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What's the current thinking on optimal tire width for rough paved roads?

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What's the current thinking on optimal tire width for rough paved roads?

Old 04-22-17, 08:22 PM
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johngwheeler
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What's the current thinking on optimal tire width for rough paved roads?

I've read a bit about the trend to wider tires on road bikes and seen a few videos discussing pros & cons. However, there still seems to be a strong trend towards 25mm tires for racing road bikes, and maybe 28mm for endurance/randoneur style bikes. This is still a lot less than typical commuting, CX or gravel bikes.

Is there an agreed speed/width curve for different surfaces which would indicate the optimal tire width for a given surface?

My interest is whether my daily commuting bikes (on 32mm Bontrager H5, but measure 1.0-1.5mm less) would be noticeably improved by a slightly thinner or more supple tire. I should add that my road surfaces are sometimes poor, with manhole covers, cracked paving and ocassional leaves / twigs etc.
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Old 04-22-17, 08:30 PM
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Optimal for what? Speed? Comfort?
Your criteria are undoubtedly different than mine...
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Old 04-22-17, 08:33 PM
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I actually prefer 35~38 in terms of tire width. Nice and comfy for the bumps and I know I can stop at the supermarket etc to do some shopping along the commute in addition to carrying all the work stuff.
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Old 04-22-17, 08:45 PM
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Originally Posted by johngwheeler View Post
Is there an agreed speed/width curve for different surfaces which would indicate the optimal tire width for a given surface?
No. The physics for the overall system are very complicated, and depend on a huge number of factors. And stable measurements are very difficult to make. "Relevant" variables likely include much more than just surface quality; who's riding the bike, what rims are in use, etc.

I put "relevant" in scare quotes because, as an independent variable, width hardly matters on pavement. That's part of why there's no agreed-upon curve; differences purely due to changes in tire width tend to be tiny and astonishingly hard to measure. Outside of aero rims, where they totally stop doing their job if the tire is even slightly too wide, nobody has really quantified where width even starts becoming a problem at all. Jan Heine's most recent tire testing checked relative performance across the entire range of Compass tire widths, and found no significant differences at 18mph; this agrees with my own experiences across my drop-bar bikes with tires ranging from 23mm to 53mm.

My interest is whether my daily commuting bikes (on 32mm Bontrager H5, but measure 1.0-1.5mm less) would be noticeably improved by a slightly thinner or more supple tire.
A more supple tire might help. I have a Bontrager H5 on one bike right now; haven't gotten any flats, but the wheel rolls like a sack of potatoes.

Last edited by HTupolev; 04-22-17 at 09:49 PM.
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Old 04-22-17, 10:55 PM
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Originally Posted by HTupolev View Post
A more supple tire might help. I have a Bontrager H5 on one bike right now; haven't gotten any flats, but the wheel rolls like a sack of potatoes.
Thanks for the answer on tire widths, even if "inconclusive" (as I might have expected). But your opinion of the Bontrager H5 is useful. It seems solid - very solid - but quite possibly excessivly so! I'm prepared to trade a puncture every 6-12 months for a better ride every day.
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Old 04-22-17, 11:51 PM
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The wider the tire, the fewer the flats. I used to ride puncture resistant skinny, hard tires, just like everyone else. I averaged a flat every 100-200 miles year round. Basically 2-3 a month, shredded in 6 months. I now use 42mm Compass tires for daily commuting, and have not had a flat in over 6000 miles. A record for me, several times over, and these are not at all "puncture resistant" construction. No cuts or sidewall damage either. The narrowest tire I use now on the road is 38mm, which transitions to gravel just fine.
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Old 04-23-17, 12:34 AM
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Originally Posted by catgita View Post
The wider the tire, the fewer the flats.
This might be your perception; it might be your reality. When I commuted, I never saw fewer or more flats based on tire width..

As a rule a wider tire will have a thicker casing simply by proportion, but even so, I don't recall say, 32s to do better than 23s. Maybe when you get into the 42s and are running a significantly larger, heavier tire .... i don't think i went wider than 38s for regular commuting.

The heavier the tire, the fewer the flats perhaps .... not sure how many fewer, either. A radial tire wire can go through anything, as can a nail or screw. Maybe if yo have a really thick casing you might get fewer glass punctures.

