Of all the parts on a road bike, the tires are the part that needs to be replaced most often. Tires must constantly be checked and replaced, especially if you ride a bike regularly or under load. Tires can require replacement as a result of lack of use, road trauma, or normal wear and tear.
So what are some signs to indicate you need to replace road bike tires? Here are seven signs to look for when it’s time to replace road bike tires:
- Visible wear
- Uneven wear
- Flat spots in the center of the tire’s tread
- Cracked rubber or dry rot
- Nicks and punctures
- Bulges in the tire rubber or other deformities
- Bead damage
Good tires are important not just to maintain a road bike’s level of performance and handling, but also to ensure safety while cycling. Keep reading to find out more about the signs that it’s time to replace your tires, and why it’s important for you to do it.
When Should You Replace Your Road Bike Tires?
When you replace your road bike tires is going to be determined by the following factors:
- How old the tires are: Even if they are not showing obvious damage like cracks from dry rot, older bike tires may have hidden structural weaknesses due to aging of the rubber they’re manufactured with, and under load, these weaknesses can lead to flats and other problems.
- What condition the tires are in: If the tires have been taken over rough road, they will accumulate nicks, cuts, scuffs, and even small punctures. If tires have taken a lot of obvious damage, then it is probably time to replace them.
- How your tires are performing on the road: If the handling on the bike has gotten unpredictable while cornering or you feel like you’ve lost power while accelerating due to increased drag, your tires may need to be replaced.
- How many flats you’ve had: When you repair a flat in a tire, it loses structural integrity every time you do it. Tires that have had more than a few flats should probably be replaced even if they’ve been repaired.
These are conditions you should think of when deciding whether or not to replace your tires, but there are also some obvious signs you can look for to see whether the tires may need to be replaced.
Seven Signs That Road Bike Tires Should Be Replaced
Any time you’re going on a bike ride, it’s important to inspect your tires and make sure that you don’t see anything that could possibly lead to a flat or other tire troubles while you’re out on the road. When tires are getting old or gradually damaged and need to be replaced, there will be obvious physical signs. Here are seven of the signs you should look for:
- Visible wear: If road bike tires become visibly worn, the tire’s surface will seem to melt away and any logos will fade. This is often referred to as the tire “becoming bald.” The more bald a tire becomes, the less traction it offers on the road and the worse its performance becomes.
- Uneven wear: Uneven wear takes the appearance of worn patches in a tire’s tread and can be caused by improper alignment or riding. practices, such as leaning more to one side or the other. Uneven wear can lead to handling problems and a generally reduced ride quality.
- Flat spots in the center of the tire: Many road bike tires do not have obvious tread, but flat spots in the center of the tire where it contacts the ground is another way to find indications of wear in a road bike tire.
- Cracked rubber or dry rot: Cracked rubber and dry rot are most often seen in tires that have been in storage on a bike for several months or years in inconstant climate conditions. Dry rot is an indicator of age, and these tires are more prone to going flat or other issues with structural integrity.
- Nicks and punctures: Nicks, cuts, scuffs, and punctures happen normally in bike tires as a part of their contact with the road, but over time this damage can accumulate to the point that it impairs the tire’s performance.
- Bulges in the tire rubber or other deformities: Bulges, bubbles, or other deformities in the surface of the tire can indicate damage beneath the surface that may result in a blowout or flat when you’re out riding.
- Bead damage: The bead is the part of the tire that sits along the rim and is an area of the tire that is under a lot of pressure. If you see fraying or other damage at the bead of the tire, this can lead to the tire blowing out when it can’t maintain pressure.
What Do You Do with Old Road Bike Tires?
After deciding that it’s time to replace your road bike tires with a new upgraded set, make sure to recycle the old tires. Many bicycle shops offer to recycle your bike tires for you as a value-added or discounted service.
This will help you avoid you having a bunch of worn-out bike tires from lying around your garage and can also give your old tires a new life. These old tires go on to provide resources for projects like rubber flooring in children’s playgrounds.
If you’re not sure where you can recycle your road bike tires, check with your local municipality or recycling plant.
How Many Miles Do You Get on Road Bike Tires?
The conventional wisdom is that road bike tires can sustain between a thousand to three thousand miles overall, depending on the road conditions that the bike is used in and how much load they’re under on a daily basis. Here are some general guidelines for how many miles you’ll get on road bike tires:
- Good quality road bike tires are known to last roughly 2,500 miles.
- Speed and high-powered racing tires may need to be replaced after 1,000 miles.
- Rugged touring tires have lasted as long as 4,000 miles.
The lifespan of a road tire is dictated by the type of cycling it is made to perform. Since touring tires are meant for long distance cycling, they are designed with extra durability in mind. For speed tires, durability is less important than lightweight speed. Durability is sacrificed in design, and these tires do not last as long in strenuous racing conditions.
Types of Road Bike Tires
What kind of road bike tires you purchase will be determined by what kind of cycling you plan to spend most of your time doing. Most people tend to do one kind of cycling over others the majority of the time. Here are some of the different kinds of cycling and the kinds of tires you should get for them:
- Commuting: If you use your road bike to commute back and forth to work, you’re going to want a good quality road bike tire for something that will reliably get you to and fro. Because these tires will be replaced often as a result of daily use, you’ll want to buy tires that are both economical and sturdy.
- Racing: If you use your road bike for competitive cycling, you’ll want to invest in some racing tires. What these tires lack in durability, they make up for in speed performance and handling.
