How Long Do Compass Tires Last?

How Long Do Compass Tires Last?

One of the less-noticed results of the ‘Wide Tire Revolution’: Our tires last a lot longer these days. When I rode 20 mm-wide tires, I rarely got more than 1300 km (800 miles) out of a set of performance tires. For long-distance races, I put on new tires for every event.
Now it’s rare that my tires need replacing. Even for challenging events like the 360-mile Oregon Outback (above), I only put on a new tire (on the rear, above) because the old one had seen a lot of hard use. There are three reasons for this huge difference:

  • Wider tires spread the wear over a much-larger area, so they wear much slower.
  • Modern rubber compounds wear much better. In the past, we had to choose between grip or wear resistance. Today, the best tires combine both.
  • Compass tires have a little extra rubber right in the center of the tread to increase the wear resistance. This adds only a few grams and doesn’t measurably change the rolling resistance, but it doubles the tire’s tread life. The shoulders of the tire don’t wear, so we keep them thin and supple.

How do you know when it’s time to replace your tires? We’ve designed our Compass tires so the center tread (longitudinal ribs) serves as a wear indicator. (The chevron tread on the shoulders gives you extra grip in corners.)
On the tire above, you can see how the longitudinal ribs are starting to show some wear. This tire has been ridden, but it still has many miles (or kilometers) left to go.

This tire is ready for replacement. The center tread is completely worn off. When the rubber gets much thinner, the risk of flats increases. And if you wear all the way through the tread, your tire can suddenly blow out. That’s a risk not worth taking to get a few more miles out of a worn tire.
The tread also allows you to check whether you have been running a good tire pressure: All the longitudinal lines should disappear – as on the tire above. If you get wear only in the very center, your pressure is too high. The footprint of your tire is smaller than ideal, and you get more wear, less traction and less comfort. (And no additional speed.)
If the wear goes far into the chevron tread on the shoulders of the tire, your pressure is too low. You’re stressing the casing more than is ideal (in extreme cases, you’ll see individual broken threads in the sidewall), your tire can collapse under hard cornering, and you may even give up a little bit in speed.

How long does a Compass tire last? This depends on several factors:

  • Tire width: Wider tires spread the wear over more rubber, so they last longer. The 38 mm Barlow Pass (above) has 11 ribs in the center; the 55 mm Antelope Hill (below) has 23. With twice as much rubber touching the road, the Antelope Hill will last roughly twice as long.
  • Weight: Tire wear is directly proportional to the weight of rider/bike/luggage.
  • Power: High power outputs increase the wear on the rear tire.
  • Both power and weight are the reason why the rear tire wears faster than the front one. If your rear tire wears significantly faster, you can rotate your tires from front to rear roughly half-way through their lifespan to even out the tire wear. I sometimes do that on bikes I use for hill intervals.
  • There is no difference in the tread between the Standard and Extralight versions, so both last equally long. (The Extralight’s casing is more supple, which further improves the tire’s performance and comfort.)

Other tips for increasing the lifespan of your tires:

  • UV light makes rubber deteriorate and crack. High-end tires contain more natural rubber, which is especially susceptible to UV damage. If possible, don’t store your bike in direct sunlight.
  • Ozone damages rubber. Electric motors emit ozone, so don’t keep your bike near refrigerators, freezers, heater furnaces, etc.
  • The shelf life of tires is very long, if they are stored in the dark with moderate humidity. I recently found an old set of tires that was ten years old, and they were as good as new.
  • In the past, there was much talk about aging tires to increase their puncture resistance. It’s true that rubber should cure for optimum performance, but at least with our Compass tires, that takes only about a month. By the time Compass tires arrive from Japan in our Seattle warehouse, they are fully cured.

What does all this mean in practical terms? I expect about 5000-6500 km (3000-4000 miles) out of a 650B x 42 mm Babyshoe Pass. For high-performance tires, that is quite remarkable, and it’s dramatically lowered the cost-per-mile of high-end tires. There is no longer a need to reserve them for special events – I enjoy them even on my Urban Bike.
Click here for more information about Compass tires.

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Comments (49)

  • larryatcycleitalia

    I find the rotating trick gives me a LOT more wear from a set of tires. As soon as the rear shows more than a slight bit of wear in the center I swap ’em. The (now) front tire seems to last forever but when the (now) rear is worn-out they both get replaced. One suggestion for storing tires – take ’em out of the packaging and seal them in zip type food storage bags. Squeeze all the air out and put ’em in a box so no light shines on them. No casing rot and no drying out of the rubber!

