This is a frequent question that we get, and it’s far more complex than people think. We choose tires for a specific purpose, event or region. That might be for our local roads that have lots of broken tarmac and debris, but for your roads it might be perfectly maintained, or it might be for an event like BWR or Dirty Kanza that has its own unique requirements.
Many of the events we do are not local to us, and that means that the tires offered at our local bike shop most likely will not be the perfect option. No matter the tread pattern, a key point to consider is what size tire will fit on your bike. Older bikes usually have clearance for up to a 28mm tread.
What I suggest to people is to look at the overall event or ride and think about its demands. Take BWR, for example; I look at how the route is laid out and the general demands. Sure, there might be 40 miles of dirt, but that is split up into 2–5-mile sections with lots of smooth and fast road in between. So, I look for a tire that will provide the most advantage on the majority of the tarmac course, so 28mm or maybe 30mm. Then, I prioritize the level of protection in the tire—this means some level of bead-to-bead protection, with another barrier of protection on the tread itself. This will ensure that when I am on the less ideal terrain, I at least have protection and confidence.
If I were to choose something bigger or with lots of tread, I would sacrifice energy and efficiency on the paved road, but gain very little advantage on the unpaved sections. Don’t prioritize for the portions where you might struggle. Instead, take it easier in those sections and crush it on the rest.
At the end of the day, tires like everything else are a very personal choice, and you know your local routes best. If you like going fast and don’t mind more frequent flats, then choose something with a thinner sidewall and
less protection. But, if a flat is going to ruin your day, then opt for a more substantial tire.
As we head to Dirty Kanza, we are choosing tires that offer lots of protection from slices and high volume to minimize pinching (yes, you can pinch a tubeless tire). At the same time, they must have a good balance of weight and protection, since we will have to spin them for 200 miles. There isn’t much sand, but instead very large chunks of rock. This is unlike anything we have around our office, so our local shop has special ordered a few sets of tires just for the event. We also try to find a few options from different brands in case one is out of stock or not available.
Last tip for tire selection for a specific event is to make up your mind, mount them early and get a few rides on them. To change tires at the last minute is generally a bad idea. This can lead to even more issues with tires not sealing properly if tubeless, or tubes getting pinched and having a small leak. Only make a last-minute change if you identify
a compromised tire, or you have vastly misgauged the event and are under-gunned.