Bike tyres wear out and can be damaged beyond repair from cuts from broken glass or sharp stones in the road, so it is unavoidable that if you cycle regularly you will end up replacing tyres quite frequently. Technology is on your side though, and modern tyre designs have much higher puncture resistance, and can be much more durable. Kevlar is a material used in bullet proof vests, that is also commonly used in bike tyres, woven into the carcass or as a strip under the tread, to provide greater puncture protection. Unfortunately the puncture proof tyre is still the holy grail, as unless you have solid rubber, which will ride terribly, then you are always at risk from the dreaded puncture.
The type of riding you are doing will affect your tyre choice. Your choice of tyre can affect the performance of your bike significantly, for both road and off-road disciplines, so for the serious racer there is a dilemma! For optimal performance, lightweight and best grip yopu need to use the most sophisticated rubber compounds. However the flipside is that these tyres are often the least durable and cost the most to buy in the first instance! Not to mention the fact that a if you are serious racer or off-road rider it is likely that you will need an assortment of tyres to meet the demands of different conditions.
There are many, many varieties from a huge number of brands, but essentially you can group the types of tyres available into the following categories.
Road tyres can be sub-divided into two types - Clincher and Tubular. Tubular tyres can be very lightweight and are completely encased, including their own inner tube, and must be glued or stuck with strong adhesive tape, to the rim surface. They are still the choice of top racers as they have been for decades, as they provide a very supple feel and low rolling resistance that is appreciable to the experienced racer.
Clincher tyres hook onto the rim bead, and must be fitted with a separate inner tube. Clinchers are the more common choice for the vast majority, as they are far easier to work with and easy to repair in the event of a puncture. Technology has helped the clincher tyre to reach a level that is hard to distinguish between the best tubulars and a good set of clichers. Tubulars often get discarded if they are punctured because of the long process of trying to unstitch the carcass to repair them. This alone means they are not cost effective for everyday riding, and are usually kept for racing wheels only. Tubeless tyre technology in a clincher is just arriving on the market and may be the way forward in years to come, although this requires a special rim.
Mountain Bike Off-Road (26 inch & 29 inch)
Mountain bike tyres are constantly evolving with different tread compounds, tread patterns and widths to give you maximum control in every kind of terrain. Narrower tyres will provide mud clearance and grip in gloopy conditions. Fat tyres will provide a more comfortable ride from the larger air volume. Aggressive tread patterns will provide good grip, with designs made front and rear specific as the two tyres perform very different roles. Less tread on the tyre or very low knobbles will create less rolling drag and so will feel faster to ride on. The key is to highlight what you want most from a tyre and also to select one or a pair based on what conditions you ride in most often combined with your own personal preference and riding style. Tubeless technology has been around for some time and is now commonly used in mountain bike tyres. Without an inner tube, the tyre can be run at lower pressures without risking pinch flats, and hence be able to provide more comfort and grip.
Mountain Bike Road (26 inch & 29 inch)
Because mountain bike knobbly tyres create a lot of drag on the road, if you fancy adapting your off-roader to eat up some tarmac then slick tyres are available to fit mountain bike wheels, in a range of widths. Slick tyres roll faster enabling you to go faster for less effort, great for commuting or the occasional touring trip.
A hybrid by definition is a kind of ‘go anywhere’ bike, that can take in both road and off road routes. For urban riding a slick tyre with maximum puncture resistance is all you really need, but if you want to take it of the beaten track a little, then you should consider a hybrid tyre that has a central tread that is predominantly slick for low rolling resistance, but has a more aggressive side tread, with knobbles to bite into the dirt for off road grip.
Touring (26 inch and 700c)
If you are going to be on the road for extended periods of time the last thing you want is to be constantly fixing punctures. Touring tyres come in for a lot of abuse, not just the mileage, but the extra weight they have to carry too. Go for a slightly broader slick tyre that offers good puncture resistance, but is still lightweight and will roll nicely.
Cyclo Cross (700c)
Like road tyres, cyclo cross tyres can be either clincher or tubular. Again, tubulars are usually reserved for competition only, the clincher offers the most choice of tread patterns. Generally they are sparsely treaded for mud shedding, but can also be a semi-slick, or file tread. As they are a similar size to Hybrid tyres, some cross tyres make a good choice for taking a hybrid bike off road.