Go-kart tires are arguably the most important part of the kart besides the engine. They’re the only contact point you have with the track below you, so they need to work well or you won’t go fast! But knowing how to choose the right go-kart tires is key.
When buying go-kart tires, you should have at least 4 sets of spare slick tires, along with a set on the kart itself (5 in total). You should also buy at least 2 sets of wet tires for your go-kart to cover for changes in the weather. You’ll use far more slick tires than wet ones.
As well as tires being a key part of safety while driving, they also play a vital role in how competitive you will be. Below, we go into more detail about the kinds of things to consider before you head out to buy a set of go-kart tires.
Slick Go-Kart Tires
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 an intermediate 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, lightweight 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 a million other variables to worry about!
More Grip = More Speed
Now, the main characteristics of a slick tire are how wide they are, and also how smooth. The more rubber that goes on the track, the more grip you’ll have, which leads to faster speeds and better lap times.
Go-kart tires come in different sizes, with the rears being larger than the fronts. This is due to how the back of your kart is heavier than the front, especially under acceleration as the weight transfers backwards. The larger rear tires offer better acceleration and more stability. 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.
Different Wear Rates
This is due to the corners you’ll be taking on kart tracks, as they all rely on the front tires to do the steering, 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 four tires, even if the rears seem barely worn compared to the front.
Keep A Good Supply Of Slick Tires
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.
Top Tip: Keeping a set of tires purely for practice purposes is a good idea
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, so 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 you’ll see a heat haze above 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 and they’re designed to 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.
Wets vs Slicks
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 give you more grip 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, but they’ll make it far easier to stay competitive in wet weather races.
The unique rubber hybrid compound of wet tires also means that they’re longer-lasting than slicks (as long as they’re used on a wet track), which in turn means you don’t need to keep as many sets handy for spares.
They’re More Expensive
This does come with a drawback, and that’s the simple fact that wet tires cost more than your standard slicks. But it’s well worth the investment to be able to race during wet weather.
Even if the weekend race forecast was sun as far as the eye could see, we always brought two sets 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!
Bring A Spare
Even though one set 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 set just in case of a blow-out. There can be a lot of debris that washes onto a track during heavy rainfall, which can lead to unexpected punctures.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry, as we found out early in my karting career when we brought one solitary set 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 it’s going to rain, 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, and the last thing you want to do is spin out just because you were confident in your knowledge of the track in dry weather, as it’s a different ball game when there’s water on the circuit!
KEY POINTS• The most common tires you’ll use on your kart are slick tires
• It’s best to have plenty of spare sets for a race weekend
• But you also need a few spare sets of wet tires in case the weather changes
Tips & Pointers For Using Go-Kart Tires
The Right Pressure
Running tires too high or too low in terms of pressure will result in bad wear, leading to tire changes more often than needed. Read up on your tire’s specific recommended pressure before inflating or deflating it before each session.
As a general rule of thumb, your tires will be running between 10 psi and 15 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 maintain 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 Go-Kart Tires
This depends on multiple factors, like how hot the track is 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!
You’ll normally be using slick go-kart tires, but it’s best to keep a few sets of wet tires handy too. By keeping them inflated properly to match the conditions and stay in line with what the manufacturer states, you’ll find that your go-kart tires will last far longer and deliver better results.
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