Fat is the new skinny! You’re already aware that fat tire bikes are all the rage, but now “fat” has wormed its way into the otherwise skinny world of road, crit and triathlon racing.
As VeloNews points out, the 23mm tire size has “long been the mainstay, viewed as the best compromise between aerodynamics, grip, rolling resistance and comfort.” But the tide has gone away from the 23’s in favor of a wider tire. But, is wider faster?
“Mechanics are touting the lower rolling resistance often associated with sizing up… as well as touting comfort over hours in the saddle. Cornering grip comes up as well,” according to the VeloNews article.
Now retired professional cyclist Michael Barry (most recently of Team Sky) told Competitive Cyclist, “Not only do wider tires roll faster, but they’re also more resilient, comfortable, and aerodynamic when paired with the right rim.”
Barry spent 14 years as a professional cyclist. During his career, he went from riding on tires of 21mm to 23mm and, ultimately to 25mm. He found that “The wider tires allowed us to venture off of the smooth tarmac and onto bumpier gravel roads. I rode up into the mountains, discovering new areas and climbs. I would arrive home without neck and back pain.”
In addition to making for a smoother ride, Barry explains other benefits of riding with wider tires:
“…The latest and fastest aerodynamic wheels have wider rims that are shaped more like a “U” than a “V.” A wider tire creates a curved teardrop form. Not only is the air turbulence around the U-shaped rim less, but the bike is also easier to handle in crosswinds, given that the wind curls around the surface. Older deep-V sectioned rims were almost always a struggle in a crosswind. With them, I’ve even been blown off of the road. Friends of mine have been carried into the air and come crashing down. That doesn’t happen with wider rims and tires.”
Cycling Weekly lists the benefits of a wider tire:
“A wider tyre has a larger contact area with the road beneath our wheels, adding a modicum of extra traction — a welcome attribute in wet conditions — and making pinch-flats less likely.
“Then there’s rolling resistance. The performance of a wider tyre is less compromised by lower pressures, compared to a 23mm tyre.”
Competitive Cyclist‘s managing editor Jeff Stewart had this to say about 25mm tires:
“At the end of the day, the facts are the facts; a 25mm tire experiences less rolling resistance than a 23mm tire at the same air pressure. Without cutting too deep into the science of the matter, it all comes down to the contact patch… at equal pressure, a 25mm tire has a ‘wider but shorter’ contact patch, while a 23mm tire has a ‘slimmer but longer’ contact patch.”
As former pro Barry states, “Whether riding a time trial or tearing down a gravel mountain road, there is no reason not to ride on wider tires. Without them, you’ll be at a distinct disadvantage.”
Cycling Weekly sums it up: “The key is striking a harmonious balance between rolling resistance and aerodynamics. The other factors — the reduced risk of pinch-flats and being able to lower tyre pressures for comfort and better handling — are a done deal. If 25mm is good enough for the pros, it’s definitely good enough for us average Joes.”
Interested in more discussion about tire width?
- Check out this well-reasoned and detailed article in Road Cycling UK >>
- Former pro and self-proclaimed cycling “nerd” explain the benefits of wider tires in Competitive Cyclist >>
- Find another great discussion on why wider is faster in Cycling Weekly >>
- Back in 2012, wider tires were already being discussed in Velo News >>