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Wide Tires on Road Bikes: Is Wider Better?

The Pros and Cons of Wider Tires

Road bikes with wider tires are all the rage – and with good reason. Wide tires on road bikes provide a smoother ride, reduced rolling resistance and a bit more grip in adverse conditions. The shift toward putting more rubber on the road has been gaining traction for years; here’s what to know.

Are Wider Tires Better?

In the 80s and 90s, most cyclists rode 19-23mm tires, usually aired up to 110 psi. These rock-hard tires, in theory, rolled fast by minimizing the amount of rubber on the road. Studies have found that narrower tires actually put more rubber in touch with the asphalt. Known as a contact patch, narrow tires have a longer contact patch than wider tires at equal pressure, increasing the amount of friction.

That means wider tires – think 28-30mm wide – are often faster in most conditions.

The Benefits of Wider Tires

Most newer road bikes will fit a 28mm wide tire, although older frames might max out at 25mm. If a newer wider tire doesn’t fit, don’t force it. Squeezing in a tire that’s too wide for the frame can rub on the frame and even cause a flat tire.

If your frame fits it, ride wide and enjoy all the benefits of wide tires on the road.

Less Rolling Resistance

Wider tires have the same (or better) rolling resistance as narrower tires – we’ve covered that already. They’ll also save you energy by absorbing more of the road vibrations that cause fatigue over the course of a two or three-hour ride. Think about hitting a root on your mountain bike – it’s a noticeable impact, and it slows you down. The same thing is happen on a much smaller scale with every rock, crack and bump in the pavement on the road. A slightly wider, softer tire absorbs the impact while minimizing the loss of momentum.

More Aerodynamic

There is a limit to the aerodynamic benefit of wider tires, especially if you’re pairing a wide tire with a shallow rim. You’ll also get more out of a wide tire with a wider rim, which helps to flatten out the tire profile and lower rolling resistance as well. A wide tire, wide rim and deep rim profile looks an awful lot like an airplane wing – and that means speed!

Do Wider Tires Handle Better?

Wider tires offer more traction which may improve handling. It’s important to note that tire pressure makes all the difference. A 28mm tire at 80 psi has the same contact patch as a 25mm tire at 90 – to get the benefits of added traction, you’ll need to ride a slightly lower tire pressure. Especially if you run tubeless, experiment with between 65-75 psi on your next few rides to get a feel for it.

What Size Tires Do Tour de France Riders Use?

Over the past few years, Tour de France riders have gradually moved from 23mm tires to 25mm. In 2023, 28mm finally became the norm. Most Tour pros ride tires labeled 28s, with an increasing number of teams opting for road tubeless instead of the traditional tubular tires.

Bike Radar found Tour riders, including Tadej Pogacar, on tires measuring as wide as 32mm!

Where The Rubber Meets the Road (or Dirt)

Ready for fresh rubber? We’ll help you find the right tire for your frame, your rim width and your riding style. Stop in and shop our wide selection of mountain, gravel and road bike tires or order online today.

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