Whether you’re a casual cyclist or a daily commuter, your bike is an important mode of transportation. It saves you money, keeps you healthy and helps the environment.
That’s why it’s so important to keep your bike in good working condition by regularly replacing its parts, including the tires.
This article tells you when to replace bike tires and what you should replace them with.
When To Replace Bike Tires?
The most unequivocal answer to this question is to replace the tires the moment you see the underlying cords exposed, whether through wear or a cut.
Let’s now address the question in more detail.
Tread Wear Indicator (TWI)
The simplest way to check for tire wear is to look for tread wear indicators in the tires if they have them. Check for these wear indicators when you fit the tires. They usually consist of a groove or small dimples in the central tread of the tire.
Once the tire tread has worn down, tread wear indicators vanish. It’s at that point you know to change the tire. Similarly, any raised portion of the tread that has worn flat tells you it is time to think about a replacement.
Video: Finding Tread Wear Indicators
If you ride a bike tire for long enough, it will wear down to the point of exposing the structural cords beneath the tread surface. This is definitely a sign that you should change tires without further delay.
Cuts & Tears In Sidewalls Or Tread
Any significant cut in the tire, which may expose the above-mentioned cords, should prompt you to change the tire. Cuts compromise the strength of the casing, which is placed under extreme pressure in a tire. Avoid a blow-out!
A bulging tire can indicate damage to the casing, which necessitates a tire change. Before you spend money on a new tire, take out the tube and carefully reinstall it to make certain it wasn’t a badly seated tube causing the problem.
Video: Tire Bulge
If the sidewall of your tire appears to be splitting along the rim, replace it. This could happen if you have your rim brakes set too high so they’ve caused abrasion or if more delicate tire beads are being cut by a sharp wheel rim (more likely with carbon rims).
Constant exposure to bad weather and riding on underinflated tires can also cause a splitting or cracking sidewall.
MTB Tire Knobs
Most worn tire signs apply to MTB tires as well as slick road tires. A sign of a worn MTB tire is the knobs wearing down or even tearing off. This affects the tire’s ability to grip on rough surfaces and effectively reduces you to riding slicks.
If you haven’t ridden a bike for years, don’t even consider riding it with tires that are also years old. Though they may look okay and the tread might appear deep, tires degrade and become potentially dangerous.
What Factors Impact Tire Degradation
We’ve looked at some signs that your tire needs replacing, so what gets them to that point in the first place? Is there anything you can do to prolong your tires’ lifespans?
The Surfaces You Ride On
Naturally, the surfaces you ride on have a radical effect on the lifespan of tires. The ideal is smooth pavement and the opposite is loose chippings, which can wipe out your tire tread with one abrupt stop.
If you ride off-road, of course your tires are more susceptible to damage if you take on challenging courses laden with tree roots and rocks. MTB tires are built to resist these obstacles, but you do have to choose the right tire for the right style of riding.
It goes without saying: if you ride your bike often, you’ll wear tires down more quickly. So, how do you counteract this? Ride less? No, but make certain you choose the right tires for the type of riding you do, so you maximize lifespan and economy.
Rider Weight & Bike Load
Your weight as a cyclist affects the wear rate of your tires, especially the rear tire that bears more weight. Any luggage you’re carrying or added bike parts all count towards this stress on tires.
One thing you should never do is switch a worn rear tire for the fresher front tire, because the front tire is more critical for controlling the bike. If you get a blowout at the front, you’re less likely to bring the bike to a safe stop.
Within reason, tire pressure is unlikely to have a significant effect on tire degradation. However, you’ll wear out tires faster if you run them far too soft and don’t bother to inflate them once in a while.
Our bike tire pressure guide may be useful for you.
If you’re storing spare tires off the bike, it’s best to keep them in a cool, dark place away from potential UV degradation and sunlight.
Tire degradation happens through various chemical processes: ozone attack that creates sharp cracks on the surface, oxidation causes brittleness in the tire material, continued vulcanization causes either hardening or softening, and UV weathering.
The Way You Ride
A big factor in keeping tires in good condition and avoiding punctures is to watch where you’re riding and avoid as much debris on the road as possible. Don’t ride in the gutter, especially during rainy weather, as this is where a lot of tire shredders wash up.
We’ve mentioned you should replace old tires, but at what point are they considered old? A Specialized product manager says they keep their performance level for about three years and are safe to ride for up to six years after manufacturing. (Source.)
Why You Should Change Tires
The biggest reason for changing tires in a timely fashion is to keep yourself safe. A tire blowout is undesirable at best, and if it occurs in the front tire when you’re descending a steep hill, it becomes life threatening.
Apart from the general condition of your tires, another reason to consider a different tire without ditching your old one is poor weather.
For instance, if you commute in snow and ice over a prolonged period, it’s worth retiring your slicks for a few weeks and installing a studded tire instead. You might also install a wider tire in poor weather if your bike allows it, so you have more traction.
