Why wide tyres are better

Wide tyres are in fashion.

Why? Because you can achieve a more comfortable ride with improved grip and not compromise speed, simply by running a wider tyre at lower pressures.

Let's take a closer look...

above: Vittoria Corsa - wider profile tyres in action at the Tour of Britain

Time used to be that the narrower the tyre, the better it was and the faster you were. Pump them up hard and feel the speed was the accepted wisdom. That is all changing. The latest research, tyre testing and tyre development have turned this old school approach on its head. It turns out wider tyres are actually faster along with the benefits of increased comfort and traction.

In the very early days of road cycling, tyres were wide because the roads were poorly surfaced, and in many cases, not even surfaced at all. Over the years as the road quality got better and bicycles developed, the tyres got narrower and everything got, well faster.

For the last few decades, 19 to 23mm tyres have been the favoured choice of the professional racing cyclists. And as regular cyclists like to emulate the pros, narrow tyres have prevailed ever since. But very recently there has been a noticeable shift towards wide tyres.

We're seeing 25mm tyres replacing 23mm in the professional peloton and us normal cyclists are even going wider, with 28 to 30mm tyres becoming increasingly popular. It helps that modern road bikes accept wider tyres, even race bikes like the Tarmac and Emonda take up to a 28mm tyre, while the Synapse and Domane go even wider.

Continental GP 4000 SII

The Contis, in their widest 28mm form, came top in Tour magazine's rolling resistance tests (more on this below).

The GP 4000 has long been our default choice for a "do everything" tyre - tough, capable, long-lasting, and with the Black Chili compound super grippy, it's just the ideal tyre for everyday use in the UK. Extra width and air volume only accentuate these positive qualities.

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Why are wide tyres getting popular? It turns out that despite previous thinking, wider tyres are no slower than skinny tyres, and in some cases actually produce lower rolling resistance.

Respected cycle magazine Tour conducted a thorough test of tyres in all the popular widths and concluded that a 28mm tyre offered the lowest resistance compared to narrow tyres (you can download a PDF of the full report here).

"In the rolling test, the fat, 28mm wide Continental GP 4000 S II distanced itself from the other test specimens. This bulky wide tyre even rivalled the extra-light 23mm time trial tyres. The second and third places in terms of rolling went to the Continental 25mm and Specialized's 26mm - likewise wide tyres. Only then did Continental's 23mm appear in fourth place," it concluded.

Why is the wider tyre faster? It's due to the shorter contact patch. A wider tyre has a short and wide contact patch compared to the long and skinny contact patch of a narrow tyre. This results in the wider tyre deflecting less so hysteresis loss is lower, and being able to better absorb imperfections that a narrow tyre would instead transfer into energy moving the bike and rider upwards.

It's not as simple as lobbing on a set of wide tyres though. Tyre pressure is key to unlocking this potential. Simply put, a hard tyre has to travel up and over every bump in the road, while a low-pressure tyre can deform over the bump. That means less energy is lost moving the bike up and over the bump.

So, the wider the tyre the lower you want to set the pressure. A 25mm tyre at about 90psi will actually provide the same rolling resistance as a 23mm tyres at 120psi. Go to a wider 28mm tyre and drop the pressure to 80psi, and again you're looking at the same level of rolling resistance.

As well as improved rolling resistance, a wide tyre at low pressure also equals more ride comfort. The tyre is better able to soak up the vibrations from a poorly surfaced road and that provides a smoother ride, but also means there is no speed give away to suspension losses,

As well as the rolling resistance benefits of wide tyres, Tour magazine also found the wide tyres provided the best comfort.

"The most comfortable ride was achieved with the 28mm tyres at a pressure of 5.5 bar: the tyre still having plenty of reserve suspension travel due to its copious volume, while at the same time being barely at risk of puncture," it says.

After evaluating all data and how the tyres felt, it is clear that wide tyres are more just than a passing fashion

above: OPEN's U.P. is a prime example of a modern frameset, designed with wider tyres in mind. Disc brakes mean that clearance can be improved without compromising ride or frame rigidity.

It's not all rosy. Where there is an argument against wide tyre is the wind resistance of the bigger frontal surface area and extra weight, which is why we'll probably see a limit on how wide racing cyclists go. At higher speeds overcoming air, resistance becomes increasingly important, and the narrower tyre has less rotating weight. For racing cyclists, it's a balance of rolling resistance, weight and aerodynamics.

Helping to overcome the aerodynamic drag of a wider tyre is the latest generation of wheels that are increasingly being designed for wide tyres. The latest Enve, Mavic and Roval carbon deep section wheels are designed for wider tyres. The width of the rim also has an impact on the handling of the tyre, a wider rim providing a better platform for a wider tyre.

For non-racing cyclists travelling at real-world speeds though, the benefits of the wide tyre to provide a rolling resistance equal or better than a narrow tyre with the improved comfort provided by the lower pressure, it's an obvious choice.

Specialized Turbo Cotton

With a 320 threads per inch polycotton carcass the Turbo Cotton is one of our favourite race tyres.

Super supple, and available in 24, 26 and 28mm widths.

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Not all wide tyres are the same though. You want a wide tyre with a supple carcass that is easy to flex, and a tyre with a thin casing is easier to flex. Expensive tyres have a higher quality construction that provides this necessary suppleness, and it's why we recommend tyres like the S-Works Turbo and Vittoria Corsa.

If you are interested in trying some wider tyres be sure to check out our online shop or visit us in-store for unbiased, expert advice from staff who've put in the miles on these tyres.