What is Tire Siping? Do I Need Siping?
June 4, 2021
We’re going to point out one of the most overlooked and important things to know about tires and how something so small can make a major impact, or help you avoid a major impact, tire siping.
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Invented and originally developed by John Sipe in nineteen twenty-three because he was sick and tired of slipping on the floor of the slaughterhouse he worked at. So he cut a bunch of little slits in the bottom of his shoes with his butcher knife and found out that it actually worked and gave him some much-needed additional traction.
Long story short, it wasn’t until 1939 that John’s son, Harry, popularised the use of siping on tires and they still weren’t used on a large scale until the nineteen fifties when the tread compounds were developed to be good enough to stand up to the siping process. But what exactly is a tire sipe, and how exactly do they work?
A sipe is a small slit in the tire’s tread block that creates an additional tread surface area for increased grip. As a tire rolls, the sipes will open up to take in water or snow and remove it from the contact patch of the tire. Sipes also create extra biting edges of the tread blocks that enhance the tread’s grip for a variety of different driving situations. Like hard braking, cornering, evasive maneuvers, and acceleration, particularly useful when the roads are covered in ice, snow, rain, or even loose dirt and sand.
Sipes will also help fine-tune each tire’s handling, along with its ride quality and wear characteristics. Tire manufacturers will increase the number of sipes on all-season, all-weather or three-peak mountain snowflake rated tires and particularly on snow tires including the use of 3D computer designs of the sipes to create a variety of differently shaped sipes that go in multiple directions and are cut into the tread blocks in a variety of depths depending if it’s the shoulder lugs or center tread blocks.
The deeper the sipe goes into the tread block, the more that tread block will flex and twist..which isn’t going to be that great when you’re on the road, slamming on the brakes or in an emergency maneuver situation to avoid some sort of collision and the tread blocks are literally folding over themselves and losing their traction.
In those types of situations, you’ll want the tread block to be more rigid and the sipe to not be cut in so deep so that it maintains its rigidity and its contact patch with the road and in turn maintains its traction to the road's surface. Also, too many sipes on a mud tire or sipes that are too deep can cause the tread blocks to flex more than they should and the rubber will start to fatigue and become too soft and pliable and will cause more damage than good.
When this happens, the tread block will actually start to separate from the rubber carcass of the tire, eventually getting to the point where the tread block will tear right off. That’s why you’ll see most mud tires, not all but most, have very minimal siping throughout their tread blocks, to add extra strength to each tread block. Like the Nitto Trail Grapplers for example.
They only have one center sipe per tread block to increase the strength of the tread blocks, therefore, withstanding much more abuse than tire treads that have a higher quantity of siping. The downside to limiting the number of sipes in the tread blocks is that they are not going to perform that well on the road when there’s snow, water, or ice, so it’s a trade-off.
It's the same reason you don’t want to run snow tires that have a ton of siping on them, through the Summer months. One, the high number of sipes allows the tread blocks to be much more pliable which is great in the Winter, especially in the snow or on the ice, but will wear out much faster and not perform as well on warm, dry pavement.
Another performance characteristic of sipes is, not only are they there to help evacuate water and prevent hydroplaning, but when it’s well below freezing outside and you’re driving through the snow, the snow will actually pack itself into the sipes creating a high friction situation between the snow in the sipes and the snow on the ground.
Those of you who ever had hard-packed snow stick to the bottom of your sled or toboggan, without realizing it’s there, and then go running as fast as you can towards the sledding hill while jumping on your sled and expecting to go flying down the hill at a high rate of speed, only to end up face-first into the hard-packed snow, most likely ending up with a fat lip or bloody nose, or sometimes even a concussion, yeah you guys know who you are and you know exactly what I’m talking about when hard-packed snow goes against hard-packed snow.
So now that we have a basic understanding of what sipes are, how tread sipes work, along with how they affect the performance of the tire, the next question is: Should we get a set of tires that has a lot of siping, a fair amount of siping or little to no siping at all? And this is where, once again, this is a very subjective question and it’s important to consider how much driving is done on the road in dry weather conditions, crappy weather conditions, and how much driving is done off-road.
Maybe it’s a dedicated trail rig and siping really isn’t all that important. Do you live in a dry desert area and rarely see rain and even less likely, snow or ice? Then you probably don’t need any siping. But for snowy, rainy, or icy conditions, siping is going to be your best friend.
Do you have siping on your tires? Let us know in the comments down below!
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