Here we show you what to look for when buying a new set of road bike tyres; something that could give you huge performance gains
An upgrade to your road bike tyres can make a huge difference to your riding experience. Good quality rubber can lower your rolling resistance, provide better grip and reduce the number of punctures you pick up as you ride.
Picking the best road bike tyres for you is all about determining which elements you consider most important. There’s a myriad of choices out there on the market – with key selling points ranging from low weight to improved grip, low rolling resistance and puncture protection.
Though there are some exceptions, in the majority of cases prioritising one of those factors means sacrificing another. Most notably, tyres with a low rolling resistance and low weight are more often than not less resilient to attacks from flints and glass, whilst those with extra barriers against the blighters are usually heavier and more solid to ride.
Wider tyres often offer better grip in the corners and a lower overall rolling resistance but can feel a little bit spongey and slower to accelerate.
Changing weather conditions mean that most experienced cyclists will swap their rubber seasonally: going for puncture resistance and grip in winter and prioritising low rolling resistance in summer.
Here’s a look at some of our favourite summer and winter road bike tyre options, followed my more information on what to look for.
With each product is a ‘Buy Now’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.
The fastest road bike tyres for summer riding
Continental GP4000 S II road bike tyres
A hugely popular road race tyre, the GP4000S II is a tyre that provides excellent rolling resistance as well as being puncture resistant enough to survive the perils of UK roads.
Our testing also shows that it performs well in terms of aerodynamics when fitted to a wider rim.
Panaracer Race A Evo 3 road bike tyres
A good value option that we found provided a fast ride thanks to low rolling resistance whilst still offering an adequate barrier against sharp objects.
Hutchinson Fusion 3 Kevlar ProTech road bike tyres
A light and puncture resistant tyre, that impressed us with its expert level of grip. A good quality and high performance tyre, though the price tag is a little dearer than we’d like to see.
Michelin Pro4 ENDURANCE V2 road bike tyres
Looking for a comfortable tyre that will suit long days in the saddle over questionable surfaces? These tyres from Michelin could be the answer. We loved the cushioning of the 28mm version (23mm and 25mm also available), but also felt that there wasn’t too greater speed penalty.
Puncture resistance and grip were good, too.
Bontrager R4 320 road bike tyres
A notably fast tyre, this option from Bontrager proved to be one of the quickest rubber slicks we’ve ever tried. They roll well, and corner well. Just don’t expect them to be long lasting, despite the price tag…
Vredestein Fortezza Senso All Weather Clincher road bike tyres
A tyre that performs well in gritty, wet weather conditions, offering plenty of puncture protection whilst still ticking the boxes when it comes to speed, ride quality and grip.
Challenge Elite Open road bike tyres
Very delicate tyres, that might not provide the greatest level of protection against punctures, but will roll quickly. Fits tightly on the rim, so if you do flat, allow plenty of time for repair…
Michelin Power Competition road bike tyres
A replacement for the Michelin Pro4 Service Course, these are quick tyres that saved us from punctures.
We didn’t feel they rode as well in the wet as others, so perhaps not the best choice if you’re expecting summer showers.
Vittoria Open Corsa G+ road bike tyres
Without shadow of a doubt, a tyre for racing. The G+ stands for Graphene, which Vittoria have incorporated into the tread of this tyre.
We did find that the width of this tyre was greater than listed, and we did find that it seemed to be a bit of a magnet for road debris. However, it’s super fast and provided plenty of resistance to punctures.
Puncture resistant road bike tyres for winter
Hutchinson Intensive 2 road bike tyre
We’re not a huge fan of the Intensive 2s, but they do the job. The tyre’s strong bead makes them a little harder to get on the rim, but it’s not the tightest we’ve ever come across. The reinforced hardskin, while not making the ride too harsh, did make the tyre feel hard with a noticeable reduction in grip with unacceptable levels of slippage on the climbs — especially when pushing hard out of the saddle.
