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Why wider tyres are better: simple trick for faster and easier riding

Cycling on Alpe d'Huez

You have to admit it.

Riding faster with less effort: it sounds awesome, right?


Turns out this is easy and cheap.

Simple equipment change, that won’t break the bank.

(Or require dipping into that secret slush fund. “What secret slush fund?” Of course, of course, there isn’t any secret slush fund. *wink wink*)

But I can’t remember why I made this change. (Call it dumb luck?)

I’d been telling my masseur Andy (Melbourne folks: Andy Naylor, check him out!) about my switch to Continental Grand Prix 24c non-folding tyres.

I was raving about them. Raving.

(By the way, these are by FAR and away my favourite tyres ever. They’re very hard to find these in 24c but you can get 25c on Wiggle and CRC. The folding ones are good but the wire bead non-folding ones are even betterer.)

He smiled, nodded and told me, in his lilting Brit accent, how Rapha were racing on them and how he’d long raced on wider tyres as they had less rolling resistance.

This made no sense to me: after all, oughtn’t skinny, super-pumped-up tyres have less rolling resistance?

(Turns out not. We’ll address why shortly.)

And until that point, I’d actually never thought about tyre width at all.

Plus, I couldn’t even explain why I switched back to wider tyres from skinny tyres.

Obviously, oblivious.

A Roubaix with 28c tyres causes a Peloton Fracas

You see, my first decent bike—a Specialized Roubaix Expert—came shod with 28c tyres.

I had no clue about tyre width at the time (I mean, I’d just bought a red bike which in my eyes now is a fashion faux pas), nor did I care.

Those big wide suckers seemed completely normal to me.

My ignorance probably explains my confusion when the presence of my Franken-tyres caused a fracas in the exemplarily dressed peloton.

(You know the type I mean. Sock height just so.)

One of my mates was visibly shocked and choked in horror: “WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU RIDING THOSE FOR?”

“I dunno man, they just came with the bike. Whatever.”

That bike carried me for many thousands of kilometres including very comfortably up many big hills.

(Probably because I was such a hubbard I rode with flattish tyres all the time.)

Skinny Tyres FTW? (Nottttt)

Eventually though, I ended going back to 22c tyres.

Seriously, I can’t remember why I went back to skinny tyres.

At all.

Maybe because everyone else was doing it?

And after all, intuitively, skinny tyres seemed, well, faster. Right?

(See? Your mum was right. Just because everyone else is doing it…)

And, as I said, I can’t remember why I’d bought 24c tyres. Perhaps it was a purchasing error. Or I bought some cheap to try something new.

But I do remember those tyres.

Those lovely, beautiful, Continental 24cs.

Who knew?

Who knew that the difference between a 22c and 24, 25 and 28 tyre would be so marked?

The improvement in ride was significant.


And so, in the intervening years, I’d never bought a tyre with less than a 24mm width. By preference I ride 25c tyres and *wait for it* I am about to try some 28cs.

*28c tyres Tim! You crazy!*

Why the wide tyres?

Well, wider tyres just feel better and ride better.

And on my local roads, which are super hilly and whose surfaces resemble something akin to a 1940s road post Luftwaffe raid, wide tyres are incredibly important.

Let’s dig into why wider tyres are better.

Why wider tyres are better

Wider tyres are better for three reasons:

  1. They’re faster at the same pressure than skinny tyres.
  2. More grip.
  3. They feel better and ride better.

The points above are important for me, because of the really shitty roads in my area (Ballina/Lismore/Byron Councils, sort your roads out!).

Why wider tyres are better: Wider v skinny tyres image

Wide v skinny tyres (via Specialized)

However, skinny tyres are better in 3 ways.

  1. As I said before, skinny tyres seem faster. And truthfully, you can pump skinny tyres up to higher pressure than wider tyres. This means more speed and less wind resistance.
  2. Skinny tyres are lighter and thus have a lower rotating mass, and thus are easier to accelerate and easier to climb with.
  3. Less wind resistance.

But, but, but!

Are these really huge advantages?

For most of us, not really, no.

