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Thin tires offer a list of advantages over regular tires. They make you go faster, provide better aerodynamics, and have less weight. Also, they often come with run-flat technology.
I’ve been riding for over thirty years, and my bike of choice for commuting is still a road bike, largely because of the thin tires.
In this post, I’ll take a look at:
- The 7 reasons why road bikes have thin tires
- The advantages of thin tires
- The disadvantages of thin tires
Why Do Road Bikes Have Thin Tires?
Road bikes are known for their thin tires. Most high-end bikes are 23 millimeters and are inflated between 100 to 120 pounds per square inch (PSI).
Here are the 7 reasons why road bikes have thin tires:
1. Faster Speed
A road bike has a faster speed compared to other types of bicycles. Manufacturers designed road bikes to zoom by on paved roads or asphalt pavements.
Although of course not all road bikes are for racing, pro riders prefer road bikes because of their rolling resistance and wind resistance.
The thin tires’ resistance makes the bike easy to maneuver, especially when the cyclist wants to gain speed.
Keep in mind that newer cyclists don’t necessarily need thin tires to gain speed, as their sense of speed is different from more experienced cyclists.
Here are the different types of cyclists and their recommended speeds:
|Type of Rider||Recommended Speed|
|Newbie||10 mph (16 kph)|
|Average Cyclist||15 mph (24 kph)|
|Intermediate||20 mph (32 kph)|
|Pro Racers||25 mph (40 kph)|
2. Lightweight Feel
Speed is often associated with weight. Typically road bikes are lighter than other types of bicycles.
For instance, a mountain bike can weigh up to 12 kg while a road bike is only 8 kg.
Additionally, a road bike also has light tires, wheels, and frames. As a result, a road bike requires less material.
It’s also worth noting that the lightweight feel is a crucial part of the road bike. In fact, manufacturers have designed road bikes with carbon fiber parts. Carbon-frame bikes are a lot lighter than aluminum ones.
3. Rolling Resistance Speed Loss
Different tire sizes affect rolling resistance. Rolling resistance is the energy lost as tires deform with time.
Thin tires have a smaller frontal area that can reduce rolling resistance. As a result, the energy lost by tire deterioration is reduced.
These thin tires also provide less resistance to the rider as he pedals, reducing fatigue.
Besides that, tires that have lesser diameters than the brake track width will have excellent aerodynamics. This is why most pro racers opt for tires that are two to four millimeters less than the width of the brake track.
Other than rolling resistance, here are other culprits behind speed loss:
- Quality of sidewall and rubber compound
- Tire’s weight and diameter
- Tread pattern
- Thickness of casing
- Air pressure
4. Wind Resistance
Wind resistance can slow a bike down considerably. Normally, the rider can utilize the drop handlebars and wear tight clothes to lower the bike’s resistance.
However, wind resistance increases as the bike goes faster. Luckily, thin tires can cut through the wind more easily than their thick counterparts.
If you live somewhere where it’s very windy quite often, then thin tires are just part of the battle.
Here’s a great youtube video from GCN that shows some excellent strategies to cycle in wind:
5. Provide Good Traction
Thick tires provide good traction because they can maintain contact with more ground surface area. However, contact with the ground isn’t the only way to achieve traction.
You can also have good traction through pressure per square inch. The greater the pressure, the better the traction.
The thin tires of road bikes are superior when it comes to pressure. That’s why they make up for the lost traction with the extra pressure.
On top of that, skinny tires perform better on the snow because they can combine high pressure with low friction. Thus, you can tear through snow-covered streets with ease!
Lastly, thin tires can provide better steering because they have large tread blocks. The treads improve traction on smooth and dry terrains.
6. Excellent Braking Performance
Typically, narrow tires come with big rims. The rims allow the cyclist to install large braking elements.
The big braking parts enhance the braking distance. Braking is a lot more significant in road bikes as they often move around at higher speeds.
