There’s no doubt that tyres can be the most cost-effective upgrade you can buy for your bike. But what should you look for when buying new boots for your bike?
First off, if you’re going to spend money on new tyres, spend enough: if you want lightweight responsiveness, multi-compound grip/speed and a quality feel it’s well worth it.
Ultra lightweight, 150-175g tyres feel fantastic in terms of acceleration and responsiveness if you’re attacking climbs or a short circuit race, but ripping straight through the smear of tread rubber as soon as you skid, rupturing the sidewall or wearing them out in a few weeks isn’t so clever.
At the other extreme, 250-300g tyres with reinforced sidewalls are great for clocking up high mileage and shrugging off debris, but they can make it feel like you’re trying to run in wellies.
Dual or even triple compounds, with a harder compound centre for speed and a softer compound on the shoulders for cornering grip, are a great idea. Some sets also use different compounds on front and rear tyres for the same reason. One manufacturer’s idea of soft and grippy compound can be another’s idea of hard and slippery, though, so always read the reviews.
How we tested
All tyres were inflated to 100psi on the same rim, stretched to full size and then measured to check carcass height and width as well as overall shape/size consistency. We then fitted each tyre to a Powertap rear wheel and measured the average wattage needed to sustain 20mph.
Schwalbe Ultremo ZX HD
£37.99 / US$75
Size: 700x23 Weight: 189g Height: 21mm Width: 23.8mm Watts @20mph: 127W
Schwalbe’s Ultremo tyres have always been top performers but the HD version finally delivers the survivability needed to make them a winning all-rounder.
Michelin Pro 4 Service Course
£39.99 / $US74.99
Size: 700x23 Weight: 205g Height: 21.6mm Width: 22.9mm Watts @20mph: 141W
Michelin’s Pro 4 SC increases the grip and longevity of the excellent but fragile Pro 3 to create a light, lovely feeling, top performance tyre that handles well and is also resistant to wear.
Challenge Criterium Open 320
£52 / US$81
Size: 700x23 Weight: 212g Height: 21mm Width: 23.2mm Watts @20mph: 122W
The handmade, 320tpi carcassfeels very buoyant despite a wide and flat (rather than tall/deep) profile. A mix of suppleness and compound mean they’re dazzlingly quick on the straights.
Vredestein Fortezza TriComp Slick
£50 / US$90
Size: 700x23 Weight: 186g Height: 22.2mm Width: 23.2mm Watts @20mph: 135W
The TriComp triple compound is faster than most on the rollers, but the supple carcass makes it feel even quicker on the road.
Continental Grand Prix
£29.95 / US$49.95
Size: 700x24 Weight: 216g Height: 23mm Width: 23.8mm Watts @20mph: 141W
This latest Grand Prix tyre overlays race performance onto a training carcass to build a superb value all-rounder. Black Chili compound means easy road speed, great grip plus confident cornering in all weathers.
Mavic Yksion Griplink/Powerlink
£38.99 / US$61
Size: 700x23 Weight: 201g Height: 22.1mm Width: 23.4mm Watts @20mph: 137W
Front- and rear-specific sets always seem to increase trust when you’re slinging them around corners, and these are no exception. Matched wear both ends proves the compound balance is pretty much spot on.
Specialized Turbo Pro
£34.99 / US$55
Size: 700x23 Weight: 194g Height: 21.3mm Width: 22.7mm Watts @20mph: 143W
Specialized’s Turbo Pro is an impressive all-round performer with better longevity and value than the top-flight S-Works Turbo.
£29.99 / US$N/A
Size: 700x23 Weight: 202g Height: 22.6mm Width: 23.4mm Watts @20mph: 146W
It does feel stiff on rougher roads and the tread wears pretty quickly, but it’s still a bargain if you’re looking to increase your speed.
Vittoria Open Corsa Evo CX
£47.99 / US$75
Size: 700x23 Weight: 197g Height: 22mm Width: 23.5mm Watts @20mph: 121W
A genuinely legendary tyre among road racers, this latest Open Corsa is extremely quick, supple and confident – at a price.
Deda Tre RS Corsa Open
£45.99 / US$90
Size: 700x23 Weight: 197g Height: 22mm Width: 22.2mm Watts @20mph: 131W
This is the top ‘open clincher’ tyre in Deda Tre’s range. This shows in its handmade, high velocity performance, making it a cracking option for smoother roads. The 320TPI carcass comes up small but that means low weight and quick acceleration. Rolling resistance is very low on road and rollers too.
On smooth roads its suppleness gives a quality ride and it grips pretty well in wet or dry. We did find it lost speed noticeably on rougher patches. While the puncture-proofing is reasonable, it’s more vulnerable to pothole or stone flats. Decent wear life means it’s not badly priced for such a fast, high quality ride.
What to look for when buying racing tyres
Carcass: The body of the tyre is formed from overlapping sheets of synthetic or cotton fabric that are built up in layers. The finer the fabric the more supple the tyre can be, which is why TPI (threads per inch) is often quoted to imply quality – the higher the better.
Tread: The most obvious visual aspect of tyre grip, tread pattern actually has much less effect on grip than the compound of the tyre. That’s because there’s not enough surface area on a normal road tyre to form a film of water underneath, rendering tread less important.
Protection: Most manufacturers now put a layer of puncture proofing under the central tread pattern of even their top performance tyres to repel thorn/glass/general pointy road debris. The trick is to get it light and flexible enough not to make the tyre feel slow and wooden.
Size: We’ve based this test around 23mm tyres. Going bigger gets you more cushioning, more weight, but a smoother roll, while thinner tyres reverse that. Actual sizes can differ significantly between manufacturers or even tyre models, though.
Compound: Tyre compound – basically the recipe that governs the softness of the rubber – is crucial to tyre performance. All other things being equal, the softer and stickier the rubber, the better the grip – but the flip side is that the tyre will roll slower and wear faster.
Bead: The unstretchable edge of the tyre that locks under the lip of the rim to hold it in place. Cheaper tyres use a heavy steel wire, while more expensive folding tyres use an Aramid (or Kevlar) cord that’s much lighter and can be folded and flexed without being damaged.