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Best road bike tyres in 2021: everything you need to know

The best tyres for racing, training and more...

Best road bike tyres

As the only contact point between you and the road, your tyres are one of the most important components on your bicycle. However, because road bike tyres generally all look so similar, it’s not always easy to spot the difference between a good tyre and a bad tyre.

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Also, upgrading your bike’s stock tyres to something better, whether that be in terms of greater volume, decreased rolling resistance, improved cornering grip or simply increased puncture protection, can transform your riding experience.

The good news is this – compared to other bike parts, getting the best road bike tyres needn’t cost the earth. Every tyre on this list has an RRP of £70 or less per tyre, and can most often be found at a discount. That may not be cheap but, as a component that has a significant impact on how your bike rides, it’s a relatively cheap upgrade for your road bike.

However, the choice of road bike tyres available on the market can be a little overwhelming. The devil really is in the detail, so we’ve put our team of expert testers to the task, logging thousands of kilometres to find the best road bike tyres available in 2021.


Road bike tyres: what you need to know

Before we start, here’s a quick primer on some of the technical jargon. There’s a lot to take in, so once you’ve read through all of the reviews, keep reading for our full buyer’s guide to road bike tyres.

Types of road bike tyre

There are three main types of road bike tyre on the market today: clincher, tubeless and tubular.

Clincher tyres, which have an open casing that requires the use of an inner tube, are the most common type on the market. These mount on to standard hooked wheel rims.

Tubeless tyres use a similar open casing construction as clincher tyres but, as the name implies, can be used without inner tubes on specially designed, tubeless-compatible rims.

This buyer’s guide contains our favourite tyres, regardless of type, but head this way if you want a separate list of the best tubeless tyres.

Tubular tyres use a tubular casing that is sewn shut around an inner tube. The tyre is then glued on to a tubular-specific rim, which doesn’t have sidewalls or bead hooks. Tubular tyres are popular with professional cyclists, but are rarely used by amateurs.

Tyre sizes

You’ll see numbers such as 700 x 25mm quoted many times below. This refers to the size of the tyre.

700 tyres mount on to 700c rims, which is the most common size for road bikes. If you have a very small road bike or a gravel bike, you may have 650b wheels, with a smaller diameter, in which case you’d need a 650 tyre.

For mountain bikes, it’s a bit more complicated because there are a number of different wheel sizes, though these days most MTBs use either 27.5in (i.e. 650b) or 29in wheels.

The second number refers to the width of the tyre in millimetres once it’s inflated (though the width of the rim a tyre is mounted on also affects the inflated size, so this is more of a guide).

If you’re looking at buying road bike tyres larger than 25mm, you’ll need to check that your frame and fork both have adequate clearance.

Until recently, most road bikes only had clearance for 25mm tyres, so unless you’ve got a relatively new bike, it’s sadly not a given you’ll be able to upgrade to a 28mm tyre or larger. If your road bike is relatively new – and especially if it has disc brakes – then you’ll likely be able to fit a 28mm tyre or larger.

What is TPI?

TPI refers to ‘threads per inch’ and indicates how many individual threads of woven nylon or cotton cross through one square inch of a single ply of the tyre’s casing.

Lower TPI casings use fewer, thicker threads, whereas higher TPI casings use a greater number of thinner threads.

Generally, higher TPI tyre casings offer a more supple, comfortable ride feel and deliver lower rolling resistance.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch though, because these tyres are usually more delicate and prone to punctures than tyres with lower TPI casings.

Casing construction is also only one part of the equation in determining the overall rolling resistance of a tyre.

What is rolling resistance?

Rolling resistance, sometimes referred to as ‘Crr’ (coefficient of rolling resistance), is the energy lost as a tyre rolls across a surface.

On hard surfaces, such as roads, losses can mainly be attributed to deformation of the tyre (hysteresis) and friction between the road surface and the tyre tread.

There are a number of factors that determine a tyre’s rolling resistance, including construction, the rubber compound used for the tread, inflation pressure, the width of the tyre and the tread.

We’ll take a deeper dive into this subject in the buyer’s guide at the end of the article because it’s quite a complicated subject.

Generally though, for road use, you want a slick tyre (or a tyre with minimal tread) with a flexible casing, inflated to a high (but not too high) pressure.


