Training and racing with a quality tire that is not worn out will not only help to minimize the chance of flats and accidents it will also have you racing faster across the course on race day.
Tires, just like the previous article on the drivetrain, often require a visual inspection to make sure the tire is in good shape. I suggest giving your training tires a quick visual once over every time you air them up. It only takes a couple of seconds to do since you will be right down by the tire as you inflate to your proper PSI.
When your tires are properly aired up look for cracks in the sidewall, referred to as dry rotting. If you see tiny cracks all over the rubber it is time to replace the tire because the structural integrity has diminished. Next check the tire over for tears or holes, often caused by hitting debris in the road. Finally, look and see how round the tire is if the tire looks squared off and warn it is time for a replacement. A tire that looks squared off or has a flat surface instead of the rounded surface has very worn rubber, meaning there is less protection between the surface of the road and your tubes (or tubeless sealant).
So there are many factors to consider when deciding if it is time to replace your tires. For myself, I like to use my training tires until they are really worn out. As long as the cuts I find in the tires are small I keep them rolling. For race tires I am much more picky, when in doubt I replace them and often find dry rot is the number one reason I replace race tires - they spend most of their life sitting in a storage bag. Ultimately if you feel your tires are unsafe, you start getting a lot of flats or the tire looks like it's about to start giving you trouble it is time for a replacement.
Additionally, a tire that is not worn down or squared off is faster. First, the shape is fast, the air slips around the front tire more efficiently. Next, there is less rolling resistance when aired up properly surface contact is ideal. In short, when you want to get the most out of your race and save every second your tire can help.
Additionally, coach Carly and I often get asked what tires we prefer to use. For training, we prefer to use the Continental Gatorskins. These tires are heavy and roll slow, yet have a great puncture resistance to them. We put thousands of miles on them a year and don’t get flats. For racing, we much prefer the Continental Grand Prix 5000 tire. This tire is much lighter and rolls fast, yet still has some puncture resistance built-in. There are lighter options for race tires for sure but I find that the risk of road debris and a less puncture-resistant tire is not worth it.
Just like your bike's drivetrain careful inspection of components is key to keep you training and racing at your best. If you ever find yourself questioning bike maintenance be sure to stop into a local bike shop you trust.