We have previously discussed the importance of looking over your tires as part of your regular pre-ride bike check. Although the main purpose of this check-up was to find any cuts or abrasions that could short circuit your ride, this is also a good time to check out how your tires are wearing and how the rear tire wear compares to the front..
By way of background, bicycle front tires typically last up to three times as long as rear tires. Rear tires carry most of the rider’s weight and are also responsible for propulsion thus leading to early wear. You may have noticed that as time passes your rear tire will develop a square shoulder while the front tire profile stays nice and round. This is visual evidence of the differing wear rates, front-to-rear. If you use your bike on a trainer, this rear tire wear will accelerate and become more pronounced.
“What’s a concerned cyclist to do?” you may ask. One traditional answer is tire rotation, where-in you move the front tire to the rear and visa-versa. This is done in the hope of extending the life of a complete set of tires. With respect to tire rotation, the following applies:
Don’t Do It. Bike guru, Sheldon Brown, and other experts seriously advise against moving the less worn front tire to the back and the worn but still usable rear tire to the front. The reason is simple: In all cases, you want your best tire to be on the front of the bike. The issue is safety. Bicycle handling is much less affected by a worn rear tire. On a front tire, those square wear shoulders that we mentioned can negatively affect the way your bike feels in corners. But most importantly, in the event of a tire failure ie: blow-out, rear tire failures are much easier to manage and bring to a safe stop than fronts. The potential loss of steering control with a front tire failure is a BAD thing.
If you feel you must rotatre tires, you will have to keep a close eye on on your front/rear tire wear patterns and pre-emptively rotate them back-to-front before any discernable wear patterns appear. The goal is to get perfectly even wear across both tires. This will most likely require rotating tires very 500-700 miles of sooner. Even in this case, however, you should always default to having the best tire on the front of the bike.
Perhaps the best way of rotating tires on a bike is when you need to replace just the rear tire. In this case it is smart to put the new tire on the front of the bike and rotate the front tire to the rear. This will make sure your best tire is on the front, and your best foot is forward.