Talking about tyre performance means talking about compromise. For example, the rolling efficiency balances against grip performance, and lightness balances against robustness. Depending on the use of the bicycle, our engineers look for the best compromise so that the tyres are adapted to the cyclist's needs: for example, light and fast rolling tires for X-Country, maxi grip and robustness for Downhill.
What performance should you aim for when choosing your bicycle tyres to get the best out of them? Find out in our article.
Bicycle tyres adapted to your use
First, it is important that you choose a bicycle tyre adapted to your use (Road / Cross Country / All Mountain / Enduro / Downhill) and adapted to the usual track conditions (reinforced casing, tread pattern).
Depending on your use, the performance you want to achieve will not necessarily be the same. Let's take a look at the key performance features that should play a role in your decision.
Bicycle rolling resistance
Simply put, Rolling resistance is the friction generated by tyre contact with the ground. Along with air resistance, and gravity if you're going uphill, it's one of the main factors that makes cycling more difficult.
Surprisingly enough, the very thinnest bicycle tyres can have greater surface contact, because they deform more as weight is applied. For many years, the standard road bicycle tyre width for optimum performance was 23mm. The primary reason for this was not bicycle rolling resistance, but air resistance. However, these days, most road riders use 25 or 28mm tyres. Greater air resistance here is more than offset by better bicycle rolling resistance, improved handling and greater comfort. So, rolling resistance is a carefully balanced judgement about the right bicycle tyre width and the correct inflation pressure but also the tires specs (rubber…).
Bicycle tyres grip
On a smooth, dry surface, bicycle rolling resistance is clearly the major influence on performance – provided you only ride in a straight line that is. So, what happens when you corner? Whether you ride on or off-road, your ability to corner at speed is also vital to performance. In races, time is lost when cornering slowly, and greater energy is required to regain pace following the manoeuvre.
Grip is therefore very important when cornering. How do you balance lower bicycle rolling resistance on the straights with good grip in the corners, including on wet surfaces? This is the question that Michelin has been working on, as our expert explains in this video. A question to which our engineers have found the answer.
The better the grip in the corners, the safer and more confident you feel.
This is why MICHELIN uses a precise testing set-up to assess grip when cornering in wet conditions. A circular track is continuously sprayed with water to represent slippery conditions. A motorised bicycle is then ridden around the circuit at incrementing velocities until the grip threshold is reached. This allows the precise determination of each tyre's maximum cornering speed and lean angle in wet conditions to select the best performing bicycle tyre.
Michelin Bicycle - Wet performance
Performance in all weather conditions
Bicycle tyres puncture resistance
We've already mentioned puncture protection, but it's worth focussing more closely on the value of puncture resistant bike tyres. Few road races, and even fewer trail competitions, carry no puncture risks. Puncture resistant bike tyres for 700c wheels for road races, as well as common 29 inch mountain bike wheels, feature a special layer of protective material. This layer guards against pins, spikes, rocks and other sharp objects, and thus contributes to puncture resistance qualities of mountain bike tyres. In recent years, the most puncture-resistant bicycle tyres have improved considerably in performance although riders wish for a better compromise in terms of road feel, comfort and grip.
Michelin's best performance compromise
MICHELIN's own Bi Compound tyres make an excellent choice for both puncture resistance and wet weather cornering. The tyres feature a central strip with low bicycle rolling resistance, high puncture protection, and good longevity. When cornering, the rider leans into the bend, and here, the edges of the tyre come into play. For that reason, the Bi Compound tyres also feature side strips with a more grippy rubber formulation to handle cornering in the wet.
Is bicycle rolling resistance central to performance?
It certainly is one of the most important factors, and for road or time trial racing, it's probably the main criterion to consider. However, good roadholding is also significant. Grippy tyres allow faster and safer cornering with confidence. Puncture resistance also reduces the risk of interruptions for tube changes. And general comfort should never be overlooked, particularly for long rides.
Do road bicycle tyres offer the best performance?
Performance characteristics vary with the type of bike, the terrain and the weather conditions. For rough surfaces, heavy thick-tread tyres offer much more grip. Similarly, in wet weather, you'll need tyres with better tread or gripper formulations in order to perform well.
Do wet weather bicycle tyres wear out quicker?
In some cases, yes, they can do. More grippy rubber formulations adhere to the road better, but being softer, they may not last as long. However, some bicycle tyres use a dual approach, combining hard-wearing central strips with grippier side panels for cornering, so you get the best of both worlds.
Must I sacrifice comfort for performance?
Not necessarily. In general, broader bicycle tyres and inflation pressures somewhat below the max are more comfortable to ride. It's often the case that super-hard bicycle tyres perform better. That may be so on smooth tracks, but in the real world, it isn't usually the case. Hard bicycle tyres offer less impact protection against jolts and rough surfaces. This can slow you down, as well as being uncomfortable.