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Choosing Tires For Folding Bikes

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Cycling enthusiasts on any bike know the importance of tire choice. A tire can make you a bit faster, a bit slower, and it can protect you from punctures (or not).

Some tires are more durable than others. Some are more comfortable.

What about foldable bicycle tires?

Tires are an important folding bike accessory to consider. This article will help you choose the ideal tire for your folding bike.

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How To Choose Tires For Folding Bicycles

There are several things to consider when choosing tires for a folding bike. First of all, what size do you need?

Wheel & Tire Sizes

The most common folding bike wheel sizes are 16”, 20”, 24,” 26”, 27.5” and 700c. The first two are ubiquitous. You can get smaller wheels, and the bigger sizes are full-sized bikes that fold in half (except for 29ers).

One thing to note is that imperial tire sizes are only approximate. Hence, it’s wise to look at the ETRTO metric size of your wheels to make sure you buy the right tire. Most of the time, this isn’t critical, but not all tire widths fit all wheels.

ISO / ETRTO sizes provide the width followed by the inner diameter of the tire in millimeters (e.g., 50-406).

Here are three common wheel sizes:

  • 16-inch wheels – these accept 305mm or 349mm tires, but the bigger diameter accepts only narrower tires in the 16” range (same with all wheel sizes).
  • 20-inch wheels – 406mm or 451mm tires.
  • 24-inch wheels – 507mm or 520mm tires.

As an example, Brompton bikes take a 349mm 16” tire, whereas a Dahon folder may accept a 305mm 16” tire. Most 20” folding bikes take a 406mm tire, thus accepting various slim or fat widths. Reminder: bigger diameter = narrower tires only.

BMX bikes also commonly take 20” tires of the same widths as folding bikes(and wider), but they’re not always suitable for typical folding-bike duties.

The tire width your bike accepts will also be limited by the clearance your bike frame or brake calipers allow. Wide tire clearance conflicts with the aim of folding a bike into the smallest possible size.

Disc brakes, which allow wider tire clearance generally, are also incongruous with some of a folding bike’s common aims. They’re heavier, and the rotors are more prone to damage depending on how the folding bike is carried.

Video: How To Read Tire Sizes On Tires

The Comfort Factor

As a rule of thumb, wider tires are more comfortable because they allow lower pressure. Since they have a bigger volume (i.e., they’re fatter or rounder), there is less risk of pinch flats or collapse and you have more leeway with air pressure.

Note that a wider tire can be less comfortable than a narrow one if inflated beyond a certain point. As the PSI (pounds per square inch) approaches or equals that of a narrower tire, the casing tension becomes greater, adversely affecting comfort.

Running a tire at low pressure for peak comfort will potentially make it roll a little slower. The point at which this happens depends on factors like rider weight and the nature of the riding surface.

The suppleness of tires also affects comfort. On small folding-bike tires, you’re unlikely to find very supple casings. It’s not in their remit to be made this way. But you may find it in tires of 24” and over.

TPI specification is an indicator of tire suppleness. A 60 TPI (threads per inch) tire is distinctly average. The number of casing layers is also significant. Thus, a 60 TPI tire with three layers may be advertised as 180 TPI (or 3/180).

A tire with over 100 threads per inch, per layer, is exceptionally supple. You’re only likely to find this with handmade 700c road tires. But generally, more TPI = more comfort.

Keep in mind that tires are only one way to achieve comfort. They might be more important on a bike with a harsher frame than on a steel or titanium Brompton.

Speed vs. Puncture Resistance

Folding bikes are not built with speed primarily in mind. Nonetheless, a slick tire with a relatively high TPI count (threads per inch) will roll faster on smooth asphalt than a knobby tire or a thick road tire with a lower TPI. More material = less speed.

Folding MTBs or off-road bikes do exist. The MTBs tend to have 26” wheels. (Montague makes 27.5” foldable MTBs.) On rough surfaces, the traction and compliance of a wide MTB tire make it faster than a skinnier slick.

Regardless of bike type, strong puncture resistance always comes at the cost of speed.

A tire with more casing layers and a lower TPI offers more puncture resistance than one with fewer layers and more threads per inch. That’s if all else is equal, like the puncture-protection belt.

The compound of a tire also contributes majorly to its speed (or lack thereof), but this is not a quality you can easily evaluate unless you’ve ridden similar tires before. Online research helps.

3 Best Tires For Folding Bikes

To illustrate the difference between folding-bike tire types, we’ll now take a brief look at three 20” tires—all excellent in their own way.

1. Schwalbe Big Apple 20 x 2.00” (ETRTO  50-406 mm) Balloon Tire

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Schwalbe is probably the leading brand in folding-bike tires, offering as it does a wide variety of models in folding-bike sizes. Among the top choices is the Schwalbe Big Apple Balloon Tire offering an above-average 67 TPI and exceptional comfort.

Balloon tires are designed as large-volume tires with suspension qualities for smooth riding. They’re common on cruiser bikes and you should aim for as low a pressure as the load allows (minimum 35 PSI in this case).

2. Maxxis Hookworm 20 x 1.95” (ETRTO 53-406 mm) Tire

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A tire built for durability is the Maxxis Hookworm 20 x 1.95” Tire. This 60 TPI tire uses a single compound across the center and sidewalls for lasting performance and reliable grip. It’s a fast-rolling tire that’s ideal for urban use.

This is a good choice of tire for a folding commuter bike.

3. Continental Ride Tour 20 x 1.75” (ETRTO 47-406 mm) Tire

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The E25 marking on the Continental Ride Tour 20 x 1.75” Tire designates it as suitable for the extra force and weight of e-bikes. Strong puncture resistance comes from the rubber-reinforced sidewalls and Conti’s EXTRA PunctureBelt.

This motorcycle-inspired tire has a 60 TPI and is suitable for road or gravel. As its name suggests, it’d be a fair choice for folding-bike tours and adventures.

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Glenn Harper
Glenn Harper
When I’m not contributing articles to Bike Push, I can often be found cycling on the rural roads around me. If I can help you benefit from bicycling in some small way, I’ll consider it a win.

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