[This article was last updated on November 6, 2017]
Your choice of tyres depends on the compromise of speed, longevity and puncture-resistance that works best for you.
Light, fast tyres — especially in larger sizes like 25mm and 28mm widths — can be a huge improvement to the ride feel of your bike.
Standard tyres with separate inner tubes — known as clinchers — are the most common type, but tubeless tyres are gaining popularity.
One-piece tubular tyres are now used almost entirely for racing.
Anti-puncture belts under the tread reduce flats and in some cases eliminate them almost entirely; they're the way to go for practical bikes.
The perfect tyre for road cycling would weigh nothing, have zero rolling resistance, last forever and make your bike feel like you were floating suspended above the ground. Unfortunately, it doesn't exist, but the best modern tyres manage to excel in one or more categories. Here's a selection of the best.
This selection of the best-rated tyres we've reviewed in the last few years, plus a couple of popular classics, covers the range from sturdy commuting tyres to super-fast race rubber. What features should you look for in choosing a tyre?
There are three types of performance bike tyres: clinchers, tubulars and tubeless. Clinchers are the regular tyre type you're almost certainly familiar with. They have a wire bead that holds their shape and fits in a hook on the rim to hold them in place.
Tubular tyres have the tyre carcass sewn around the inner tube; the whole lot is then glued to a special rim with a concave surface for the tyre. This is still the lightest way to make a tyre and rim combination, but to repair a puncture you have to unstitch and re-sew the tyre, which puts most people off.
Tubeless tyres, as the name suggests, don't have inner tubes. Air is kept in place by a sealing strip in the rim, and either a liquid sealant inside the tyre or a rubber coating.
Two main forces work against a cyclist trying to make progress along the road. Air resistance is the most famous, but the other is the rolling resistance of your tyres, and it's much less obvious.
Rolling resistance arises from the tyre flexing where it touches the road. The rubber and casing flex and unflex, and some of the energy needed to flex them is absorbed in the process and turned into heat in the process known as hysteresis. It's much more obvious where bigger forces and energies are involved; it's why your car tyres get warm as you drive.
A number of factors affect rolling resistance, including the tyre's width (see below), tread thickness and material, casing thickness and material, and tread pattern. Tyre makers spend a lot of time and money experimenting with these factors to reduce rolling resistance. Schwalbe claims to have made 50 prototypes before settling on the design of its One tyre, which is noticeably faster than many of its rivals.
The current best performers for rolling resistance are very light tyres with thin treads and casings. According to testing commissioned by VeloNews by the tyre experts at Wheel Energy in Finland, the best performers are various versions of the Specialized Turbo and Continental GP4000S II.
Grip depends on the rubber compound used in the tread. The rule of thumb used to be that you wanted a compound that contained carbon black — and would therefore be black — for the best grip, especially in the wet. Modern compounds that contain silica are now virtually as good, so if you must have red tyres, look for that in the compound.
On paper, the lighter a tyre is, the faster it will accelerate. But the tyres are such a tiny part of the total weight of bike and rider that it's very unlikely anyone can actually feel the difference between, say, a 250g tyre and a 200g tyre. However, in their quest for light weight, tyre manufacturers use light casing and thin tread rubber layers, which reduce rolling resistance and that can make a tyre feel faster.
That can mean very light tyres are not very durable, or are so thin they puncture easily. You might be prepared to put up with that for the extra turn of speed when racing, or for that special ride in the sunshine on perfect roads, but most of the time you'll want something beefier.
Folding vs rigid
Lightweight tyres almost all have beads made from Kevlar, which allows them to be folded for easy storage and transport. Kevlar is lighter than the traditional steel wire bead, but its resistance to stretch can make folding tyres harder to fit.
To stop foreign objects getting through the tyre to the inner tube, tyre manufacturers use various barriers in addition to the tread and tyre carcass. Layers of Kevlar or a related fabric called Vectran are used in lightweight tyres, and when weight is less of a consideration, manufacturers put an extra layer of resistant rubber under the tread. This works well; if you're not in a hurry, tyres like the Schwalbe Marathon are great for round-town peace of mind.
