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How to tell when it's time for fresh rubber

We all know that tyres don’t last for ever but exactly when do they need replacing? Here’s how to tell when the time has come for a new pair.

 

Annotated tyre.jpg

Annotated tyre.jpg

There are essentially five parts to a clincher tyre (standard tyres that use inner tubes, held in place by a bead that hooks to the wheel rim, as opposed to tubulars that are bonded to the wheel):

Casing The supple body of the tyre, made of nylon (usually) in various numbers of threads per inch (TPI), that’s covered in rubber.

Protection layer Manufacturers sometimes use various different types of material underneath the tread to provide resistance against punctures.

Tread The compound that comes into contact with the ground.

Bead The bit around the edge that secures the tyre to the wheel rim. These are made from wire or foldable Kevlar.

Anti-chafing strip The reinforcement that protects the bead.

Check out our guide to road cycling tyres.

Impacts

Most road bike tyres will go through their lives without experiencing too much in the way of trauma, but you might hit a pothole, a big stone, or some other obstacle that causes damage to the structure, or something might ping up from the road surface.

Check your tyres carefully if anything like this happens.

Essex Potholes 3

Essex Potholes 3

“A casing breach of any size in the sidewall/ 2mm under the tread would usually render a tyre disabled and ready for replacement,” says Shelley Childs of Cambrian Tyres, the company that distributes Continental bike tyres in the UK.

Pothole

Pothole

“If you hit a pothole and feel the wheel rim has made contact with the road surface, then there is a chance that the tyre sidewall (casing) has been breached, even if there is no air loss of the inner tube. Stop and check.

“Also, if you ride over something that causes an obvious bump or jerk to the handling of the bike, your tyre may have been damaged, even if you don’t suffer a puncture. Again, stop and check just to be safe.

“If you do see a tear anywhere on the exposed surface of the tyre (tread or sidewall), inspect it thoroughly and try to see if the inner tube is visible. If so, the tyre is unsafe. If not, then the casing should still be intact and you can ride on, but get the tyre checked by your local dealer just to be sure.”

Check the wheel too.

“If the tyre/tube survives a pothole smash then it’s essential that after you’ve checked the tyres you should also check your rims to make sure that their structure hasn't been compromised,” says Schwalbe's Dave Taylor. “A dented rim or displaced spoke can cause unwanted friction for tyre and tube which could lead to a puncture on a later ride.”

Tread wear indicators

Most often, though, tyres simply wear out gradually with use due to contact with the road.

Some tyres come with tread wear indicators that tell you when it’s time for a replacement.

When to change tyres - 1.jpg

When to change tyres - 1.jpg

Continental road tyres, for example, now have two small ‘tap-holes’ in the central area of the tread. These are designed to disappear as the tyre nears the end of its serviceable life. Once the holes are gone it’s time to bin the tyre, no matter how tempting it is to try to wring a bit more life out of them.

A small triangle and the letters TWI on the sidewall show you where the tread wear indicator should be.

When to change tyres - 4.jpg

When to change tyres - 4.jpg

Although it's getting worn, the tread wear indicators on this tyre (above) are still visible.

When to change tyres - 16.jpg

When to change tyres - 16.jpg

Other manufacturers use their own tread wear indicators. This one (above), for example, is on a Giant tyre.

If you’ve skidded your bike it could be that the tread wear indicators are still intact but you’ve worn through the tread in another area. You need to change your tyre in this situation.

Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon - Rear Tyre Clearance.jpg

Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon - Rear Tyre Clearance.jpg

What if your tyres don’t have tread wear indicators?

“A tyre will change its shape slightly once it has worn out,” says Shelley Childs. “As well as affecting the handling of the bike slightly, it will no longer look round in the cross section [as above], it will look more square, as the tread area has worn significantly.

“If your tyre had a tread pattern, this will have disappeared and in extreme cases, you may even see the casing material showing through.“

Dave Taylor says, “When the puncture protection belt or the carcass threads can be seen through the tread the tyre has reached its wear limit and must be replaced. As puncture resistance also depends on the thickness of the tread layer, it may be useful to replace the tyre sooner.”Schwalbe One clincher tyre.jpg

Find out what tyre width is best for you.