    October 23, 2018 at 6:21 am
    • Fred Lee

      The suggestion I heard many years ago (may have been a Sheldon Brown post) and have generally followed was to wait until your rear wears out, then trash it. Move the front to the rear and put new rubber on the front.
      The theory being that a good tire on the front is more important than getting a few extra miles before replacement.
      Putting a used tire on the front seems like unnecessary economy.

      October 23, 2018 at 9:15 am
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        Blowouts on either wheel are dangerous and should be avoided. These days, many of us use fenders, and we get very few flats, so we rarely look at the tread of the rear tire. Having the more worn tire on the rear isn’t a good idea under those conditions. The front tire is much more visible, so you’ll notice when it approaches the end of its life. No matter what you do, it’s a good idea to inspect your tires from time to time.

        October 23, 2018 at 9:25 am
      • Rick Thompson

        I don’t understand rotating bike tires. If the rear is worn out and the front partly worn, I put the new tire on the rear. The rear wears faster, so this is always the place to put the least worn tire. Eventually any tire gets replaced when it is fully worn out, so I also don’t understand how any rotation saves in the number of tires that I need to buy in the long term.

        October 23, 2018 at 8:19 pm
    • Richard

      An ozone-protection alternative to food storage bags is kitchen cling wrap that’s been cut into narrow segments. To make a clean cut through the film, use a razor blade and light pressure while rolling the cling-wrap tube repeatedly on a flat surface. Wrap the tire loosely to avoid deforming it (in an appropriate width, cling wrap requires little or no stretching to be effective). Experience suggests that a double layer of cling wrap provides similar protection to a sealed food storage bag.

      October 23, 2018 at 11:15 am
  • Dana Shifflett

    “The tread also allows you to check your tire pressure: All the longitudinal lines should disappear…”
    Great guideline, but how do I check for this? Without waiting for tire wear to show?

    October 23, 2018 at 7:05 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      You are right, you can only check once the tire wears. Fortunately, riding the tire a bit over- or underinflated doesn’t do any harm.

      October 23, 2018 at 8:57 am
      • David Lewis

        To a first approximation, wouldn’t looking at the tire after riding over wet pavement do the same thing? Might be slightly different in width from what the wear pattern looks like, but it seems equally repeatable, at least if the pavement is lightly wet rather than wet with standing water.

        October 26, 2018 at 3:45 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Interesting idea! I suspect pavement will be too rough to get a good imprint, but if you roll over a steel plate with a wet tire, you should get a good imprint. Be careful not to slide and fall, though – wet steel plates can be treacherous.

          October 26, 2018 at 8:04 pm
          • David Lewis

            You don’t need the imprint on the road or plate, only the wetted area of the tread. I got the idea because I’d read your article before riding into work. It had rained when I was on the train, so when I got out the pavement was wet and the tire was dry. The wetted area when I looked at the front tire was about where the wear is in your picture.

            October 26, 2018 at 10:14 pm
          • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

            Great idea! I’ll check that next time it rains (which will be soon here in Seattle!).

            October 26, 2018 at 10:35 pm
  • TonyP

    On my 1st set of standard BSP tires, which was also my introduction to anything larger than 700/25, I wanted to see how far I could push them. I retired the rear at 4000 miles and moved the front to the rear and rode it till I saw casing, which was just shy of another 4000 miles. About 20 miles shy. I never saw a flat on that tire.
    I pushed that tire way past it’s life, but I wanted to know what I could expect out of the tires as they wore. I found more than I expected and now have no reason to ride any other tires.

    October 23, 2018 at 7:46 am
    • RobP

      If you don’t mind me asking- was this running tubed or tubeless?

      October 23, 2018 at 8:33 am
      • TonyP

        I agree with what Jan said about not wearing them down to the casing, I just did it that once to find that breaking point.

        October 23, 2018 at 9:27 am
  • Liam Guild

    Are you going to come out with a wider tire for 650b? I had the switchback hills on my “cross” bike for a while but when I took it on MTB trails the volume was the limiting factor. Also wider ones will last longer based on this article.

