Clincher vs. Tubular vs. Tubeless
Tires that use inner tubes are called clinchers. The term refers to the fact that the rim "clinches" the tire to hold it in place when inflated. Most of the tires we sell are clinchers.
Some specialized road and cyclocross tires are tubular. Tubular tires, also known as sew-up tires, have the inner tube built into the tire and use the inflation pressure of the tire as well as glue or tape to hold the tire on the rim. Tubular tires are pretty much standard in the professional road racing circuit. They are lighter weight than clinchers, and require special rims. Tufo also makes a hybrid sort of tire that they call a tubular clincher. This is a tubular-type tire (with the tube built into the tire), but it fits on a normal clincher rim.
Tubeless systems are another kettle of fish. Increasingly popular in the MTB market, these tires have beefier sidewalls and are mounted on specially-designed or adapted clincher rims without tubes. Technically, they are also clincher tires, and they can be mounted with tubes, though generally speaking you wouldn't want to do that. As with tubular tires, punctures in tubeless systems are prevented and repaired with the use of sealant. Tubeless systems can be run at lower pressure than regular innertube systems, for better traction without the threat of pinch flats. As technology develops, these systems also tend to be lighter, and are increasingly favored by high-performance MTB riders.
Wire Bead vs. Kevlar Bead Tires
Clincher tires are available in either wire or Kevlar bead. When inflated, the bead of the tire is pressed into a groove or under a lip on the rim and keeps the tire firmly in place. Wire bead tires are generally less expensive, but often considerably heavier than Kevlar bead tires. Kevlar bead tires can fold, making them a bit more convenient to store and less expensive to ship. Aside from the difference in weight, there is no real difference in the performance of the tire from the bead material, although Kevlar beads tend to be used in higher performance tires.
Road, Touring, Hybrid, Cyclocross and Mountain Bike Tires
Road Tires - Generally speaking, "road tires" refers to smooth, narrow tires up to 28mm or so wide that fit on 700c (622 ISO) and 650c (571 ISO) wheels. Newer, full-size road bikes usually have 700c wheels; smaller road bikes and triathlon bikes may have 650c wheels. If you're not sure what size you need for your road bike, look for the size on the sidewall of your current tires. If you have 700c wheels, you'll find 700xW or W-622, where W is the width of the tire in millimeters; if you have 650c wheels, it will say 650xW or W-571. Most road bike riders use 23mm wide tires. Tandem bike riders or riders carrying extra pounds often opt for 25mm or 28mm wide tires, while those after every ounce of performance might choose 20mm wide tires.
Some older road bikes use 27" tires (630 ISO). These tires are not interchangeable with newer 700c road bike tires and are found in the 27in Road Tires section of our site.
Touring/Hybrid Tires - When smooth 700c tires are wider than 28mm, we think of them as Touring tires or Hybrid tires. These tires sometimes have a tread pattern, but usually the tread is designed to shed water on the road rather than add traction for off-road riding. The rims that these tires fit on are somewhat wider than road bike rims, to accommodate wider tires.
We also carry smooth tires that are appropriate for touring and hybrid bikes in 26" (559 ISO) sizes. Some touring bikes may be equipped with wheels this size, and these are also the tires to look for if you want to ride your mountain bike on roads. Search for 26" slick tires. Again, if you're not sure what size you need, just look at the size of your existing tires. It'll be either 700xW / W-622 (for 700c wheels) or 26xW / W-559 (for 26" wheels). One thing to be aware of is that widths for 26" wheels are indicated in inches, with decimal points, rather than millimeters. The ISO number will always be in millimeters.
Cyclocross - Generally speaking, cyclocross bikes use 700c (622 ISO) tires, though 650b (584 ISO) tires are increasingly popular. Cyclocross tires are knobby or semi-slick tires designed specifically for cyclocross racing, which involves a mix of on- and off-road riding. They generally vary in width between 28mm and 40mm, and may be clinchers, tubulars, or tubeless tires.
Mountain Bike Tires - Most mountain bikes for adults use 26" (559 ISO) tires. As mentioned, these tires are usually marked and sold as 26xW, where W is the decimal width in inches of the tire. A tire marked 26x1.5 is approximately 1.5" wide. It's a good idea to replace your tires with tires that are about the same width as your current tires, so you can be sure that the rim width can safely accommodate those tires. If you're buying much wider tires, also consider whether your bike has sufficient frame and brake clearance.
Mountain bike tires may also be either 29" (622 ISO -- yes, the same size as 700c! Though 29" MTB tires are wider than road bike tires, of course) or 650b (584 ISO). You probably know if you are riding a 29er or a 650b bike, but if in doubt, check your existing tire's sidewall for the size—you know the drill. The 650b size may also be referred to as 27.5".
For more help with tire selection, see our other articles.
We stock over 500 different sizes and colors of bicycle tires, so if you can't find what you are looking for or are not sure exactly what you need, please contact us at 1-800-651-4050 or firstname.lastname@example.org.