Tire Widths For Roadies: The Wider Your Tires, The Faster You Go

When I first started cycling, I was riding on 18mm tires. That was the standard back in the early 90’s. Yes, the tires were lighter, but my rides were hard and bumpy. 

Gone were the days where narrower tires were the “in” thing. More recently, 25mm’s have become the standard as bike manufacturers have started to create more clearance at the frames and brake callipers to accommodate bigger tires. With the advent of disc brakes and modern group sets, 28mm and larger tires are starting to become a popular choice as well.  

Here are the benefits of switching to a broader tire:


#1. Lower rolling resistance = you will go faster 

So what do you get with a larger tire? It sounds counter-intuitive; you might think that a narrower tire would be more aero and have less rolling resistance. The aerodynamic benefit is somewhat true for the front wheel. However, a wider tire creates less rolling resistance, and outweighs the aero advantages of a narrower tire. 

On a wider tire, the tire contact patch is less with the road, leading to lower rolling resistance. And it can be as much as 8 Watts of free power when you make a switch from 23 to 25mm tires, and a further 8 Watts from 25 to 28mm tires (watts = amount of energy or power used over time).

Think about it, you are actually buying free speed. 


Diagram comparing the difference between a narrow and a wide tire. Photo credit: cycle-space.com


#2. Your rides will be more comfortable 

Our biggest enemy is fatigue. You get easily fatigued when the road vibrations coming up through the bike are passed on to you. Since the tires are the only contact with the ground, a bigger tire will help to soak up the vibrations, providing you with a more comfortable and less bumpy ride.

Particularly for triathletes, as triathlon is a fatigue resistance game, you want to arrive at the run in the best shape possible while getting there as quickly as you can. Therefore, wider tires are a good choice. 


#3. Less chance of a puncture

Another advantage of going wider is that the tires are thicker and you can run them at lower pressures compared to a narrower tire. Thicker tires are more puncture resistant as it will not compress enough to result in a pinch flat.

Most punctures are a result of pinch flats; you tend to get them are when you hit a sharp bump, the tire compresses the inner tube, and the inner tube punctures against the rims. 


#4. Better grip

Wider tires are more stable and offer better grip. This is especially important when cornering. Novice riders can gain confidence and pick up cornering skills more easily on a wider tire too. 


The trade-offs

Some cyclists choose to steer away from wider tires because of the weight penalty. It is true that wider tires are heavier and slower to accelerate. Therefore, they may not be the best friend of a pure sprinter.

However, for most of us, we will reap more benefits from riding wider tires in terms of wattage gains, fatigue resistance and better grip. 




What you lose on the weight, you gain on the rolling resistance. The trend today is wider tires, and I believe it is a trend that is here to stay.

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