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Thread: 28mm vs 35mm tire width (and points between)

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    lordofthemark's Avatar
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    Default 28mm vs 35mm tire width (and points between)

    I hope to be really close to a new bike, but before I pull the trigger, wanted to clarify the tire width issue.

    Almost all the bikes I've been shown when I ask for something suitable for my medium length (5.5 mile) commute, on pavement (but not ideal conditions) and for tooling around the dog's breakfast of routes in Annandale, come with 32mm or 35mm width tires. When you ask for a hybrid bike or commuter bike or city bike, that's what you get.

    OTOH some folks here seem to strongly recommend 28mm tires.

    My understanding of the trade offs are that the narrower tires will enable to me bike faster and with less effort in general, especially on the smoother pavements. The wider ones may enable less effort on unpaved surfaces, and will generally mean more comfort (as in a smoother ride) on all the less than ideal surfaces, and (but there seems to be disagreement about this?) be more reliable. There seems to be an issue with rider weight - so note I am currently about 150 lbs. I also understand that for any given tire, the pressure I keep it at will effect the above issues.

    Anything that will leave me less puzzled is appreciated. Anything that leaves me more puzzled, but is true, is accepted

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    Best move I ever made was to bump the commuter from 32s to 37s. Much more comfortable, at a much lower pressure, and speed is pretty much the same. Tread and overall design are larger factors than size--I could easily find a clunky-treaded, heavy set of 28s that ride slower than my 37s. FWIW, 32s for you at 150# would be about the same (in terms of inflation pressure) as the 37s for me at <mumble>.

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    I'm a similar weight. I switched from 32s to 35s and it gave me much more control on gravel surfaces. I'm not enough of a connoisseur of comfort to comment on other characteristics.

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    Wider tires are going to be more comfortable on most surfaces and more forgiving (from pinch flats) if you're lazy about airing up your tires. As it gets darker in the evenings wider tires are better if you accidentally hit a pothole or crack that your headlights didn't illuminate. Wider tires are also more forgiving when it's raining and a puddle might hide a hole or crack in the pavement. They may also be less squirmy if you are carrying home your laptop or a gallon of milk.

    Speed is more about the suppleness and quality of the tire when comparing between 32 and 35s anyhow (per @mstone).

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    hozn's Avatar
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    I switched from 23s to 25s and appreciated the extra comfort on the commute. For winter I run 28s, though this year I may stick with 25s. For offroad trails (dirt, roots, rocks) I run 32mm cyclocross tires; they are much slower than road tires on pavement.

    As mstone points out, the width is only part of the equation. As a generality, 32 and larger tires that come on a new bike are going to be slower, due to tread pattern, compound, wire bead (heavy), etc. They aren't going to fit the slick big volume tires. For my part the encouragement to find a bike with 28mm tires had more to do with the bike than the tires. Flat bar road bikes and lightweight city commuters tend to come with thinner tires, as opposed to hybrids which will come with ~35mm tires. Kinda like suggesting that you buy a car with performance street tires, as a way to avoid ending up with a Hummer.

    I am sure there are some big tires with low rolling resistance. My favorite (and benchmark for fast rolling) tires are now the Continental GP4000S tires which are available in sizes as large as 28. They are lightweight, have great grip, low rolling resistance and wear well. They also retail for $75 but you can easily find them online for less than half that price.

    If you plan to be taking this bike on the C&O or gravel grinders then get something that fits wide tires. If you have uneven pavement or a little gravel on the road then anything above 25mm should be just fine and getting something focused on road riding will be faster. I don't know how important speed is to you, though.

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    One other thing to add... You don't really need to choose. Virtually any bike that has space for 35mm tires can be run with 28mm tires. You will wear tires out... especially the first set of OEM tires. You could try out the 35s, then switch to 28s to see how you like them. If you hate them, make the next set 35mm again.

    For me one of the biggest things with a commuter bike is to have the tires be durable. I'll give up a little comfort and light weight for a tire that doesn't flat easily. Getting a flat on a winter commute is soooooo much worse than pretty much any other time. I either need to get to work or want to get home and don't really want to be on the side of the road fixing a flat tire. That usually has me firmly in the Continental Gatorskin, Specialized Armadillo, Schwalbe Marathon style of tires. Few bikes come with that kind of tire on them.

    I usually like a little wider tire in the winter. Somehow in the cold the added comfort and a little wider contact patch just feel better.

    I have a few high performance road bikes that I run with 23mm tires. I have one cyclocross bike that has 33mm tires on it. The bikes that I ride day-in/day-out all have 35mm tires or bigger.

    I hope some of those ideas help in your selection.

    Rock on!

    Pete

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    Further to the question of tread: assuming you're not running on mud, the part that's touching the road should be smooth. If you have bumps touching the road, you'll feel a buzz and you'll be wasting a tiny bit of energy every time you lift the bike over one of them. Outside of the smooth primary contact area it may be useful to have a shallow tread to resist slipping in corners or to provide some traction if you run through some slop. But that's about it. Most hybrid tires these days are invert treads that will work fine.

    The thing you often find with OEM hybrid tires is that the sidewalls are more like like a plastic trash can than a balloon. That'll cost a lot of rolling resistance and a bit of comfort, but it's a trade-off--thin sidewalls are more prone to getting torn. You may be able to find something that's more supple than stock and more durable than a racing tire which is a better trade-off for you. That'll only happen after trying a number of different tires, so it's best not to get too hung up over what's really a consumable while you're shopping. Just try to make sure you pick something with a enough clearance for something as wide as you're likely to want to try + fenders.

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    I'm pretty sure I've got over 10,000 miles on my current set of Schwalbe Marathon plus tour tires, and there's still plenty of tread for this winter. They're very expensive, very heavy, and roll terrifically well. I use the 35 width for commuting, and have hit potholes so hard I've banged my chin on the handlebar -- no damage (at least to the tires), flats or cuts so far.

    With super heavy duty or beaded tires (or tyres I should say) this advice can be useful though:
    Last edited by Greenbelt; 11-11-2013 at 12:19 PM.

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    I think that you may find the type of bike that has OEM 28 mm tires might be somewhat more aggressive than those that come with 32-35 mm tires. It's hard to make apples to apples comparisons with tire width as narrow tires will take higher pressures.

    The Nashbar touring bike originally came with 32mm tires, but I switched them out for 28 mm Panaracer Pasellas with TourGuard (i.e. Kevlar lining) since I can get them up to about 100 psi.
    My 80's Trek touring bike has 28 mm Pasellas, while my fixie has 25 mm Pasellas and my 70's Mizutani Seraphe has 23s. Commuting if fine with all of them (although I do not run panniers) The 28s are a bit more comfortable than the narrower tires. I tend to be less careful when picking my line with the 28s. Many moons ago, I did fully loaded touring with 27x1 1/8s, which are similar to the 28s, with no problems.

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    As has been noted, you can always put a somewhat skinnier tire on if you like. I'd suggest making sure the bike can handle 32-35c tires *with fenders* if you plan to ride in all weather -- room for 35c plus fenders if you might ride studded tires when the temp dips below freezing.

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