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Fatter tires, worth the trouble?

Old 10-10-14, 08:28 PM
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Fatter tires, worth the trouble?

While awaiting a replacement part for the hub on my commuter, I'm riding my fun bike to work. It's got 27 x 1 rims with 27 x 1-1/8 tires, rated to 90 psi. And I got to thinking... reportedly, fatter tires have less rolling resistance, but will I really notice the difference? A couple of possibilities:

1. I don't know if I can put even fatter tires on 27 x 1 rims. There must be a point where the tire is in danger of rolling off the rim, going around turns. Or, some other evil that I don't know about.

2. I could give myself a winter fun project and string up some wider 700c rims. I've got enough clearance in the brakes to accommodate what I think is a 4 mm reduction of rim radius.

Any thoughts?
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Old 10-10-14, 08:39 PM
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On my Super Sport the limit is the width between the chain stays. On my Paramount the limit is at the brake bridge and fork crown. You can get 27x1-1/4 rims if that worries you. I actually have one rim in my junk pile that's 27x1-3/8
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Old 10-10-14, 08:45 PM
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I'm thinking, and maybe I'm wrong about this, that if I get new rims, I'd rather switch to a metric size for wider availability of tires.
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Old 10-10-14, 08:56 PM
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Originally Posted by Gresp15C
I'm thinking, and maybe I'm wrong about this, that if I get new rims, I'd rather switch to a metric size for wider availability of tires.
No, you're right. If you get new wheels, go with 700c.
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Old 10-10-14, 08:57 PM
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After a year and a half on my roadie with 700x23 at 100psi I went to 700x32 at 85psi which is as big and pumped as the fork and frame will handle (1984 Nishiki International). Rolls as good as ever, plus a little more comfort, but mostly better cornering. My other bike rolls 26x 1.75 street tires at 65psi. Very secure ride esp corners.
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Old 10-10-14, 10:37 PM
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With fatter tires, you probably won't notice any difference in rolling resistance (for better or worse) as much as you will notice an increase in comfort from riding with lower pressure.
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Old 10-11-14, 05:54 AM
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Steel beaded tires, in my experience, stay on pretty well.

- Andy
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Old 10-11-14, 07:32 AM
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Don't worry about tires being too wide for your rims. It is rarely a problem. As @Darth Lefty says, the frame and fork clearances are probably your real limitations.

I've typically used 25 or 28 mm tires, but recently, I've gone to 32 and 35 mm tires, and I like it, especially now that I've found out how low I can let the pressure be. On my 35 mm tires, I'm using something like 50 or 60 psi. Very nice. I'm using Panaracer Pasela steel bead tires on a Bianchi Volpe, a fairly heavy bike.
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Old 10-11-14, 09:11 AM
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I think as long as you don't go for a particularly thick and heavy tire, it's well worth the "trouble", especially if you take the opportunity to go to aluminum 700C wheels. For a couple of years, I was running 30mm tires on my "go-fast" bike at 60/70psi and it didn't feel slow at all. Now it's 28mm tires at 65/80psi.
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Old 10-11-14, 10:47 AM
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You should be fine with wider tires if the frame can clear them, there should be no issues with using wider tires on 27x1 rims. I'd be pretty surprised if you can't go with 27 x 1 1/4 tires, or even 27 x 1 3/8
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Old 10-11-14, 11:59 AM
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If you go 700 C - you can install 700 X 35 C tires on your commuter. They're worth it.
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Old 10-11-14, 01:08 PM
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I rock 40mm tires on my rigid MTB-style-hybrid commuter and it's like riding a cloud sometimes. I put 45 PSI front, the minimum recommended by Schwalbe, and 60PSI rear since I have pannier and often carry groceries or other cargo. It's definitely slower than my cyclocross bike turned road/light touring bike with 28mm tires, but I think it's more riding position and geometry than anything else.

I'm talking maybe 20s slower through 3 miles +200ft, according to Strava, going all out on my road bike vs commuter with fenders and maybe 10 lb in one pannier. So my commuter isn't that much slower, though it does feel more sluggish maybe because the wheels and tires are heavier.
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Old 10-11-14, 01:28 PM
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Buy wider tires , and next time you have a flat , change tire and tube , then and it's no extra trouble at all ..