Thing is, I can feel the weight of the fat tires, and the general inefficiency of high-volume tires---to me at least they feel like they absorb more energy. Particularly in a commuting setting where A.) I am always carrying a load and B.) there tend to be more stops for turns and traffic, reaccelerating those big, heavy balloons seemed to take an awful lot of energy.
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Old 04-23-17, 01:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Maelochs View Post
As a rule a wider tire will have a thicker casing simply by proportion
Wide tires usually having thicker casing is purely a result of most wide tires being marketed toward the (mostly low-budget) cruiser market or as bombproof tourers/"urban."
There's no fundamental width-thickness proportional scaling. If the tires are thick, it's because they were laid up and molded thick; if a manufacturer wants to make thin wide tires, they can just not lay up a bunch of thick layers.

My 53mm 26er road tires are from the same brand as catgita's. The casing is identical to what Panaracer uses for their top-end road racing tubulars, and the sidewalls are easily some of the thinnest in my stable.

They're still heavier than my high-performance narrow tires since they're bigger, but not quadratically heavier. They're about 400g each.

Last edited by HTupolev; 04-23-17 at 02:01 AM.
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Old 04-23-17, 05:47 AM
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I know on my road bike, going to 28's would require me to remove a brake pad if I get a flat. With 25's I have to pull an inflated wheel through the pads. [Yes, I flip the lever to get more pad clearance.] So even if 28's would make the ride feel better I'd be hesitant to change. Even though I should, as I keep finding that I like riding my 25's at like 60psi, which seems way too low for my 180+lb weight.
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Old 04-23-17, 05:55 AM
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At 220 lbs, I find 35's on my CX bike to be a favorable size. Works fine for commuting, takes well & has even seen some trail action. The key is setting your tire pressure accordingly for the conditions. Oh, and yes, flats are almost non-existent.

Last edited by clydeosaur; 04-23-17 at 05:59 AM.
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Old 04-23-17, 06:00 AM
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Something else to consider is the actual tire width, not the size imprinted on the tire. As an example I have some Panaracer Ribmo 28s that are closer to my wife's conti 32's and I have some Bontrager 28s that are closer to my Vittoria 25s. I wish I had taken a picture of my old Bontrager Hardcase tires before I gifted them to a friend where they are still in service. I pounded those tires on the pothole and debris infested streets of New Orleans for many miles. I dug lots of glass and pieces of metal out of those tires and the outer layer had some nasty gashes in them, but NOTHING penetrated the protective layer. I have Bontrager Hardcase lite 700x32 tires on my tandem and like them pretty well. It seems to be a good all around size. I previously had them on a commuter bike where I went to 28s in the same tire. I liked the 28s better. They are more responsive and don't really give up much on rough roads. The particular Hardcase tires I used had grey in them. I had them on 3 bikes. Now I only have them on my tandem. I don't know what current model is similar.

Oh, and don't worry about the "current thinking." It changes over time. Tires are generally more of a "feel" thing anyway. I have ridden tires that felt great to me, but others loathed them. I have hated tires that others swore by.
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Old 04-23-17, 06:22 AM
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Originally Posted by supton View Post
I know on my road bike, going to 28's would require me to remove a brake pad if I get a flat.
Why? The tire would be flat.
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Old 04-23-17, 07:23 AM
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Last week RubeRad suggested this podcast with Jan Heine discussing tire width. I have read his blog about it, but listening to him discuss it was very interesting!
Originally Posted by RubeRad View Post
If you're a podcast kinda guy, this is a great listen.
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Old 04-23-17, 08:21 AM
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A more supple tire will be faster and be less prone to certain types of punctures that a less supple tire.

If you're riding 23s; 25 or 28 will probably be faster.

If you're riding 32s; 35, 40 or 42 will probably be slower.

There is a lot of mysticism and lobbying for knowledge position with respect to tire width and pressure. The above notes are shorthand of my testing and experiences of the past few years so YMMV. The best thing to do is experiment; try narrower tires, try wider tires, take pressure/sag readings of all the tires you use to figure out which ones are how supple, look at what other people in different disciplines are running and ask questions. Why aren't triathletes on 53mm tires if testing found no difference in watts required to go a certain speed? Why are the really fast xc mountain bikers running narrower and higher pressure tires than one would expect? Why did Jobst Brandt believe that higher pressure tires were better at avoiding punctures? Is there a difference between how well a tire & pressure combination rolls and how well a tire & pressure combination reacts to constant pedaling?