- Touring: If you are using your road bike for touring or regular long distance cycling, you’ll want to invest in some touring tires. These are the most durable kinds of road bike tires and most feature extra puncture protection.
When You Don’t Need to Replace Your Road Bike Tire
Just because your road bike tire has a flat doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be replaced. A lot of the time, a road bike tire can be repaired rather than replaced as long as the damage to the flat tire meets the following conditions:
- The damage is not in the sidewall of the tire (the sidewall of a tire cannot be safely patched due to pressure issues)
- The damage has not bent the frame of the bike wheel itself, which will prevent the tire from setting correctly and holding air
- The tire is not “blown out” or gashed
If a road bike tire has only been punctured by an object such as a construction nail, it is possible to use a bike tire repair kit or a tire patch to fix the hole in the tire after the nail has been removed. Once the tire puncture has been plugged, the tire should be airtight and should continue to be functional, at least until a replacement can be bought.
Once a tire has had multiple flats fixed, the tire should ideally be replaced. This is because multiple flats are a sign that a tire’s materials have started to degrade, and postponing replacement of the tire past this point could potentially result in a blowout of the tire on the road.
How to Repair a Flat Road Bike Tire
The first step in repairing a road bike tire with a flat (at least if you don’t have a tubeless setup) is to remove the tire from the rim so you can inspect it for obvious damage. If you do have a tubeless tire, you may be able to patch the tire using a tire plug kit.
If you don’t have a tubeless tire, you’ll need to put the bike in its hardest gear if it is a rear-wheel flat and loosen the brake if the bike has rim brakes.
Walk to the side of the bike on the opposite side of the chain and remove the wheel with the flat tire. Take the tire off the rim, hooking the end of one of the tire levers under the bead of the tire to displace it. Loosen one side of the tire by repeating this on the remaining tire levers.
Removing the entire tire from the rim isn’t necessary but can make it easier to see where the leak is coming from.
Inspecting the Tire
To inspect the tire, remove any old tubing, and look for the cause of the flat. This could be anything from a shard of metal to a thorn or nail. Being careful not to cut yourself, inspect the interior of the tire with your fingertips, and ensure that no sharp debris is left inside the tire which could cause another flat.
Next, inspect the exterior of the tire, noting any debris like a nail that might have caused a puncture, or wear to the tire that could have resulted in a loss of pressure. If you find a nail or other foreign object, pull it out.
When you’ve finished inspecting the tire for damage, you can move on to patching any holes you find.
Patching the Tire
If you have a patch kit, this is the point you can patch the tire. Before patching the tire, you should clean the area of the tire with the puncture and let it dry completely. Making sure there is no debris will ensure that the tire patch adheres smoothly without any weaknesses or air leaks.
To help the patch adhere to the tire’s surface, take an emery cloth and rough the tire’s surface slightly, just enough to lightly scuff it. There are two kinds of tire patches: glueless and glued. With glueless patches, all you need to do is place the patch over the hole in the tire’s rubber and press it smooth with a firm pressure.
For those patches that must be glued into place, add a thin layer of adhesive to both the tire and the patch. Wait until the adhesive goes from wet to tacky, then carefully apply the patch and press it down until it is firmly fastened to the surface of the tire.
Regardless of whether it requires glue or not, a tire patch should be allowed to cure completely (preferably overnight) before riding the bike again so that a strong airtight seal can be created prior to any additional pressure being applied.
Things That Can Damage Road Bike Tires
While road bike tires may need to be replaced just after general wear and tear or regular use, there are also things in the road that can damage tires and cause them to have to be replaced more often. Here are some of the things that might cause damage to a road bike tire:
- Rocks/debris in the road
- Uneven lanes
- Nails or broken glass
Encountering road hazards while cycling is sometimes unavoidable, but to prevent a surprise flat, cyclists should get into the habit of doing a brief inspection on their bike each time they take it out for a ride. This way, any minor issues can be caught and fixed before they become a more serious problem.
To prevent problems with road hazards, cyclists should follow their common sense and avoid obstacles such as curbs (which can damage a bike’s frame as well as its tires if you land hard enough) and potholes. A pothole doesn’t just have the ability to blow out your road bike tire, it can also cause you to be flung over the handlebars of your bike.
Where to Buy New Road Bike Tires
Road bike tires can be purchased from several different locations, depending on what kind of tires you want, how much selection you require, and what your price range is.
If your old road bike tires need to be replaced, new tires can be purchased from one of the following sources:
- Sporting goods stores: These large sport goods department stores, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, tend to stock a decent selection of mid-range bike tires depending on the store’s location and how common cycling is in the area. Chances are though, if you check out a sporting goods store, you’ll find bike tires that will suit your purposes.
- Specialty bike shops: Small shops geared directly towards cyclists are a good place to find more uncommon or higher quality road bike tires, but these tires may be more expensive than the ones you’d find at a sporting goods store.
- Online: Online markets such as Amazon or eBay have a wide selection of road bike tires available for purchase. The only major downsides of buying your tires from an online market is that returns can usually be more of a hassle if they’re required, and you may have to pay shipping fees you otherwise wouldn’t have to if you bought tires locally.
It’s Worth Investing in Good Road Bike Tires
You might be inclined to put off replacing your bike’s tires until absolutely necessary, but if you are an active cyclist you should be doing it regularly to get the best performance out of your bike.
Not only do you get a better ride quality when you’re riding on good tires, it also makes the act of cycling itself easier, and better tires mean better traction, which is a major safety issue.