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I'm going to do a ten-day long tour down the west coast of New Zealand. I'll have some luggage in rear panniers, but no tent (staying with friends and in backpackers accommodation). There'll be a fair bit of uphill and downhill on some days. But I don't forsee that I'll hit gravel - I'll likely stay on sealed roads. Of course, it may rain (as if that isn't obvious).

My bike is a steel framed road bike, and I currently ride with 23mm tyres. Because it's an older bike I can fit wider tyres on, which some recommend for touring, but I wonder if it's worth it? In the context of my tour, if I went to 28mm tyres what would the advantages/disadvantages be?

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If your are going to ride offroad, I think 23 is madness. If you are onroad only, then I guess it is possible, but due to the need of having the tire fully pumped, I would worry about broken spokes and discomfort. – heltonbiker Mar 31 '12 at 20:12
Depends on the quality of the road surface where you're doing most of your cycling, I'd say. Where I live the roads are terrible, they're all patches and potholes and dug up regions where workmen have been fixing pipes or cables, and are deeply rutted in places, and in some places are even just cobblestones. I dare not ride a road or hybrid bike on that, even a full mountain bike's wheels have been knocked slightly out of true by it. Wider tires are less likely to get sucked into ruts or gashes in the road surface. – GordonM Oct 17 '12 at 10:03
There are no disadvantages at all to using 28mm tires. If you can fit 30mm or 32mm tires, those would be even better. – Nik Apr 27 at 15:18

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I have seen fully-loaded tourists ride successfully with lightweight racing bikes (of years ago) on what were then called 7/8" tires (which is 22.2mm). I've also seen them lay their bikes down in the parking lot at lunch and have the tires explode. (Don't ask me what mechanism was involved, but it happened at least 3 times in a week among a group of maybe 20 on the lightweight bikes, among a larger group of about 200.)

As a commuter/tourist I favor wider tires (I currently ride 35s), for the slightly smoother ride, better handling on rough pavement, less frequent airing up, and better weight-carrying ability.

But the main question in your case is whether the tires can simply carry the weight, at full pressure, without compressing too much. Load up your bike (with dummy weights if necessary), sit on it (or have a friend of the same weight do so), and see how the tires look.

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Thanks. I'll go slightly wider tyres. – kmc Apr 2 '12 at 12:11
Does "how the tires look" mean "are they badly squashed". – James Bradbury Nov 25 '12 at 21:59
@JamesBradbury -- Yes. It's a judgment call, of course, but if the tire compresses more than maybe 25-30% of its diameter then it's likely either under-inflated or overloaded. (Note that extremely low-pressure off-road tires may compress more, but we're not discussing those.) – Daniel R Hicks Nov 25 '12 at 23:55
another vote for wider - all the stated reasons, plus it's likely you will end up changing a puncture or two and wider casing tires are easier - especially with limited tools on the side of the road (plus you won't have to inflate them to the same ridiculous pressures like some of the skinny 100+ psi tires) – markd Apr 27 at 17:41

Go 25 or better 28mm: the rolling resistance will be lower for the same pressure as your 23s - or you can reduce pressure a bit on the 25 or 28s for comfort and the same rolling resistance as the 23s - and still with the bigger tyre not get pinch punctures.

There's lots on the web about going for bigger tyres - a lot of racers are now going for 25s!

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The main concern with thinner tires and carrying a load is getting pinch flats when you hit a bump. I ran 27 mm tires (Schwalbe Marathon Pluses, nice tires) touring around Europe this summer with about 30lbs of stuff, for about 2200km. Generally they were good, but I had to keep the tire pressure high (100 PSI or 7 bar) or else the tire would compress on bumps or rocks and I'd get a pinch flat. Either get wider tires and/or bring a high-pressure pump is the solution, and using a standing floor pump (most bike shops will let you use theirs for free) whenever you have a chance after getting a flat.

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