    October 23, 2018 at 8:21 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We’d love to do a wider 650B tire at some point, even if we have fewer repeat sales because they last so long!;-)

      October 23, 2018 at 9:44 am
  • millet

    does anybody ever experience a full wear of this tyre down to the web? how much kilometer since flat surface appears needed up to see inner web? probably a lot more than many people think for an average use on roads….

    October 23, 2018 at 8:33 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Please don’t wear a tire down to the casing! Apart from the greatly increased flat frequency, once the casing appears, you have two risks: 1. There is no tread in that spot, and traction can suddenly break in a corner. 2. Without protection, the casing wears very quickly, and the tire explodes. Both aren’t worth the risk.
      When you replace the tire, you can cut the old one and see how much rubber is left. When the ribs disappear completely (not just in the center), you still have enough rubber left for about 25% more safe kilometers/miles. So if you got 4000 out of a tire to that point, you can ride it another 1000. Beyond that, you really start pushing your luck.

      October 23, 2018 at 8:55 am
    • Fred Lee

      I actually have done this more often than I’d like to admit (on Grand Bois Cerf or Chinook Pass 700x28s). I guess it’s a testament to the construction of Compass tires that I get to this point before the tire has been compromised or I feel compelled to swap for other reasons.
      I don’t track the miles on my tires, but my guesstimate would be about 1500 miles before I start to see little patches of rubber starting to peel off revealing the casing. And as Jan mentions the frequency of flats increases considerably at this point.
      As the post says, tire life depends on how you ride. I’m a clydesdale with robust power output., so that no doubt contributes.

      October 23, 2018 at 9:21 am
  • Scott Williams.

    Does tire rubber deteriorate faster in the presence of petrol (gasoline) vapour? For example if bikes are stored along with garden machinery?
    Re: Dana’s enquiry: Riding through a puddle and onto a dry smooth road surface allows the tire contact patch width to be seen.

    October 23, 2018 at 9:16 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I haven’t heard of gasoline fumes destroying tires, but it’s bad for air quality, especially in urban environments (it contributes to smog). Modern cars and most gas stations have special filters to prevent the gasoline fumes from escaping.

      October 23, 2018 at 9:27 am
    • huges84

      You can get a modern gas can that traps the fumes inside. That is better for the environment and might be better for your tires.

      October 23, 2018 at 7:33 pm
  • Mike

    I usually get 8.5 months out of a rear tire. I’ve bought two sets of Rat Trap Pass thus far, and after riding most of the year (except winter, when I use my winter tires for 3-3.5 months), the rear tire is worn; not as bad as in the pictures above, but not that much better. The front one is hardly worn down at all. Next spring I’ll use the front tire from each set to save money on buying another set of tires.

    October 23, 2018 at 9:28 am
  • Sukho in PDX

    I think the best trick to get more life out of your tires is to have more bikes. You get less wear on each set as you rotate through your bikes 🙂
    As an aside, I wish there was a way we could recycle old tires so that they just don’t go into a landfill…or can you? What do folks do with their old tires?

    October 23, 2018 at 9:41 am
    • Chris Cullum

      My local bike Co-op in Vancouver recycles them. I’m sure there’s a similar thing in PDX.

      October 23, 2018 at 11:36 am
  • Bob Kaplan

    I’ve been running 35mm Bon Jon extra lite’s for 2 seasons. I ride 50/50 paved and unpaved roads. I weigh 147 lbs and run my BJ’s at 30-35 psi — both with tubes and tubeless. While tread wear has been very satisfactory, I’ve had issues with side wall fatigue.The supple side walls at low pressure flex quite a bit which cause the material to eventually break down, well before tread is fully worn. I suspect that the standard casing, which is less supple, would be a better choice, if long tire life is a priority.

    October 23, 2018 at 9:49 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Yes, the sidewalls can start to get porous after a few thousand miles. At that point, tubeless sealant starts to leak. With the narrower tires, the tread usually is almost worn out, but with my Rat Trap Pass 26″ x 2.3″, there was a lot of life left, so I just ran them with tubes.

      October 23, 2018 at 11:26 am
      • Froste Wiström

        Is there a way to prolong the tubeless life of your tires? I much prefer not using tubes as I ride rough dirt roads a lot but get annoyed when they start to leak with plenty of rubber left on the tread.

        October 24, 2018 at 3:21 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I wonder whether you could coat the inside with liquid latex. You might inflate the tire ‘dry’ to force the latex into the casing. We don’t want to add more rubber to the casings, as that would make the tires slower, heavier and less comfortable. Fortunately, you should get plenty of miles before the tires start leaking when running tubeless.

