Cycling is a long-cherished hobby that offers enthusiasts some unique rewards: plenty of exercise, environmentally friendly transportation, and an opportunity to traverse and explore nature are just a few of the benefits. While learning to ride a bike is simple enough, proper maintenance and choosing the right gear for different road conditions requires some special knowledge. While there’s some variation in frames and other parts of the bike, one universal component worth investigating is the basics of bike tires.

Tire Components

To outsiders all bike tires essentially look the same, but as with car tires, there’s a good deal of variation. First though, it’s worth pointing out the components that exist in every type of bicycle tire: the casing, tread and bead. A fourth component, the tube, is found in all but the aptly named tubeless tires. Tubes are a bladder made of butyl or latex rubber designed to hold the tire’s air. Latex is preferred by racers and serious enthusiasts because it is lighter and more supple, but they must be inflated more often.

The casing is the fabric that forms the foundation of the tire and helps it maintain its shape during use on varying surfaces. TPI, or threads per inch, refers to the number and density of threads that make up the casing. High TPI count tires are suited for racing as they are lighters, while lower TPI tires are more durable and best for regular use.

The second component is the tread, which is the outer part of the tire that makes contact with surfaces. Treads can be made from a variety of materials, with some using compounds to tweak features like durability and grip. Treads come in a number of patterns suited to different surfaces. For example, smooth treads are suitable for smooth, paved surfaces, while inverted treads used on wider tires can handle rougher street surfaces and weather conditions.

The last component of relevance is the bead. Made of steel or Kevlar, the beads are cables that run along the inside of the tire’s edge. The bead’s role is to resist against air pressure within the tire to keep it on the rim while cycling.

Types of Tires

For simplicity’s sake, there are basically three categories of bike tires: tubulars, hook-bead clinchers, and tubeless hook-bead clinchers. Tubulars are sport tires suitable for road racing, triathlons, and other competitions. Their key advantage is their light weight, but they tend to be more expensive and difficult to repair.

Hook-bead clinchers are best suited for modern bicycles as their ridges, which project inward, will not fit on most classic, smooth flanged rims. Cheap and easy to install, the downside of hook-bead clinchers is that they lack the suppleness of other tires, resulting in a lower ride quality and increased risk of pinch-flat punctures. Tubeless hook-bead clinchers overcome these issues, while also offering improved traction when ridden with lower air pressure. However, they lose the advantage of easy install and repair.