Knowing your tyres

Article by James Lilley, February 2017

Tired of thinking about tyres? Heard club members talking about PSI, high-profile rims  and valve lengths? Fear not. This article aims to help you choose the right rubber for your ride.

First things first. Make sure your bike has the right tyre for the riding you do. To keep it simple, there are two key things to think about, size and valves.


700 x 23

Back in the golden old days, tyres were mostly 700 x 23. The 700 refers to the wheel size and the 23 the width.  Older road bikes couldn’t generally accommodate anything larger than a 700 x 23 tyre. The majority of road bikes still come with the 700 x 23 tyres fitted; although, many now argue that they are too narrow for the poor conditions of UK roads. Some say bigger sizes absorb the bumps and “roll” better. I find them less draggy on steep climbs and like them on my summer bike.

700 x 25

Over the last ten years or so, 700 x 25s have become much more popular. You can see that it’s a bit wider than the 700 x 23 and arguably the sweet spot for poor quality UK roads; the extra width lets you run with a bit less tyre pressure, which provides both comfort and wheel protection. I like to run 700 x 25 on my winter bike, but lots of riders use 700 x 25 all year round.

700 x 28

This size is the popular default option for hybrids, commuters and some winter bikes. It’s also starting to find favour as the all year-round option. Some Wheelers argue that the increased absorption the tyre offers negates the extra drag and weight. As per its name, the 28 means it’s wider than the previous two options.

Further tyre sizes include 32, 38 and 40. But …

Watch out for clearance

You might decide you want to run a 700 x 28 tyre for maximum comfort, but you need to make sure your bike can accommodate the tyre size.

Whilst the tyre should fit on the rim, the increased tyre width can cause it to rub once the wheel is fitted to the bike. It could scrape the brake callipers, the front mech, or even the frame. Googling or consulting the bike supplier/handbook should give some guidance on what size tyres your frame can support.

With the increasing popularity of disc brakes, the disc calliper design removes the need of a calliper at the top of the wheel. This means disc-braked bikes can often support greater tyre widths. If it is just the rim calliper catching on the tyre, you can purchase long drop brakes to give more space. Remember to factor in any space you need under the calliper if you intend to fit mudguards.

What about valves?

It’s not just the tyre sizing you need to be aware of but also the valve length! Valve lengths tend to be 36mm, 42mm 52mm and 60 mm. The longer-length valves are designed to accommodate the higher profile rims on some wheels, often known as aero wheels. It’s better to get a valve that’s longer for your wheel than too short. Longer valves are easier to connect your pump to: especially those minipumps. The Continental inner tubes have a handy diagram on the side of their packets to show the valve length, so you can compare them to your current inner tube.

Which tyres?

If you thought sizing and valve length were a can of worms, wait until you ask riders to recommend a tyre! Ask 30 different riders what tyre they recommend, get 30 different answers! Just when you get a good few thousand miles out of a proven tyre, you go to reorder another set and find that they have been discontinued!

Aside from asking fellow riders what they recommend, decent local bike shops can be very helpful. Any reputable shop should have a wide range of tyres and should recommend a set based on your requirements. Online reviews and feedback can be helpful as well, but nothing beats handling a tyre yourself.

I could go on to introduce tubeless tyres, but I don’t want to confuse any newbies even more. Google is your friend on this one!

I’ve found Continental GP 4 Season tyres to be great for winter, and all year round. I’ve found Vittoria Randomeur 2s and Schwalbe Marathons to be good commuter tyres, and suitable for both road and gravel.  I’ve also found Vredestein Fortezza good summer tyres; although, as already mentioned, its horses for courses. What works for me and my riding might not be suitable for others.

If you have tyres you want to recommend, please use the comments section below. If you want further recommendations, please use the Wheelers’ Facebook page, or email the Dodo list.