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The best tires for riding 500+ miles across New York State

Coach charlie LIvermore on Mobility

Charlie Livermore sits in a chair wearing an Empire State Ride jersey and smiles.

The Empire State Ride is lucky to have the support of professional cycling coach Charlie Livermore as an advisor and friend. Charlie is not only a coach at Carmichael Training Systems, but also serves as a training consultant on our adventure across New York State. He offers his expertise and tips to all ESR riders and joins us on the road each July to ride 500+ miles.  

All blogs by Charlie

Are narrow bike tires really better?

This is a question that comes up a lot from ESR participants and it’s a good one. The answer is wider is better for all road surface conditions, but especially for the variable road surfaces you’ll encounter on the ESR route. Use the widest tire, with supple high-performance casings,  your bike frame will allow.

Wide tires make cycling more fun, safer, and just as fast as narrow tires on smooth surfaces and faster on less-maintained and bumpier roads. Additionally, lower tire pressures are much more comfortable acting as a mini shock absorber. The wider the tire, the less pressure required. In the test below, the 44 mm tires were inflated to 2.1 bar (30 psi); the 28 mm tires at 4.5 bar (65 psi).

Here’s a tire test on real roads, using a down-hill coast with constant speed, on a day with no wind. Same exact tire and casing on a 44mm vs a 28mm model.

The results:

28 mm: 27.636 km/h
44 mm: 27.564 km/h

Graphic that shows a tire test with rider climbing up the incline
tire size over run time graph

Debunking the Myth: Wide Tires Are Not Slower

It’s a common belief that wide tires are slower than narrow ones, but recent studies challenge this notion.

  • Real-World Testing:
    Lab tests on steel drums don’t accurately reflect real-world performance. To truly measure tire performance, tests must be conducted on real roads with a rider on the bike.
  • Results:
    Tests conducted on various tires, pressures, and road conditions consistently show minimal differences in speed between wide and narrow tires. Even at significantly lower pressures, wider tires roll at comparable speeds to their narrower counterparts.
  • Aerodynamics:
    Contrary to popular belief, wider tires don’t significantly compromise aerodynamics, especially at moderate speeds.
  • Track Tests:
    Power meter measurements on a track confirm that wider tires don’t require more power to pedal, and in some cases, they outperform narrower ones.
  • Smooth vs. Rough Roads:
    On rough roads, wider tires actually perform better due to their ability to absorb surface irregularities without compromising speed.
  • Real-World Performance:
    Racers have achieved remarkable success using wide tires in various competitions, showcasing their speed and durability.
  • Lab Tests vs. Real World:
    Lab tests on steel drums may suggest narrow tires are faster, but real-world conditions prove otherwise. Suspension losses caused by vibrations are not accounted for in drum tests.
  • Placebo Effect:
    Narrow tires may feel faster due to increased vibrations, but actual speed measurements show wide tires perform just as well.
  • Cornering Grip:
    Wider tires offer superior grip, especially on twisty descents, due to increased rubber on the road surface.

Conclusion:

Wide tires are not slower than narrow ones. Choosing tires with high-performance casings ensures both comfort and speed, debunking the myth that narrow tires are inherently faster.

I rode the last two ESR’s on 35mm tires and will increase to 38mm this year.

Look forward to seeing you all soon!

Coach Charlie