Repeated flats

If your tyres don’t have tread wear indicators, repeatedly getting flats from small stones and pieces of glass is an indication that the tread could have worn thin and it’s time to replace your tyres.

If the protection layer or the casing is showing through, it’s definitely time for some new rubber.

Worn sidewalls

A tyre’s sidewalls will sometimes fail before the tread is worn out.

“In most cases, this premature failure is due to prolonged use of the tyre with insufficient inflation pressure,” says Schwalbe. “Checking and adjusting the inflation pressure at least once a month with a pressure gauge is most important.”

The sidewalls may be damaged if a bike is left on flat tyres for a long period. If fitted on a wheel, tyres should be inflated or the wheel should be hung up for storage.

Bead problems

If the bead is damaged and is blown off the rim when you inflate the inner tube, you need to replace the tyre.

Tread pattern

Don’t worry too much about the depth of the tread pattern – if there is one on your tyres – affecting performance. When we visited Continental last year, their experts told us that the tread pattern doesn’t make much difference on the road. It has a role in certain circumstances, but it doesn’t do much, unlike off-road when the tread pattern is vital in determining grip on conformable ground.

sworks-tyre.jpg

However, if the pattern is getting shallow, that could be a warning that the tread itself is wearing thin and that the tyres will soon need replacing.

Swapping front and rear tyres

Your rear tyre will invariably wear quicker than your front tyre. Some people will swap over the front and rear tyres after some use to make sure they wear out at roughly the same time, but Shelley Childs doesn’t think this is good practice.

“It is not advisable due to the change in handling characteristics of each tyre as they become worn,” he says. “A rear tyre will be square, whist a front tyre more rounded. To put a worn rear tyre on the front wheel would negatively affect the handling of your bike.”

Schwalbe's Dave Taylor isn't so opposed to the idea.

“This is really up to the individual rider and takes into account things like their own budget, riding style, riding distance, and riding surfaces," he says. "You would want fresh rubber front and rear for a gran fondo, for example, but would settle for a front and rear swap for your daily commute.”

Check out road.cc tyre reviews here.

​(This feature was first published in July 2017)
 

Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.

32 comments

Avatar
TypeVertigo [427 posts] 2 years ago
13 likes

When the rear tire gets worn down, I hear it's better to put the front tire on the rear, then buy a brand-new front tire. It makes sense since it's easier to recover from a sliding rear tire than a sliding front. When the front tire lets go, that usually translates into hitting the deck. You can at least still do something about a rear tire that slides.

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WolfieSmith [1397 posts] 2 years ago
4 likes

I have to disagree about buying new tyres just before a big event. Getting brand new  tyres off and on again is a major pain. I'd loosen new tyres up for at least 300 miles first. 

I do agree with TV about swapping front to back. 

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MuddyGoose [53 posts] 2 years ago
5 likes

"Most often, though, tyres simply wear out"

Do people actually find this to be true.  If I followed the guidelines about tyre damage then none of my tyres would ever wear out.  Maybe it's just me but significant sized cuts and sidewall damage is all too common.

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barbarus [531 posts] 2 years ago
4 likes

When should I change my tyres?  When I realise that Mavic Yksion tyres are terrible and I get a puncture every other ride.

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DavidC [161 posts] 2 years ago
5 likes

Replace your tyres if, when you lock your brakes and skid to a stop for a laugh, a large section of tread peels away from the casing.

Admittedly, it has only happened to me once.

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ososxe [59 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes

“Also, if you ride over something that causes an obvious bump or jerk to the handling of the bike, your tyre may have been damaged, even if you don’t suffer a puncture. Again, stop and check just to be safe"

 

So you're telling me I should change my tyres after every ride I do on cobbles (almost every weekend ride in Belgium)?

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Redvee [399 posts] 2 years ago
5 likes

I managed to get 6000 miles from a Conti GP4Season tyre by swapping it from rear to front when the original front wore out. Given that I pay around £35 for the tyres I aim to get the cost of the tyre down to 1p/mile or less.

Off to look at the TWIs.

