What does the tyre tread do?

On a normal, smooth road, the tread has only limited influence on the riding properties. The grip generated by the tyre on the road is almost exclusively the result of the rubber compound.

Unlike a car, a bicycle will not aquaplane. The contact area is much smaller and the contact pressure is much higher. The floating effect of aquaplaning could only theoretically be achieved on a bicycle ridden at speeds over 200 km/h.

Off road though, the tread is very important. In this situation the tread establishes an interlocking cog-like connection with the ground and enables the transmission of all driving, braking and steering forces. On rough or dirty roads, the tread can also contribute to better control.

Smart Sam, treaded MTB tyre

Why ride a slick tyre?

On a normal, smooth road, even in wet conditions, a slick tyre actually provides better grip than a tyre with a tread, because the contact area is larger.

The situation is much different on a rough road and even worse on a dirt trail. In these cases the degree of control provided by a slick tyre is extremely limited.

Schwalbe One, a competition tyre with a plain slick tread. Frequently praised for its exceptional wet adhesion.

What do the direction arrows mean?

Most Schwalbe tyre sidewalls are marked with a “ROTATION” arrow, which indicates the recommended rolling direction. When in use, the tyre should run in the direction of the arrow. Older tyres have the marking “DRIVE”, but it has the same
meaning.

Many MTB tyres are marked with a “FRONT” and a “REAR” arrow. The “FRONT” arrow indicates the recommended rolling direction for the front wheel and respectively the “REAR” arrow is the direction for the rear wheel.

Why are so many treads direction dependant?

In the case of a road tyre the rolling direction is mainly important for aesthetic considerations. Tires marked with arrows simply look more dynamic..

Off road, the rolling direction is far more important, as the tread ensures optimumconnection between the tyre and the ground. The rear wheel transmits the driving force and the front wheel transmits the braking and steering forces. Driving and braking forces operate in different directions. That is why certain tyres are fitted in opposite rotating directions when used as front and rear tyres.

There are also treads without a specified rotating direction.

Marathon Racer, rolling direction road tread