The best road bike tyres in 2021, as rated by our team of expert testers

  • Goodyear Eagle F1 Tubeless: £50
  • Schwalbe Pro One TLE: £69
  • WTB Exposure: £49.99
  • Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite TLR: £50
  • Continental Grand Prix 5000 Clincher: £60
  • Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL: £70
  • Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance: £40
  • Michelin Power Road Clincher: £43
  • Pirelli P Zero Race TLR: £60
  • Specialized S-Works Turbo Cotton: £61
  • Cadex Race: £65
  • Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance 11Storm TLR: £41
  • Maxxis High Road HYPR K2: £55
  • Vittoria Corsa TLR G2.0: £70

Goodyear Eagle F1 Tubeless

5.0 out of 5 star rating
Goodyear Eagle F1 Tubeless road tyre
Inside the tyre is a 120 TPI casing with the company’s own R:Amor puncture-resistant belt.
David Caudery / Immediate Media
  • Price: £50 / US$75 / AU$97/ €60
  • Type: Tubeless (tested) or clincher
  • Colour options: Black or tan (black only for the tubeless variant)
  • Size and width options: 700 x 25mm, 700 x 28mm, 700 x 30mm and 700 x 32mm
  • Size tested: 700 x 28mm
  • Weight: 310g
  • TPI: 120
  • Verdict: Great grip in wet and dry conditions, with road-smoothing comfort

We love the Eagle F1’s wet and dry grip and speed, courtesy of its advanced, graphene- and silica-containing compound. There’s a Goodyear-specific protection belt and a 120 TPI casing.

Straight-line speed is retained through corners, thanks to the tyre’s excellent grip. It’s great over rough road surfaces too thanks to its suppleness, not just the high air volume of the 28mm carcass. 

The tyre is available in conventional clincher and tubeless formats, and both perform really well on the road. Tubeless setup is easy too, without the need of a tubeless inflator.

Schwalbe Pro One TLE

5.0 out of 5 star rating
Schwalbe Pro One TLE road tyre
This is a high-performance tyre for racing and fast road riding.
David Caudery / Immediate Media
  • Price: £69
  • Type: Tubeless (tested) or clincher
  • Size and width options: 700 x 25mm, 700 x 28mm, 700 x 30mm and 700 x 32mm
  • Size tested: 700 x 28mm
  • Weight: 267g
  • TPI: Unknown
  • Verdict: Fast rolling and easy tubeless setup 

Schwalbe was one of the first tyre companies to embrace road tubeless, and that shows here with simple installation and compatibility with the latest hookless wheel rims

The Pro One is supple and grippy in the wet or dry through corners, but still feels fast thanks to its low rolling resistance. Schwalbe advises not inflating above 80psi, but the tyres are stable at much lower pressures – we tested down to 55psi without problems.

There’s a 14mm puncture protection belt, although this didn’t save us from a hole when riding dirty roads.

WTB Exposure

5.0 out of 5 star rating
Best road bike tyres
We were seriously impressed by WTB’s Exposure tyres.
Andy Lloyd
  • Price: £49.99
  • Type: Tubeless ready
  • Colour options: Black, tan wall
  • Size and width options: 700 x 30mm, 700 x 36mm
  • Size tested: 700 x 30mm
  • Weight: 305g
  • TPI: 60
  • Verdict: An excellent all-round tubeless tyre for road and light gravel

The WTB Exposure might not be the absolute fastest road tyre out there, but it excels in allowing you to take on all types of roads, light gravel and everything in between.

They have a much better ride quality than their 60 TPI casings would suggest, and with many modern road race bikes (such as the Specialized Tarmac SL 7 or 2021 Giant TCR) now having clearances to squeeze them in, it has become one of our favourite plump road tyres for all-round riding.

Our tester, Jack Luke, also found the initial setup easy enough (though it did require the use of a pump with a tubeless chamber) and, despite trying his best to abuse them in all manner of hideous conditions, he has suffered zero punctures.

Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite TLR

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best road bike tyres
Central to the R3 is its directional 120 TPI casing, topped with TR-Speed 62a durometer rubber.
Immediate Media
  • Price: £50
  • Type: Tubeless ready
  • Colour options: Black, tan wall
  • Size and width options: 700 x 25mm, 700 x 28mm, 700 x 32mm
  • Size tested: 700 x 32mm
  • Weight: 310g
  • TPI: 120
  • Verdict: Lightweight, supple tyre that can still take abuse

After much experimentation with widths, tread patterns, rubber compounds and puncture protection strips, Bontrager has really hit the mark with these tyres.