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Hypoxic [59 posts] 2 years ago
9 likes

I've often patched the inside of a tyre with a rubber tube repair patch, when a relatively new tyre gets a small "slice" to it (no more than a few mm). Afterward I can ride these tyres as normal, for thousands of km until they wear out "naturally". But admittedly I quickly check my tyres before every ride because I also use latex tubes and consequently have to pump them up every time. It's become part of my riding routine and I've lost track of the number of bits of debris (usually glass) I've found and flicked out before it could cause a flat; not to mention a couple of times when I found the tyre had suffered sidewall damage and needed replacing. Best method is to use an LED headlight in a darkened room while you roll the wheel over. Bits of glass show up like diamonds, it's great!

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DaveE128 [996 posts] 2 years ago
1 like
ososxe wrote:

“Also, if you ride over something that causes an obvious bump or jerk to the handling of the bike, your tyre may have been damaged, even if you don’t suffer a puncture. Again, stop and check just to be safe"

 

So you're telling me I should change my tyres after every ride I do on cobbles (almost every weekend ride in Belgium)?

The bit you quoted said "check" not "change". I don't think checking tyres after a cobbles ride is actually that bad an idea. However, if you took the quote literally, perhaps you should be stopping to check your tyres after every sett you ride over  3

Avatar
MrTinkertrain [1 post] 2 years ago
1 like
barbarus wrote:

When should I change my tyres?  When I realise that Mavic Yksion tyres are terrible and I get a puncture every other ride.

Odd that, I've had the exact opposite experience with Yksion's. Near 4000km ridden on the pair I have and only 1 puncture in all that time! Unlucky bud  2

Avatar
Jimmy Ray Will [911 posts] 2 years ago
3 likes

Dear god.... I've just totted it up... it currently costs me 9 pence per mile to run each bike. 

Thats only looking at what I'd call consumables, so;

 - Tyres

 - Chains

 - Cassettes

 - Pedals 

 - Cleats

 - Bearings

 - Bar tape

 - Cables

When you look at it like that, it all gets rather expensive! 

It has also made me rethink a few choices, if I am honest. Discs and electric gearing would save 1p per mile (on the assumption that I've never changed a hose on an MTB, or heard of peoples di2 cables failing).

But the biggest one for me is revisiting my pedal choice. I'll wear out a set of SPD-SL pedals in about 12 months of riding, whilst I'd realistically expect to change cleats every 1,500 miles or so. This equates to nearly 2p per mile. 

 

Anyway, as you were..

 

Oh, I change tyres when they fail, wear through or if I get 3 punctures in any one tyre within a 2 week period. 

 

 

Avatar
wycombewheeler [1316 posts] 2 years ago
5 likes
Jimmy Ray Will wrote:

Dear god.... I've just totted it up... it currently costs me 9 pence per mile to run each bike. 

Thats only looking at what I'd call consumables, so;

 - Tyres

 - Chains

 - Cassettes

 - Pedals 

 - Cleats

 - Bearings

 - Bar tape

 - Cables

When you look at it like that, it all gets rather expensive! 

It has also made me rethink a few choices, if I am honest. Discs and electric gearing would save 1p per mile (on the assumption that I've never changed a hose on an MTB, or heard of peoples di2 cables failing).

But the biggest one for me is revisiting my pedal choice. I'll wear out a set of SPD-SL pedals in about 12 months of riding, whilst I'd realistically expect to change cleats every 1,500 miles or so. This equates to nearly 2p per mile. 

 

Anyway, as you were..

 

Oh, I change tyres when they fail, wear through or if I get 3 punctures in any one tyre within a 2 week period. 

 

 

You forgot cake!

Avatar
barbarus [531 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
MrTinkertrain wrote:
barbarus wrote:

When should I change my tyres?  When I realise that Mavic Yksion tyres are terrible and I get a puncture every other ride.

Odd that, I've had the exact opposite experience with Yksion's. Near 4000km ridden on the pair I have and only 1 puncture in all that time! Unlucky bud  2

To be fair, I'd managed over winter without a single one, then we had all that rain plus hedge trimming season.

Glad yours are holding up.

Avatar
nniff [232 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
Jimmy Ray Will wrote:

Dear god.... I've just totted it up... it currently costs me 9 pence per mile to run each bike. 

