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Old 10-30-14, 06:01 AM
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Yes, there are tons of options in tires, and while there are real differences between tires, they can be quite hard to discern depending on how and where you ride, bike setup (e.g. tire pressure) and how attuned you are to the feel. I wouldn't fret over the selection too much, but since you bothered to register on a forum to ask, I'll assume you're more interested than most and try to give you some tips.

For urban utility duty, volume is really nice. Larger tires roll faster over uneven pavement, make the ride more comfortable, and provide a measure of freedom and security in traveling where you want, when you want, by which I mean you don't have to worry as much about damaging the wheel if you slam an unexpected pothole or whatever.

That said, as mentioned above, there is the trade-off with feel. Bigger tires can feel slower and less responsive, whereas narrower ones can feel direct and spry. At the sizes you're looking at, though, I think that's a minimal effect; 28c or 32c will feel about the same. Takeaway: go a little bigger for utility riding.

Tread and compounds... I think a little siping is nice to have for all-weather/multisurface riding. You don't need or want big channels or blocks/knobs (too much drag), but some grooves are welcome. I don't pretend to understand how tread works, and while I don't have any issues riding slick tires in the wet or on dirt roads myself, I also have grooved tires, e.g. Vittoria Randonneur, that seem to work just as well, and have no apparent downside, so if they provide some benefit, why not? I'm talking tread patterns along these lines:

Tread like that will get you around quickly, and afford some peace of mind in wet and loose conditions, but really I think tread compound is most important.

Compound can be thought of as a range from soft n sticky, on to hard n durable. Soft and sticky is great for traction, but wears faster. Harder compounds roll faster and last longer. Dual or triple compounds is probably what you want to look for if you don't like compromising; harder in the center for speed, soft on the shoulders for cornering grip. I suggest to err on the soft side in any case, as health protecting traction is more precious than the cost of tire.

Now, casing construction. Look at TPI, or threads per inch. Higher numbers mean a more flexible casing, and in turn, better ride feel. This is one of those things that can be hard to discern, but if you want to stack the deck in your favor and all else is equal, take 127tpi over 67tpi. Next, look at weight. You don't want an 800gm tire when you can get what you need in a 600gm (or whatever) one. Yeah, more rubber usually means more durability and puncture resistance, but factor in compounds, TPI, and protection layers, and I think you can get a great urban tire in the 400gm range. Light is right. Mostly.

Other features I like in a utility tire are things like protection belts, folding beads and reflective sidewalls. Bead type, folding or wire, isn't a deal breaker either way, but folding bead models are usually lighter and can be easier to install/remove, which is nice if you're inclined to fixing on-road flats yourself.

I wouldn't say there are any brands to avoid, but the aforementioned Schwalbe tires are well regarded for their city/urban/trekking tires and always a good choice. Continental, Panaracer, Vittoria, Michelin, Kenda...lots of options. I'm looking at Michelin's ProTek Urban for the next set on my commuter.

I've prattled on quite a bit here, so just a couple of quick hits: 1) yes, you can do it yourself pretty easily, and it's a great skill to have. Check out some YouTube vids, 2) 32 is a good, multipurpose width, 3) yes, you can use your existing wheels, 4) don't worry!

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