It also helps to have a working knowledge of statistics so you can understand what a regression analysis is and how it's currently being used and misused by Bicycle Quarterly in their testing articles. Lastly, remember that Jan Heine is European and an academic, so the capitalist motivations that would normally be easy to paint someone running both a tire reseller as well as tire testing publication do not apply. He's more interested in the notoriety, authority, and respect, not the money. Although the latter appears to have helped him in his conquest of Japan.

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Old 04-23-17, 09:04 AM
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I have 32mm tubeless on a CX bike and find t very comfortable on the pothole ridden road on Long Island over the winter. I'm maybe 1mph slower than my road bike which has 25mm tires.

There's plenty of rough road surfaces, potholes, sand, debris, sticks and other obstacles and not a single flat over the winter of 1000 miles ridden.
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Old 04-23-17, 09:05 AM
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Originally Posted by supton View Post
I know on my road bike, going to 28's would require me to remove a brake pad if I get a flat. With 25's I have to pull an inflated wheel through the pads. [Yes, I flip the lever to get more pad clearance.] So even if 28's would make the ride feel better I'd be hesitant to change. Even though I should, as I keep finding that I like riding my 25's at like 60psi, which seems way too low for my 180+lb weight.
I don't understand this logic at all.

If it's flat, it won't make any difference if it's 25 or 28 (or 32mm for that matter). It will come out without pulling a brake pad.

When you reinstall it, put it back on BEFORE you inflate it.

Cheers
TRJB
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Old 04-23-17, 09:12 AM
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Originally Posted by johngwheeler View Post
Is there an agreed speed/width curve for different surfaces which would indicate the optimal tire width for a given surface?
Absolutely not. There are a thousand different opinions on the subject. And many of those change daily.

And for every tire size there is wide range of tire quality, which play as big of a role as size does. And don't forget varying rim widths, which significantly change tire profile shape, width, height, and overall air chamber volume, necessitating different inflation levels.

Experiment. Find what you like.
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Old 04-23-17, 09:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Maelochs View Post
reaccelerating those big, heavy balloons seemed to take an awful lot of energy.
Agree completely. But what happens when those big balloons are very light weight? That's where Compass has succeeded IMO.
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Old 04-23-17, 09:29 AM
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Originally Posted by Maelochs View Post

As a rule a wider tire will have a thicker casing simply by proportion, but even so, I don't recall say, 32s to do better than 23s. Maybe when you get into the 42s and are running a significantly larger, heavier tire .... i don't think i went wider than 38s for regular commuting.
.
Not necessarily, and less so with some newer tires.

In the past, manufacturers considered road tires 32mm to be for either loaded touring or cheap hybrids. Both heavy. SO there were few light and fast tires that size.

That is changing. Newer large tires meant for fast road can be quite light. In some cases they can actually go thinner on the sidewall because they are meant for lower pressure than narrow tires.

For example, the Compass Tire Stampede Pass is a 32mm tire that weighs 254g for the Superlight model, and 291g for the Standard casing model.

The flat protection offered by larger tires to is more specifically pinch flats. Larger volume definitely helps with this. Punctures, not so much so.
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Old 04-23-17, 10:01 AM
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Originally Posted by Spoonrobot View Post
A more supple tire will be faster and be less prone to certain types of punctures that a less supple tire.

If you're riding 23s; 25 or 28 will probably be faster.

If you're riding 32s; 35, 40 or 42 will probably be slower.

There is a lot of mysticism and lobbying for knowledge position with respect to tire width and pressure. The above notes are shorthand of my testing and experiences of the past few years so YMMV. The best thing to do is experiment; try narrower tires, try wider tires, take pressure/sag readings of all the tires you use to figure out which ones are how supple, look at what other people in different disciplines are running and ask questions. Why aren't triathletes on 53mm tires if testing found no difference in watts required to go a certain speed? Why are the really fast xc mountain bikers running narrower and higher pressure tires than one would expect? Why did Jobst Brandt believe that higher pressure tires were better at avoiding punctures? Is there a difference between how well a tire & pressure combination rolls and how well a tire & pressure combination reacts to constant pedaling?

It also helps to have a working knowledge of statistics so you can understand what a regression analysis is and how it's currently being used and misused by Bicycle Quarterly in their testing articles. Lastly, remember that Jan Heine is European and an academic, so the capitalist motivations that would normally be easy to paint someone running both a tire reseller as well as tire testing publication do not apply. He's more interested in the notoriety, authority, and respect, not the money. Although the latter appears to have helped him in his conquest of Japan.
Lots of good thinking here ... and some stuff about math. I counted on my fingers--I even took off my socks and counted toes---and nothing added up to "regression analysis."

