Everything You Needed to Know About Tires, Tubes, and Valves. Part 1

A Schrader valve (with cap) on a bicycle tire.


A Schrader valve (with cap) on a bicycle tire. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re going to start with the basics. Fixing a flat is about as basic as it gets in bicycle maintenance. But before we get into fixing the problem that plagues us all, we need to be familiar with the lingo. There are rules man.

Read more after the break!

In this case, there are sizes.

Tires come in different sizes. That’s apparent. Ask a person what the tire size is on the bike he or she is riding and chances are they won’t know. And don’t ask the guy in the fancy spandex duds because regardless of his aura of bicycliness, he probably doesn’t know either. You’re probably wondering, “How do I find out what size of tire I have?” Or in my case, I am wondering why whiny pop singers from Canada get all the press.

It’s simple, not the Canadian problem, the size is on the side of the tire.

If you look carefully on the side of the tire, you should see numbers. If you can’t see them, I’l explain that later in another post, it involves trade secrets. The numbers should be in any of these formats (# in place of numbers):

## x #.##; ### x ##c; ## x # #/#

Those are the most common ones, but generally, they will be of any of those types. Here’s some examples with numbers to give you a better idea:

26 x 1.95, 700 X 25c, 27 x 1 1/4. 

Yup, decimals and fractions. Didn’t know you were going to use algebra right? It’s okay, put down the brown paper bag. Hyperventilation is not pretty.

Let me give you some rules about tire sizing:

  1. Decimal sizes and fraction sizes are not interchangeable.
  3. The number before the “x,” which is “times” or “by” when you speak tiresizelese, is the diameter of the tire. The number after the “x” is the width.

Drill those rules into your head. Make sure they stick. If you forget, I will find you. I’ll explain the non-compatibility thingy in a later post.

So now, this should either be very confusing, or clear as crystal. Finding the tire size is as easy as looking on the side of the tire. When you need a new tire, all you need are those numbers to find the same size tire. And tubes? They follow the same sizing convention, though on tube boxes you will see a range of  sizes. Tubes are very flexible and fit a range of tire sizes, sort of like that cute yoga instructor (except the tire fitting part).

Part 2 will deal with the tubes and valves, but before I go, I will list the common tire sizes:

Just kidding! There are no “common” tire sizes. Sizes are as diverse as the people on earth. I can list a general list to help you along though:

Kids bicycles: 12″, 16″, 18″, 20″, and 24″. Mass merchant stores are the realm of the 18″ bikes and tires. Also you will notice that bicycles with these tires are generally sized by their tire size, we’ll get into that when I talk about bike sizing.

Adult bikes: 26″, 27″, 27.5″, 28″, 650, 650b, and 700. Now these get crazy. The last three are metric. Dang those Europeans!

Oh and for those who don’t know, the quote after the number stands for inches. Don’t make fun of them. Some people just don’t know. We’ve all been there.

I could go into the various sizes, and I will in a later post or something, but I think the knowledge of knowing how to find the tire size is enough. I am trying to keep this simple remember? This is a blog about learning to repair your bike, not a history lesson. Those will come later for fun.

Trade Secret: ISO Metric number I will go into this more later on. Right now, I am playing this card close.


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