          October 25, 2018 at 7:35 am
  • marmotte27

    I measure the tread thickness using two small blocks of wood and calipers, first with the tire between the blocks, then without. Just measured my Loup Loup Pass a few days back, the front still shows the centre lines very faintly, in the rear, they’re no longer visible. Both tires are very close in thickness though, 1.8 – 1.9mm.
    Tread is 3mm when new, if I remember correctly, so a little more than 1mm has worn off. I seem to remember you saying somewhere that the longitudinal ribs disappear after about a third of the tires lifespan?
    I do seem to run the tires at rather low pressures as the inner part of the file tread is worn as well (arpund 3 bars or a little less in front, and 3.3 bars at the back) I don’t feel however that the tires are close to collapsing while cornering and putting in much more makes for a harsh ride on cobbles and such.

    October 23, 2018 at 1:16 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      You’re approaching the end of the tire’s life. There is about 0.5 mm casing, so you have only about 1.3 mm tread left – less than half the original thickness. Once those lines disappear completely, think about replacing the tires.

      October 23, 2018 at 4:26 pm
  • Kerry A Irons

    A key point on tire wear: it is due to power transmission. This can be from braking or pedaling forces and is caused by scrubbing rubber off the tire. If you don’t do a lot of heavy braking, your front tire will essentially not wear out. It will get cut and crazed, but it will not experience rubber loss. I have put over 6,000 miles on a front tire with essentially no loss of weight. In the same time two rear tires would have lost perhaps 60 gm of rubber. Depending on tire construction, a loss of 10-15% of weight means the tire is worn out. Continental puts wear indicators on their GP 4000 tire series, and when the wear indicators disappear, you are just about to the point of casing showing through the tread.

    October 23, 2018 at 1:30 pm
  • David Markun

    Nice article! I like the tips on how to read the wear patterns. My data points: I have 5500+ miles on my rear 650Bx48 extralight Switchback Hill tire now, running it at 35psi, using tubes. Longitudinal ribs are now faint but are present, except in a few patches. I guess I’ll swap out the tire at my next rear flat. 160lb rider with minimal power, sometimes a 27 lb touring load carried on front lowriders. The article does not mention rear wheel lockup during braking as a wear factor, but I think it’s the predominant factor in making rear tires wear faster. Front wheels don’t lock up and slide under braking, but rear wheels not skillfully ridden do, as the weight shifts forward.

    October 23, 2018 at 1:35 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      You are right – skidding is bad for supple tires not just because it wears off the tread, but it can also break the casing. On pavement with ample grip, use the front brake only – the rear can’t transmit any braking power due to the weight shift. The rear brake is useful when grip is very limited – on loose gravel, in mud, on snow – but then there will be no damage to the tires. More about braking technique is in this post.

      October 23, 2018 at 4:36 pm
      • Stuart Fogg

        I find my rear brake (180 mm disc) helpful for dissipating energy on long downhills as I’m not comfortable descending at speeds high enough to let air drag do the job.

        October 23, 2018 at 5:06 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          You are right, speed control is a good use of the rear brake. In that case, you won’t skid, as it’s a very controlled application.

          October 23, 2018 at 5:46 pm
  • Jon Blum

    I follow Fred’s plan (also inspired by Sheldon) and move the front tire back to the rear and put my new tire in front. Front blowouts seem more dangerous (is this true?), so I prefer to have the fresher tire up there. I keep an eye on the tread so I am not riding around on a bald rear tire. The only dangerous failure I ever had was in a car, when my tread delaminated on a highway. Not fun, but at least in a car there were three good tires left to get me off the road.

    October 23, 2018 at 6:07 pm
    • Steve Palincsar

      I had a front blowout on my AM Moulton when I first got it caused by a burr on the inside of the rim. I didn’t know which tire had blown and was afraid to brake. so I was coasting, letting the bike slow down by itself. Everything was fine until the path I was riding made a slight turn. As I made a slight steering adjustment, the tire suffered “sidewall collapse.” The bike lost directional stability and rolled over sideways, augering into the ground and slamming me down hard. I’ve had plenty of rear flats over the years, including sudden and complete loss of pressure, and I’ve never had the bike roll over sideways as a result.