Why is that?


Firstly, you’re not a pro. Pros are paid to ride bikes as painfully as a wisdom tooth extraction without anaesthetic.

And they’re faster than you, so, able to take advantage of increased performance at higher speed.

(All of this leaves aside the fact that pros are now starting to use wider tyres.)

So for us mere mortals:

  1. Who truthfully needs to worry about decreasing wind resistance and drag caused by tyres. I mean really, come on.
  2. Harder tyres mean a rougher ride. This means more road noise is transferred to you, which becomes expended energy soaking it up (effectively). If wider tyres can absorb chatter, this saves you expending energy.
  3. Narrow tyres might be 20-100 grams lighter than an equivalent 25c tyre. At 100 grams a tyre, that’s 200 grams. TWO. HUNDRED. GRAMS. Most of us could lose 1kg and stop worrying about tyres. Or get lighter rims.

And if you’re climbing, chances are you’ll need to come downhill. And this is where wider tyres come into their own.

When you’re just riding along, a skinnier tyre will experience more tyre deflection.

“What is tyre deflection?”

I’ll leave the folks at Schwalbe and Continental to explain. (They have a great explanation here.)

The answer to this question lies in tire deflection. Each tire is flattened a little under load. This creates a flat contact area.

At the same tire pressure, a wide and a narrow tire have the same contact area. A wide tire is flattened over its width whereas a narrow tire has a slimmer but longer contact area.

The flattened area can be considered as a counterweight to tire rotation. Because of the longer flattened area of the narrow tire, the wheel loses more of its “roundness” and produces more deformation during rotation. However, in the wide tire, the radial length of the flattened area is shorter, making the tire “rounder” and so it rolls better.

Why wider tyres are better: Tyre deflection image

Tyre deflection (via Schwalbe)

What about rims?

If you ride wider tyres, you’ll probably need to step up your rim size.

I predominantly ride Durace clinchers which are 20.8mm wide. These rims accommodate 24c and you can go wider, but you’ll get some issues.

I seemed to get a fair few punctures using 25c tyres on these rims. After switching to 23c rims (Hson Plus Ones from XLR8 wheels below), I’ve had no problems.

Josh at XLR8 wheels explains what happens when you put wider tyres on skinny rims.

Basically, with wider tyres and skinny rims, you’ll get tyre distortion or squirm. Get 23mm or 24mm rims and you’ll get more tyre onto the road, and also have stronger rims. You’ll also be able to ride 28c tyres.

Why wider tyres are better:Wider rims and tyres cornering image

Wider rims and wider tyres gives better cornering

Why wider tyres are better: Wider rims and tyres cross section

Wider rims more aero for wider tyres

Should I ride wider tyres?

Wider tyres are gaining wider acceptance in the wider cycling community and peloton.

For some reason they have spent years as the tyre-pariah, but now, they make a well-deserved return.

  • If you want a more assured bike underfoot for epic descents (HINT: Etape, Marmotte, Alps, Pyrenees, your local hills), get some wider wheels and shed them in 25c or 28c tyres.
  • If you want a smoother, more supple ride, perhaps because you live on roads that could more aptly be described as goat tracks, ride wider tyres.
  • If you only ride silky smooth roads and every gram counts for you on climbs and you are a majorly awesome descender, ride your 19s.
  • If you want tyres for TTs, go skinnier

What about tubeless?

We’ll talk about tubeless in another post.

More reading and information about why wider tyres are better

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by Tim Marsh

Tim is an ex Melbournite now living near Byron Bay on 10 acres, happily growing mangos, avocados and lots of other stuff, with his wife Kate, son Arthur and adorable Golden Retriever, Whiskey (RIP our 1YO G/R Poppins :( ).

2 comments… add one

  1. Your post comes at a great time. The next day several more options were released:

    BQ and Jan’s site is where I heard about the benefits of wider tires a few years ago.

  2. I came across this post just in time! I have 28s on my track bike and I ride on crappy roads and was thinking of going skinnier… not so much anymore! 😀 Thanks for the wisdom, take care!


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