Whether you’ve a road bike or a hard core off-roader, tyre choice can make more of a difference than you might think. Let’s look at road racer bike tyres first as there’s slightly less variability here. Most roadie tyres are slick or very nearly slick, that is they have no groves in them to shift stranding water. The reason road tyres get away with this is that they are so thin the whole tyre cuts through the water to the asphalt below (although aquaplaning can happen at high speed in deep water).
When in contact with the road, slick tyres offer the best grip simply because there is more rubber in contact with tarmac and thin tyres offer the least rolling resistance. The same is true for road tyres designed for mountain bikes and hybrid bikes. However these tyres are typically between two and three times fatter than a racing bike tyre and aquaplaning does become a significant problem when it’s wet. For this reason it’s a good idea to go for a tyre with a little tread in it to help shift the water. The narrower the tyre you fit, the lower the rolling resistance will be and the faster you’ll go, however, fatter tyres offer a little more comfort.
If you’ve any plans to take your mountain or hybrid bike off the tarmac then don’t get full slicks, you’ll be sliding around all over the place and it won’t be long before you hit the deck. For an all-rounder tyre, go for something like a semi-slick, these have a central smooth region of rubber to minimise rolling resistance on the road but have some knobbles around the edge to offer grip when you move onto the trails.
As your adventures move to more serious off-roading, you’ll need a more aggressive tyre with lugs all over the circumference to maximise grip. And then there’s the option of size and depth of knobble, this will depend on the quality of the surface you’re riding and whether it’s likely to be muddy. For rough, wet and muddy terrain get big lugs on a narrow tyre to cut through the slosh and hopefully grip what lies beneath. You can even get tyres with metal studs in if you fancy a bit of ice cycling.
Having homed in on the type of tyre surface that’s best, there are a couple more things to consider. Firstly longevity; out and out racing tyres are designed for maximum grip, sometimes at the cost of durability. Unless you’re going to be racing it’s probably not worth spending a fortune on the top of the range tyres as these are most likely to be designed for grip and will wear more quickly than a cheaper tyre.
If it’s a serious racing tyre you’re after you might want to consider tubular tyres rather than a clincher. Clincher’s require an inner tube and have a Kevlar or metal bead in the tyre that hooks onto the wheel. Tubular tyres are tubular in construction and don’t require an inner tube, they fit onto specialised wheels but can hold a higher pressure (less rolling resistance) and can offer greater puncture resistance. The downsides of tubulars are cost and also puncture repairs, which are virtually impossible.