Tire wear is inevitable and good bicycle tires are expensive. Like a lot of cyclists, I found myself wondering whether or not I should switch my tires around. In other words…
Should bike tires be rotated?
Rotating bike tires is not necessary and can be dangerous if done incorrectly. However, it can save you money on tires by allowing you to buy one tire at a time, instead of two. If you choose to “rotate” your bicycle tires, you should purchase a new front tire, and then move your previous front tire to the back wheel.
Smart rotation can be a money-saver in the long run, but it’s also important to be thoughtful about how you manage your tires. To help you get the information you need to make your own decisions, we’ve covered several tire rotation FAQs below.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Should Bike Tires Be Rotated?
Tire wear is just part of riding a bike. The same rubber that gives us a good grip on the road, or grabs dirt when mountain biking, wears out over time.
Depending on your style of riding, tire wear can range from annoying to dangerous.
You don’t want a catastrophic failure of either tire when you’re riding your bike. Most riders can handle a blowout on the rear if necessary. The front is a different story, in some situations, there’s nothing even the most skilled rider can do.
For that reason, you need to pay special attention to your front tire. Some people decide to rotate their tires when they’re about halfway worn. The usual train of thought is that it equalizes the wear and you’ll be able to change tires at the same time.
The real world doesn’t work quite like that.
A safe rotation involves moving the front tire to the rear and replacing the front tire.
What to Consider
Rotating tires in a smart fashion only makes sense if you’re running the same tires on the front and back.
If you have special tires, you should simply replace them as they become too worn down.
On the other hand, rotating tires by placing a new one in the front is often the ideal approach. While front tires wear slower, they’re a potential danger with worn tread. Always move the front tire to the rear if you’re only replacing one tire.
Should You Rotate Road Bike Tires?
Road bike tires are thick and designed to grip the road well, and front tires often last for a very long time.
The rear tire, on the other hand, will wear quickly. As you put mileage on the tire, the outside rubber will wear down until you have to replace the tire.
Road tires tend to show wear by cracking, but you can check the depth of the tread if there are no obvious signs. You need at least 1/16th of an inch to ride on it safely.
Some road tire brands, like Continental, have indicators built-in. For instance, Continental has a line of letters displaying DWS that fades in a specific order. They’ll show the tire is no longer good for snow, then wet weather, and finally unsuitable for dry terrain as the letters fade.
Inexperienced road bike riders should check their tires regularly. They wear differently than the knobby tires that many casual riders are used to. When the back begins to show serious signs of wear, it’s time to rotate your tires.
Should You Rotate Mountain Bike Tires?
Just like road bikes, front tires should be kept fresh on a mountain bike. Many riders will run their rear tire down to the treads, but a front washout can be fatal if the front tire fails.
Mountain bike tires are usually knobbies, which show their wear as the individual knobs wear down. Some folks, particularly commuters with multi-use bikes, run them all the way down to the fabric.
It makes sense at first glance. Once the knobs have worn down enough, the bike is going to grip better on asphalt and concrete due to increased surface area.
It’s also a terrible idea, especially since mountain bikers expose their bikes to more potential risks than your average roadie. If your tires are nubbed instead of knobbed, you’re in dire need of a replacement.
Instead, wait until the knobs are rounded off and about 50% of their original height. It’s a good time to replace them, especially if you’re regularly hitting the trails. At this point, the tires have enough protection to keep from popping but when you go much further you increase the risk of failure.
If you’re only commuting, it may be worth it to look into road tires for your bike as well. They’ll grip better in town, making for a better ride most of the time. Knobbed tires wear down quickly on hard surfaces, so it can also save money.
Like road bikes, it’s a personal choice but it’s one that many riders make.
How Often Should I Rotate my Bike Tires?
When the rear tire has worn out.
For road bikes, you’re often looking at 1,000 to 3,000 miles per tire. High-end tires are on the higher side of that range, usually lasting 2500 or more miles under normal conditions.
MTB tires aren’t rated for mileage in most cases. The terrain of choice and riding style of the cyclist are the biggest factors. An experienced rider will check pressures and look over their tires before and after each ride.
Any bulging, low knobs, showing fabric, and other signs mean it’s time to replace the tire.
In practice, the longevity of your tires is also affected by storage conditions for infrequent riders. Keep the tires out of the sun for the best results. UV damage to tires can cause cracking and worse over time. High temperatures also dry out and damage tires.
And… a lot of tires never see their real lifespan. Road bike tires often meet their end after being cut up enough to be useless. There’s a point where it just doesn’t make sense to keep replacing tubes.
You should rotate your tires whenever real damage shows on the rear. In practice, just be safe and replace any problematic rubber before it causes a crash.
Which Bike Tire Wears Fastest (Front or Back)
The back tire of your bike always wears faster.
The reason is a bit complicated, but the end result is that when you press down on the pedal of a bike you’re causing the tire to move sideways. You’re moving in a straight line, and able to adjust the front wheel to compensate. Meanwhile, the rear tire is scraping the pavement much more than the front.
The side-to-side motion made when pedaling transfers to the tire. It’s effectively covering more ground in different directions than the front. Most amateurs also ride their rear brakes pretty hard, which also shortens the life of the rear tire.
Both tires are important to riding a bike, but failures in the rear are usually less severe. If the rear tire pops you can often come to a gradual and (mostly) safe stop.
On the other hand, if your front tire blows out. You’re more likely to have a severe crash, where you go for a short flight with a sudden stop. In that type of situation, even the best rider is going to suffer a dangerous tumble.
The rear wheel both wears faster and provokes less danger during failure. That makes it ideal to switch a fresh tire to the front and move the lightly worn front tire to the rear.
Which Direction Should Bike Tires Face? (Can They Be Backwards?)
Many bike tires are directional, but getting things mixed up isn’t the end of the world.
The basic idea is that a tire’s tread is cut in a way to make it faster when facing forward. When the tire faces the other way, it will produce more grip.
You’ll have the front tire facing forwards, and the rear tire facing in the opposite direction in most cases. This allows you to get more grip on the rear tire of the bike, while the front tire moves with less resistance.
If you mix them up?
You may not notice if you’re not an experienced rider. It may cause marginally more wear on the tire which is reversed, but it’s not enough of a difference to affect the average cyclist. My advice on the matter is simple: pay enough attention while changing tires to get the tread right.
It’s a small detail, but bike maintenance is made up of small details and the more you have in place… the better.
Road tires rarely have a difference, but they may have an indicator on the tire. Just follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the best results!