Continental GP 4 Season road bike tyre
These are a mix between Continental’s GP4000S race tyre and it’s heavy-duty GatorSkin. They’re tougher than the GP4000S, yet faster rolling than the GatorSkin, giving great versatility and durability. Excellent puncture and sidewall protection means riders should get good mileage from these tyres without puncturing. There’s great grip in the wet, and they even managed to keep us upright when we unwittingly rode through an oil spill. Only a high asking price cost these great tyres a perfect 10.
Schwalbe Durano road bike tyre
We like this offering from Schwalbe. They rolled really well and with a slight give in the bead made life easier for our thumbs getting them on the wheel. While the RaceGuard protection belt made for a harsher ride than the other tyres on test, we were confident that these wouldn’t easily puncture and didn’t compromise grip in any way. Schwalbe says these are also mile-eaters — making your purchase go a long way. What more could you ask for?
Vittoria Rubino Pro Tech road bike tyre
Being the cheapest tyres on test, the Rubino Pro Tech were bound to be the worst, weren’t they? Well, actually, no. A durable and grippy tyre with a silver reflective sidewall with three size options (23/25/28) ticks every box for success as a great winter all-rounder.
This tyre is ideal not only for general rides, but commuting too. The Vittoria’s only downside is that it was the most sluggish on test and didn’t roll as well as the others.
Types of road bike tyre
There are three types of bike tyres on the market – clinchers, tubulars and tubeless – they each have their pros and cons:
Clincher road bike tyres
First up is the clincher, the choice of the majority of road riders. This features a bead around the outside of the tyre which hooks under a lip on the rim, with a separate inner tube running inside. The main advantage of this system is convenience, with the inner tube being easy to change in the event of a puncture.
Tubular tyres road bike tyres
Next is the tubular tyre. With this design the inner tube is sewn into the tyre, with the whole thing then attached to the wheel using glue or rim tape. This is the choice of a lot of racers due to the generally lower rolling resistance and weight, but can be impractical when you puncture.
Tubeless road bike tyres
Finally you’ve got tubeless tyres. These are similar to clinchers, but with the tyre sitting firmly enough against the rim to hold the tyre’s pressure, eliminating the need for an inner tube all together. The tyre is then filled with sealant, which plugs cuts or gashes in the rubber.
This system greatly reduces the chance of punctures, although the snug fit that is required between the tyre and the rim can make tubeless tyres fiddly to fit.
The puncture protection offered by tubeless tyres is very impressive. To see how impressive watch the video below where we hammer nails into a tyre!
Rolling resistance vs puncture protection in road bike tyres
The three main categories to look out for are: puncture proofing, the tyres’ rolling ability and grip levels. Whilst in an ideal world we’d have all three, in reality we have to limit one to increase another.
In order to boost puncture protection, manufacturers will usually add an extra layer – a Kevlar or Vectran breaker in most cases – to catch foreign objects before they reach the tube. The tougher these layers are, the heavier and more sturdy they’ll make the overall rubber – hence the trade off.
Ultimately, you need to decide what’s more important to you. Riders commuting on less than perfect road surfaces – especially during the winter – will mean you favour puncture protection, whilst a rider racing on a closed circuit may be more concerned with rolling resistance and grip.
Road bike tyre width
We have a couple of things to consider before we go in-depth. A standard road wheel size is 700c with the more common options of 23, 25 or 28mm widths.
Traditionally, 23mm widths are put on race bikes, 25mm for training and 28mm widths for a mixture of hard and rough roads.
Indeed with modern technology allowing for better tyre construction, we’ve seen a definite shift in how different width tyres are used. For example most road riders now like to use 25mm tyres as they handle better in the corners and can lower rolling resistance by dampening out uneven surfaces.
Generally speaking, the narrower the tyres the less comfort is on offer, with decreased rolling resistance providing a faster experience for dry, summer cycling.
Wider tyres can deliver better comfort; puncture protection and grip, mainly at the cost of weight, and are better for the wintry roads.
