Tire Obsession – KPIs

Bicycles tires are somehow an obsession. It is unimaginable how much time one can spend researching tires. Yet, it also makes sense. If you ever changed the touring tires on your bike, the ones with the puncture protection and white reflection strip on the sidewalls, to supple, volumenous tires, you’d understand.

You never claim to be a reviewer, but since you do spend time investigating tires, it may be a good idea to share. So in no particular order, here are some bicycle tires key performance indicators (KPIs) worth considering

  • Size. This one might be obvious but many people still follow the popular thinking that narrow is fast. There are long tirades written by modern cycling heroes such as Jan Heine about the benefits of the wider tires. The very short summary is: narrow tires feel faster since they are pumped with more air and are very stiff, but they produce a lot of vibrations which require the rider to compensate for the loss of momentum. In short, wider is better to a degree. Like every solution, no single KPI stand by itself. Size is typically measured in rim size (e.g. 700c or 650b which are international standards for 28 inch and 27.5 inch rims respectively) and tire carcass width.
  • Weight. Tires vary widely in their weight. For example, the Continental Terra Speed 650b tires at 40mm weight 390 grams. For comparison, the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires, at the exact same size, come in at 920 grams. Like every other solution, one has to look at the customer requirements in order to make a decision on the correct solution. The Schwalbe tires are great for people who really never want to worry about getting flats and are looking for a tank-like tire. The Continental tires are likely to wear out much faster than the Schwalbe and are likely to be more flat-prone (no personal experience). One aspect to keep in mind that shaving weight off rolling elements on the bike (tires, tubes, rims, spokes, cassette, hubs) is the most effective way to becoming faster. Riding your bike a lot also helps.
  • Suppleness. There are complete YouTube channels dedicated to this term. The short version is that a supple tire is one with flexible sidewalls. It provides a lot of cushioning and with it reduces or absorbs a lot of the road vibrations which makes one faster. One should experience supple tires to appreciate the benefits.
  • Color. There are two main sidewall colors for bicycle wheels these days: black or tan (often called gumwall as well). This KPI will probably not effect the way the bike ride, but it will impact the way the bike looks. Your own personal rule is: if the bike has a natural color (like unpainted titanium, stainless steel, gray, white etc.) tan sidewalls look amazing (see above). If the bike is colorful, black tires are the way to go.
  • Tubeless or not. Some people swear by tubeless, some find it messy and see less value. It is a KPI to consider, but its value is really up to one’s personal preferences.
  • Price. Bike tires vary in cost immensely. One can purchase a tire for under 20 Euros or spend 90 Euros on a single tire. In fact, the Schwalbe tire in the example above cost 24 Euro while the Continental tire with cream sidewall cost 45 Euros. The cost of a tire has many factors such as country where they are produced, size of production, popularity, perceived value and more.

Now that we defined the key performance indicators for tires, we can dive into all the tires you love and some that have opportunities to improve.

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