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I'm interested in road bike tires and how width affects how long they last.

It seems common-sense that a wider tire would wear better, as there's simply more of it to "spread" the wear, but I'd like to know if this is true in practice. Answers based on experience or actual studies/research would both be interesting.

I'd normally run wider tires at a lower pressure appropriate to the load, but this may make comparison harder.

Could braking and cornering have different effects on tire wear? For example, perhaps wider tires wear less in braking, but more due to cornering. If this was the case then the answer might depend on how much braking/cornering the rider does. There might also be a difference between the front and back tire.

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Wear is the result of friction. Trival mechanics says that the force generated by friction is proportional to mass. So the more mass a wheel supports the more it should wear. It seems to me that static and dynamic friction are the only things affected by tire pressure. I'm curious to see if anyone can pull up a dataset with analysis. –  Ritch Melton Aug 6 '13 at 16:28
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In terms of grams of rubber per mile likely wider tires wear more, due to "squirm". But they have more rubber to begin with, so may last longer overall. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 6 '13 at 17:21
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Commuting almost daily, I put about 7000-8000 km per year onto mountain bike tires, and they last for years. Judging by the answers, if I used a road bike, I'd be changing road bike tires at least once a year, perhaps twice. –  Kaz Aug 22 '13 at 14:40
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3 Answers

While I'm not a road biker, I can speak from experience with mountain bike tires. The first spot to wear is the center of the tread. Why? It's the part that is ridden on the most. Increasing the width of your tire with increase the contact patch (the part of the tire touching the ground); therefore, your wear is going to be the same because that contact patch is still hitting the ground the same amount. That said, the amount of pressure put on that contact patch can change due to width, as the mass of the bike and rider is spread across the larger area.

Tire pressures can affect your contact patch as well, lower pressures allow more of the tire to hit the road or trail. This means your going to expose more of the tire to wear, increase grip (in the case of mountain tires, don't know about road so much), and increase rolling resistance.

Other wear patterns will depend on the type of terrain and riding style. If you ride on very smooth asphalt, you probably aren't going to wear through a tire that fast, but if you ride on loose, rocky, beat-up roads, that's going to eat at the rubber much more quickly. Similarly, if you do more straight-line riding you're most likely going to see the center wear quicker than the sides, but if you turn more (or skid a lot when braking into turns) you can wear down the sides quite a bit too. There are other environmental factors to consider as well (heat, humidity, etc.) that can affect tire wear, but those are much harder to quantify.

I would look more into finding specific types of tire, maybe ones that address the hard/softness of the rubber instead of looking for wider tires. Also try experimenting with tire pressures outside of what you're doing now. If you want some hard numbers, I would recommend looking at specific tire manufacturers who may have testing data available and estimated mileage charts for certain riding conditions.

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+1 for noting the effect of tire pressure. –  JohnP Aug 6 '13 at 17:09
    
So maybe we can expect wear rate to be proportional to grip? –  JamesBradbury Aug 7 '13 at 7:46
    
Possibly, some rubber compounds are both long-lasting and provide superior grip. I wouldn't say it's a hard and fast rule, but there's probably some truth to it. –  Aaron Aug 7 '13 at 13:41
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All of my biking is on the road. I usually run a 1 1/4 inch tire on the rear, and consistently get 2000 miles until the cords begin to show.

This year I am running on 1 3/8 inch tire, and I now get 2100 miles until the cords show.

The difference between 1 1/4 and 1 3/8 isn't much, mathematically speaking, but it looks much wider than the numbers indicate.

My friends and I all agree that the biggest advantage to running a wider tire is that they are more forgiving. i.e. They can take more abuse.

Regarding the comment below on the Schwalbe's. I've been using Continental's (Highway 2) for years. I can almost set my odometer by when they wear out. 2000 miles = cords showing. (rear tire)

I did some checking. Continental has a huge assortment of tires, and their marketing blurbs are nearly worthless. I think the reason for my low mileage is that I am using their Contact 2 tire, which I think is meant to give better traction on wet pavement, but I am not sure about that. If I am not mistaken, I should be using their Touring Plus tire for better wear, but I am not sure about that either. Their web site isn't very informative.

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The tire brand must also be a big factor too, I run 32mm tires on my commute bike (32mm=1.25in) and have over 3500 miles on my current set of Schwalbe's, and the tread still hasn't worn down to the tire casing level (the tires have a slight 1mm or 2mm tread design). I expect to get at least 6000 miles out of them. My commute is almost all road biking with a few short stretches of gravel trail. –  Johnny Aug 21 '13 at 19:45
    
2000 miles doesn't sound like much for a big wheel bike - are you running 406 or smaller wheels by any chance? I get a bit more than that with 406/40 Marathon Plus tyres on my commuter, but I run them until there's a solid blue strip right round the tyre (that's the anti-puncture foam layer). 406 has about 2/3 the circumference of a 622, so I'd expect the bigger wheel/tyre to last 50% longer. –  Mσᶎ Aug 22 '13 at 5:33
    
I get over 5000 on my 700x35s, running mostly Forte road tires. I generally don't run until the cord is showing, but until the tire "feels thin" in the middle. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 22 '13 at 11:19
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Common sense says you're correct in your assumption of wide tires wearing more slowly. The middle of the tire will wear rapidly to take the crown off of the tire. Then, once the crown is flattened out and the wear shifts towards the sides of the tire, the wear slows down significantly. There are so many variables for tire wear it isn't funny. You have front versus rear wear patterns, weight of the rider, weight of the bicycle and any accessories mounted to the bike, and of course, the riding conditions like temperature and road surface.

And you also must take into consideration the quality of the tire itself, including the construction technique. Probably the most important factor for any tire would be the maintainence factor. Proper pressure and inspection should make any tire last longer. Back in "the day" when radial tires were available, they had much better tire wear, no matter what the width, than regular tires.

I have a 1985 Miyata LT1000 touring bike that came equiped with radial tires. I wish now I would have purchased a couple dozen of those tires! They're 700c x 32c. I have replaced the rear tire several times, but the front tire is still the original Made in Japan tire that now has in excess of 26,000 miles on it! It shows very little wear to this day. Not even sun damage like cracking is visible so far.

As with automobile tires, the wider the tire, the less pounds per square inch on the road surface, the slower the wear. That's why wide tires are no good on snow or icy roads. They have less traction on the surface.

The higher the air pressure you run in your tires, the more quickly they will wear out because there is less tire in contact with the road surface. The center of the tire will wear down to the carcass quicker. Once the carcass is exposed, the tread left at the sides doesn't matter.

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Thanks, I think there are some interesting observations here, but it's a bit hard to follow all in one paragraph stream-of-conciousness style. –  JamesBradbury Aug 7 '13 at 7:43
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