Thats only looking at what I'd call consumables, so;

 - Tyres

 - Chains

 - Cassettes

 - Pedals 

 - Cleats

 - Bearings

 - Bar tape

 - Cables

When you look at it like that, it all gets rather expensive! 

 

This is one reason why the  new commuter has disk brakes and SPDs - cut costs on wheel rims, pads and cleats.  Fatter tyres (28mm) also seem to be hodling up well.  Don't ask about tyre costs on the road bike - it chewed through two Schwalbe 1 tubeless and one standard tyre in 8 weeks.  That's £160.  Bah.

 

 

 

 

Avatar
madcarew [688 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
MuddyGoose wrote:

"Most often, though, tyres simply wear out"

Do people actually find this to be true.  If I followed the guidelines about tyre damage then none of my tyres would ever wear out.  Maybe it's just me but significant sized cuts and sidewall damage is all too common.

I'm about 50/50/ Twice last year when lining up for a race I found that my tyre was worn right through (once on race tubs, which I rarely check as they only do about 1000 miles a year, so last for a couple of years).

On my training wheels at least 50% of tyres are discarded before they wear through due to sidecuts or deep tread cuts.

Avatar
Man of Lard [343 posts] 1 year ago
4 likes

Tyre seller says change your tyres at the first hint of the newness wearing off... 

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biketime [32 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
MuddyGoose wrote:

"Most often, though, tyres simply wear out"

Do people actually find this to be true.  If I followed the guidelines about tyre damage then none of my tyres would ever wear out.  Maybe it's just me but significant sized cuts and sidewall damage is all too common.

What "wears out" are the crowns, the part where the rubber actually meets the road. When they start looking flattish and the ride feels grindier or rougher even over the smoothest of surfaces, it's time to consier a new one.  And, yep, the old tire to the back and the new one on the front. 

 

Avatar
Jackson [393 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

Starting with a new front tyre, put it on the rear when the existing one is done, ride until strips start peeling off, then relegate to turbo duty until it literally explodes on you. 

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steviemarco [243 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
barbarus wrote:

When should I change my tyres?  When I realise that Mavic Yksion tyres are terrible and I get a puncture every other ride.

I totally agree. They are the worst tyres I have EVER had, came free with a set of Mavic wheels, first time out I got 1 puncture then a slash an inch long. They went in the bin as soon as I got home and put my trusted Vittorias on, same road the next day and tyres still going strong.

Avatar
JimD666 [74 posts] 1 year ago
6 likes

Forgive my ignorance but...

“Also, if you ride over something that causes an obvious bump or jerk to the handling of the bike, your tyre may have been damaged, even if you don’t suffer a puncture. Again, stop and check just to be safe."

Doesn't this imply that I'm going to be checking my tyres for damage every 10'-15' on normal British roads? Also that on B roads it would actually be quicker to get off the bike and walk?

Avatar
Grahamd [951 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
wycombewheeler wrote:
Jimmy Ray Will wrote:

Dear god.... I've just totted it up... it currently costs me 9 pence per mile to run each bike. 

Thats only looking at what I'd call consumables, so;

 - Tyres

 - Chains

 - Cassettes

 - Pedals 

 - Cleats

 - Bearings

 - Bar tape

 - Cables

When you look at it like that, it all gets rather expensive! 

It has also made me rethink a few choices, if I am honest. Discs and electric gearing would save 1p per mile (on the assumption that I've never changed a hose on an MTB, or heard of peoples di2 cables failing).

But the biggest one for me is revisiting my pedal choice. I'll wear out a set of SPD-SL pedals in about 12 months of riding, whilst I'd realistically expect to change cleats every 1,500 miles or so. This equates to nearly 2p per mile. 

 

Anyway, as you were..

 

Oh, I change tyres when they fail, wear through or if I get 3 punctures in any one tyre within a 2 week period. 

 

 

You forgot cake!

And coffee!

Avatar
Nick T [1136 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

How much does it cost to recharge a Di2 battery?

Avatar
madcarew [688 posts] 1 year ago
1 like
Jimmy Ray Will wrote:

Dear god.... 

But the biggest one for me is revisiting my pedal choice. I'll wear out a set of SPD-SL pedals in about 12 months of riding, whilst I'd realistically expect to change cleats every 1,500 miles or so. This equates to nearly 2p per mile. 

