After karting for nearly a year and taking part in a go-karting league for a few months, I’ve genuinely learned how complex go-karts are. Ever since I covered the karting gear you’ll need, many of you have asked me to tell you about go-kart parts. So, I thought it’d be great to start a new series about go-kart parts, starting with go-kart tires.
Choosing the right tires for your go-kart is essential if you want to be competitive. After all, you might have the best 2-stroke engine, but you won’t be able to race your go-kart without having a good set of tires.
With that said, let’s look at every aspect of go-kart tires so that you can get a better idea of how complicated they are.
What to Look For in Go-Kart Tires
When you’re buying a set of go-kart tires, there are several factors that you have to consider. It’s not as simple as getting tires for your bike or car since go-karts act differently from any other vehicle.
The most crucial aspect of go-kart tires is their type. There are two main types of go-kart tires: slick and wet tires. When I first learned about go-kart tires, I thought there would be an intermediate tire like F1. But, to my surprise, you’ll have to use slicks or full-blown wet tires in a race, which can be challenging in mixed conditions.
That said, let’s learn some more about the two types of tires.
Slick tires are the most common tire type you’ll use. If it’s not raining or the track isn’t wet, slicks are the way to go. Slick tires are pretty wide, meaning that a large part of their carcass touches the track. This, in turn, provides more grip when you’re turning into corners.
Generally, the rear tires are larger than the front tires. This way, there’s better weight distribution; by adding more weight to the rear, you’ll get more traction and better vehicle control. But, in terms of wear, the front tires are much worse; your kart’s rear tires might be in near-perfect condition while the fronts are fully-worn.
That’s because the brakes are usually on the rear wheels, meaning that the front tires are stressed through every corner. As I’ve explained before, the kart’s rear wheels will not roll when you’re braking, so the front tires are the ones that get the entire kart through the corner.
As professional drivers at my track told me, many newcomers tend to only replace the front tires because they’re more worn than the rears. This is wrong because it’ll mess with the weight distribution and reduce your traction.
Now, you might be wondering how many tires you’ll need on a racing weekend. I asked the track organizers at my track about this, and they told me that you’d usually require 3-5 sets of slicks if you want to be competitive. The first two sets are used in practice to learn the track, so they don’t get really worn.
Then, you’ll need a set for qualifying and two for the race (one to start the race with and a spare set). But, in club-level races, you could use fewer sets, as long as you don’t push the tires too much during the practice sessions.
Of course, if you’re taking your kid for a session once a week, you don’t have to use more than one set monthly.
After racing on a wet track, I’ll admit that wet tires are much different from slicks in terms of grip. But, unless the track has pools of water, you’ll not need these.
Wet tires have grooves on the carcass, which disperses the water off the track. The great thing about these is that they don’t leave any rubber on the track; that’s great because the mix of rubber and water is as slidey as ice for the kart.
It’s always great to have a couple of sets of wet tires on every racing day. Rain can come at any point during a race, so it’s better to be prepared. Plus, the tires don’t have an expiration day, so you can use a set that you bought two years ago. And it’ll be no different from the one you purchased the day before the race.
In terms of wear, wet tires are much better than slicks. You could use the same set of wet tires on multiple races because its rubber won’t wear off if the track is wet, but a set of wets will get demolished in a few laps on a dry track due to the high temperatures.
With that said, keep in mind that wet tires are slightly more expensive than slicks. However, you’ll rarely need them, and it’s better to be safe than sorry; thus, bringing two spare sets of wet tires to every race is optimal.
Slick go-kart tires have similar compounds to those of F1 (soft, medium, hard). When you buy a set, there’ll usually be an indication of what compound it is. Different ones have different blends of materials, which alter the durability and grip of the kart.
Like F1 tires, the harder the compound is, the more durable it is. But, this comes with a loss of grip, which is way more significant in go-karting. That’s why harder tires are used in endurance races, while softer ones that last 5-10 laps are used in sprint races.
