It is well known within the road bike community that narrower tires are faster than a wider tire. A narrow tire rolls faster than a wide tire, simple right?
The default width for a road bike was 23mm for many years and a lot of racers used 21mm wide tires or even narrower.
Although we notice in recent years there is a big push to wider tires and wider road bike wheelsets. A lot of riders already made the switch to 25mm or even wider, so why should you invest in an aero wheelset and wider tires?
Wider tires have less rolling resistance
When pedaling we all want our tires to roll as easily as possible, but a certain amount of energy is always lost through rolling resistance. Each tire flexes where it touches the ground under load, this flex is determined by lots of factors: air pressure, tire width, used compounds, tyre casing …
All these factors together make up your rolling resistance.
Contact area of a wide tire
Contact area of a narrow tire
Although a wide and a narrow tire have the same contact area, a wide tire is flattened over its width. At the same tire pressure a narrow tire is flattened over a slimmer but longer contact area. Because the narrow tire has more deformation it creates more drag, as opposed to the wide tire which has a shorter contact patch making it roll better.
Using a wider tire there has other advantages, you can run a lower tire pressure. This results in a greater amount of cushioning in between you and the road which is only beneficial for your comfort.
And you even reduce the risk of a pinch flat (this is a puncture from the inner tube getting wedged between the wheel rim and the ground)
Why is comfort so important? Your bike ride simply gets more enjoyable when you’re comfortable. The tires absorb more road shocks which normally would be transferred to the rider’s body and drain energy . Less roadbuzz means you should keep fresher for longer and when your fresh you’re fast!
After thinking about tire width, the next choice is what kind of tire to use.
On a road bike there are three options to choose from: tubular, clinchers and tubeless. All of these tires have their advantages and disadvantages but what tire suits you?
Tubular tires consist of a full carcass tube with a latex inner tube sewed inside of it. It is considered as the fastest type of tire of the three, this is also the reason why it is the gold standard to most professional racers.
Unfortunately there are a couple of disadvantages. First of all tubular tires need a tubular specific wheelset on which the tire gets glued on. This means you’ll probably have to buy a new (expensive) wheelset.
Second, the fact they are glued means it’s quite a hassle if you puncture a tire and need to replace it.
And lastly, research has shown that this type of tire has the most rolling resistance.
The major advantage of tubular tires come from their weight, they are way lighter than any other tire.
Clinchers are the most common type of tire, they come on most regular bikes. These tires have a bead that gets hooked in to the rim. The bead itself gets pushed into the inside of the rim by an inner tube.
As this is the most common used tire setup, this means it is a pretty cheap option. There will be probably no need to buy a different wheelset, only the tire needs to be replaced if you wish to change your setup. Off course you’ll always have the risk of a pinch flat as long you are running inner tubes.
But let’s not forget clinchers are simply easy to use.
Tubeless tires are very similar to a clincher tire except that they don’t have an inner tube. It has a thicker bead and runs a sealant on the inside which keeps everything airtight. The sealant also fills up small punctures and lets you ride at a lower tire pressure. Which then again means you get a more comfortable ride. Because there is no inner tube the risk of a pinch flat is also eliminated.
Getting a tubeless setup requires a bit of preparation: you’ll need rimtape, a tubeless valve and of course sealant and a bit of knowhow to fit a tubeless tire.
Aero and deep section wheelsets
In recent years we have seen an evolution in road bike wheelsets, certainly in carbon disc brake rims.
They are getting wider externally and internally, matching the cross sectional profile of the tire is therefor really important.
Putting a wide tire on a narrow rim creates an unaero shape, but put the wide tire on an appropriate rim and you’ll get a wheel that simply cuts through the air.
You’ll even get a better aerodynamic benefit with deep section wheels because let’s be honest: we all want to be faster riders. And to do so we use all the help we can get.
But what about crosswinds you ask? Aren’t aero wheels more susceptible to side-force?
Off course, some riders may feel more crosswinds than with shallow wheels but with a little practice most amateur riders should be able to handle up to 65mm-deep wheels with ease. A seasoned rider should even be able to handle an even deeper wheel after a couple of months.
Wheel design has also improved so much over the years that riding deep wheels has become more manageable, even to a point where you can ride the whole year round with a deep section wheel.
And climbing, aren’t lightweight shallow section wheels better?
This to me is very arguably: yes, a deep section wheelset is a bit heavier and just a little bit slower on the climbs but once you’ll get on the other side of the climb you’ll notice the difference on those deeper wheels…
Not all rider rides in the same conditions, some ride in a mixed terrain with an occasional climb, others spend their time climbing mountains. There are also riders who always ride flat and rolling terrain, where speed is a priority. Let’s not forget not all riders have the same reason to ride, some ride for pleasure, others for speed and another for a whole different reason but for all type of riders, we at Icanwheels have a solution and a wheelset perfect for you.
What does this all mean for you, as a rider? Choose whatever you feel is right for you! Do you like the feeling of a close-to-the-road bike, choose narrower tires and a nice set of wheels. Or do you prefer cruising with speed even when the roads get rough, choose a wider tire. At the end of the day it’s all about your riding experience and what you prefer to get out of your ride.
We, at Icanwheels are here to support you in any way we can.