What Is A Folding Bike Tire? A Biker’s Question Answered

bicycle tire

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Anyone who’s shopping around for new tires for a bicycle has probably found themselves wondering: “What is a folding bike tire?”


While these tires have been around for some time, they aren’t the most common type. But tires that fold can bring you many benefits.

What Is A Folding Bike Tire?

bicycle close up rim

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A folding bead tire expands on the classic clincher tire. A clincher tire, unlike tubular and tubeless tires, contains a separate tube. The main part of the tire clinches the rim of the bike wheel, hence the name.

In order for this to work correctly, the clincher needs a strengthening bead core structure that prevents the tire from expanding or hopping off the wheel. The structure of this bead is the main thing that sets folding bead tires apart from other types.

So, what is a folding bike tire more precisely, and what lets it fold? It’s mostly in the structure of the bead, but also the general materials used.

A special combination of natural and synthetic materials provides the firmness and durability needed for biking while also being able to bend and flex.

A folding bike tire doesn’t need to rest in its natural round form for storage. You can buy it in a box and carry it with you on journeys, which is a great convenience. There are more of those, but let’s cover the basics first.

What’s Different Compared To Wire Bike Tires?

​​​Wire bike tires are the classic design. As the name implies, there’s a strong wire in the tire which provides the necessary rigidity and a good clinch. However, the wire bead tire has a fixed shape and cannot bend much at all.

Forcing it to bend can damage and deform the tire. If you’re not careful, it’ll also hurt you.

What is a folding bike tire all about that lets it break this old rule? There are a few noteworthy differences to look at.

Beads


​First of all, the bead consists of different materials. In wire bead bike tires, the bead comprises steel wire covered in fabric. The stiffness helps keep the tire stuck to the rim.

The rigidity of the bead is the first obstacle to folding a bicycle tire because you still need something that offers the same durability and clinching.

To overcome this, manufacturers developed bendy beads made from special materials. Synthetic fibers and Kevlar are good examples. Kevlar, for the uninitiated, is the same stuff they put in bulletproof vests.

What About The Rubber?


Now, the differences don’t end there. But before looking at them, a basic understanding of bike tire anatomy is in order. Otherwise, the words won’t mean much.

The foundation of a bike tire is the so-called carcass. It consists of a fine matrix of durable fabric made from plastics, usually nylon. The bead provides reinforcement where it meets the rim.

A rubber compound coats both sides of the carcass. Compounds vary between manufacturers and tire types. It’s also a significant difference between folding and wire bead tires. Folding bead bike tires have a somewhat stretchier compound to allow the folding.

The rubber compound consists of several ingredients, such as:

  • ​Natural rubber
  • ​Synthetic rubber
  • ​Minerals and other fillers
  • ​Vulcanizing aids such as sulfur
  • ​Vulcanizing accelerators like zinc oxide
  • ​Anti-aging additives
  • ​Softeners and lubricants
  • ​Dyes

A softer rubber compound also gives you better traction on most surfaces, which is a positive side-effect. The tradeoff is that it wears out faster, which means you’ll need more frequent replacements.

While this may sound alerting, it’s important to remember that it’s a matter of a faster rate. The tread won’t wear out fast; it just won’t last as long as a harder type.

However, some manufacturers offer dual-compound bicycle tires, which have a stronger compound in the tread to slow down the wear and tear. The softer sides still allow for folding and provides extra traction in sharp turns.

What Is TPI?


Besides “What is a folding bike tire?” another common bike tire question is what TPI means. TPI is short for threads per inch and refers to the density of the tire’s carcass.

A higher thread count means more strength because there are more nylon threads in the framework. It translates to a sturdier bicycle tire and a better ride. Higher TPI values are generally a premium feature.

Regular bike tires generally don’t have high thread counts of 60 TPI or more. Typically, only high-end bicycle tires do.

Nice And stretchy


​With the flexibility of a softer rubber compound and a kevlar core, you get a very flexible tire. It can handle a good stretch without degrading and drying out. What is a folding bike tire if it can’t fold without damage, right?

Due to these qualities, folding bead tires pack well and easily. Buying a small box at the store is more practical than a big ring of steel-reinforced, vulcanized rubber.

They ship better, and they're more portable. And if you get them online, it’s safer in transit than a round wheel due to its packaging.

Light And Nimble


Without the steel wire bead and extra rubber density, you get an impressively lightweight wheel. To a cyclist, this can mean many things. From performance boosts to easier transport and maintenance work, weight reduction is a big deal.

Wire bead tires tend to weigh around two ounces more. That’s a difference of roughly four ounces on your bike, on average.

Reasons To Choose A Folding Bike Tire

bike tires

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You’re probably wondering: “What is a folding bike tire better at than other tire types?”

Starting with the lightweight aspect, the folding bead tire has a few clear advantages. For example, there’s less rolling resistance with a lighter wheel, and that means a faster bike. As they’ve evolved, folding bead tires have been catching up with tubular bike tires in these aspects.

Other benefits of the low weight come into the picture when you think of long-distance races and long casual rides in nature. There’s less fatigue overall, but there’s also the advantage of bringing a spare tire.

That was the original purpose of folding bead tires. You can easily fit a set of tires in a backpack, or in dedicated saddlebags or handlebar bags. Also, they don’t add much weight to carry. So, as long as your budget allows it, mitigating the faster wear is also straightforward.

Sure, there are few scenarios where you’d need to bring an entire spare bicycle tire, but they do exist. If you’re riding a long-distance race, it can be necessary.

Changing a folding bike tire is a piece of cake. Because it’s a stretchy clincher, you can simply snap it on in no time. It’s the same general process as with a wire bead tire, but you may find it even easier.

Compare that to the gluing and finagling required with a tubular tire, and you’ll appreciate the folding bike tire even more. It can’t run flat like a tubular tire, but there’s a tradeoff for everything.

Let’s not forget the matter of traction. The better grip of softer rubber doesn’t only apply to folding bead vs. wire bead comparisons. Other bike tire types also use hard rubber, although specific soft-compound options exist for many of them.

What About The Drawbacks?

bicycle tire

​Image source: pixabay

There aren’t any significant disadvantages of folding bead bicycle tires, but there are caveats worth considering. The main downside is the price of each tire.

Folding bike tires do cost a bit more than ordinary ones. That’s understandable when you consider the premium materials, extra convenience, and high performance.

Also, they do wear out faster than most bicycle tires. That’s not to say they don’t last very long. Generally speaking, it’s a worthy tradeoff, although it depends on your priorities.

It’s only when you consider these two issues together that they may become a problem. Costly tires that don’t last as long may not be feasible for every budget. But this only makes a significant difference if you’re a hardcore bicyclist who burns a lot of rubber.

If you’re a casual bike rider who doesn’t change tires often, the differences in price and durability aren’t big. At the same time, you don’t benefit as much, although the advantages are still there.

The Bottom Line

​​​​​If someone asks you, “What is a folding bike tire?” you now have all the answers. And you can figure out if it’s the right tire for you.

They can be very convenient, and they have some performance benefits such as lower rolling resistance and improved grip. If you don’t mind spending a bit extra for these advantages, a set of folding bead tires can take your biking to new levels.

As always, there’s no objective best choice. It’s all about your preferences and riding style. But in general, you won’t regret getting a pair of folding bike tires.

We hope you’ve learned all that you came here to figure out. If you have more questions or something you want to say, feel free to leave a comment.

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