Blog: skinning cats and bicycle design

The many different methods employed by bicycle designers to achieve their ends


The toolbox offered to tyre designers is as varied as those producing ‘sexier’ parts of the bike. As noted above, tyres are becoming progressively wider as research shows little or no impact on rolling resistance with broader rubber; witness Specialized’s 26c S-Works Turbo tyre. Tubeless tyres – where air is sealed between rim and rubber and filled with silicone sealant to plug punctures – are beginning to gain ground with ‘roadies’ having long since become de rigueur with mountain bikes, although ‘clinchers’ – those with a bead that hooks to the rim over an inner-tube – remain the standard for amateurs, and tubulars the choice of the professional.

The future? Tubeless tyres have been almost universally adopted by mountain bikers. Will road cyclists follow suit?

Compounds can be hard, soft, or anything in between, depending on whether the designer’s object is grip or durability: compare the soft compound of a racing tyre with the harder rubber of one intended for winter for an insight into another of the ‘tools’ placed at the tyre designer’s disposal. Tread patterns for ‘winter’ tyres are many and varied (race/summer tyres are almost universally slicks): centre ridges, stippled shoulders, grooves intended to shift water…you name it. And we haven’t even mentioned the carcass, the cotton casing ‘twixt tube and rubber, measured in threads per inch and a key influence on whether a tyre is stiff or supple.

We’ll say it again: the tyre is your only contact with the road. Underestimate its importance at your peril. The tyre’s influence on ride quality arguably outstrips that of any other component of the bike. The £200 or so commanded by a set of carbon handlebars make the £70 or so required for a decent set of ‘boots’ look very reasonable, we’d suggest.

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