If your go-kart tires are not at optimal pressure, they can get worn quickly. From my experience, when a tire has less pressure, more of its surface touches the track, and it gets a puncture. A tire that has high pressure is the opposite. Most of its surface doesn’t come into contact with the track, so the kart bounces more, and the grip is minimal.
Depending on the track condition, I’ve been told that most wheels have between 10-35 PSI pressure. But, in most sprint races, the tires’ optimal pressure is between 13-18 PSI.
At first, I was really confused about how I was supposed to read the size of a go-kart. I remember seeing this on the outer part of a tire: 10 x 4.50 – 5.
But it’s much simpler than it seems. The first number is the height of the tire in inches. The front tires are usually an inch shorter than the rear tires. A friend of mine said that off-road go-karts have much larger tires than what we use at my local league.
The second number is the tire’s width. For weight distribution purposes, most racing tires have a width of 4-9 inches, with the rear tires being much wider than the front ones (sometimes even 3 inches wider).
The last number is the rim’s diameter, and most go-karts have a wheel diameter of 4-6 inches. Both the front and rear tires have the same rim diameter.
I asked many professional drivers about what the best go-kart tire brand is. They all told me that the brand doesn’t matter unless you’re an experienced driver; many of them have sponsorships with a specific tire brand.
That said, the most popular go-kart tire brands are Bridgestone, Vega, LeCont, Maxxis, and Duro. During the 80s and 90s, Dunlop was also pretty big, and its tires are still used in professional races.
Tubed or Tubeless
Most go-kart racers use tubeless tires because they require less power from the engine. But, rental go-karts use tubed tires because they’re cheaper. In reality, unless you’re a professional karting driver, you won’t see a significant difference between the two types.
That said, tubeless tires are much more efficient because they aren’t as heavy as tubed ones. On top of that, due to their build, if one tire gets a puncture, the air escapes much slower than tubed ones, which is safer. But, it’s complicated to fix and fit tubeless tires since you need special equipment. I’ll tell you for sure that I wouldn’t be able to repair one in my wildest dreams.
Go-kart tires are sold in sets of four, each costing between $100-$250. Most professionals spend around $160-$180 for slicks and $200 for wets. Once you consider that they need four sets of slicks and at least one set of wet tires per race, the costs come out to $1000 per race.
So, now you know most of the aspects of go-karts. But, the real question is how long each set can last.
How Long Do Go Kart Tires Last?
It all comes down to how often you want to race and how serious you are about racing. For example, I’ll often use one tire set every weekend, even though the track provides them for me.
If you’re karting for fun along with your family, you can use a slick set for 3-4 races. But, if you’re serious about karting, you’ll have to use a new one for every session. This comes out to roughly three slick sets per race.
There’s no definitive way to gauge how long a set of tires can last. When a tire has been used for many races, its surface is worn, making your performance worse. From my experience, you’ll also spin a lot after every corner. I’d say that when you start losing too much time due to wheelspin, it’s time to change your kart’s tires.
But, if you just want to race without caring whether you lose a second every lap, then you could use the same tires until they’re completely worn. Keep in mind that when you push worn tires, the chances of a puncture are much higher, so you’ll have to be careful.
That’s all you need to know about go-kart tires for now. I’ll keep you updated about specific tire types and how to find the best go-kart tires for you in later articles.
Even though a set of slick tires can cost a fortune, don’t let that stop you from trying karting out. Many tracks have weekend races where they provide you with a race-ready kart, and you only have to pay an entrance fee. Either way, unless you’re at a national level, you won’t see any difference between go-kart tires.
Stay tuned for more articles just like this one!
FAQs for Go-Kart Tires
Do Larger Tires Make Racing Karts Faster?
Larger tires will make your kart accelerate faster. That’s because they have more surface area, meaning that the engine doesn’t have to overwork. However, your top speed will decrease.
Can You Put a Tube in a Go-Kart Tire?
Yes, you can. As I mentioned above, most karting racers use tubeless tires, while rental karts generally have tubed ones because they’re cheaper.
Why Do Go-Karts Have Small Wheels?
Karts have small wheels for better handling. Smaller wheels allow for a lower center of gravity, which, in turn, allows for better handling through tight corners.