In this answer : link

(With regard to tires, there seems to be a widespread belief that the mountain bike tires will grip all kinds of surfaces better, including asphalt: in other words, that they are safer. This is quite unfortunate. Consumers should be educated, for the sake of their own safety, that smooth tires provide the best grip on a wet road, in addition to offering a smoother, quieter ride with less rolling resistance).

Kaz point out that smooth tires are the best choice on wet roads. For me a smooth tires is a slick/flat tire with nothings to evacuate the water. how about aquaplaning ?

I'm fond of MotoGP and motorsports in general and I've never seen a slick tires on wet asphalt.

If we look at this wikipedia article

Wet roads severely diminish the traction because of aquaplaning due to water trapped between the tire contact area and the road surface. Grooved tires are designed to remove water from the contact area through the grooves, thereby maintaining traction even in wet conditions.

Which is about wide tire (wider than bicycle's ones).

So why, for the bicycles, smooth tires would be better on wet floor ?
Is this from the thickness of the tire ?

  • 5
    "Aquaplaning" is something that occurs on wide, low pressure auto tires at 50 mph. A typical narrow, high pressure bike road tire will not aquaplane until perhaps 100 mph. Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 12:21
  • 2
    @MickMRCX If water weren't evacuated, you'd be aquaplaning. Since it's established that you don't aquaplane on a bike at realistic speeds, the water therefore isn't a problem. Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 12:43
  • 3
    @MickMRCX The idea is this: on a smooth (and hard) surface, the traction provided by a tyre is proportional to the contact area between the tyre and the surface (at constant pressure). Adding a tread pattern reduces this contact area. Therefore, to the extent that the road is smooth and hard, a treadless tyre provides maximal traction. Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 12:47
  • 1
    (Net-net is that both sides of the argument are talking out of their posteriors, and I've never seen any halfway-decent research on how tread should be matched to road conditions. But the vast majority of road bikers' experience suggests that having heavy treads does not contribute to safety. The issue is more with the fine treads you see on many road bikes -- what is ideal when?) Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 12:47
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    @WillVousden - You forget that pressure also figures in, and having more PSI pressure also contributes to traction. The less contact area the higher the PSI. Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 12:48

2 Answers 2


I wanted to disentangle a few concepts here as most discussions around tire tread and wet conditions have typically been in regards to hydroplane/aquaplane, which other answers have correctly indicated is not a general problem for bicycles.

While tire tread is not needed to prevent hydroplaning, tire tread can still play a role in traction, explicitly helping the tire to interlock with road imperfections. In low traction scenarios (such as wet conditions) getting every bit of traction available can be important.

In general bicycle road tire traction will be related to the following factors:

  1. Tire compound and environmental conditions (e.g., temperature, wet/dry/snow)
  2. Tire construction (e.g., tire suppleness) and tire pressure
  3. Tire tread pattern

Tire Compound

This is probably the biggest predictor of whether or not you will have traction in the rain. The quality and tackiness of the compound can vary greatly by price and manufacturer. If you have a poor quality tire with a lousy compound it will likely be like riding on ice when it gets wet (regardless of whether or not it has tread). The ability for a tire compound to "hook up" will also depend on temperature. In cooler temperature tire compound will harden up and provide less traction (wet or dry).

From John McKone (Vittoria)

Compounds come into play and have the most influence on traction (wet and dry conditions); recently developed compounds such as Vittoria’s ISOgrip provide a much broader, stable compound in lower temperatures, this also a key component to a tire’s overall grip in all conditions.

Technical FAQ: Tire grip in wet conditions

Tire Construction & Tire Pressure

Traction is gained by the tire interacting with the road surface. If you have a very stiff tire (i.e., not supple) or pump it to a very high pressure the tire rubber will have a hard time interacting with the imperfections in the road surface providing less traction. In the wet traction is already reduced so this effect can become more important than in the dry where roads provide a lot of traction even under a bad setup.

