There was a time not too long ago when 23mm wide tires were the standard road tire. Many pro racers used 21mm or even narrower, but now most of them ride 25mm. If wider tires were really slower, why would they ride on them?
First of all, let’s point out the advantages of wider tires:
Narrow tires run at higher pressures and thus flex less, meaning they absorb less energy. Wider tires absorb more energy.
Less vibration gives you a more comfortable ride
Better grip on rough roads
Less likely to have pinch flats
But they’re slower, right? Well, maybe not. In theory they have a smaller “contact patch” which means they have a better rolling resistance. The article below claims that they tested tires in a wind tunnel and found that aerodynamically there was almost no difference between a 25mm and 32mm tire. Finally, although they are slightly heavier, the difference in acceleration is negligible.
Tire width influences the feel of the bike, but not its speed. If you like the buzzy, connected-to-the-road feel of a racing bike, choose narrower tires. If you want superior cornering grip and the ability to go fast even when the roads get rough, choose wider tires.
Personally I have gone from 23 to 25 to 28 in the last couple of years and really noticed the difference in comfort. I also rode on 32’s in Italy and France and liked the stability when flying down the mountains. Look for some future “unofficial” tests on the 28’s.
Quote of the week: “As long as I breathe, I attack.” Bernard Hinault
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