Bikey Needs a New Pair of Shoes
March 27, 2010 11:31 PM   Subscribe

How do I pick new city tires for my mountain bike?

I have a Cannondale M400, about ten years old (fully unsuspended, AKA "fixed frame"). It used to be my daily commuter until I got jobs that were too far away, but I'm feeling the itch to start riding again. I started to give it a tuneup today, and the first thing I did was to cause a blowout of the rear tube (oops). Aside from the fact I did actually know better than to inflate it to full pressure without first checking the bead all the way around (duh) this did remind me that I might want to go ahead and get some new city tires to replace the knobby ones it came with.

And I'm lost. It seems that there are a few specific brands that are popular on the internet (Continental comes up a lot, followed by Specialized, Schwalbe, Panaracer, and "other"), but there are roughly eleventy-billion options for width, composition (steel or kevlar for bead and belt/weave), and proprietary technologies for puncture resistance.

Here's what I know:
  • The rims are Weinmann Zac 19s (decent if unspectacular) and don't themselves require replacement.
  • My existing tires are IXC Mythos and are 26 x 2.1, and the one that had the tube blow out has some rubber coming off in a couple places around the bead. It seems in OK shape otherwise, but since I don't really go off-road I might as well equip the bike for the roads I ride on.
  • As far as I can tell the frame and brakes would allow tires up to 2.5" wide (at least) without any trouble, but I also don't know of any reason I'd actually want to go that wide.
  • I'll be riding on streets and maybe the occasional path in DC (and, if I get ambitious, Maryland or Virginia). Mud and loose rocks won't be an issue, but potholes and curbs will.
How do I solve this shopping problem? Is one brand's puncture resistance actually better than another? How do I pick the width I need, out of commuter tire ranges from 1.4" to 2.5"? How much is weight a factor, really?

And yes, I'll be buying a new helmet before I go anywhere on it. My only shopping challenge there is finding one that actually fits my head. Last time I bought one I tried everything in three stores and there was exactly one model that fit.
posted by fedward to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Tires are a lot like pillows. Everybody has their own particular idea about what's important. I'll give you my backround, and tell you what I've come to rely on.

I used to commute 11 miles each way on a mix of city streets and country roads (with thorns and broken glass). My main bike was a 80's specialzed Rock Hopper, setup with drops and narrower than standard rims, now it's another 80's mountain bike setup with upright bars and racks for commuting around town and picking up groceries and coffee.

For me, smoothness, and flat resistance were pretty critical. I hated having to deal with a flat mid ride, and I was commuting with a load, so skinny 23-25mm road tires were uncomfortable to me.

I used to run avocet Cross's, the profile is a little square, but I never felt it and I never got a flat. Then they came out with the version with a grey sidewall, unfortunately the sidewalls cracked and rotted really fast, long before I could wear them out. This happened on two sets of tires, so I never bought them again. I tried a bunch of other tires, but finally settled on Panaracer Paselas

I've run Panaracer TourGuard Paselas on my bikes, and my wife's bike for the last 5 years or so. I've been riding a lot less, so I've only gone through two or three sets of tires, but I've only picked up two flats (both from the same thorn!) in all that time. I found the tire to be good on trails, decent in the rain, round, light(ish) and tough. I used to run 1.25, but now I think I bumped up to 1.5 just because it looks better aesthetically, and I'm not racing so a few grams here or there doesn't matter.

My son has Schwalbes, and they seem fine too. I really like the reflective stripe. It really stands out at night from the side (where blinkies don't work so well).
posted by gofargogo at 12:46 AM on March 28, 2010

Best answer: I realize I just gave you an opinion that just goes with the millions of other internet opinions. Let me expand into tire choice a little...

From your description of your bike and your intended use, you aren't going to need an extreme tire, you don't need the lightest, skinniest, toughest thing out there. For your use case: None of the parameters are critical. I'd choose a reasonably priced tire from a good manufacturer (I've never had any luck with Specialized street tires, but that may be my bad luck), and with a mountain frame I think less than 1.5 in width just looks a little odd.

I believe that the different weaves/belts matter for weight, and some say suppleness, but I've never been able to tell the difference, so my personal experience with flat resistance is more important to me, and you get that personal experience by trying different brands/makes of tires. So just find a pair at a good price and see how it works.

I guarantee that the change from knobbies to street tires is way more important than any difference between respective street tires. You'll be amazed how much faster and smoother your bike feels.
posted by gofargogo at 12:57 AM on March 28, 2010

Each brand's puncture resistance, compound, and tread pattern are different, but not necessarily better. As gofargogo pointed out, street tires will be a huge improvement regardless of what you choose, but my shop experience leads me to recommend specific tires that have been well-received: the Continental Town & Country and Schwalbe Big Apple or Marathon series.

You're familiar with the way your bike handles on 2"/50mm tires, so stay at that size or a bit larger. With a rigid frame, having those balloon tires provides you a bit of suspension that adds to your stability and comfort.