 

What kind of riding are you doing and how much? My D/A pedals have lasted about 15000 miles so far and not near to wearing out, but nearing the end of my second set of cleats. 6000 miles a year road riding.

My MTB pedals are about 8 years old (Deore) and though I do much less MTB, I've never had pedals wear out as such (replaced the odd bearing). Cleats do wear out, and probably in a year if you ride every day, but cleats are pretty darn cheap to replace (12 quid). You sure you're not replaceing your pedals when all you need to do is replace your cleats? I'd expect cleats to last 5-6000 miles at least, which makes them .2p per mile....

 

Avatar
Simontuck [198 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
Jimmy Ray Will wrote:

 

But the biggest one for me is revisiting my pedal choice. I'll wear out a set of SPD-SL pedals in about 12 months of riding, whilst I'd realistically expect to change cleats every 1,500 miles or so. This equates to nearly 2p per mile.

 

 

 

HOW do pedals only last a year? I've had my Looks for 2 years, and some SPD's on my commuter for 3-4. Do you not service them? Throwaway society! Cleats last a year easily. You must do some heavy mileage!

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gmrza [36 posts] 11 months ago
0 likes

I tend to agree that for commuting swapping tyres front and rear makes sense.  I also run the tyres on my commuter until either I get repeated punctures or the tread wears through.  That usually gets me around 12000km or so out of a set of Gatorskins.

Avatar
froze [60 posts] 11 months ago
1 like

 I just keep using the tires till either the cord just starts to review itself or flats are occuring to frequently, or handling starts to get weird; if the tread isn't showing I'll use them as trainer tires till they wear out completely, (if any of you decide to use a used tire on trainer make sure you wash the tire tread real well and pick out any debris stuck in the tire, otherwise the debris can put a groove into the roller drum over time).   Obviously the rear wears out faster so I move the front to the rear and put a new tire on the front.  Tires last about 5,000 miles (depending on tire of course, some are shorter and some are longer) which includes the rotating business I mentioned.  So I buy new tires at the end of the season to be put on at the beginning of next.

My chains I keep cleaned and lubed so I average about 10,000 miles on a chain (the older wider 10 speed chains I would get 13,000 to 15,000 miles on those).

Cassettes last 3 times longer than my chains.

I may replace a set of cables about every 6 to 7 seasons.

Pedals?  Pedals should never wear out.  I do replace my cleats every other season, once I had to replace it after only a year,  not sure what happened to that set of cleats.

Assuming I don't damage the bar tape will last about 5 to 6 seasons

Bearings rarely need to be replaced but I clean and lube mine every year.  I have a bike I bought in 1984 that I raced and trained on that has over 150,000 miles on the components and none of the bearings have ever been replaced.

I buy everything I need on end of the year sales or closeout, I routinely get $65 range of tire for $20 to $25 each.

So really the only ongoing expense I have is tires, which on the high side would only be a penny a mile.   I don't want to go crazy trying to do the math on the rest of it!  LOL!!

 

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Mungecrundle [932 posts] 11 months ago
1 like

Like everything else in cycling, you should replace them as soon as something new comes out and gets a rave review with at least a 4 star rating.

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BarryBianchi [419 posts] 11 months ago
1 like
barbarus wrote:

When should I change my tyres?  When I realise that Mavic Yksion tyres are terrible and I get a puncture every other ride.

Those things are just unbelievable.  Anytime someone turns up on a ride with them, you can safely say to yourself "OK, plenty of rest time today again", and you'll never be disappointed.  They are totally and uttlerly crap to the extent that I have no idea how they make them be so bad.

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harman_mogul [303 posts] 11 months ago
1 like

While it's obviously a good economy to swap tyres front to rear to eke out their service life, arguably you're doing yourself no favours if you have a worn tyre with a flat crown on the front.

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Chris Hayes [247 posts] 11 months ago
0 likes

Cuts usually trash my tyres long before they're worn out, but I got a great tip from a fellow Road.cc user recently: fill the holes with neoprene glue (which can be bought from sailing shops).  I had been trying other glues with varying degrees of success, but this stuff really works.  After a long stint on Conti and Vittoria tyres I'm back on Michelin Pros for the moment.... cut count is way down. 

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