Adjusting road bike tyres for the season
Summer brings good weather, clean roads and nicer bikes so it seems ludicrous that we would stick a slow rolling and heavy-duty tyre on our bikes.
If a fast racing tyre is your thing you’ll be expected to have lowered protection from punctures with a thinner puncture protection belt to help reduce weight and rolling resistance, which will help that fast feeling we all desire.
However, come the colder months many riders will opt for winter road bike tyres to counter the associated bad weather and gritty harsh roads, to save them from being victims of the dreaded flint or glass puncture.
Larger tyres allow for lower pressures that help absorb the bumps, increasing grip and comfort too. Watch out for mudguard clearance though as larger tyres could be limited if you have minimal clearance.
Choosing road bike tyres for your terrain
If you commute in town – you’re likely to need a more heavy duty option. Broken glass and general debris mean you’re way more likely to slit your tyres.
Zip isn’t everything here so you’ll want to look out for a hardwearing tyre too that will give you some longevity for the money you outlay.
Road bike tyres and price
What are we really paying for? In basic terms we pay for technology in the rubber, quality of the construction and weight.
Cheaper options tend to lack in grip, puncture protection and are usually supplied with a heavier, steal bead. Rigid steal beaded tyres, other than being harder to transfer around off the bike, are heavier than folding alternatives.
Though cheaper, they can also be a pain to put on and pull off the wheel, mostly at the expense of your thumbs!
Although you may feel that a cheaper option is ok for you, some tyre manufacturers ensure their compounds work well in a good range of temperatures, meaning either grip, protection or longevity works better all year round.
It may be a big outlay but might pay to save money in the long run.
Tyre wear and tear
Keeping an eye on your tread is important too. Not only for the life of the tyre, but watching out for stuck glass or flints that haven’t penetrated just yet.
Ideally, cleaning your bike regularly and giving your tyres a quick once over before each outing could save you a puncture during your ride, unless you pick something up en route of course.
Some tyres come with wear markers. These can be small dotted grooves in the middle of the tyre itself that will slowly disappear overtime. If you have no wear markers, you may need to think about replacing the tyres.
The fastest road bike tyres tested
In addition to field testing out on the road, engineer and elite rider, Dan Bigham has helped Cycling Weekly calculate the rolling resistance of the different sets of road bike tyres. The lower the rolling resistance, the faster the tyre and the difference can be huge.
To do this, each set of tyres were ridden on rollers, allowing us to record the speed achieved for a given power output. For consistency, the tyres were all inflated to 100psi using a digital gauge and ridden on flat rollers.
For the test we exclusively used new tyres and a PowerTap hub was calibrated and used for power measurement.
Each tyre was ridden at 280W for 5 minutes to allow it it warm up, whereupon they were ridden at a constant power of 300W for 5 minutes.
To ensure even weight distribution, the rider maintained a constant position on the hoods and the weight of the bike and rider was recorded before each test.
Any slight differences in weight or power output were factored into the final calculations. The Fit. Files were put into Matlab and the inertia was corrected for each tyre.
The results of different tyres are tabulated below.
|Tyre||Max PSI||Weight (g)||Width (mm) (measured)||TPI||Watts at 40kph*||Rolling ranking|
|Michelin Power Race||116||217||26||180||35.2||3|
|Vittoria Corsa G+||145||239||27||320||35.1||2|
|Schwalbe One Tubeless||130||231||26||127||35.6||4|
|Mitas Syrinx Racing Pro||120||245||25||127||43.6||9|
|Vredestein Fortezza Senso||130||237||25.5||120||45.1||10|
*Travelling at 40kph with system weight of 85kg
** For the rolling resistance test all tyres were 25mm apart from Hutchinson which were 23mm
As you’ll know, it doesn’t matter how well you prepare, you’ll inevitably get a puncture… there, we’ve said the P word!
In your pocket or seatpack you should carry at least a set of tyre levers, puncture repair kit, two tubes, a mini-pump and a business card just incase you have a complete blow out, it does happen.