Do tires get better or worse with wear? What’s the difference between a new tire and a worn tire? As a tire wears, you may be surprised to learn that its dry performance actually improves. Braking distances tend to get shorter, and cornering grip tends to increase.
The opposite, however, happens in the wet. As the tire nears the wear bars, braking distances increase and cornering grip decreases? Well, why is this? And what can you do to prevent wear from ruining a tire’s performance?
First off, we need to break down how a tire gets its grip, which can be grouped into three categories: construction, compound, and tread pattern. A tire’s overall grip is a combination of all three. The construction of the tire provides the overall shape of the contact patch, and how it interacts over bumps and imperfections.
The compound obviously plays the most critical role; how well the compound sticks to the road determines how well the tire performs. And what’s cool about compound is that it doesn’t change as the tire wears, so you want compound grip to be as high as possible for both wet and dry grip.
And finally, we get to the tread. Tread patterns are great for wet grip, they improve traction in the wet by evacuating water away from the road contact to help prevent the tire from hydroplaning. So it’s logical then, that as the tread wears away, wet performance wears away with it.
In the dry, however, that tread pattern reduces the amount of rubber contacting the road, and decreases the rigidity of the tire, allowing it to flex and squirm. As the tire starts to wear away, the tread pattern wears away with it, and the response and grip of the tire improve. This is why in racing, when it’s dry, you’ll see tires without any tread pattern at all, just a smooth, sticky, flat surface for the tire to clench the road.