Tour de France

Tour de France

Highest quality for bicycles just as for cars

Continental has more than 100 years experience in the development and production of bicycle tires. So let us be your guide to important concepts in modern tire technology, like tire pressure, types, aquaplaning, and tire construction methods. Soon, you’ll be a master the fundamentals. Just like us!

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Tire Types

Not all tires are created equal; whether it's a car or a bicycle, there are many types of tire for different categories of vehicle.

Race bike tires are designed for the tarmac. As such they're thin and light, with minimal tread for drag. Mountain bike tires can tackle rocky, uneven terrain, and have more aggressive tread patterns for bumpy surfaces. Cyclocross bike tires are designed for riding on tarmac, sand, dirt, mud, and sometimes even steps. And for a more relaxed pace, city and trekking bike tires have a simple tread pattern for tarmac and the occasional gravel path.

In the automotive world, manufacturers design tires for cars, SUVs and vans with different properties. Van tires, for example, generally need to be more hard-wearing and able to support heavier loads than the average car tire. SUV and 4x4 tires, meanwhile, have special requirements like all-terrain and four-wheel drive.

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Aquaplaning

Aquaplaning is a phenomenon that occurs when a layer of water builds up between the tires of a car and the surface of the road. The tires cannot grip the road properly, and the lack of traction means the driver loses control and is unable to steer, brake or accelerate.

Aquaplaning is most likely to happen when heavy rainfall builds up on the road surface. But the issue can be made worse by the condition of the car's tires and the speed that it's travelling. For these reasons, it's important to:

  • keep car tires inflated to the correct air pressure;
  • monitor tread depth so they don't fall below the legal minimum of 1.6 mm;
  • reduce speed in wet conditions.

Bicycles are not susceptible to aquaplaning. Whereas car tires create a square road contact -- and have a straight leading edge with the road that makes it easier for a car to trap water under the tire as it rolls -- bike tires have a rounded contact with the road which pushes the water to either side of the tire more efficiently. That's because they're designed to lean into corners.

Another key difference is that bike tires are narrow and inflated to a relatively high air pressure. This means less water is in contact the leading edge of the tire, and the high tire pressure is more efficient at pushing water out from under the tire. By comparison, car tires are wide and inflated to a lower air pressure; this can make it difficult for water to escape from the middle of the car tire.

Finally, there is the question of speed. A car travels much faster. Depending on the depth of water, this speed leaves less time for water to be dispersed. It's highly unlikely that a bicycle will ever travel fast enough to begin aquaplaning, no matter how furiously you pedal.

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Tire construction

Today, the vast majority of car tires are made using radial construction. By comparison, bicycles still use bias-ply tires. What's the difference?

A radial tire construction allows the sidewall and the tread to function as two independent features of the tire. They're lighter and offer better fuel economy, due to reduced rolling resistance, but they also have a more flexible sidewall.

A bias-ply tire is made from multiple rubber plies overlapping each other, where the crown and sidewalls are interdependent. These overlapped plies form a thick layer that is less flexible. Combined with inner tubes, the sidewall stiffness in bias-ply tires is crucial for snakebite puncture resistance and overall performance.

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Tire pressure

Weight

The optimal tire pressure depends on the size of the tire and the weight it has to carry. The pressure in a tire is measured in pounds per square inch, or PSI. Correct tire pressure is important for proper road grip and energy efficiency. Always follow the manufacturer's guidelines to determine the correct air pressure.

Temperature

Temperature has a significant effect on tire pressure. An increase in temperature causes air in tires to expand, which can lead to excess pressure if they are fully inflated to begin with. Cold temperatures will cause the air inside the tires to contract, so that tires which were correctly inflated previously have reduced tire pressure when used in cold weather.

Altitude

Changes in altitude have an effect on the tire pressure because the external air pressure has changed. The level of pressure in a tire is created from the relationship between the air inside the tire and the air outside. The air offers less resistance if climbing to a higher altitude, which will create a larger amount of pressure within the tire.

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