I'd also recommend that you always buy folding tires when available, and that for your frame and needs you buy the largest tires that still allow you to mount fenders if you care to. Folding tires are more convenient and lighter, and even though we're in the >700g weight range already, reducing rotational inertia isn't a bad thing. Your bike will feel more agile and brake, turn, and accelerate more effectively with less weight in the rims and tires.
posted by a halcyon day at 3:30 AM on March 28, 2010

Best answer: On road, ideally you would have a smooth tire kept at it's optimum pressure made of carbon black rubber for best grip, Here is a great description of the factors involved in picking a tire.

Unlike cars, bicycles won't hydroplane on their tires. Water does not remain between bike tire and pavement on a bike. It will for cars, and this is why car tires have a tread. Since bikes don't, your best choice (for the road) is a tire without any tread at all.

Rolling resistance in bike tires is largely related to tire pressure and a little bit to tire construction. Buy light tires like gumwalls and keep the tire at optimal inflation. That's the best that you can do. Note that tread on a tire adds a lot of rolling resistance too. The treads squirm and deform as they meet the road, thus stealing energy. Another excellent reason to not have treads on your tire.

The best tire compound for road grip is still black rubber. Coloured silicone tires are very fashionable, but they don't perform as well. I certainly wouldn't do this on a silicone tire.

Lastly, various things have been tried for puncture resistance over the years, the best of which is probably the kevlar tire. It seems to make a marginal difference, in my experience, but it's not dramatically better. The most important factor in flats I've seen is proper tire inflation. By far and away the major type of flats I've seen are "pinch flats" caused by low pressure. The second most common are wire punctures (from car and truck tires) which the aramid belts don't seem to make much difference for either.

So, my recommended tire is usually a slick, cheap tire made of black rubber. The Continental Sport is a perfect example. For a bit more money, The Ultra Gatorskin adds an arimid belt. Another tire I've really liked is the Panaracer Pasela line.
posted by bonehead at 5:53 AM on March 28, 2010

You're familiar with the way your bike handles on 2"/50mm tires, so stay at that size or a bit larger.

Respectfully disagree. 2" road tires are needlessly heavy, and even 1.25 and 1.5 in road styles have max inflation of 65-100 psi, so it's not going to feel like a 19mm racing tire at 150 psi. Why not make the most of this switch from knobbies to road tires? I think 1.5 would be right, and I've never had any problems transitioning to the handling of narrower tires. Definitely agree about the kevlar bead, however.

I'm in the same boat (sort of) as the OP. The Avocet Cross tires on my bike are nearly worn out and Avocet has apparently stopped making tires, so I'm considering the Panaracer Pasela TGs mentioned above. Mainly due to weight (240g!) reputation, folding bead and price point.
posted by werkzeuger at 5:54 AM on March 28, 2010

Response by poster: Great answers so far. As for handling and shock absorption: I always run pretty high pressure to begin with, and I rode a racing bike around Heidelberg's cobblestone streets for a year in college, so I'm worried less about my comfort through bumps than I am about my rims' survival. The last week of that year I broke two spokes and bent the crap out of my rim on a ride home through the old town and had to walk the bike a couple miles to get home.

I think I was about 14 the last time I had a pinch flat. The flats I've had in DC were all punctures, either from wire or glass. If I had a good enough idea that my rims could survive DC with 1.5" slicks I'd learn to deal with the change in handling, since it would probably be more to my liking anyway.
posted by fedward at 7:12 AM on March 28, 2010

I love my Michelin Country Rocks. Mainly because they look so cool, but they ride damn well too.
I bought mine very cheap via mail order from but it looks like they're available in the US too.
posted by Flashman at 9:22 AM on March 28, 2010

Oh yeah, just one puncture in a year, and that puncture (a finishing nail) I suspect was a targeted attack.
posted by Flashman at 9:25 AM on March 28, 2010

Schwalbe Big Apples if you want comfort (I've got a set of 2.5"'s on an old Cannondale, and, man, those are smoooooth--they weigh a ton, but they're my favorite urban tires ever), Ritchey Tom Slicks (or equivalent) if you want performance, Conti Town & Countrys if you want something all-around (there's a reason they're so popular with police departments). Kevlar belt if you can afford it and it's available--Kevlar beads just save weight and enable folding while not doing anything for flatproofing, and so they probably aren't worth the money for your purposes.

Don't get me wrong--there are plenty of other good tires (and a couple other anti-flat options, like Slime and tire liners)--I just bought a cheap pair of Country Rocks for one of my other bikes, and I like 'em a lot so far.
posted by box at 10:16 AM on March 28, 2010

Best answer: There is no discernable performance difference among bicycle tires that are otherwise broadly comparable by weight, width, and tread. Ignore the miserable going-to-the-deepest-circle-of-hell marketers and go with the cheapest non-knobby tires you can find.
posted by gum at 10:37 AM on March 28, 2010

Response by poster: I ended up with Michelin City tires in 1.85" (not 1.4, which seemed universally agreed to be too narrow). They're damned heavy, but so were all the more puncture-resistant tires. It helped that they were around half the price of the Continentals with the smoothest tread pattern.

I'll mount them this weekend and take them out for a spin when my new helmet arrives.
posted by fedward at 7:15 AM on April 2, 2010

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