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Go-Kart Tires: Essential Tips Before You Buy

To make sure the many tire-related woes don’t happen to you, make sure to keep this article full of tips bookmarked when you’re buying new sets in the future. You’ll be a tire pro in no time!

So, how many sets of tires should a kart racer have? There is no definitive answer, but the best rule to follow is:

  • One set on the kart
  • Four sets spare (slick)
  • Two sets spare (wet)

As well as tires being a key part of safety while driving, they also play a vital role in how competitive you will be. If you want to learn some handy tips from somebody who lived and breathed karting, don’t go anywhere! And make sure to bookmark this page for future reference, of course!

Slick Go-Kart Tires: The Go-To Type

If it isn’t pouring rain and if the track isn’t holding moisture from previous rainfall, you’ll be running your kart on slick tires. Unlike other motorsports where tires have different classifications and oftentimes a middling tire type for damp conditions rather than full-on wet, go-kart tires come in either slick or wet specifications.

Although go-karting is highly competitive because of the high-powered, light-weight rigs that we know and love, it’s a relatively ‘simple’ motorsport and that’s   why so many people fall in love with it. There’s a lot of scope for speed and performance without one million variables to worry about!

Now, the main characteristics of a slick tire is how wide they are, and also how smooth. The more rubber that goes on the track, the more grip you’ll have when cornering which leads to better consistent speeds.

Go-kart tires specifically run with somewhat displaced tires, with the rears being larger than the fronts. This is due to how the back of your kart needs to be heavier than the front, because this’ll lead to more traction and greater control. In spite of the larger tires and more focus on the rear of the kart, your front tires will wear out faster than the rears.

This is due to the corners you’ll be doing on kart tracks; they all rely on the front tires leading into it and powering out of it, so they’ll see the worst wear. Because of this, new racers will feel compelled to only replace the front tires when doing a tire change. After all, you can get away with it on a car, right?

That’s true, but cars benefit from more sophisticated steering systems and they’ll always be re-calibrated after a tire change. It’s always best to change all tires, even if the rears seem barely worn compared to the front.

Because you’ll be using slick tires more than ones that run in wet weather, always make sure to stay well-stocked on this front. Of course, it depends how you’re running the kart as to how badly the tires will wear and therefore how often you’ll be changing tires.

When I was racing, we often kept two sets of practice tires which wore down a lot slower and we swapped between these to keep wear to a minimum while we were testing out engine power and handling before a race. When you practice in a kart, you won’t be flooring it at every opportunity because you’ll mainly want to be learning the track and looking after the kart!

So, keeping a set of tires for practice purposes is a good idea to conserve tires overall.

Then for races, we often set aside four sets of slicks plus a set that I’d start the race on. We typically changed tires once during a race of typical sprint length, but we always wanted to make sure we were well-equipped in case of a blow-out or higher track temperatures eating up the rubber quicker than we expected.

In short, slicks will be the tire you use the most often. Make sure you have plenty of spare sets!

Wet Go-Kart Tires: The Essential Option Type

Race conditions can change in a heartbeat. One minute, the sun will be shining and heatwaves will be pouring off the asphalt of the race track. And the next minute, there could be a heavy downpour with standing water everywhere. That’s why you always need to travel with a couple sets of wet weather tires, no matter where you go!

Unlike slick tires, wets have deep treads within them and they’re designed to dissipate and displace water in dismal weather conditions. If you try and race with slicks in heavy rainfall, you simply won’t be able to stay on the track.

The biggest boon of slick tires is the high surface area with which you can find grip, but when a layer of water is set between the track and the tire, the grip just won’t be there.

That’s why wet tires are so essential, because they’ll cut through the standing water to grip better on the track, and they don’t need a high temperature to achieve this. That isn’t to say that you’ll be able to race as if you’re in dry conditions, either, but they’ll make your life far easier to stay competitive in wet weather races.

Think of wet weather tires, otherwise known as grooved tires, to work in the opposite manner of slicks. They aim to keep as little rubber from hitting the track possible because rubber + water = a really bad time to stay in control of a kart!

Because of this, wet weather tires are actually made of a rubber hybrid as opposed to straight rubber, and it’s these extra compounds that go into it that ensure you’ll keep finding grip in wet weather. The unique rubber hybrid compound of wet tires also means that they’re longer-lasting than slicks, which in turn means you don’t need to keep as many pairs handy for spares.

This does come with a flipside, of course, and that’s the simple fact that wet tires cost more than your standard slicks. It’s well worth the investment to be able to race during wet weather! Just make sure to bring a waterproof over-suit, affix your wet weather tires and get racing!

Even if the weekend race forecast was sun as far as the eye could see, we always brought two pairs of wet weather tires just in case. It’s similar to an umbrella; if you bring one, chances are you won’t actually need it.

Even though one pair of wet weather tires will stay unworn and in fine condition for multiple races and even practice sessions, it’s always worthwhile to bring an extra pair just in case of a blow-out. There can be a lot of debris that washes onto a track during heavy rainfall, after all.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry, as we found out early in my karting career when we brought our solitary pair of wet weather tires only to have the front left blow up in the opening lap of a water-logged race!

If you know that a race weekend will be rained on, take extra care during the out lap and practice time to get a better read of the track. Water will make a track extra unpredictable, after all, and the last thing you want to do is spin out because you were confident in your knowledge of the track in dry weather.

Tips And Pointers For Go-Kart Tires

Having spent some time going over the two different types of tires for go-karting, I’m going to outline some generally important things to think about beyond slick and wet tires specifically.

Everything from tire pressures to run and types of inner tube, all the way to my personal brand recommendations, you’ll hopefully find the following list a vital part of your tire guru knowledge:

The Right Pressure

Running tires too high or too low on their PSI will result in bad wear, leading to tire changes more often than needed. Read up on your tire’s specific recommended tire pressure before inflating or deflating it!

Pressure Realms

As a general rule of thumb, your tires will be running between 10 PSI and 35 PSI dependent on track conditions and what your tire manufacturer recommends.

Inner Tube Importance

Just like regular car tires, your go-kart tires will all come with an inner tube to keep its structure and stability. Make a note of what size inner tube inflates your tires when buying them for the first time (details will be written in the handbook) so you don’t buy the wrong sizes going forward.

Popular & Reliable Tire Brands

Where possible, you want to be buying Bridgestone, Maxxis or Duro branded tires. I’ve tried and tested them over many years and they’re the best quality on the market!

Changing Tires

This depends on multiple factors like how hot the track was, what the purpose of the tires was, and whether they’re slicks or wets. To stay competitive in a race, run with fresh slicks every time. Throw out your tires if there’s noticeable wear with the tire rubber making bead-like structures on the edges. Otherwise, you can keep slightly worn tires for practice. Wet tires can last for months at a time, but if you run them in warm, dry weather, you’ll burst them in no time flat!

Final Thoughts

Tires are important to keep you safe and to help with staying competitive on a go-kart track, so you’ll find that it’s worth not skimping on them price-wise or running the same set in multiple races.

By keeping them inflated properly to match the conditions and stay in line with what the manufacturer states, you’ll find that your tires will last far longer and deliver more results! You might find yourself going a little tire-crazy at times, but trust me when I say that it’s always better to be over-prepared and cautious when it comes to everything in karting.