People do a 650B conversion on 27" Wheel bikes .. not Cheap but then you can use the 1.5" wide tires with the 650B rims.

You will need to buy new Brakes to reach the smaller rims

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Old 10-11-14, 07:40 PM
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I commute on 29" x 2" and love it. Im not trying to race to work, so I dont need to go faster than the 15mph average that is perfect with that size tire
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Old 10-11-14, 07:53 PM
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I'm commute on a mountain bike, and I'm absolutely in love with my Maxxis Hookworm tires. Every review I ever found was positive, and now that includes mine. They're 2.5" wide though, so make sure you have clearance.
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Old 10-11-14, 10:50 PM
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Originally Posted by Gresp15C
And I got to thinking... reportedly, fatter tires have less rolling resistance, but will I really notice the difference? A couple of possibilities:
Keep in mind that if you're above the 23c-28c tire range for size, fatter tires are slower not faster. The "lower rolling resistance" part is trickily worded "technically true but in effect a lie" thing.

There are 2 reasons that come to mind to use fatter tires:
1. They're more comfortable. They roll over things better, cushier, etc.
2. If you are on a road surface that's rough enough that your tire has trouble keeping traction, then a fatter tire can actually be faster. For example, a genuine dirt road. A skinny tire bounces around and can't keep traction, a fatter one just conforms to road irregularities and rides smoothly over them. I say this from experience - 23c is not a good tire size for Iowan dirt roads.

But on pavement, if you're riding a tire that's fatter than the 23-28c range, a skinnier tire is faster.
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Old 10-12-14, 12:36 AM
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I have to partially disagree with PaulRivers' conclusion.

Higher air pressure results in lower rolling resistance, all else being equal. Also, wider tires have lower rolling resistance than narrower tires, all else being equal. But all else is rarely equal, unless you are discussing tires of the same model, and similar, but slightly different sizes.

Consider two tires, same model, one 32 mm, the other 35 mm. There is a lot of overlap in their respective ranges of tire pressures, so they can be run at the same pressure, in which case, the 35 mm tire will have lower rolling resistance. Or, thought of differently, the 35 mm tire can be inflated to a lower, more comfortable pressure, while retaining the same rolling resistance as the 32 mm tire. As long as there is some overlap in the range of allowable tire pressures, we can make a wider tire have lower rolling resistance at the same pressure or the same resistance at a lower pressure.

However, most narrow tires can be inflated to higher pressures than wider tires when the difference in width is very much. In many cases, this allows the narrower tire to achieve a lower rolling resistance than the wider tire. Sort of.

This all assumes a perfectly smooth surface for the tires to roll on. In the real world, perfectly smooth pavement is pretty rare. When an irregularity is encountered, whether it be a small piece of debris or a bump in the pavement, either the tire has to give, conforming to the surface, or the bike is lifted over the irregularity, which requires more energy. When the bike has to be lifted, the energy to do so comes from the bikes kinetic energy. Most of that energy is lost. So it is desirable to run a tire pressure that is low enough to allow the tire to absorb the impact of such irregularities so the bike doesn't have to be lifted at ever surface irregularity.

This same principle is what makes full suspension mountain bikes faster over very rough terrain than their rigid counterparts, all else equal. The suspension absorbs the bumps, requiring the rider to be lifted less, conserving more kinetic energy. On smooth pavement, however, the lack of suspension helps stabilize the rider vertically, compared to the full suspension bike, making the rigid bike faster. (Here, we assume typical mountain bike tire pressures, low enough for tires to absorb the overwhelming majority of road surface irregularities.)

Most pavement isn't perfectly smooth, even when new. This means that, in the real world, for non-racers who aren't terribly concerned about the additional small amount of air resistance, it is better to decrease rolling resistance via increased tire width instead of increased tire pressure. The rougher the roads anticipated, the wider the tire needed to minimize rolling resistance.

