I was exchanging emails with a friend the other day, when he told me, “My Armadillo came in today. I love the fact that it is already shaped and much easier to install.”
Already shaped? Oh, he means he bought a wire bead tire, instead of a folding bead.
What’s the difference?
Well, folding bead tires can be folded. Wire beads, not so much. The bead is where the tire contacts the rim. Wire beads — formed by a thin steel wire — are old school. They’ve been in use for decades. The folding beads are usually made of Kevlar. Wire bead tires are usually heavier, but they’re also usually cheaper than folding beads.
A lot of people think wire bead tires are lower quality than folding, but from what I’ve seen, that’s not necessarily the case. Some tire companies make their wire beads to a lower spec than the folding ones, but some make exactly the same tire with two different types of bead.
There is also a common feeling that wire bead tires are harder to mount than folding beads. Again, it depends on the tire. Plenty of cyclists tell of headaches trying to mount folding bead tires.
So, which is better?
There’s no one right answer. Wire bead tires are a little heavier, so you’re adding rolling weight to your bike. Folding bead tires can be carried in a saddle bag or handlebar bag, in case you need to replace an entire tire on the road. But except for hard core distance cyclists, I’m not aware of anyone who goes out for a ride with a whole spare tire. Just a tube.
I look at the bike store’s collection of wire bead tires with envy — not because I aspire to own one, but because of their lower prices. But I will continue to buy folders. I get them via mail order since they’re cheaper than paying retail at a bike shop, and they ship more easily. Otherwise, I don’t see a lot of difference.
By the way, you can fold wire bead tires, as is demonstrated here.