The tires are the only part of the bike that makes contact with the ground at all times. To keep it that way, get yourself a good pair of tires and look after them well.
But good tires aren’t cheap, even if you only use your bike for commuting or recreation and not for training or racing. That raises the question of how long they’ll last… which we’re about to get into in today’s post.
How many miles do bike tires last, generally speaking?
Most bicycle tires last between 1,500 and 3,000 miles (2,500 to 4,800 km), depending on the terrain you use them on and how well you take care of them.
They say “buy it nice, or buy it twice,” and nowhere is this truer than with bicycle tires and inner tubes.
Higher-end tires have a higher thread count and are usually made of higher quality materials than their lower-end counterparts. This makes them more supple, less susceptible to punctures, and capable of lasting longer.
In other words, tires are one of those components of a bike worth splurging on, especially if performance or comfort is of the essence.
But even if you mount the most expensive tires from the store on your rims, you won’t be immune to flats and punctures unless you adopt a few bike-owning habits and maintain your tires well.
What Determines the Lifespan of Bike Tires?
There are a lot of factors that go into exactly how long your bike tires will last, but there are still some averages that you can expect for their lifespan.
Typically, your bicycle tires will last between 1,000 and 3,000 miles (that’s 2,500 to 4,800 kilometers for readers using the metric system). That’s a wide range, I know, and it comes down mostly to the tire, the rider, the terrain, and the time of year.
Rubber is the main component of tires. It’s economical and adds puncture resistance, but it also makes the tires heavy and slow. So, when it comes to the lifespan of bike tires, there’s always a trade-off between speed and durability.
Reinforced tires—such as tires with extra rubber and kevlar in the beads, carcass, or sidewalls—last longer than regular tires do. However, their durability comes at the expense of weight, road feel, and rolling resistance.
Thread count, or the amount of nylon, cotton, or silk fabric that goes into the carcass, also plays a role. Fewer threads provide room for more rubber, so tires with a low TPI tend to be bulky and durable. More threads provide space for less rubber, so tires with high TPI are compact and fast.
I guess that’s why race bike tires usually sport a high TPI, whereas most MTB and commuter bike tires are characterized by a low TPI.
Then there’s the design of the tire.
A clincher tire can get damaged in no time if the tube bursts or gets punctured while riding, especially on rough terrain and at high speed. Tubulars are notoriously difficult to repair, so they usually go straight to the bin.
Tubeless tires, a staple in mountain biking that’s slowly but surely been winning the hearts and minds of road cyclists, run at lower PSI, don’t get pinch flats, and seal easily. Properly cared for, they tend to outlast the rest.
Are Your Tires on Their Last Feet?
No tire lasts forever, and knowing when yours is on its last feet can mean the difference between getting from A to B and walking for hours and hours with the bike by your side.
So here’s how to check your tires for signs of excessive wear.
Check the Treads for Wear
One of the best ways to check how close your tires are to the end is to look at their treads.
(For beginners who don’t know the slang yet: Those are the ridges and grooves in the rubber. They’re mission-critical, and they tend to wear out the fastest.)
When the treads of your tires wear out, they basically become useless. Without them, the tire can’t make good grip with the road and, as a result, it doesn’t have traction.
It’s harder to check the treads on your bicycle tires than it is on the tires for your car. This is because the treads on your bicycle tires are significantly smaller than the treads on a car tire.
Aside from the fact that a tire with worn tread looks slimmer than it used to, a telltale sign of tread wear is when the front tire begins to slip when braking and the rear tire begins to drag when pedaling.
Inspect the Sidewall for Damage
Don’t just look at the treads of the tires; you should also inspect the sidewall. Mechanics say that this is the most vulnerable part of the tire, and the point where irreparable damage is most likely to occur.
Some of the traits to look for on the sidewall are holes, cracks, and rips. A tire that has these is a tire that’s on its last feet—and one that’s likely to fail under pressure, usually when you need it the most.
Long cracks along the top of the tire are signs that your tire is nearing the end of its life. Evenly distributed cracks are *less* of a problem. This is a sign of normal wear and tear; it just indicates that the tire is no longer in its prime.
If you see a spot on the tire’s sidewall that’s deformed or bulging, then the tire needs to be replaced.
Observe the Beads
The beads are located along the edges of the tire that are in contact with the rim. They hold the tire in place and, on tubeless tires, form a seal under pressure when the tire is pumped with air.
If the beads have ripped, the tire must be replaced immediately because it can no longer keep to the rim.
Why Is It Important to Replace Tires?
There’s more than one reason why it’s important to replace your tires when they’re near the end of their useful life.
First of all, worn tires are unsafe. They can burst or go flats at high speed or when you’re cornering. And although there’s no such thing as a good time for a tire to fail, it usually happens at the worst possible moment.
This has happened to me on long rides to rural areas, up in the mountains, as well as in heavy traffic. Tires are one of those things in cycling that you have to pay attention to sooner or later. (If it’s later, you learn it the hard way, as I did.)
A few useful bike-owning habits to pick up:
- Check if your tires need air before every ride or every 1-2 weeks.
- When topping up your bike’s tires at the gas station, do so carefully.
- Identify and fix punctures, whether with sealant or path kits, early on.
- Store your bike properly and remember that bike tires don’t last forever.
Your bicycle tires will last you a long time if you maintain them properly. You can generally expect to get a couple of thousand miles or more out of them, but this depends on a lot of factors such as brand, how you use them, and how well you maintain them.
If you see signs that your tires are nearing the end of their life, you need to replace them as soon as possible.