are made from solid or foam materials, such as microcellular polyurethane foam, thermoplastic elastomers, or a combination of solid and flexible structures. These tires have some potential benefits and challenges.
Pros of airless tires
- No flats. The most significant advantage of airless tires is their immunity to punctures, eliminating the need for patch kits, spare tubes, or tire levers. This can be particularly beneficial for riders in areas with frequent puncture hazards, such as thorns or glass.
- Low maintenance. Since airless tires don’t require inflation, there’s no need to worry about maintaining the correct air pressure or dealing with slow leaks. This can simplify maintenance and reduce the need for regular tire checks.
- Consistent ride quality. Airless tires offer a consistent ride quality, as they don’t experience pressure fluctuations due to temperature changes or small leaks.
Cons of airless tires
- Weight. One of the primary challenges of airless tires is their weight. The solid or foam materials used in their construction tend to be heavier than a standard tire and tube combination. This added weight can affect a bike’s handling and acceleration, which is particularly important for performance-oriented riders.
- Rolling resistance. Airless tires can have higher rolling resistance than their pneumatic counterparts, reducing efficiency and speed. Manufacturers are improving the materials and design of airless tires to minimize rolling resistance. However, there is still progress to be made.
- Ride quality. Airless tires’ solid or foam materials have a less compliant and comfortable ride than air-filled tires. They don’t provide the same level of shock absorption.
- Limited options and compatibility. Currently, there are limited options for airless tires in terms of sizes, tread patterns, and styles. Additionally, airless tires may not be compatible with all wheelsets or frames, as they may require specific rims or additional clearance.
Examples of airless tires
- Nexo Ever Tires are for urban or commuter bikes made from a durable, lightweight polymer material. They feature a unique web-like structure that aims to provide a smoother ride than traditional solid tires.
- Tannus Armour consists of a solid foam insert between the tire and tube, offering puncture protection and a small degree of airless functionality. It is available for various wheel sizes and tire widths.
As airless tire technology continues to evolve, manufacturers are working to overcome the challenges associated with weight, rolling resistance, and ride quality. If these challenges are adequately addressed, airless tires could become a viable option for a broader range of cyclists.
Bernard Lu has 7+ years of experience working in a bicycle shop, overseeing the retail and workshop operations. He’s a qualified bicycle mechanic who understands a cyclist’s needs and speaks the same cycling lingo.
If you meet him at the cafe, he will happily talk to you for hours about all the intricacies of bikes and cycling tech. Just buy him a coffee next time you see him.