All that being said, rolling resistance is overrated, and wider tires allow for a much more comfortable ride. A more comfortable ride will contribute much more to most people's cycling enjoyment than will decreased rolling resistance. And, as has been pointed out, wider tires will allow better cornering!
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Old 10-12-14, 01:56 AM
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Most pavement isn't perfectly smooth, even when new. This means that, in the real world, for non-racers who aren't terribly concerned about the additional small amount of air resistance, it is better to decrease rolling resistance via increased tire width instead of increased tire pressure. The rougher the roads anticipated, the wider the tire needed to minimize rolling resistance.
I'm going to have to disagree with you that there's any real world situation where new pavement is anywhere near rough enough to need a tire bigger than 23-28c.

And as a regular biker, I ride in a major metro area (Minneapolis) and do not run into any roads where the road is actually in bad enough shape that a wider tire would be faster.

There's an argument that the ability to simply ride over a large pothole makes one safer on a commute where they're riding alongside traffic, and don't want to swerve into the lane of traffic to avoid potholes. But it's still not faster.

The only roads I've personally ever run into that are in bad enough shape to gain an advantage with larger tires, other than the previously mentioned dirt roads, are roads that are newly chip sealed.

I don't think your 32c vs 35 example makes sense - an ability to put them at the same pressure is not the same thing as that being the right pressure. To dramatize to make a point, a 2" tire at 100psi would roll over imperfections and maintain contact with the road a lot worse than a 2" tire at 30psi. Increasing the pressure on a tire reduces it's ability to suspension abilities in rolling over anything. Of course in reality a 2" tire inflated to 100psi is way, way over it's max pressure.
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Old 10-12-14, 03:16 AM
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Originally Posted by PaulRivers
I'm going to have to disagree with you that there's any real world situation where new pavement is anywhere near rough enough to need a tire bigger than 23-28c.
It would be rare in the real world for any commuter bike to need a tire narrower than 32-38 mm, unless the frame simply won't fit sensibly sized tires, and such frames really aren't well suited for commuting for that very reason. There's a reason that commuters don't ride skinny tires in places where most people ride bikes for transportation at least some of the time (something that doesn't happen in even the most bike friendly cities of the US).

Even if we accept your dubious claim about all new pavement for the sake of argument*, few of us have the luxury of riding on only new pavement. On typical pavement, in typical cities, 28 mm tires are a poor choice, for speed or comfort. On my commute, I'd have to slow down for a few long stretches to ride on 28 mm tires without flatting them at least twice each week, which would eliminate any slight speed advantage you claim skinny tires provide. With my 40 mm tires, I can go full speed ahead, but it's still pretty rough. Even wider tires, at lower pressures, are faster through those sections. Even where the pavement is in much better shape, it isn't so good that high pressure tires would provide a benefit with respect to rolling resistance. Judging by the condition of many of the streets of the cities through which I rode on my bicycle tour this summer, my streets are at least as good as typical. I will concede that I didn't ride through Minneapolis, so I have no idea what your roads are like.

For road racing, the appeal of skinny tires in their reduced air resistance, since air resistance increases with the square of velocity. That's more important to them than rolling resistance, since that only increases with velocity.

*One of the things I noticed in Florida, as an example, was that even the brand new asphalt had mini waves, reminding me of a Ruffles potato chip. Their high infrastructure design with respect to bicycles, is admirable, but the pavement quality is pathetic, considering how new it was. It probably isn't noticeable to motorists, with their lower pressure tires, though.

Originally Posted by PaulRivers
I don't think your 32c vs 35 example makes sense …
The example is accurate. It's just physics.

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Old 10-12-14, 05:17 AM
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Originally Posted by Jaywalk3r
It would be rare in the real world for any commuter bike to need a tire narrower than 32-38 mm, unless the frame simply won't fit sensibly sized tires, and such frames really aren't well suited for commuting for that very reason. There's a reason that commuters don't ride skinny tires in places where most people ride bikes for transportation at least some of the time (something that doesn't happen in even the most bike friendly cities of the US).

