Tires play a huge role in how your bike handles and feels. They're literally the point of contact between your bike and whatever it is you're riding on. When shopping for BMX tires, the options can be pretty overwhelming. Beyond just about every color you could ever ask for, there's also a multitude of tread styles and a variety of widths to choose from. For today, we're going to leave the colors at the door and focus on the actual physical aspects of tires. All you need to know about BMX tires is right here—what they’re comprised of, general terms, basic features, and how they correspond to your style of riding.
But do they squeak?
Yeah, we know squeaking isn’t a physical attribute to a tire, but it’s a trait a lot of riders are found of. Seeing as the BSD Donnasqueak tire carry the namesake, we asked BSD's Grant Smith what makes a tire squeak, "The tire pressure matters as does the surface, softer pressure and smooth surfaces enable the squeak better. The rubber compound on the Donnasqueaks is really grippy [the micro knurling] and that compound just happens to be great for squeaking too."
PSI: Pounds per Square Inch.
It's the common unit of measurement for tire pressure. A tire with a maximum pressure of 110 PSI will be able to be much harder (and roll faster) than a tire that can hold 65 PSI. If keeping your speed up is a concern, like when pumping on transitions or riding flatland, then a higher PSI is the typical choice—both vert and flat riders typically run over 100 PSI. On the flipside, a lot of street riders prefer low PSI so their tires are softer and provide more cushion when taking drops. According to Devon Smillie, he keeps his signature Fly Fuego tires at “around 20 PSI, maybe slightly under occasionally.” He then went on to explain, “In my head, the lower the air pressure, the more surface area on the floor which means more of a balance point for one wheel tricks.”
What Kind Of Bead:
There are two types, traditional wire or Kevlar (foldable). Wire bead tires cost less than Kevlar, but they're also heavier because there is literally a metal wire encased in the rubber. Kevlar—the same material used in bullet-proof vests—is lighter, but more costly. Ultimately, the weight difference between the two options is only a few ounces, but hey, it all adds up, right?
The area on the side of the tire between the bead and the tread. Sidewall thickness varies amongst tires as well. Typically, a tire designed for street riding will feature slightly thicker sidewalls to resist wear from grinding, yet the texture will be smooth so as to not cause extra resistance.
The layer beneath the tire tread is the casing. It's comprised of threads that crisscross from one side of the tire to the other. Tire casings are rated by how many threads they contain per inch, BMX tires come in 60 and 120TPI.
The tread is the pattern on top of the tire that comes in contact with the surface you ride on. Thicker, knobby style tread is better suited for BMX racing, dirt and trails, because the larger knobs dig into the ground, giving traction and grip. Tires that are designed for dirt may also be less round on top, putting more of the tire in contact with the ground at once. If you where to ride a knobby tire on street it can have that "tractor" feel to it, so street tires tend to have minimally raised tread so they roll faster with less resistance, while still having grip for paved urban terrain. Another tread feature to bear in mind is micro-knurling—which is basically a tiny grippy pattern that can be found on both smooth tires and knobby tires alike.
As for those riders who focus more on parks—smooth concrete and/or wood ramps—they may opt for tires with even less aggressive tread so they'll have minimal rolling resistance for greater speed and less rotational resistance for quick spins. Take the Animal x T1 tire for example, with input from the master blaster Joe Rich himself, it features a hard compound on top with minimal tread and a smooth surface for lower rolling resistance, and a soft compound on the outside for increased corner grip.
Is Wider Better?
The width is measured from sidewall to sidewall of an inflated tire, and the diameter is the distance around the outside of an inflated tire from bead to bead. With that said, when it comes to width, is fatter better? That all depends on how/what you ride. Or who you ask. The classic go-to setup for trail riders is a wider knobby upfront with a thinner less aggressive knobby in the rear. The wider front knobby provides stability when cornering and more control when nose diving onto landings.
Wider tires are certainly the predominant choice for street riders nowadays, with the widest end of the spectrum ballooning out to 2.5", like the Cult AK tire. The general consensus amongst street riders is that wider tires with low PSI provide more cushion for large drops—yet on the contrary, Sean Burns, who is the best in the business at taking drops and landing flat, prefers to run the slimmer 2.25" Eclat Mirage tires, with a high PSI. According to Burns, “Fat and wide tires will make you bounce and cause you to get sloppy on your landings. I watch everyone who does this get flat spots on their rims and blow out spokes. A high PSI of over 80, with a smaller tire will make you perfect your landings. There is no bounce, and a high PSI saves your wheels from damage.” Beyond the opposing school of thought about landings, another factor to consider with wider tires is grind interference. Thicker tires can cause drag while grinding—which can damage the sidewall, and perhaps more importantly, it can affect your grind game. For that reason, some grind-focused riders seek out skinnier options like the classic 2.1" Animal GLH. Skinny tires with higher PSI are also preferred for many transition riders for their lack of rolling resistance and the extra speed they provide.
For those who like to ride a little bit of everything, fear not, because of all the BMX tires available today, the multi-use style are most abundant. What exactly does a multi-use tire entail, well, in short, pretty much a mix of everything mentioned above—typically a median width of 2.3 to 2.4" including slightly less aggressive knobs, micro-knurling for extra traction, and a smooth center line for low rolling resistance.
Two final notes when deciding on the tire width that works best for you… keep in mind that the wider the rim, the wider the tire will be, and vice versa—so if you're running, say the Stranger XXL rim, which is the widest BMX rim on the market, that'll maximize the full width of whatever tire you're running. And lastly, is you opt for wider tires, make sure both your frame and fork have enough clearance—that shouldn't be an issue with any current modern frame/fork on the market, but it's worth mentioning.