Your bike’s tires are too thin. It’s better to ride on thicker, flexible tires


a few months Back then, my friend and fellow cycling enthusiast Eric prepared for his first 100-mile bike ride. Worried about how sore he would be afterward, he wondered what he could do to improve his ride.

As a convert to the Church of Fat Tires, I was excited to share with them an idea I learned from other cyclists: Put on the fattest soft tyres you can fit on your bike, then pump up the air pressure until they feel surprisingly low,

I’ve been a volunteer bike mechanic in Seattle for about 10 years and I’ve gradually modified my own midrange 1988 Peugeot to make it modern and capable. Yet nothing prepared me for the impact of fat tires with flexible (i.e. “flexible”) sidewalls and inflating them to a pressure I was accustomed to. I remember being surprised as I descended a big hill, listening to the different sound of my tires and suddenly the bike had a sure and solid feel. It felt more grippy, more comfortable, less jerky and maybe even faster. In car terms, it was like going from a well-cared-for old Camry to a modern sports truck. It was exciting.

“The tire is probably the most important component of your bike and the only part that touches the ground,” says Russ Roca, who has 175,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel, The Path Less Pedaled, which focuses more on enjoyment than speed and typically focuses on bikes that can ride on both gravel and pavement. “A wider tire means more volume and built-in suspension. It makes the bike feel more stable.”

Wider tires are more fun, Roca says. “You don’t get jolted to death. You don’t bounce off every rock and pothole. Those are the most noticeable upgrades you can make to your bike.”

This made sense, and I learned that not jerking my wrists and buttocks helped keep them from hurting on long rides.

Yet, somehow, fat tires still seem like a mystery. We cyclists stuff pads into our shorts and buy heavy suspension systems for off-road bikes, but we’re somehow reluctant to experiment with the part of the bike that actually touches the road to help improve the ride. Big, global bicycle brands are still unsure about embracing this trend, perhaps trying to make sure you buy a skinny-tire road ride and a wide-tire gravel bike rather than an “all-road” bike that can do both.

“Cycling has a long tradition, and sometimes we do certain things because that’s the way they’ve always been done,” says Roca. “The industry says that Light means goodThat’s easy to explain and market, but selling on ride feel and flexible tires is more ambiguous.

Plus, wide tires are relatively new to the market. Models with flexible sidewalls made from high-thread-count fabric and a rubber layer thick enough to protect the weave but thin enough to make the tire flexible enough have only become widely available in the last decade. Add to this a pandemic and an industry that has been sitting on inventory for a long time, and you can understand why adoption hasn’t been widespread.

Buyers’ reluctance is fueled by the belief that wider, softer tires are slower than thinner, higher-pressure tires, that thicker tires weigh more and have more rolling resistance. But that’s not always the case.

Last year, I celebrated a milestone birthday and bought myself a snazzy new all-road bike from Rivendell Bicycle Works. It’s shod with tires that are over 40 millimeters wide. (I currently use 38s.) The frame is made of steel, and the bike isn’t very light, but I love how it feels and how it encourages me to go as fast as I possibly can. A lot of that has to do with the tires.

Late in the summer when I was cycling a lot, I approached a spandex-clad racer at a stoplight on a skinny-tire bike. When the light turned green he sped off, and I thought: what rubbish,


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