Updated July 2nd, 2023
How do you know when to replace bike tires? Bike tires that are worn down or old can breakdown and cause catastrophic bike accidents. It’s a good idea to learn the signs your bike is telling you when it needs new tires. Worn out tread, lumps in the tires, wear indicators and poor handling are all potential signs that it is time to put new tires on that bike.
Below are 8 signs that you may need to replace your bike tires and a FAQ covering other tire and inner tube related questions.
8 Signs telling you when to replace bike tires
1 – The tread is worn or gone
Just like car tires, if bike tires are worn, they need to be replaced. If you take a look at your tires and the tread is worn down, it’s time for new tires. On a mountain bike, if the knobs are almost gone it’s time. On a road bike if the tread is gone or your starting to see the casing showing through it’s time for new tires.
2 – The tread is gone or there is a ridge in the middle of the tire
The center of your tire touches the ground the most. It wears out faster than any other part of your tread. If you look at your tires and the center knobs are almost gone on a mountain bike, it’s time to replace the tire. If you look at a road tire and the center looks like a flat ridge where it should be round the tread is worn and the tire should be replaced.
3 – Bulges in the sidewalls or other spots
Bicycle tires are made of several layers of rubber. If the layers separate from each other you will see bulges or bubbles in the tire. This means that the tire has lost its structure and needs to be replaced. If you continue riding on a tire you might have a more catastrophic failure. The separated rubber layers will separate farther and the whole tire can fall apart.
The below image shows a bike tire that is bulged out. The sidewall is falling apart as well. This tire has gone on its last ride.
4 – The rubber is cracking in the tread or sidealls
If the bike tire is old you may start seeing cracks in the rubber. These can be anywhere on the tire. Frequently they show up on the edges of knobs or tread features. If you see this, the rubber is breaking down and losing strength. This means it is time to replace this bike tire with a new tire. If you continue to ride on it, the cracks can enlarge and the tire may fall apart.
The tire below has cracks in the rubber along the center knobs. It’s time for replacement.
5 – The bike handling is not as good as it used to be
When bicycle tires get worn down, they have less traction just like car tires. If your mountain biking and the tires start sliding out more where they didn’t use to, your tires may be getting worn down. If your road biking and the handling starts feeling off you may have worn out tires. If your bike isn’t handling and inspiring the confidence in you that it once was, maybe it’s time to put new tires on that bike.
6 – Cut or hole in the tire
If the tire has a hole in it or cut, it’s time to replace it. You can repair a tire to some degree with patches. If you have a large sidewall cut or large hole you may not be able to. Tubeless tire sealant can do wonders for tubeless tire setups. It can seal around nails and other small punctures.
7 – Getting a lot of flats
If you are getting flat tires over and over again every ride something might not be right with your tire setup. The tire sidewalls may be damaged. You should also check to make sure that you didn’t trap a thorn or other sharp object between the tire and inner tubes. If that happens, the thorn may keep puncturing inner tubes as fast as you can replace them. If you can’t find anything sharp inside the tire, then there may be a problem with the tire itself.
8 – Tread wear indicators
Some road bike tires have wear indicators molded into them. These are small tread patterns around bottom edge of the tire. As the tire wears, the pattern gets worn and shows how much life is left. Mountain bike tires do not have these. They have knobs so it’s more obvious when they are worn out. The knobs wear down and disappear.
The video below gives an excellent explanation when to replace bike tires.
The best place to get new bike tires
There are many places you can get new bike tires. Your local bike shop is a good place. Most Walmart type stores carry replacement bike tires as well. A few good places to shop online are Jenson and Chain Reaction.
Jenson is based in the US and has cheap prices. Chain Reaction is in the UK but frequently has much lower prices. I recently bought a pair of Maxxis Rekon tires, to put on my new wheels. I purchased them from Chain Reaction and saved about $50 over the cheapest place I could find in the US. You can always shop Amazon as well.
How to change a bike tire
Changing a bike tire is a pretty simple thing to do. A set of tire tools or levers can help. If you don’t have any, a flat head screwdriver can work too. Be careful not to damage your rim with the screwdriver. If you have carbon rims or any kind of expensive aluminum rims, get a proper set of tire tools.
The below video from Parktool gives a great lesson on how to change a bike tire and bike tube.
Bike Tire Replacement FAQ
Q: Should I replace both bicycle tires at the same time?
You do not need to replace both of your bike tires at the same time. A lot of people wear one tire or the other out faster depending on how they ride. If one tire is worn bald but the other tire looks fine, then by all means, only replace one tire. If you are going to a completely different tire or tire style, you may want to replace both of them. A bike with a road tire on one wheel and off road tire on the other wheel may handle pretty weird.
Q: How often should i change bicycle tires?
Bike tires last on average between 1000 to 3000 miles. Depending on how much you ride, this could be less than a year or many years.
Q: What are bicycle tire wear indicators?
Some road tires have a wear indicator molded into the tires. For Continental brand tires, they have 2 dimples molded into the bottom surface. When the dimples disappear the tire is worn out. Other tire manufacturers use different types of wear patterns.
Q: How long do unused bike tires last before they go bad?
The rubber in tires may start dry rotting after 5 to 6 years. Tires sitting for any longer than that should be inspected and replaced. Look for cracking in the rubber or other parts of the tire deteriorating.
Q: Why do bike tires go flat when not in use?
Rubber has porosity to it. Over time air leaks out through the molecular sized holes in the rubber. Just like the tires in your car lose air over time. Your bike tires lose air over time also. There is nothing you can do to stop this. You should regularly check the air in your bike tires to make sure they are still properly inflated.
Q: How often to replace bike tubes?
You should replace a bike’s inner tube when it starts leaking and not holding air. Inner tubes properly mounted inside of bike tires aren’t exposed to UV or dust. They can last years and years inside of a tire. The key is they must be inside tires and at least partially inflated. When they are sitting a long time they can stick to the tires. They may tear or crack when inflated after sitting empty stuck to the tire. If your not sure and the bike has been sitting for years, changing tubes is a good idea.
Q: Do I need a new bike tire or just a tube?
You went for a bike ride and got a flat tire. If the tire has lots of tread left, it’s most likely time for a new inner tube. If the tire is worn down, the tire may have contributed to the flat tire. Take the inner tube out of the tire and inflate it to check for leaks. Either use a patch kit to fix it or get a new tube.
If your tires are set up tubeless, you don’t need a new tube. Look for a puncture or cut somewhere in the tire.
You might also like:
- Cycle Wheels USA Wheelset Review – Great Custom Made MTB Wheels
- Presta Valve Versus Schrader Valve. Which Bike Valve Is Better?
- Single Front Gear Mountain Bikes. Is 1x Right For You?
Co-Founder & Chief Editor
I grew up back east in Pennsylvania and learned to ski on a family trip to Killington, Vermont when I was 6. I immediately fell in love with the mountains and outdoors and have been skiing across the US and Canada ever since. I went to school for Mechanical Engineering, and have a Master’s Degree in Material Science and Reliability.
I am a total gear nerd and love learning how things work and thinking about how they could be improved. Nothing excites me more than trying out new gear. I’d rather spend 3 hours taking my bike apart and learning how to change something than go to a bike shop. These days I reside in Michigan by the Great Lakes and go skiing, biking, and boating as much as possible.