While the trend is toward wider cycling tires, bigger isn’t always better. Whether a wide or narrow tire is best for you depends largely on your riding style, the type of bike you own and a number of other factors.
This guide will help determine which tire width best suits your individual needs.
ROAD RACING TIRES: 22–25MM
One of the advantages of disc brakes is the additional frame clearance, which allows for a wider tire. While the recent inclusion of disc brakes in the pro peloton has something to do with the shift to wider racing tires, tires that range between 22–25mm are ideal for race bikes.
You won’t get as much comfort as you would with a 28mm tire, but two advantages of a narrower tire are reduction in weight and improved aerodynamics. From this logic, you’d think the narrower tire is always the better choice, but a lot of wheel manufacturer’s recommend specific widths. ENVE, Mavic and Reynolds are a few of the high-end race wheel builders who designed wheels to be used specifically with 25mm tires for optimal aerodynamic efficiency.
If you’re on the fence about whether you should go with a 23mm or 25mm tire, check with your wheel manufacturer for a recommended width — especially if you’re using a wider depth profile aero wheelset. For climbers who are more concerned about weight and use a narrower rim, a 23mm tire is usually the best choice.
ENDURANCE TIRES: 28–32MM
Endurance bikes have benefited the most from disc-brake technology. Tires wider than 25mm were often hard to fit on frames utilizing rim brakes. Disc brakes offer the option of using a tire all the way up to 32mm without much problem.
While they definitely won’t be as fast or light as 23–25mm tires, choosing a 28mm or wider tire improves comfort considerably. It’ll also make balancing easier, improve bike handling and absorb more road shock to reduce fatigue on longer rides.
When deciding between a 28mm tire or a 32mm, consider your style of riding. If you often ride gran fondos or centuries, a 28mm tire will provide extra comfort and better handling without sacrificing too much in the speed department. On the other hand, if you are less concerned with speed, don’t frequently race and like to have the flexibility of an occasional off-road ride on dirt paths, a tire on the wider end of the spectrum like a 32mm is ideal.
GRAVEL/ADVENTURE TIRES: 32–50MM
Along with better control on rough surfaces, another advantage of a wider tire is better resistance to punctures. Instead of opting for a mountain bike, the gravel/adventure bike category has grown in popularity due to its versatility. Road cyclists looking to get off-road on fire roads and gravel paths now have that option without sacrificing as much speed as you would with a traditional mountain bike. Adventure bikes can also be ridden on the road a little easier and climb better than heavier mountain bikes.
For tire choice, most adventure/gravel bikes have tire widths than range from 32–50mm. This helps navigate rockier terrain and improve your control over loose gravel. If you’re interested in gravel racing, some organizers limit tire width to 32–33mm. While this gives you a good combination of speed on the road and handling off-road, a larger tire may still have value.
Consider a wider tire up to 50mm if you ride more off-road than you do on the road. Wider tires have more tread, which can improve overall traction and handling, allowing you to choose routes with rougher terrain without the fear of a puncture around every corner.
TOURING/COMMUTING TIRES: 25–50MM
Speed, acceleration and aerodynamics are less important factors for touring cyclists and commuters. Comfort, durability, puncture protection and the ability to handle heavier loads is favored instead — with function over speed being the name of the game.
When it comes to choosing a tire on the narrow or wide end of the spectrum, terrain and distance traveled should be considered. Since long-distance and touring cyclists often include racks and panniers, a heavier frame with a wider tire is ideal.
If you’re primarily riding on the road with a light load, a 25–32mm tire should be sufficient. However, if you go off-road more often or commute on rough pavement, opting for a wider tire improves your comfort and handling. A wider tire in the 40–50mm range also gives you more stability to carry lots of gear on the bike.