This is literally where the rubber meets the road. It’s sort of a boring topic but tire problems could end a bicycle tour quicker than almost anything I can think of. And a flat tire is probably the most likely mechanical repair a traveling bicycler will need to master. Luckily, there are many very good options when it comes to bicycle touring tires.
There is a wealth of information stamped on the side of a bicycle tire. Here you will see the size of the tire. For example 700 X 32 for a 700c diameter tire or 26 X 1.75 for a 26 inch diameter tire. The second number, after the “X”, is an indication of the width of the inflated tire. Depending on your bike, you may either have 26 inch wheels or 700c wheels ( there are other sizes of wheels, such as 650b or 27 inch, but those are not as common)
You will want to carry one or two extra tires with you depending on how far it is between bike shops on your route. So make sure you know what size your bike takes. Most tires come in a “folding” version, which means the bead, or the part of the tire that hooks on the rim, is made of flexible material and the tire can be folded or rolled into a small package.
The width of your tires will affect rolling resistance, comfort and durability.
It may be counter-intuitive but for a given inflation pressure a wider tire will have lower rolling resistance than a narrower tire. And lower inflation pressure, to a point, means a silkier ride because of the greater air volume acting as a cushion.
A wider tire with more air volume will also help protect against pinch flats- the pinching of the inner tube between the tire and the wheel rim when hitting a sharp bump.
Tires with a smooth tread, even no tread, will work best for rides which will be mostly on paved surfaces. Bike tires behave differently than automobile tires and grooves in the tread of a bike tire do nothing to increase grip. In fact, the more rubber actually touching the road, the better. The tire maker Schwalbe explains this better than I can. If you’re riding off-road or on un-paved roads a knobby tread pattern is more important.
Look for tires made specifically for touring or urban riding. These tires will have layers of puncture resistant materials such as Kevlar or Aramid under the tread. Usually the casing of these tires will be strong enough to handle the extra weight and loads of a touring bicycle. Sometimes the rubber tread itself will be significantly thicker than the tread on a racing or training tire.
I have used the Panaracer brand T-Serv tire for my tours the last two years and I have been very happy with the performance. These are not super burly tires but I am not heavy and I travel relatively light. The tread wears very well on these tires and the Aramid belt works well to prevent punctures. The cord used in the casing is strong, but the tire is still supple and feels smooth to ride.
Schwalbe Marathon is a line of tires which includes tires made for bike touring. Everything from tires for light touring to tires made for the extreme expedition adventure.
Don’t scrimp when it comes to buying tires. You will have enough things to worry about and enough challenges to keep you busy on your tour.