You’ll be thankful for the better brakes when a child jumps in front of you out of nowhere as you speed through the road at 20 mph.
7. Run-Flat Technology
The run-flat is a feature that allows you to ride your bike for a short distance after tire punctures. Compared to other bike types, it’s easier for manufacturers to implement the feature on road bikes because their thin tires have less air.
On average, the deflated tires can also go up to 30 miles. This allows you to safely ride your bike home for maintenance instead of having to drag it behind you.
What Are the Advantages of Thin Tires in Road Bikes?
If you’re opting for a road bike, here are the advantages that you should know:
1. Require Less Maintenance
A road bike isn’t meant for mountain terrain, making it more suitable for smooth roads and pavements.
That’s why the thin tires don’t accumulate dirt, debris, and other elements. Hence a road bike is cleaner compared to a mountain bike.
This is why road bikes don’t require rigorous maintenance. There’s no need for constant chain lubricating, frame maintenance, and regular cleaning.
Still, you should keep in mind that you might risk damaging the tires if you constantly expose them to rough roads. Regular checkups can save you a visit to a bike mechanic.
2. Easier Navigation in Narrow Corners
Road bikes are narrow because they have thin tires and frames. An average road bike can be up to 20 centimeters narrower than other types of bicycles.
Thus, even if you navigate through narrow corners on a busy street, you can still speed up with ease!
3. Suitable for Long Rides
As mentioned above, thin tires have low rolling resistance and wind resistance. Aside from the fast speed, the thin tires need less energy for pedaling.
Hence, you can get to your destination faster and more efficiently. Not only does it place a smaller toll on your bike’s components, but it also requires less pedaling energy from you.
4. Can Climb Sloping Areas
The light tires and frames allow the road bikes to push upward. As a result, the biker can navigate through steep slopes with reduced effort compared to thicker tires.
The reduced weight and better aerodynamics of thin tires allow for an easier hill climb compared to other tire types.
What Are the Disadvantages of Thin Tires in Road Bikes?
Although the thin tires of road bikes are often helpful for cyclists, they also come with a few disadvantages. Let’s take a closer look at them:
1. Susceptible to Punctures
Slim tires become susceptible to punctures, especially if your daily commute involves busy urban streets or unpaved trails.
The main reason is that city streets and dirt paths are cluttered with loose gravel or glass debris. Fortunately, with some effort, you can puncture-proof your tires.
2. Limited Ground Contact
Although road bikes have high air pressure, they could still be slippery at times, especially on wet roads or when there’s a lot of sand on the path.
The limited ground contact makes the tires stiff, hence you might face a slicker ride than usual.
For best traction and performance, avoid using road bikes on dirty surfaces.
3. Can be a Little Uncomfortable
The road bikes’ aerodynamic design can be uncomfortable for some cyclists. Although the thin tires and narrow frames are often a great feature, the frame requires the rider to push his weight forward.
Some bikers might experience muscle pain or discomfort when they rest their weight on their hands and shoulders.
The aerodynamic design also requires a cyclist to maintain the position to push forward and keep his eyes on the road.
4. Not Beginner-Friendly
The thin tires allow the road bike to be lightweight. However, the bike’s weight makes it difficult for new riders to adjust to the lightweight feel.
Other than that, road bikes have drop handlebars that provide easy control to the rider. Unfortunately, the slight movement of the drop handlebars can affect the overall movement of the road bike.
There you have it: seven reasons why road bikes have thin tires. Thin tires are for air resistance, rolling resistance, and aerodynamics.
Manufacturers also design road bikes with thin tires to provide that lightweight feel, good surface traction, and excellent braking performance. On top of that, most thin tires come with run-flat technology.
Despite coming with a decent set of pros, there are some drawbacks to using thin tires like limited ground contact and puncture susceptibility. So, before opting to use thin tires, weigh out the pros and cons to see if they’re suitable for you.