Unlike this motorcycle tyre, bicycle tyres don't need water-dispersing patterns. (CC BY-SA 2.0 dvanzuijlekom/Flickr)
On tarmac, it really doesn't make any difference to grip what shapes the designer has carved into the tread. Bike tyres are too narrow to aquaplane at speeds below about 200mph. But the lumps of tread in between sipes and shapes can squirm, and that increases rolling resistance. The best tread pattern is therefore a smooth, slick surface, but with rare exceptions tyre company marketing departments can't seem to get their heads around this.
Fatter tyres can be run at lower pressures and therefore give a smoother ride, and better grip on bad surfaces. Road tyres have long been 23mm wide, but that standard has given way to 25mm and even wider in recent years. Those extra millimetres make a noticeable difference in ride feel, and aside from a small weight penalty there's no downside.
Many people think fat tyres must be slower, but all other things being equal, the wider a tyre is, the lower its rolling resistance. This may be counter-intuitive, but it's been demonstrated time and again in rolling resistance tests.
For any given tyre pressure, the size of the tyre's contact patch will be the same. But the wide contact patch of a fat tyre has a lower circumference than the long, thin contact patch of a skinny tyre. Because less of a fat tyre flexes, rolling resistance is reduced.
Tubes can make a significant difference to tyre performance. The thinner, lighter and more flexible the tube, the less effect it will have on rolling resistance. That's why high-end tubular tyres have latex tubes instead of the familiar black butyl rubber. Latex tubes also provide a bit of puncture resistance as they are flexible enough to stretch round a sharp object rather than being punctured by it. However, latex is porous and needs pumping up before every ride.
Other inner tube materials occasionally crop up. Polyurethane is the most common and is currently available in tubes from Panaracer and — for mountain bikes — Schwalbe. It has the advantage of being very light and retaining air well, but it's not as stretchy as butyl or latex so needs more precise matching to tyre size. Schwalbe's polyurethane tubes use a BASF plastic called Elastollan which appears from BASF's claims to be stretchier that traditional polyurethane. Schwalbe calls it Aerothan and says 35g road bike tubes are in development, but only for disc-braked bikes.
Tyres are typically a bit cheaper in winter. When the good weather arrives prices go up a bit.
24 of the best tyres
Hutchinson invented the first road tubeless tyres back in 2006 in a partnership with Shimano. It has continued to evolve its tyre range in the intervening years, and the latest Fusion 5 Performance tyres are the best yet. They're fast, grippy, supple, durable and easy to fit, and a rival for any other tubeless tyre currently available.
The Fusion 5 is a successor to the Fusion 3, but what happened to the Fusion 4? Well, Hutchinson reckons it has made five key improvements in developing the new tyre, so the leap to five was made. Those five key improvements are listed as being 10% better traction, 18% better rolling resistance, 22% more durable, and improved puncture resistance and comfort.
The Pirelli P Zero Velo tyre marks a very impressive return to cycling for Pirelli after a half-century hiatus. This tyre is fast, comfortable and long lasting, making for a great all-round ride experience on the road.
Out on the road, they are thoroughly impressive at all times, feeling fast and slippery (through the air, not on the road surface!), yet able to take on the often poorly maintained roads that I'm accustomed to in the south west. Cornering in the wet never feels sketchy, and they zip along very nicely on flat roads without giving any unwanted feedback.
I know that they have bad weather in Italy, but I'm still very impressed with how much Pirelli has obviously thought about adverse conditions when developing these tyres. I saw Pirelli testing the wet grip of the tyres on the test track outside of Milan at the launch, and it certainly appears to have paid off.
Japanese tyre company Panaracer has been quick to offer a range of gravel-specific tyres, becoming a significant player in the burgeoning market. Measuring 43mm wide, these GravelKing SK tyres are tubeless compatible and feature a tread pattern that excels both on and off road, with a tough carcass that can withstand some abuse.