Even if we accept your dubious claim about all new pavement for the sake of argument*, few of us have the luxury of riding on only new pavement. On typical pavement, in typical cities, 28 mm tires are a poor choice, for speed or comfort. On my commute, I'd have to slow down for a few long stretches to ride on 28 mm tires without flatting them at least twice each week, which would eliminate any slight speed advantage you claim skinny tires provide. With my 40 mm tires, I can go full speed ahead, but it's still pretty rough. Even wider tires, at lower pressures, are faster through those sections. Even where the pavement is in much better shape, it isn't so good that high pressure tires would provide a benefit with respect to rolling resistance. Judging by the condition of many of the streets of the cities through which I rode on my bicycle tour this summer, my streets are at least as good as typical. I will concede that I didn't ride through Minneapolis, so I have no idea what your roads are like.

For road racing, the appeal of skinny tires in their reduced air resistance, since air resistance increases with the square of velocity. That's more important to them than rolling resistance, since that only increases with velocity.

*One of the things I noticed in Florida, as an example, was that even the brand new asphalt had mini waves, reminding me of a Ruffles potato chip. Their high infrastructure design with respect to bicycles, is admirable, but the pavement quality is pathetic, considering how new it was. It probably isn't noticeable to motorists, with their lower pressure tires, though.



The example is accurate. It's just physics.
"Sensibly sized tires" is a subjective statement. Tire width is also very subjective, what is "wide" for a 150 pound rider is narrow for a 250 pound rider. Many times these wide vs narrow debates leave out the most important factor-rider weight.
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Old 10-12-14, 09:00 AM
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Thanks for all of the comments so far. I'm still on the fence about this. And I realized, that I can swap wheels on my two bikes and try this out, because the other bike has 27 x 1-1/4 with the same hub. These two bikes are similar in construction -- early 80's steel road frames with 3 speed IGH. You could call them my good weather and bad weather commuters. One is fully equipped with fenders, rack, basket, etc., and the other is stripped down and thus a lot lighter. The lighter bike has the skinny wheels.

In terms of smooth versus rough ride, right now I'm not exactly suffering from the roughness of my ride, so I'd probably look for 700c tires that could be pumped up to pretty high pressure -- at least I can always pump them up to lower pressure if I want.

I have to decide because I'm going to order a new 700c rim to replace one that's worn out on my spouse's bike, and if I throw in a couple more rims on the same order, nobody will notice when the box arrives.
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Old 10-12-14, 09:44 AM
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Taste is also a big factor. If you've been riding narrow tires all your life, you might find them fine, even if you are heavy. We have lots of variety available, so there's something for each of us.
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Old 10-12-14, 12:06 PM
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Originally Posted by noglider
Taste is also a big factor. If you've been riding narrow tires all your life, you might find them fine, even if you are heavy. We have lots of variety available, so there's something for each of us.
Yes, and in some sense the variety itself is an attraction -- trying something new is always fun even if it has to be chalked up as a learning experience in the end. And from what I can tell, a pair of rims and some spokes is pretty cheap entertainment. The tires can always be saved for someone else in the family.

By the way, nice blogs.
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Old 10-12-14, 01:31 PM
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A lot of these "rolling resistance" arguments get wrapped around the axle, because some people are using the term specifically (and correctly) to talk about resistance that comes from tire deflection, and others use it more generally to refer to energy lost when a rider is on the bike. I think the latter case is more important to us bike riders, but we need a better term for that whole-system approach. The 42mm tires on my FG commuter bike (pumped to a mere 35/40psi) may well give up more energy on a smooth steel drum test, but I'm able to take rougher parts of the commute at faster speeds and arrive feeling pretty good. Increasing the tire pressure on this or other bikes just means that I get beat up along the way and end up feeling more worn out. Paradoxically, since the tires ought to be rolling faster.
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Old 10-12-14, 01:52 PM
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With all this discussion on rolling resistance, I have to ask: What is the goal in a commute? You're probably just trying to get somewhere (like work), and carry some things along the way.

So ideally you want your tire to be tough and reliable, and handle whatever road conditions you have to face along the way. For me, bigger tires are a no-brainer; I can roll over anything in my way and get to work in reasonable comfort. Weight is also not a concern; what's an extra 3lb pair of tires when your panniers already have 15lbs of stuff?
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