Still your real-world data analysis seems to match my own.


Also ... two people mention Compass as a brand for big, light tires. Thank you. I haven't ridden fat-tires ( by which I mean over 28) for several years but if I get a next bike, it might have to be gravel/touring, so I will want three sets of wide-wider-ridiculous tires ... and I dread the weight of old-school 38s and 40s.
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Old 04-23-17, 10:07 AM
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Originally Posted by Kapusta View Post
The flat protection offered by larger tires to is more specifically pinch flats. Larger volume definitely helps with this. Punctures, not so much so.
Road-riding, the only pinch-flat I have gotten in forever was when I changed a puncture while really tired and didn't pump it up hard enough.

The pressure was fine for normal riding, but on the last tired leg home i looked down and saw a 1.25"-tall rock all alone on the road and right in my path. I missed it with the front and slammed it with the rear. I was too tired to lift my butt so it hit like a hammer. Perfect width to concentrate all the force right on the rim edges.

That is sort of what I was saying about wider tires and punctures. Punctures are all I ever see, and i see them on abut everything except my MTB.
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Old 04-23-17, 11:12 AM
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Originally Posted by Maelochs View Post
Road-riding, the only pinch-flat I have gotten in forever was when I changed a puncture while really tired and didn't pump it up hard enough.

The pressure was fine for normal riding, but on the last tired leg home i looked down and saw a 1.25"-tall rock all alone on the road and right in my path. I missed it with the front and slammed it with the rear. I was too tired to lift my butt so it hit like a hammer. Perfect width to concentrate all the force right on the rim edges.

That is sort of what I was saying about wider tires and punctures. Punctures are all I ever see, and i see them on abut everything except my MTB.
It really depends on the "rough pavement" you are riding and the pressures you are running (this thread was about rough pavement).

Part of the reason I run larger tires is so that I can run lower pressures. And around here in town there are a lot of pavement cracks, uneven pavement, and potholes, so pinch flats are an issue at the lower pressures I like to run.

Last edited by Kapusta; 04-23-17 at 11:25 AM.
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Old 04-23-17, 11:21 AM
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Originally Posted by johngwheeler View Post

Is there an agreed speed/width curve for different surfaces which would indicate the optimal tire width for a given surface?
No, opinions are all over the map on this.

My interest is whether my daily commuting bikes (on 32mm Bontrager H5, but measure 1.0-1.5mm less) would be noticeably improved by a slightly thinner or more supple tire. I should add that my road surfaces are sometimes poor, with manhole covers, cracked paving and ocassional leaves / twigs etc.
In my experience, more supple tires make a really big improvement is speed and comfort. They are smoother and faster and any pressure, but more noticeably so as you lower the pressure. They allow lower pressures without as much rolling resistance penalty as thicker tires.

But it really depends on what you are riding through as to whether they are suitable. I run very supple tires (Compass Stampede Pass 32mm for a year and now Bon Jon Pass 35mm, both super light casing) and I have had no issues with tears or punctures. They are fine on rough pavement and gravel, but I imagine that sharp rocks or such would be a problem. But it has not been for me.

Last edited by Kapusta; 04-23-17 at 11:26 AM.
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Old 04-23-17, 11:44 AM
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This is one of those boring, useless BF threads that has nothing in it but useful, practical information gleaned from actual experience.
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Old 04-23-17, 12:50 PM
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It seems like there should be a consensus for a curve representing width, speed and vibrations. It would have saved me a lot of effort and experimenting over the last 8-10 years.

I started out with 28's and 32's, and I was satisfied with them for commuting and training. I moved to narrower tires, 25's, 23's for a little more speed, and they were indeed faster. BUT, I discovered that the main differences between tires of these widths are not due to the width, but to the construction of the tires. And to make that more problematic, the tests and information available early on dealt with high-end tires, and was at best useless and mostly wrong if you were riding stock Kenda 32mm tires for instance. Particularly in regard to the pressure/resistance curves.

So when I liked the narrower tires better, I was mostly liking the higher quality tires I was migrating to and the more supple casings. I now have 25's on my road bike and 23's on my commuter, decent but by no means quality tires. When I wear them out I'll be full circle back to 28's but I'll get the best quality I can without choking on the price tag.
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