TCI Friday

Where I live, the snow is deep, and that occasions much discussion about tire selection. Actually, for most cyclists, virtually any combination of temperature, surface, and precipitation will inspire a disquisition of this sort. If I had every hour I have spent talking about tires back, I could write a book about tires, and then point to it casually whenever someone asks me what tires I think they should ride. It would live on my coffee table, so it would be easy to point to. It would be a coffee table book.

Afore we go further, let me tell you that I am not a tire expert. Once a conversational companion starts talking about pressures, I glaze over. This, to me, is thinking too hard. What I do is pump my tires before I leave on a ride, then let out air as needed, once the terrain has spoken to me in its intractable way (poor pun, ten point penalty).

It was put to me that a three-inch studded tire is far more valuable and versatile in rapidly evolving snow conditions than a four or five-inch tire. This I agreed with, mostly because who cares? If you’re out there on the snow, IN the snow, and you can roll, then you chose well. I do think a smaller tire is easier to push most of the time, but I am biased in this way.

28″ tires are nice on the road, but I prefer 25s. 40″ tires are nice for gravel riding, but I prefer 32s. When everyone went to 2.4″ tires on their trail bikes, I stuck with 2.25. I have a self-serving theory about all this, and here it is: Those of us who have been riding a long time on smaller wheels and narrower tires, developed some set of unconscious skills. We had to learn to soak up the bumps, to work with what we had, so as less experienced riders came into the various categories of the sport, they benefited a lot more from added float and cushion than us old-timers. Many of my friends have validated this theory for me, but probably only to get me to stop talking about how long I’ve been riding bikes.

Undoubtedly, we’re in a bigger-is-better moment, but I hold to the olden ways. I’m faster and more agile on a thinner tire. There is a lower limit to this approach, but in general, I prefer less rubber to more, the impassioned treatises of my friend Jan, not withstanding.

This week’s TCIF asks, where are you at with your tires? Do go big at every opportunity, testing the limits of fork blade and chainstay width? Or are you a minimalist? Do you carry a digital tire pressure gauge in your saddle bag? Or do you know your rubber is solid when you reach down and give it that discerning pinch? Is a three-inch, studded tire sufficient in 3″ of fresh powder, or is every tire useless at that point? Time for snow shoes?

Join the conversation
  1. tcfrog says

    While I prefer a 4″ studded tire for winter riding, I think a 3″ would work fine for all but the sloppier conditions. For my other bikes I like Going with a middle option … not the widest possible, but not the skinniest either. I tend to judge if my pressure is ok by the squeeze test, but do occasionally get out the pump to double check.

  2. jlaudolff says

    28mm michelins at 70-ish psi on my rim brake road bike and 32mm conti 4 seasons at 50-ish psi on my gravel/ rain bike. That’s as much thought as I give it nowadays. I’m going to stick with this setup for awhile. #teamtubeinside

  3. DaveinME says

    I stick to 25s on my road bike and 32s on my cross/commute/winter rig. Works well for everything I encounter on Maine roads.

  4. Ramona d'Viola says

    “I have a self-serving theory about all this, and here it is: Those of us who have been riding a long time on smaller wheels and narrower tires, developed some set of unconscious skills…”

    Hear hear.

  5. pbelknap says

    I’ve been on the fat(ter) tires for most applications train for 10+ years now. I find they are more comfortable and often faster with minimal downsides. I’m only fanatical about tire pressure for cyclocross, otherwise my floor pump gauge is good enough.

  6. billwhite.envirolaw says

    Going bigger, softer. Running 28s on my road bike, 80/70. Much more comfy on our chipseal/rough asphalt around here.

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