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What are the Different Types of Bicycle Tires?

By D. Monda Dill
Updated May 16, 2024
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A cyclist’s choice of tires is one of the most significant ways to improve or hinder the performance of a bicycle. There are different types of bicycle tires, which are designed for different biking applications. They fall into one of two main categories: clincher tires and tubular tires.

The clincher tire is one of the most widely used types of bicycle tires. Also referred to as a wire-on tire, it is most commonly used on recreational models for road and mountain cycling. Most of the street bicycle tires are clincher tires.

This tire is designed with a woven fabric casing that is coated with rubber. It has a structure that consists of a u-shaped outer tire that contains a separate inner tube. The edge of the outer tire, which is referred to as the "bead," is made from strong steel wire that hooks onto the tire rim, ensuring a secure fit. The inner tube is inflated with air, which keeps the tire from collapsing.

One special version of clincher tires is the folding tire. The folding tire can be folded up compactly for transportation or storage, while providing the same functional properties as a regular bicycle tire. This type of tire owes its capacity to fold to its unique construction, which substitutes Kevlar® fibers for steel wire. The use of Kevlar® also provides weight savings of about 2 ounces (50 grams), making it much lighter than the regular clincher tire, while increasing puncture resistance.

Tubular bicycle tires, also referred to as "sew-ups" or "sprints," are specially engineered for aggressive, high-speed race riding. They are popular among cycling professionals, who usually favor them over clincher tires. Tubular tires offer the cyclist significant weight savings as well as superior performance on challenging terrain.

A principal difference between tubular and clincher tires is the bead-free construction of the tubular tire. Tubular tires are engineered to combine the tire and the tube, which are stitched together into one unit. Special cement is used to secure it to the bicycle's tire rim. Since this tire does not have a bead, it can be folded up for storage and transportation.

A key advantage that tubular tires offer is the superior puncture stability. In case of a catastrophic puncture, the cyclist can continue pedaling on the bicycle and can retain control of the bicycle. On the other hand, this type of bicycle tire is harder to repair in the event of a puncture; since it is glued onto the rim, the entire tire needs to be removed for repair.

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Discussion Comments

By anon221780 — On Oct 13, 2011

This article is somewhat accurate at a high level, but misses a few things:

1. There is another segment of the bicycle population called "tubeless." Tubeless bicycle tires work on the same concept as auto or truck tires.

2. Clincher tires have made significant improvements over the past few years and now are ridden by many pro cycling teams. You can find clincher tires on many high-end racing bicycles.

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