The GravelKing comes in a variety of widths and tread patterns, but this SK (Small Knob) is probably the pick of the range for the latest generation of adventure bikes like the Kinesis Tripster AT, Mason Bokeh or Open UP. As well as the 43mm tested here (which was called 40 but actually measures 43mm, and is now labelled as such), the same tread pattern is offered on 26, 32 and 35mm width options if your frame doesn't offer enough clearance.
Wider road bike tyres are gaining an almost unstoppable momentum as people discover they can be both fast and comfortable, and with the emergence of the endurance road bike genre, Rubenesque road rubber is only going to become more common as bikes are designed to fit fat slicks. The Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite 700x32c pushes the plump limit to the point where once upon a time it might have been considered a humourously slick cyclo-cross tyre.
The R3 Hard-Case Lite comes in 23, 25, 28 and 32mm widths, and the full fat version here is something to behold, turning your road bike (if the rubber will fit) into something like a SuperMoto bike, although sideways drifts are not required on every corner, however tempting.
WTB's Horizon TCS is a fast-rolling, super-grippy and super-comfortable tyre that excels on the road and is capable of tackling dry off-road trails to inject some adventure into your routes.
Tyres have been getting wider over the years, and this trend for chunkier tyres and a growing interest in gravel and dirt riding on road bikes has given rise to the return of 650B, an old standard once favoured by French touring cyclists because it allowed bigger volume tyres for more cushioning on rough and badly surfaced roads. (By shrinking the rim size you can use the bigger volume tyre.)
The Clemént X'Plor MSO Tubeless Folding Adventure Tyre is an excellent tubeless-ready choice for venturing off the beaten track, at speed. At £60 RRP in its tubeless-ready guise it's not cheap, but you definitely get what you pay for.
The 36mm MSO measures 35mm wide on a 19mm internal-width rim. Whilst this may seem short change, unless you are 100% certain your frame is capacious enough, being a smidge under is definitely better than over, which may see your frame clogged or rubbed.
Able to be set up tubeless or tubed, there are two sizes of the tubeless MSO variant available: the tested 36mm, and a soon-to-be-launched and frankly whopping 50mm (that's 2in to you mountain bike folks). Also in the MSO range (but not tubeless) are the following variants: 32, 40 & 50mm sizes, available as both single-compound 60TPI (threads per inch) and dual-compound 120TPI casings. There's a 120TPI dual-compound 36mm MSO coming later this year. With so many variants, be sure you're ordering the right tyre.
The LCV is the latest high performance tyre from Clement and with an RRP of nearly 50 quid it's gunning for the big boys like Schwalbe and Continental. Those are pretty huge reputations to challenge, but do you know what? The LCV has them well in its sights.
The LCV is designed for all-out performance, and the moment you pull it out of the box you can feel the stickiness of the rubber so you're pretty much expecting a very grippy ride, and it doesn't disappoint.
Since 'four seasons in one day' is a description often applied to the British weather, these Michelin Power All Season Road tyres should be right at home among UK riders. After a typical English June, we're pleased to confirm that the performance is every bit as reliable as Michelin claims.
The All Season is one of three tyres in the Michelin Power range, each promising better performance with less drag than its predecessors, the Pro4 series. In the case of the All Season, it's grip that's the focus of performance claims, and Michelin promises 15% more grip 'on slippery surfaces' but 5% less resistance than the Pro4 Grip. Of course, this is neither here nor there if the Pro4 Grip was a pile of dingoes' kidneys, but back in 2014 our own David Arthur gave them a solid four star rating (read that review here).
At nearly 260g for the 25mm version (slightly less than officially claimed), these are hardly lightweight, but a lot of this is in the thick tread with its Aramid 'Protek +' protection layer. Over the test period I had no punctures and the tyres shrugged off some bad treatment, such as miles of freshly dressed country lanes that had gravel rattling off the down tube.
The only time you should be noticing your tyres when you are out riding is when they are failing you in some way – a puncture, a loss of grip, a noisy tread or a leaden, draggy feel. So perhaps the best thing we can say about these is that I never really noticed them.
If you can fit the Schwalbe G-One tyres in your frame, you should get some. As genuine all-rounders they're impossible to beat right now: fast rolling on tarmac and properly capable off-road. They're really, really good.