      October 25, 2018 at 4:46 am
  • petevanderlinden

    Any suggestions for flat protection? I bought a pair of Barlow Pass shortly after they were introduced to put on my commuter. In the 3 months I had them mounted I got 6 flats. I depend on my bike to get me to work on time so I am hesitant to give Compass tires another try….although I really want to. I live in Utah so goat heads are a big problem, any advice on how to midigate flats to those of us in goat head country?

    October 23, 2018 at 6:21 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Goat heads are terrible, and the best protection is making the tread rubber so thick that the goatheads no longer can get through, but just get stuck in the rubber. Some Schwalbe Marathon models use foam under the tread for that purpose. Of course, ride and performance suffer.
      Sealant can help seal goathead punctures. Either set up your tires tubeless, or just add sealant to the tube. A more classical (and perhaps more secure) solution are tire wipers. They brush the goatheads, glass and steel wires off your tire before it has a chance to puncture it. I used tire wipers for years in racing, because getting flats on expensive racing tubulars not only ruined my chances of winning, but also necessitated a lengthy repair. Instead of a flat every few months, I had no flats at all in three years that I ran the tire wipers. More about tire wipers is here:

      October 24, 2018 at 12:57 pm
      • Rick Thompson

        Goatheads used to be a big problem for me. Gatorskins would flat frequently, frankly Compass tires were worse. Jan suggested sealant, that has solved the problem. On 28 mm tubed tires it greatly reduced the flats, although did not stop pinch flats just made a mess for that. On 44 mm Snoqualmie Pass tires run tubeless I have not had a single goathead flat running sealant (Orange Seal). I still pull many goatheads, and probably have hundreds of punctures now, but the small holes always seal without leaking down significantly.

        October 24, 2018 at 2:10 pm
      • petevanderlinden

        Jan and Rick thanks for the input. I’m excited to give these suggestions a try.

        October 24, 2018 at 8:12 pm
  • Keith Benefiel

    Finding 3500-4000 miles a good average on our Babyshoes. I rotate several times over the tires’ life, so they wear out simultaneously. We run at 50 psi. A rim bash, dent or flat spot is a greater danger and more difficult to repair than a snakebite pinch flat, which is rare anyway. Have found std. weight sidewalls to be so much stouter than extra-light that I’ll stick with them. Using latex tubes approximates the ride and weight of XLs, but much more gnarl-proof. Great rubber!

    October 24, 2018 at 12:50 pm
  • Ron Matthews

    With wider tyres does flattening of the central tread affect handling adversely as it does with motorcycles?

    October 24, 2018 at 2:56 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Flattening the tread really messes up your handling. That is why making the tread thicker doesn’t really increase the life of the tire – you throw it out because it’s getting flat, not because it’s worn. Our tires don’t have so much tread that they get flat, but they retain their round profile throughout their lifespan.

      October 24, 2018 at 3:07 pm
  • Alan Rutherford

    Photos of tread are very helpful for determining when it’s time for new tires. I wish the upper photo (of the Babyshoe with many miles to go) had more light washing across the center tread lines so that the wear pattern were visible. It looks like the it has about 3 ½ tread lines remaining on the sides and no lines remaining in the middle. Is this a normal tread wear pattern, or is pressure a little high on that tire?
    My RTPs have ~6 longitudinal ridges remaining on each side and ~10 gone in middle. I take that to mean my pressure’s slightly high, and that I have many miles to go.

    October 25, 2018 at 9:52 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      All bicycle tires have a round profile and wear most in the center. So the lines will disappear first in the center. We put a little extra rubber in the center of the tread to compensate for the extra wear. It’s one of the secrets behind the very long life of the tires. We could make the center grooves deeper, so they only disappear when the tire is worn out, but they’d squirm, making the tire slower and cornering less predictable.

      October 25, 2018 at 10:35 am
  • Frank Satira

    I just purchased the Cayuse Pass EL’s and looking forward to using them on my Cervelo R3. They don’t have the lines, instead a tiny diamond pattern in the centre. What does the pattern look like as wear progresses?

    October 25, 2018 at 6:38 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The narrow tires are too narrow to enough lines to prevent squirm when cornering hard. The diamond pattern will wear off, but it’s not really a wear indicator. The tires will be fine to ride even after the diamond pattern disappears. To check how much tread is left, you can take off the tire and flex it in your hands.

      October 25, 2018 at 7:12 pm

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