Walk into the bike shop, and you’re likely to see dozens of tires on sale.
Well-stocked shops offer a variety of makes and models. And, even once you’ve narrowed down your choice to the diameter of tires you want, you still have to pick a width.
How much leeway do you have, though? Considering your bike’s rims, are you locked into a specific tire width, or can you fit tires of different widths on them? And if you can, why would you even want to?
You can ride your bike with tires of different widths. This means that you can switch out the stock tires with wider or narrower ones, and that you can have tires of different widths on your bike’s front and rear wheels.
Let’s expand on that a little bit. Because changing the width of your bike’s tires can have an effect on how it rides—sometimes more so, othertimes less so.
Can You Mount Any Width Tires on Your Bike’s Rims?
The long answer short is, “no, you can’t.”
Rims are designed to accommodate tires of a specific diameter and range of widths.
On any given rim, you should be able to accommodate any tire as long as: (a) the tire’s diameter matches the diameter of the rim and (b) the tire’s width matches the width range supported by the rim.
Wider tires, because they hold more air, are also taller than their thinner counterparts. So if you plan on hitting the upper end of the width range for your tires, make sure that there’s enough clearance between the fork (on the front) or the triangle (in the back).
If you’re not sure whether your bike is suitable for a particular tire, refer to the owner’s manual. Most owner’s manuals clearly state the specifications for the tire and rim the bike was built for.
In case you don’t know where the owner’s manual is, your bike has aftermarket parts, or it’s custom-built, check the make and model of the frame and fork on the Internet. You should be able to find the information you’re looking for on the manufacturer’s website.
Remember that if you change the width of the tires, the ride will change. For example, if the tires get narrower, you gain speed but lose grip and durability. The wider the tires, the more grip and durability you have—but the tires are also heavier and roll with greater resistance.
You will also notice changes when accelerating, braking, cornering, and jumping, especially if you know your bike in and out.
Find out more: Can You Change the Size of Your Bike’s Tires?
Can You Have Different Width Tires on the Front and Back?
Yes, you can.
As a matter of fact, it’s something that many mountain bikers choose to do.
Rear tires, partly because they carry most of the rider’s weight, wear out faster and are more prone to getting punctures than front tires do. So one might want to install a sturdier and/or economical tire on the back wheel.
Also, some tires are only suitable for the front or rear axle. As long as you preserve the diameter of the wheel so that the bike isn’t tilted awkwardly to the front or back, you don’t have to match the front and rear tire’s widths one-to-one.
Still, try to keep your tires about the same size, especially if you’re with clincher tires. Otherwise, you would need two different tube sizes and have to carry twice the amount of spares everywhere (or take a long walk home with your bike by your side).
How It Will Affect the Ride
What happens to the ride when you fit your bike with tires of different widths depends on where you place the wider tire. Some riders prefer the wider tire at the front, while others would rather have it at the back.
If you put the wider tire on the back of the bike, you will get a much more comfortable ride (with fewer flats, all other things equal). This is because the rear tire is carrying the brunt of the weight, and now there is a slightly larger area to distribute the weight over.
On the other hand, the front tire is where most of the bike’s braking occurs. So mounting a wider tire on the front of the bike for better braking, especially on steep slopes, is a legitimate thing to do.
Remember that the bike can be slightly higher on one side than the other if the widths are *too* different. Wider tires hold more air, so they stand taller. (As long as we’re talking a few millimeters of a difference, it shouldn’t be noticeable.)
How Do You Know The Right Width For Bike Tires?
As we already touched on, bicycle rims are designed for a wide range of tire widths.
Looking at the manufacturer’s specifications for your bike should give you an idea of what widths you might use on it.
The only way to find out which tires are suitable for your bike is to find out what rims you have. Once you know the rims, the manufacturer will give you a guideline for the tire size that will fit your bike.
Generally, there is no “right” tire width for your bike. The ideal width will vary with the terrain, the weather, the season, and the style of riding that you do. Chances are it won’t make much of a difference to you in the beginning, especially if you use your bike for commuting and shopping.
But as you get serious about cycling and get into race bikes or mountain bikes with time, you will get to know more and more of your bike—and feel all the subtleties of its handling.
You should have no problem using bicycle tires of different widths. Provided that the bicycle tires you buy fit the rims.
Commuter and shopper cyclists won’t notice any difference. However, road racers and mountain bikers, who know that every tread on the rubber counts, will.