The G-One is a gravel tyre, according to Schwalbe. It's available in 35mm and 40mm widths and uses Schwalbe's Tubeless Easy construction, which the company claims makes them – you've guessed, right? – easy to set up. And they are. They went on first time every time with a Bontrager Flash Charger pump. And I even fitted them with a track pump, just so I could say I did. And that was fine too.
The close-packed knobbly tread, round profile and sticky tread compound give them prodigious levels of grip on all sorts of surfaces. You can lean them right over into the the bends on the road, and they'll grab all sorts when climbing off-road.
We know plenty of people who've tried these tyres now, and we don't know anyone who doesn't love them. Try them. You'll love them.
IRC’s Formula RBCC Tubeless tyres provide outstanding grip in dry and wet conditions.
Fitting and inflation are straightforward, and once the sealant is in and distributed around the inside of the tyre, all is secure and airtight.
The round-profile tyres sit pleasantly plumply on the rim; and measured with the callipers across their widest point came up at 25.5mm. The large-volume casing certainly holds a lot of air, which is very noticeable in the ride quality. We thought for a while the council had been round fixing the roads, but that was just a dream.
The other great quality in these tyres is the grip. We took them to northwest Scotland for a few days' testing on the steepest, twistiest, wettest, gravelliest, farm-manuriest roads we could find and, honestly, it was all we could do to get them to step out of line. Only when we deliberately braked late and hard into a sharp left-hander at the bottom of a steep hill did we finally coax the back tyre into some sort of skid, and even then it was more of a correction of direction than any cause for alarm. It feels like your brakes have had an overhaul. Most impressive.
Schwalbe bills this — the improved, lighter and faster-rolling version of the One — as 'tubeless easy', and some people even claim they have managed to get these to go up with a track pump. We found them easy to fit as tubeless tyres go, but they still needed a high-pressure blast to seat them.
As far as tubeless tyres go, though, these were very easy to fit – as long as you've got some compressed air to hand, in the form of some magic pump, a CO2 inflator or a compressor.
At 291g each (claimed weight 275g each), the Pro One takes tubeless tyres a step closer to rivalling the weight of the lighter clincher and inner tube setups. They feel light and accelerate well.
They needed 60 miles or so to wear in, but then the grip increases to very reassuring levels indeed. Blatting around our local race circuit these tyres go around the very tight corners confidently at any speed.
Very fast and very light, the S-Works Turbos are tyres you'll want to save for race day or an attempt on a sportive personal best. The Blackbelt puncture protection does a reasonable job of stopping small objects from getting through the tread, but the featherweight sidewalls are easily cut. Jo Burt found that a problem when he reviewed them and I've recently had to bin a pair after forgetfully using them on less-than-perfect roads.
On a sunny day, on good Tarmac, though, they're lovely and the 28mm version could be the perfect UK summer tyre.
Fast-rolling, supple tyres that offer confidence-inspiring cornering grip, and sensibly priced. Rubbing your thumb over the Road Runner from Vee Tire Co when it's in its box, you just know it's going to be grippy – the compound feels practically tacky against your skin. And it doesn't disappoint once you put tyre to tarmac.
In the dry they really grip well and give you loads of confidence to keep banking the bike over. Mini roundabouts and the like can be taken flat out and we've yet to find their limits of adhesion.
Tyres are getting bigger, and the Continental Grand Prix 4000S II 28mm is a great example of why this is A Good Thing. Assuming you can fit these tyres into your frame, there are plenty of reasons why you should. They're excellent.
Big doesn't necessarily mean slow. It certainly doesn't here. You don't notice the extra bulk of the tyre when accelerating, and once up to speed they have a very supple feel and excellent all-round grip.
Vredestein Fortezza Senso All Weather tyres are intended for use in all weathers and are one of five models in the Dutch rubber-maker's competition line-up. Over weeks of testing in conditions varying from dry to wet to icy, we've been impressed by their sure-footedness. They've also withstood the grit and the best - or worst - of the pot holes around the south-east.
Cornering is assured. The all-weather compound has been designed to provide low rolling resistance with super grip in all conditions and they do just that.