From Alex Brauns President, Challenge Handmade Tires

It is critical to fine-tune every component of the tire before riding aggressively in wet conditions to maximize the surface area gripping the road surface while squeezing water out from under the tires wherever possible. This is why all top level road teams and even experienced pro triathletes will ride tubular tires with soft, supple casing materials, natural rubber tread compounds, and supple latex inner tubes, sized to the rider weight and road condition and adjusted to a minimum pressure to keep the rims from bottoming out on the bumps.

Technical FAQ: Tire grip in wet conditions

Tire Tread Pattern

The debate around tire tread vs slick tires in wet conditions has generally focused on aquaplaning/hydroplaning, however on the road a very light amount of tread (e.g., herringbone pattern on the old road tires) can be useful for interlocking.

Wolf Vormwalde who was the main engineer for Continental tires before switching to Specialized has this to say:

Common perception is that tread has no influence in road bicycle tires. But this is not entirely true. The question has to be how much tread do you need?

Does tread have an influence on traction in road bicycle tires? Yes. Tread does have an influence on traction in road tires. Tread, if it is not so high that it lifts the tread ground off the road (<0.2mm), helps sink tread rubber into rough road surfaces and penetrate lubricants (water) or dirt. Peaks in the tread increase press into surface crevices and add contact points between the road and the tire, and thus increase friction. Just a roughened or scuffed tread surface passes as a tread already. It does not need to be designed shapes.

Technical FAQ: Tire grip in wet conditions

And from From John McKone (Vittoria)

Tread patterns may decrease a contact patch by creating deformation of the tire due to road pressure under load from the rider and the rubber/casing bulges and deforms to fill the tread voids, but a well thought-out tread design increases its contact area when turning, accelerating, and braking (increased load due to force will flex the diamonds and grooves) and will also provide micro interlinking in between tread pattern edges and road surface grooves.

Technical FAQ: Tire grip in wet conditions

Note we are talking about a incredibly light tread pattern (scuffing a tire is enough). We are not talking about deep channel wells or off-road knobbies. Also this is likely a secondary effect compared to tire compound which most manufactures have been chasing now for the last few decades.

For another good discussion on light tread pattern and interlocking see Jan Heine's Optimizing Tire Tread article.

  • 1
    Scuffing a tire is enough. A smooth tire will get scuffed after a little bit of riding. Ergo, no tread pattern is necessary. QED.
    – Kaz
    Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 20:16
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    @Kaz - typically scuffing does not occur consistently over the entire surface of the tire. Hence why some very small tread patterns can be useful to ensure consistency. By the way, QED? I think you are taking this a little too seriously.
    – Rider_X
    Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 20:18

So why, for the bicycles, smooth tires would be better on wet floor ? Is this from the thickness of the tire ?

Yes, that and the relatively high pressure combine to displace water around the tyre.

You don't need special features to move the water if it can easily part around the tyre, and the contact patch pressure is high enough that the water really wants to part.

This is the commonly-cited explanation of why aquaplaning/hydroplaning isn't a risk for bicycles.

For example, it gives a threshold speed of 66mph at 40 psi. If (for the moment) we take it as gospel, I guess we might just about be able to get a fatbike with huge low-pressure slicks to aquaplane after a fast descent. So, the moral is, if you're doing 50mph plus at the bottom of a mountain on your fatbike and see some standing water ahead, you might lose control. I'm honestly not sure this would come as a surprise in those circumstances.

Now, we could spend an arbitrary amount of time discussing which treads are useful which circumstances - slimy, muddy, gritty or whatever. For simple standing water though, there is no advantage.

  • Worth noting that the threshold speed is the speed at which the tyre is lifted completely off the road surface; the loss of traction starts well before that. Any speed high enough to build up a significant wedge of water ahead of the tyre is going to produce some lifting force and loss of traction, even if it isn't enough to make the tyre lose contact completely.
    – Vikki
    Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 17:17
  • I don't have a good intuition for what speed would build up a significant wedge of water. Certainly narrow tyres are well-shaped to displace it sideways, but I guess fat bike tyres might differ in that as well as the contact patch pressure.
    – Useless
    Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 17:25
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    Anyway, I think invisible potholes are a more persuasive reason to avoid standing water at any kind of speed.
    – Useless
    Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 17:28

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