When to Retire a Tire

Welp, it’s finally time for me. My rear Thickslick made it just shy of 5,000 miles, but the mean streets of LA finally served up some debris gnarly enough to cut the sidewall and it’s time to retire my tire. In today’s post, we’ll walk through the tire-wear warning signs, the need-to-treats, and how to swap your tire when it’s finally time.

Tread Wear

When it comes to treaded tires, just like the ones on a car, there will usually be wear indicators built into the tread to let you know when the tire’s getting worn. If your tire’s worn down to the wear indicator, it’s getting near the end of its life and you’ll want to start shopping for your replacement. Here's what they look like on the Continental tires (you'll also notice a handy "TWI" on the sidewall so you can find the tread wear indicators easily on the road).

If you’re riding on slick tires, they may not have a wear indicator, but you’ll still be able to “eyeball” the missing rubber by taking a look at the profile of the tire. Since you spend most of your time riding upright (hopefully), you’ll see wear concentrated in the middle of the tire and that reduction in rubber will give the tire a more square profile. The “squarer” your tire gets, the trickier handling can be in the corners as you “roll over the edge” of the tire. A little bit of flatness is ok, but if your tire really squares off or gets dicey in the turns, it’s time to start shopping as well.

I’ve noticed my Thickslicks tend to naturally flatten out in the first thousand or so miles, and then gradually become more square from 2,500 miles on. This tire was probably about ready to change anyway, but I was hoping to make it to 5,000 miles before the sidewall tear put an end to that dream (at mile 4,778).

Flats

Another great indicator that your tire’s nearing its end of life is an increase in flats. As the rubber wears away, there’s less and less standing between your tube and the junk on the road. When it gets to the point that every stray piece of glass, rock, etc… is costing you a patch, it’s probably time to make a change.

Tears

There’s a reason tears and tears are spelled the same way. A rip in your tire is often the end of that rubber’s usefulness :’(. If you’re on the road, you can temporarily boot a tear with a folded up dollar bill or the boot included in the Lezyne patch kit, but once you get back to base, it’s time to do some shopping.

You can often identify a tear before it’s an issue by checking your tires regularly for bulges. If you see something growing that looks like a tire tumor, there’s a weakness in the rubber there and it’s only a matter of time before it tears and your tube suffers a blowout. If you see a strange growth forming, get the tire swapped before raceday.

Tire Rotation

So far, this all seems very gloom and doom, but in reality you should be able to enjoy thousands of miles before you’ve got an issue and unlike a car, just because you change one tire doesn’t mean you need to swap ‘em all.

Your rear tire will likely wear at a much higher rate than your front because a majority of your weight is on the back wheel and it’s responsible for your acceleration and drive (and braking if you’re riding fixed). That means you’ll probably need a new rear long before you need a new front tire, so let’s talk tire rotation.

You never want to put a worn tire on your front wheel. I know it’s tempting, but your front tire’s traction is responsible for your steering and braking (if you run a front brake), and losing traction on your front wheel almost always ends in a crash. Losing traction on your rear wheel is much easier to save and you just look like you were doing a sick whip skid, anyway. So, if your rear tire’s worn but your front’s in decent shape, you can move your front tire to the rear, buy one new tire and pop it on your front wheel, and just toss the old rear into the bin! You’re good to go! You’ll get improved traction on both wheels, not take the risk of your front wheel washing out, and save a whole tire’s worth of cash by not replacing both at once!

Swap

That’s enough talk, let’s get swappy! To make the switch you’ll need a couple tire levers, a new tire, and your old tire/wheel/bike (obviously).

Remove Old Tire

Begin by using the tire levers to remove your worn tire. Just slide one lever up and under the bead, then secure it to the nearest spoke to hold the bead “open”.

Now take your other lever and slide it along the edge of the rim to unseat the tire. Once it’s off all the way around, just lift the tire off the wheel, save the tube, and toss that old rubber into the recycling.

Check Tube

Since you’ve got it out, this is a great time to check your tube as well. If it’s mostly patches at this point, or you’ve got a new one and want to keep your tubes and tires matched for “newness”, now’s the time to make the switch. I usually use this opportunity to pop a new tube in there and turn my old tube into my road-spare for flat fixes on a ride. It’s pretty much personal preference; I just like knowing I won’t be popping the new tire off anytime soon because my tube died of old age.

Install New Tire

Once you’re happy with your tube, let’s get our new tire mounted! Put a little bit of air in the tube (just enough to give it some shape), and slide it into your new tire.

Next seat one side of the tire all the way around the rim.

Lastly, we’ll seat the opposite side of the bead by working the tire back and forth over the rim with some hard thumb/palm pressure and a hefty bit of wiggling. 

You can also use tire levers for this step, but be really careful not to pinch the tube between the tire and the rim. Tire levers make that fairly easy to do, and it’ll usually tear your tube when you go to inflate it meaning you have to repeat the whole process again. Just take it easy and make sure the tube’s all tucked away as you run the lever around the edge of the rim, reversing the process we used for removal.

Now pop some air in there and you’re good to go! Fresh tube, fresh tire, and thousands of miles of possibilities; have a great ride!

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