Zipp Tangentes are pitched as race-day tyres with an impressively low 196g weight in a 25mm size. They are very responsive and fast-rolling tyres, ideal for racing and Sunday best bikes.
They have a 220 tpi rubber/nylon casing, and weight is saved with the absence of the puncture belt that features on Zipp's two other tyres, the Course and SLSpeed tubular. We had no flats during testing. That doesn't tell you much - luck has a huge part to play in punctures as much as anything - but the clean tread with a noticeable lack of cuts and marks suggest good durability from the rubber compound.
The Fortezza Senso Superlite tyre is aimed at riders who want a fast, grippy tyre for all weather conditions.
The Superlite model uses a fairly fine 220 tpi carcass and is comfortably the lightest of the Fortezza Senso range. At 200g, it's not quite in Continental Grand Prix Supersonic territory, but unlike that featherweight, this tyre still has decent polyamide puncture protection. It's a similar weight to top-end offerings from Michelin and Schwalbe.
With them fitted on a race bike we were impressed by the combination of fast rolling and sure-footedness in the corners; fast hairpins held no fears with these fitted.
The Vredestein Fortezza Senso Xtreme tyres bill themselves as Xtreme (sorry) weather tyres - so perfect, then, for three seasons of UK riding.
They have managed several thousand kilometres without any punctures or slide-outs in the wet, despite our tester donning his old college volleyball knee-pads and seeing if he could lose the front wheel on fast roundabouts. Come rain or shine, they have provided comfortable riding, with smooth rolling and decent acceleration, and while they are not the lightest tyres on the market, they don't seem to suffer because of the extra weight.
The Strade Bianche race uses the white gravel roads of Tuscany and this 30mm racing tyre is just what you need for that kind of thing. It's a brilliant all-rounder that's fast enough for nearly any road use, but with hugely improved comfort.
Out on the road they're fantastic. You can run them at hitherto-untried low pressures with little or no danger of flatting them on potholes. They roll extremely well and at 358g they're not heavyweights. It's not like sticking a set of Marathons on. These feel like race tyres, they really do, except loads more comfortable. If you want comfort on long rides but still want to go fairly fast, there aren't many better tyres we can name.
Schwalbe makes the bold claim that its One tyres are the fastest the company has ever manufactured. Our roll-down testing confirms that they're fast and they feel extremely rapid with good traction in a range of conditions, with impressive puncture protection and durability.
They're now available in a wide range of sizes, up to 28mm and in clincher, tubular and tubeless. In normal use, riding the tyres daily in training, the 167km Liege-Bastogne-Liege sportive and a road race, the tyres really impress. It's the sensation of speed and lack of resistance that is most noticeable. In a range of conditions too, they show incredible performance, from sun-baked to rain-sodden roads.
Despite a puncture-resisting layer, the Bontrager AW3 Hard-Case Lite tyres roll quickly and grip securely in all conditions.
They're secure in wet corners and the Hard Case puncture protection has proved more than capable of dealing with the variety of grit washed onto the roads.
Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres are essentially heavy duty, ultra reliable commu-touring tyres that inspire unprecedented confidence without feeling sluggish or barge-like, as the 970g weight for a pair would imply.
Much of this is attributable to the Smart Guard system. This is essentially a clever subsection of supple rubber designed to force sharps out, rather than drawing them in as deep-treaded Kevlar types can, especially with age.
Designed for comfort, wet grip and resistance to punctures and impacts, this is a lightweight fat tyre for riders who want speed on poor roads and don't care about a little extra mass.
It uses Vittoria's extremely supple 320tpi casing, Isogrip tread compound and is constructed like a tubular, hence the 'open' designation, short for 'open tubular'. Vittoria tags it as a tyre for extreme conditions, but as far as we're concerned that means British roads all year round.
These popular puncture-resistant tyres from Conti have a Duraskin® cut-resistant layer from bead to bead, and two extra Vectran breakers help increase puncture protection.
They're billed as suitable for wet weather. Call us pessimistic, but to us, European wet weather tyres means year-round UK use, and the GP 4 Seasons are excellent do-everything tyres.
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.