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Optimal Tyre Width for Speed in Road Cycling: An Analysis of 700x23, 25, 28, and 32c

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Optimal Tyre Width for Speed in Road Cycling: An Analysis of 700x23, 25, 28, and 32c


In the world of road cycling, the width of tyres can significantly impact the speed, comfort, and performance of your ride. Cyclists often debate the merits of narrower versus wider tyres, particularly when comparing common sizes like 700x23, 25, 28, and 32c. In this article, we’ll dissect the advantages and disadvantages of each tyre width, helping you to make an informed choice to suit your needs.

Understanding Tyre Width and Performance

Historically, road bikes were fitted with 700x23c tubular tyres, valued for their slim, aerodynamic profiles and lighter weight. The pros would run these at rock-hard pressures to prevent deformation in their tyres, minimising rolling resistance.

These may have been the best option when everyone was riding around on steel frames with a bit of give. Newer technology has allowed modern frames to be stiffer than ever, which while increasing pedalling efficiency, also increases the efficiency in which shocks and bumps travel up towards your saddle and handlebars.

Along with the potential for increased comfort, recent trends and advanced research suggest that wider tyres may allow you to reap performance benefits under certain conditions. 

Scientific Insight

To the casual rider, a wider tyre might seem counter-intuitive, surely a wider tyre would have more contact area, creating more friction with the ground, right? You’d generally pick a sharp knife to cut through bread over a spoon. Luckily for us, tyres aren’t cutlery. Studies conducted by both tyre manufacturers and independent researchers suggest that when inflated to the same pressure, wider tyres do not necessarily increase rolling resistance - as shown below by this great visual by Scwhalbe, highlighting the difference in deformation between a wide and narrow tyre at the same pressure.


The main difference here is that while a narrow tyre might have a slimmer profile, it deforms much more at the same pressure compared to a wider tyre, leading to a slim, but long contact patch. Comparing that to the shorter, rounder contact patch of a wider tyre, you’re actually losing a decent bit of efficiency with a slimmer tyre unless you’re willing to run them at a much higher pressure.


The recent revelation that wider tyres can offer a smoother ride with negligible speed loss has prompted many professional cyclists to switch to 700x25 or 28c tyres for competitive racing.

Environmental Considerations

The choice of tyre width should also consider the typical riding surfaces. On the smooth floors of a velodrome, there is no advantage to a wider tyre, as you can pump your 23c tyres to a higher pressure without worrying about bumps and rough terrain. Smooth, well-paved roads might benefit more from 700x25c or 28c tyres, while rougher, less maintained roads could see improved comfort from 700x32c tyres.


While not so much a concern at lower speeds, air-resistance can become a real concern to your efficiency when racing at speeds above 32 km/h. Not quite a concern for casual riders, but a serious factor to consider when racing.

A Comparative Analysis

700x23c

Advantages: 

Historically favoured for racing due to lower weight and reduced rolling resistance.

Disadvantages: 

Less comfortable; generally used at higher air pressure which leads to a harsher ride and may affect grip and handling.

700x25c

Advantages: 

Strike a balance between speed and comfort. Improved grip and lower rolling resistance than 700x23, due to a rounder contact patch with the road.

Disadvantages:

Slightly heavier than 700x23 tyres, but this is often offset by the gains in comfort and control.

700x28c

Advantages:

Even greater comfort and improved handling, particularly on rough surfaces. At equal tyre pressure, 28c’s can offer lower rolling resistance than narrower tyres.

Disadvantages: 

Marginally heavier still, which may affect acceleration and climbing.

700x32c

Advantages: 

Best for comfort, especially on very rough or unsealed roads. The wider profile absorbs road imperfections and reduces the risk of punctures.

Disadvantages: 

The increase in weight makes these less ideal for racing on smoother roads.

The significant increase in width can also begin to present noticeably higher air resistance at higher speeds



Recommendations on Tyre Brands

When selecting a tyre, considering reputable brands that consistently deliver quality and performance is crucial. Some of the top brands known for their road cycling tyres include:


Continental: Known for the GP5000 series, available in various widths and offering an excellent balance of speed and puncture resistance.

Schwalbe: Offers the Pro One line, which is highly regarded for its performance both in durability and speed across different tyre widths.

Pirelli: The P Zero lineup offers a wide range of performance models suitable for sport, road and racing. 


Conclusion

In conclusion, the optimal tyre width for road cycling largely depends on the specific conditions and personal preferences. For competitive racing in velodromes, 700x23c still rules supreme, while 25c and 28c tyres provide a good balance between speed, efficiency, and comfort. For those who ride often on rougher terrains, a 700x32c tyre could be more beneficial, bringing a little added comfort without hindering performance. Always consider your typical riding conditions and try different widths to find the best match for your style and needs.


This analysis is still quite limited, as we haven’t taken into account the effects that tread pattern, tyre casing and rubber compound has on your efficiency, however we hope that this article will be a great starting point for choosing your next tyre. If you still have questions, or want a recommendation from us here at Crooze, always feel free to reach out via email, live chat or just by giving us a call, and our team will be happy to help!