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What Tire Size Should I Ride in the City?


Ah, riding in the city: some of the most fun, and most… excitement, you can have on a bike.

Everyone here at the shop rides their bike in the city (at the very least: we all ride in to work!), and almost all of us commute by bike all year round. Because of this and our wonderful downtown Boston location, Urban Cycles is very much a commuter-focused shop, and we help people with all kinds of commuting needs, whether it’s picking out their next awesome commuter bike, figuring out how to dress whatever the weather, or choosing the optimal components and accessories for their commutes.

One question we hear a lot is what kind of tires are best for the city. While everyone agrees that a good quality, puncture-resistant tire is essential for the mean streets of Boston, choosing how wide a tire to ride is a much more personal preference.

We asked some of our staff what kind of tires they ride to beat the mean streets of Boston, and boy, did they give us a lot to think about!

Jim C., Head Mechanic:

Tire size is a hotly contested issue these days…or any days, really. It seems as though we’re finally measuring decent, wide tires that are competing with (or outperforming) the conventional, skinny, road tires. How can this be? Isn’t there more rotational weight and friction with ground contact?
The quick answer is yes, and yes; however, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Many modern tires have such supple sidewalls that their deflection – the rebound from compressing the tires under weight – actually makes them faster with higher volumes and lower pressures. Also, wider tires run at slightly lower pressures deform around objects, rather than running straight into them, and this can make for a smoother and faster ride. So what should you buy?
As an old RACER, I ride 700 X 23s and still see the attraction that skinny tires have. As an OLD racer, I commute on 650 X 48s and appreciate the larger footprint and cushion from a bigger tire. Your choice will be defined by the clearance that your bike was built to offer (brakes, fork crown, and stays, for example) and the type of rim and mounting system that you have. We’ll be here to help you find the right size and style for your ride.
My best advice: ride something that you are comfortable using and repairing. And if you’re hoping to move away from ever having to repair it again, come talk to us about some options for tubeless setups. Nearly all mountain bikes are coming tubeless these days, and their tires are usually as wide as the frame will possibly allow – the wider the tire, the better the grip. Technology may be progressing at a tremendously rapid pace, but we’re fortunate enough to see bicycle innovations happening at a pace not seen since the late 1800’s! (During the bicycle boom at the turn of the 20th century, there were 2 patent offices in the U.S., and one was dedicated to solely registering bicycle inventions!) Whatever you decide to do, remember to keep it fun!
Geoff T., Sales Associate:

I ride these slick zippy tires called GatorSkins in a 32c width. They’re perfect for quick urban commutes and offer great flat protection! Haven’t got a flat since I started riding these babies… 5 months and counting…!

Alex D., General Manager:

650Bs are on their way in, and perhaps the 700x40c+ is on its way out, but for the time being I’ve been riding the Kona Dew (our mainstay rental bike) with a variety of wider tires.
The Continental Contact (our mainstay rental tire) in a 700x37c sits at the three-way intersection of of reliability, speed, and comfort. For $40 this tire is wide enough that you won’t notice all those little bumps you do on your road bike, but it’s narrow enough that you don’t feel like you’re riding in sand. With over 2000 miles riding this tire in the city, I’ve never gotten a flat!
The Specialized Armadillo, in a 700x45c (we sell these and they’re awesome!) is the most comfortable tire I’ve ridden in the city. While it doesn’t leave much (if any) room for fenders, it eats up everything out on the streets. Riding these tires (although they are a little slow), coupled with hydraulic disc brakes gives me the confidence while riding in traffic to put the bike right where I needed it to be to within inches. Compliment these tires with a steel frame and a leather brooks saddle, and you have yourself one comfy ride – like riding to work on a couch!
The Surly Knard (available by special order), for me, is a true match of speed and comfort. While not quite as smooth as the 700x45c Armadillos, and not quite as fast as the 700x37c Continental Contacts, it is a wonderful compromise between these two options – and it fits under my fenders! These come as a folding option, and while they’re lightweight, they still have plenty of knobs for gripping the road throughout the winter.