What's in a width - tires, clearance and picking a tread for the job
Bikes tend to overlap. Your favourite ride might do a million different jobs for you - some you picked for it, some you don't think about - day in and day out becoming what you need it to be. From a coffee ride machine to your pannier-pickup-truck, bikes are wonderfully malleable when it comes to how we use them and how we enjoy them. As long as the bike fits you, you can make it do some incredible things.
One of the most adaptable parts of a bicycle is it's tires. Turning a touring rig into a dirt-road ripper, a cyclocross bike into a pavement crusher, a road bike into an every-day flat-shedding commuter, can be as easy as changing the rubber on the rims.
But how to pick widths and treads? And maybe, how to pick bikes? Let's look at some options.
Slicks with volume
Road bikes, touring bikes, cyclocross bikes - many bikes have seen an increase in tire size and clearance in the past few years. The idea? More cushion? More traction? How about both? A wide slick tire, with the right tread, can be both supple and grippy while rolling just as quickly as a rail-narrow race tire. Some smart guys (like the folks at Bicycling Quarterly) did some testing to prove this, and the results were pretty fun. Go wider to ease over potholes and small road imperfections without losing speed, as you might with a narrow, hard tire hitting the bumps and making you bounce! Bikes like the Brodie Tiber, Remo and Romulus can run a 28c tire with fenders, while taking a size upgrade to a slick 30c tire for smoothing your ride if you're doing some longer distances! 35c slicks can change your cyclocross bike to a real road machine, and using a Romax or Ronin for a training bike can be a great option for reducing the number of bikes in your apartment.
Sometimes you need more traction. Particularly cornering. Matt went to two gravel events in Ontario this spring, the TillsonBurn 100km presented by Jeff and Outspokin Cycles and the Hell Of The North put on by Real Deal Racing. The events had a wide variety of mixed terrain, with areas of challenging mud, gravel and some snow, while the areas between were all pavement (albeit some was pretty bumpy!). With a good cyclocross file tread tire, you get shoulder treads while the center of the tire has low profile (file-like) tread on it. This can help you corner or get traction on loose materials, while the higher volume of these tires can give you some of the benefits of a big slick like above. Something like a Challenge Chicane or Clement LAS can give you some confidence on corners! The LAS comes stock on our Romax and Romax SSCX to give you something to start with on and off-road, before you look at something more terrain specific.
If you're really looking for that off-road ability, be it a cyclocross bike or a touring rig, there are some really great multi-purpose all-terrains available. Tires like the WTB Nano or Cross Boss, or Kenda Happy Medium, have varied patterns with pretty excellent centre lugs giving smooth rolling on flat terrain, while shoulder and intermediate lugs give you traction on loose gravel climbs and cornering on dirt and mud. 40c tires like these come on our Monster (which can take some 2" 29er tires, or some 2.8" 27.5 tires - side lugs dependent!), but you can fit tires like these onto your Ronin or Elan as well, giving you versatility for your rides! Kyle of Funeral Cycling runs a 40c Cross Boss on his SSCX Romax.
There are many more specific options you can look into, Cyclocross Magazine has an excellent breakdown of some more mud and CX specific tires, while the guys at Cycling About tell you a few things about tire pressures vs size. The beauty of bikes is that they are functional objects, and finding out what sort of tires can make them even more dynamic can open up a world of opportunities.