When I first started cycling I caught so many flats that I almost quit cycling. I neglected to change my tires when there were clear signs that it was time to change them. I later became more involved in the sport and gained experience knowing what to look for in tires.
So how often should you change bicycle tires?
A general rule is to change your tires every 2,000 – 3,000 miles. Also, you should be changing your tires when you start getting excessive flats, there is no tread left on the tire, and when the tires shows wear such as side walls cuts or deep tread cuts.
There are a host of other various signs that will tell you when it’s time for a new set of tires. If you fail to ignore the signs you might end up in the same boat as I was and start throwing in the towel. Before you do that of course, let me save you the frustration and share some tire-101 to ensure a relatively no-flat ride.
When Do I Need New Bike Tires?
As mentioned before, a general rule of thumb to go by when it’s time for new tires is after reaching ~2,000 – 3,000 miles on the same pair of tires. Not all tires wear out the same though.
Much of a tire’s life is dependent upon these factors:
- Type of tires you’re riding (Thin or Knobby)
- How you ride
- Road conditions you ride on
- Your weight
Type Of Tires
For most road bikes the tires are thin and the tread is smooth for road biking. You rarely ride off-road with these type of tires and they are narrow to allow the bike to roll with more speed. That being said though, thin narrow tires square out under bodyweight and are more susceptible to flats.
Tires that are found on mountain bikes and bikes other than road bikes have wider and thicker tires to handle roads of all conditions. These type of tires roll more slowly or not as light as road bike tires. The wider tire maintains a more rounded shape under bodyweight and so it’s not as susceptible to flats.
I remember that the first sign that there was something wrong with my bike tires was when I kept getting flats almost every time I went out to ride. I thought it was the innertube that was the problem. It wasn’t until later I found out this was not the case.
If you notice this while riding, don’t ignore it, replace your bike tires. The integrity of the old tires have been weakened and no matter how many times you change the inner tubes you will always have flats.
How You Ride
There is nothing wrong with a little joyriding and the occasional off-road adventure on your bike. But sometimes how you ride can make a difference how often you’ll have to change tires.
If you have thin-like road tires on your bike and you like to perform stunts such as wheelies, stoppies, and skidding with fixed-gear bikes, your tires will wear the fastest. Over time you will start to notice the tread completely wear off. When you see that the casing of the tire is showing, then you need new bike tires.
Some bicyclist stunt ride wheelies in a “swerving” pattern sometimes “playing chicken” with cars which could also cause wear over time on the sidewalls of the tire. When you start to notice a bulge or bubble forming on the side walls, it is time to replace those tires.
Another reason you might need new bike tires is when you get multiple pinch flats. This can be caused by riding with underinflated tires which cause the sidewalls of the tire to pinch against the rim. If the tires are not inflated well you will run a pinch flat in no time.
I used to ride with thin road bike tires and take the risk of riding on unpaved and rural roads to avoid heavily trafficked areas.
But if you decide to ride in inclement weather, bad road conditions, puncture weeds or gravel with thin bike tires, you are bound to catch a flat. One of the most common things that will cause a flat will be glass, gravel, hitting potholes with force and the worse of them all is a “goathead”.
A “goathead” is a type of thorn that grows on this type of matlike weed and is usually spread low on the ground near bushes and the plant that it grows from. If you ever catch a goathead stuck in your tire you will need to get a new tire.
In some cases, bike riders weight can have an effect on tire life.
Most of the weight of a bike rider is toward the rear of a bike and so the back tire will wear down the fastest. The heavier the weight placed on bike tires, increases the wear rate of the tire. This is especially true for tandem bicycles versus single person bicycles.
If you notice the rear tire is more squared off than the front tire, the tire’s tread is worn and you will need to change the tire.
Tip: You can replace a squared off rear tire with the rounded front tire and buy a new tire for the front wheel.
If you change a squared off rear tire and put it on the front wheel, this will most likely cause handling issues, so you’ll want to avoid this. It’s ok to rotate the two tires every once in a while to allow even wear but when the rear tire is significantly worn, it’s better to be safe than sorry and replace the tire.
Bicycle Tire Wear Indicator
Knowing when to replace your bicycle tires can cause some confusion.
There are many bike tires that come with tire wear indicators branded on the side of the tires. But then there are some tires that don’t have a noticeable label showing TWI (Tire Wear Indicator).
If you find that your specific brand tire does not have a noticeable tire wear indicator branded on the tire, do not be concerned as I will tell you a general indicator you can use to determine wear.
But for those of you that do have a tire wear indicator branded on the tire here’s what you should know:
- There will be 2 small tap-holes on the center tread area of the tire
- A label TWI will be branded on the tire close to the tap-holes
- Once the tap holes disappear and there is no other noticeable damage, it’s time to replace the tires
Tip: Some of the best tires I’ve personally owned have been Gator Skin Continental, more info here.
For those that do not have TWI or a tire wear indicator branded on the tire, I have some additional tips to help you determine the wear on your tire.
Consider these factors:
- For colored tires that have a multilayer rubber build, the rubber that mends the tire will be a different color when worn
- Black tread rubber tires that show wear and you can see the color of the elastomer (fibers that hold tire together); it’s time to replace the tire (See image above)
- If you notice a specific flat spot on the tire where the tire contacts the ground; it will be time to replace that tire
In either case, if your bike tire has tire wear indicators or not, always use good judgment paying attention to visible and non-visible signs of wear. The visible signs are obvious but the most common non-visible sign as mentioned before would be the excessive flats on almost every ride.
How Long Do Bicycle Tires Last In Storage?
Depending on the materials that make up the tire and where you store the tires, their shelf life can vary and may or may not last as long as you think.
For some people who have stored bicycle tires in cold basements or garages with no direct heat or excessive humidity, tires have lasted them well over 3 years.
Tires stored anywhere else and exposed to heat or dry climate do not last as long as 3 years. Also, it’s important to know whether stored in a closet, in the basement or garage, the rubber tires will harden with age.
If the tire shows no signs of wear within 3 years of storage like cracks and dry rot, we can assume that the tire is good to use no matter the age.
Before going out to ride on aged tires you should do a few checks to ensure it’s rideability.
Check for these things:
- Grip with contact of the ground
- No cracks, dry rot or cuts on the tire sidewalls
- Bubbles or deformities such as “valleys” forming in the tire or side walls failing to support weight when inflated
Tires are relatively easy to inspect for signs of wear. But you still want to take precautions with tires that have been stored for a while and test them out in controlled areas like an empty lot or your neighborhood before going out on a long ride.
There’s no sure way to tell if aged tires previously stored will be safe enough to ride on either until you test them out. When in doubt just buy some new tires and avoid possible issues.
How Much Do Bicycle Tires Cost
One of the most important pieces of equipment you will purchase on your bike are the tires, which will determine what terrain you can ride on and affect how the bike handles. The cost can vary with the type of bike you have and what you are looking for in a tire.
For a decent set of tires, it can cost you about $30 – $40 dollars for each tire. If you desire more high-end tires that can handle a variety of terrain and provide better performance in the long run, expect to pay about $60- $80 dollars.
Just remember that you get what you pay for. With cheap tires, you will get a decent pair that will get you rolling but later on down the road you may encounter frequent flats due to cheap tire lacking quality. Paying a little bit more for tires may cost you some but you’ll ride with more confidence knowing that quality tires will hold up better during rides of various terrains.