The main features you are looking for in a tyre are:
- puncture resistance – many tyres now have a puncture resistant layer beneath the rubber. These can make a considerable difference to the number of punctures you get. In the year of my end to end I cycled about 9,000 miles on these tyres and suffered 3 punctures (none on the end to end itself). Of those, two were caused by nails, which no amount of armouring would have stopped.
- grip in wet weather – some rubber compounds and tread patterns are more grippy in wet, muddy conditions than others. A slick racing tyre will not offer the same sure grip as a heavily threaded mountain bike tyre.
- rolling resistance – this is how much energy is lost through friction between the tyre and the road surface. Generally the smoother the thread and the narrower the tyre the less the rolling resistance will be. Hence slick 19mm racing tyres will have low rolling resistance and take less effort to ride on. Having said that many recent tests have suggested that fatter tyres do not create greater rolling resistance if they are inflated to the correct pressure.
- weight – the heavier the tyre the more weight you have to carry across the country. Also, due to something called rotational mass, the less wieght you can have near the rim of your wheels the less effort you will need to accelerate up to speed everytime you have to slow down or stop.
- comfort – the thicker the tyre the more suspension there is between you and the road surface, hence the more comfortable the ride. A 19mm racing tyre, pumped to 120psi, does not offer ultimate comfort!
As you can see some factors are almost the opposite of others and you will have to balance up what is important to you and your ride. There are tyres whose manufacturers claim they offer everything, but then so would I if I was trying to sell one.
The life expectancy of tyres varies enormously but I would expect one to last about 2,000 miles. So check them for wear before you go – you have about 1,000 miles to cover and don’t really want to have to change them half way. I put new tyres on my bike (Continental Ultra Gatorskin 25mmx700mm – couldn’t get anything fatter due to lack of frame clearance) before the start and then put the old ones back on once those were past their useful life.
On subsequent rides, which involved canal paths and a couple of ‘off road’ tracks, I used Schwalbe Marathons and Vittoria Randonneurs. Both proved puncture proof. The Vittoria Randonneurs proved to be both lighter and cheaper and had less rolling resistance.
You should make sure to carry at least 2 spare inner tubes and some means of repairing a flat. Personally I find trying to repair inner tubes for my race bike a waste of time because the repair will inevitably not withstand the pressure in the tyre. But if I have already used all my spare inner tubes, then a fixed one pumped up to low pressure will hopefully get me to the next bike shop. In case of a ripped tyre some patch kits come with a tyre ‘boot’. Effectively this is a piece of rubber to put inside the tyre to block the rip. This is a temporary fix until you can get to a shop to replace the tyre. Alternatively some people carry a cut out piece from an old tyre to do the job.
Just be aware that you can carry too much…
Where to next?
The most popular pages on the site concern planning your End to End, training for long distance cycling, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.