Do you remember when coloured tyres were a fashion in road cycling? We’re going back a bit, admittedly. Whatever happened to them? We decided to ask the tyre companies.
Marco Pantani used yellow tyres back in the 2000 Tour de France (pic Simon Wilkinson/SWPIX)
Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Marco Pantani rode for Mercatone Uno on a Bianchi fitted with yellow Vittoria Corsa CX TT tubular tyres, and through the early years of the 21st century coloured tyres were a bit of thing. Of course, black has always predominated, but there were certainly more coloured tyres around for a while back there.
We rarely see coloured tyres on the road these days although Jumbo-Visma used blue Vittoria front tyres at the 2021 Tour de France to promote the Swapfiets bike rental service in the 2021 Tour de France. Swapfiets bikes are fitted with blue front tyres.
Panaracer offers some of its gravel tyres in cool colours but it’s rare to see anything other than black on the road, occasionally with a tan sidewall, so what’s going on?
According to the tyre industry, the lack of coloured tyres out there at the moment is down to two things: technical performance and fashion.
Ken Avery, senior vice president in product development at Vittoria Industries North America, says, “There are a few hurdles which make the production of coloured tyres for high-performance applications a bit of a challenge.
“To increase abrasion resistance and to add strength, carbon black is often used in tyre compounds. In the case of Vittoria, graphene is also added, which further increases speed, grip, and durability. As these benefits are the key measures of a performance tyre, this is where we have chosen to focus our line of products which are intended for race use.
“As both of these materials are black, the production of coloured tyres would be quite difficult, since any colour would be lighter.
“In a simple sense, it is essentially impossible to make a mixture lighter in colour after adding black ingredients.”
Schwalbe has a similar take.
“Having a coloured pigment in the rubber compound inevitably means having to reduce the amount of silica and carbon black added to the rubber compound,” says Schwalbe's Tim Ward.
“This has a detrimental impact on the performance of the rubber compound with reduced levels of grip and durability and increased rolling resistance.”
Michelin says that it could make coloured tyres, but that they add a level of difficulty to the production process.
“From an industrial standpoint, the production of a non-black compound means a dedicated production line,” says Nick Bull.
“Indeed, the carbon black – as raw material – gives the black colour to the compound… Even a very small amount of carbon black. Being able to get a coloured (non-black) compound means a workshop with absolutely no carbon black. If not, the aesthetic quality will be very poor. At the end of the day, that generally means a dedicated workshop.”
Beyond these technical challenges, there’s also the issue of fashion. Most people simply prefer their road bike tyres to be black.
“In recent years the fashion has been for road bikes to have a more sombre and conservative appearance with dark colours predominating,” says Schwalbe’s Tim Ward.
“Having brightly coloured tyres on bikes with these sorts of colourways tends to clash somewhat, hence plain black or tanwall being the current vogue in tyre colours.”
Black tyres also have the advantage of hiding grime.
“Coloured tyres are a very good way to match your tyre to your bike but the main issue in road cycling is that you are riding on asphalt which is very dirty,” says Nick Bull of Michelin. “A tyre is not really easy to clean. Michelin does not recommend using any detergent or cleaning product to clean them because it can damage tyres. It also results in a client experience that’s not 100% satisfying as the colour can change.
“Another point to mention is that the tyre’s colour [probably won’t match] your bike colour 100%. Getting a maximum alignment between the two can be very challenging.”
Panaracer’s Jeff Zell says that the brand’s compounds don’t suffer like some others where taking the carbon black out affects the tyre’s performance or longevity, but believes there’s simply not much demand for coloured tyres on the road.
“Panaracer has dabbled in coloured road tyres in the past, as long as 20 years ago and as recently as just a few years ago. The results were less than stellar as the road community was not receptive.
“We’ve also tried offering coloured sidewalls with black tread over the years but that was not successful either – and these were not exotic colours but primary colours that, when researched, matched a large percentage of frame or accent colours on the market.
“Even recently, the trend to tan or brown wall tyres has been slow to be adopted by the road community, although that trend certainly has more traction than the coloured tyre market.”
Coloured tyres are more readily accepted in other parts of the cycling world.
“The colours for the Limited Edition GravelKings have been immensely popular and highly anticipated each year,” says Jeff Zell. “This is in large part due to the gravel community. Acceptance of out-of-the-box thinking and wanting to be unique has helped fuel the interest in coloured tyres and other parts and accessories in this category.”
For the last five years, Panaracer has produced GravelKings in limited edition colours including Military Green, Purple, Pink, and Mustard Yellow. This year’s colours are Ginger and Astral Blue.
Panaracer’s road tyres, though, are black, black, and more black, with the odd tanwall now and again.
That’s that, then. Case closed. Coloured tyres for road use really aren’t going anywhere.
Wait a minute, though. There’s some late news.
“Just recently we have started to do some testing again with coloured compounds and we have developed a technique to produce a coloured compound with very similar performance properties to that of a standard black rubber compound,” says Schwalbe’s Tim Ward.
Our first product with this new compound is the limited edition Pro One Spartacus tyre we launched a few weeks back.”
Ah yes, those white ones we reported on. Bradley Wiggins had them specced on his Factor Ostro Butterfly Bike from Vires Velo.
“Will we produce more coloured tyres in the future now we have developed our new compound process? I guess that all depends on fashion and subsequent demand,” says Tim Ward.
What do you reckon: are coloured road tyres best consigned to history or are they due a comeback? Let us know in the comments below.
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.