If wider tires are not a possibility, you can release some air from your existing tires (10 PSI approx.) to create a wider contact patch between tire and riding surface.
Many racing cyclists temporarily switch to performance tires on race days. These are typically tires with very little rolling resistance and equally little puncture protection.
Some tires are tangibly fast when you ride them, but these are often unsuitable for everyday use. Again, this depends somewhat on the surfaces you ride on and the conditions you ride in.
Unquestionably, the most comfortable tires you can buy are supple ones, which are often the fastest as well. However, they tend to be susceptible to sidewall damage.
Supple tires, made by manufacturers like Veloflex and Vittoria, are often marketed as “open tubulars”. This is because they’re essentially the same as tubular tires (aka sew-ups). That’s even more true if you install latex tubes in them.
For a comfy ride without compromising on puncture resistance, you can simply go for a fatter tire or a tubeless tire run at lower pressures.
Video: Supple Veloflex Tires
New Bike Tires To Use As Replacements
Next, we’ll look at three tires you might choose as replacements for your old tires. We’ll assume you want a good all-rounder rather than anything too niche (specialty tires tend to compromise heavily in one area or another). Let’s go!
1. Continental Ultra Sport III 25mm Tires (for road bikes)
Offering good all-round performance with exceptional grip, robust puncture resistance and decently low rolling resistance, Continental Ultra Sport III 25mm Tires are a sound choice for road bikes.
You can get these tires in different hues, too, if you fancy a splash of color rather than the stealth look.
An attractive feature of the Ultra Sport III is the price, as you can buy two of these for the approximate price of one high-performance tire. You pay a lot extra for a tire that rolls a bit faster (e.g., the Continental GP 5000).
The Ultra Sport III is constructed with Continental’s Pure Grip compound. Aside from its self-explanatory name, which means you get secure traction on wet roads, this durable compound is good for knocking out serious miles and gaining aerobic fitness.
What We Like
- Balanced – good all-rounder with decent speed and grip.
- Price – half the price of high-performance tires.
- Colors – brighten up your bike with a splash of color if you dare!
What We Don’t Like
- Punctures – decent puncture protection, but less than some other tires in favor of lower rolling resistance.
2. Kenda Hellkat Pro 27.5” ATC Tires (for mountain bikes)
A nice choice for MTBs is the Kenda Hellkat Pro ATC Tire. This tire features Advanced Trail Casing (ATC) with a layer of SCT fabric on the sidewalls and a tightly weaved K-Armor belt under the tread area.
The widely spaced tread design contributes to this tire’s versatility and is optimized for a range of terrains and conditions. It offers a fine balance of traction, reassuring handling and low rolling resistance.
This grippy 27.5 x 2.4” tire inspires confidence in wet or dry conditions. It is also tubeless ready for enhanced flat protection and air retention. There are various other models in the Hellkat range, including ATC, AEC and AGC versions and a 29” size.
What We Like
- All-round – optimized for various riding surfaces and conditions.
- Protection – robust puncture protection.
- Tubeless – tubeless ready for extra puncture protection.
What We Don’t Like
3. Schwalbe Marathon HS 420 Touring Bike Tire (for hybrid bikes)
A tire offering excellent performance for hybrid bikes is the Schwalbe Marathon HS 420 Touring Bike Tire. It includes an elastic 3mm thick GreenGuard layer to robustly protect against flats.
The puncture-protection layer is made from recycled latex products, so it’s green in nature as well as color. Anti-aging technology keeps the sidewall in good condition and free of cracks in the face of continued exposure to adverse weather.
What We Like
- Few Flats – superb protection against punctures.
- Youth – anti-aging technology keeps the tires in good condition.
- Choice – wide range of tire sizes and widths.
What We Don’t Like
- Rolling – this tire may be quicker than rival products, but all that puncture protection costs a little in speed.
Read more: Bike commuter tires roundup
Bike Tire: FAQs
Here are a few questions commonly asked about bike tires:
Should I Replace Both Bicycle Tires At The Same Time?
You only need replace a worn tire. The only exception to this is when both tires are old and potentially compromised or you’re unsatisfied with the tires you have on.
What Are Bicycle Tire Wear Indicators?
On many bicycle tires you’ll find small dimples or recesses in the tire that, once they’ve disappeared, tell you it’s time to replace the tire. These indicators will often be indicated by arrows on the sidewall, so you know where they were.
How Long Do Inner Tubes Last?
Inner tubes can last for 10-15 years if stored correctly, whether butyl or latex. Latex tubes are particularly sensitive to ozone degradation and UV light, so you should store them sealed in a cool, dark place (much like tires).
What Is The Average Cost For Bicycle Tires?
Tires can cost anything from around $15 to $60. The most expensive tires tend to be the fastest, while mid-range tires with lots of puncture protection lie somewhere in the middle of that price range.