Our 32mm test samples came in well below their claimed 340g weight, at just 310g (lighter than some 28mm tyres). They’re also claimed to have 7 per cent less rolling resistance than the previous version, and we’ve no trouble believing that because their on-road performance is great.

Tubeless setup presented no problems either. While Bontrager only offered these in a 32mm tubeless size at the time of testing, there are now also 25mm and 28mm options, so everyone’s covered.

Continental Grand Prix 5000 Clincher

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Continental Grand Prix 5000 road tyre
The wait was worth it for the new Grand Prix 5000 from Continental.
David Caudery / Immediate Media
  • Price: £60
  • Type: Clincher
  • Colour options: Black or ‘transparent’
  • Size and width options: 700 x 23mm, 700 x 25mm, 700 x 28mm, 700 x 32mm
  • Size tested: 700 x 28mm
  • Weight: 241g
  • TPI: 330
  • Verdict: One of the best all-round road bike clincher tyres

The GP5000 uses the latest version of Conti’s famed Black Chili compound, with a claimed 12 per cent reduction in rolling resistance offering fast riding, without sacrificing the previous generation GP4000’s low wear rate.

There’s a new tread pattern on the sides of the tread, making for fast, confident cornering. It’s another tyre that handles rougher roads well, with a supple feel, thanks to a thinner casing with Conti’s latest tech.

The Vectran puncture protection belt is as good as they get. The GP5000 is lighter than the older GP4000 too.

Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best road bike tyres
Fast, grippy and easy to live with, Continental’s GP5000 TL is arguably the new benchmark for road tubeless tyres.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
  • Price: £70
  • Type: Tubeless ready
  • Colour options: Black
  • Size and width options: 700 x 25mm, 700 x 28mm, 700 x 32mm, 650b x 28mm
  • Size tested: 700 x 28mm
  • Weight: 306g
  • TPI: 180
  • Verdict: One of the benchmark tubeless road tyres, but not compatible with hookless rims

Continental waited a long time to get into the road tubeless game, but the wait was worth it.

The successor to the wildly popular GP4000 S II, the GP5000, promises even lower rolling resistance and improved puncture protection (thanks to the tubeless sealant).

The tubeless version does have a slightly less supple casing than the clincher (featured above), but we haven’t found it affects on-road performance. In fact, this is one of the benchmark tubeless road racing tyres.

Setup is hassle-free and the only issues are its high RRP (though it can usually be found for much less) and its incompatibility with the new generation of hookless road rims. If we’re being greedy, a transparent or tan wall option would also help satiate the fashionistas.

Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best road bike tyres
Hutchinson’s ElevenSTORM rubber compound tread claims to have low rolling resistance, be durable and to be grippy everywhere, and we’d largely agree with that.
Philip Sowels / Immediate Media
  • Price: £40
  • Type: Tubeless ready or clincher (tested)
  • Colour options: Black or tan wall
  • Size and width options: 700 x 23mm (clincher only), 700 x 25mm, 700 x 28mm, 700 x 30mm
  • Size tested: 700 x 25mm
  • Weight: 207g
  • TPI: 127
  • Verdict: Good value, lightweight clincher with great grip

Lightweight, fast and available in both clincher and tubeless-ready versions, there’s a lot to like about Hutchinson’s Fusion 5 Performance tyres.

Designed for fast training and racing, they feel great on the road and inspire real confidence when pushing it into corners.

Sadly, the tan wall option is only available in the 25mm-width clincher version, meaning tubeless users will have to settle for black.

Michelin Power Road Clincher

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Michelin Power Road Clincher tyre
Once on, they provide a tangible sense of low rolling resistance, zipping along at a nice speed.
David Caudery / Immediate Media
  • Price: £43 / AU$51 / AU$69 / €51
  • Type: Clincher (tested) or tubeless ready
  • Colour options: Black, red or blue
  • Size and width options: 700 x 23mm, 700 x 25mm, 700 x 28mm
  • Size tested: 700 x 28mm
  • Weight: 238g
  • TPI: 120
  • Verdict: Rugged and well priced, although not the most supple ride 

Another tyre with clincher or tubeless options, the Michelin Power Road boasts grip and speed and is designed for all-round use. The price is good too. 

It uses a triple 120 TPI casing, an Aramid puncture protection belt and Michelin’s latest X-Race rubber. Strengthened sidewalls are designed to add durability. Setting up was harder than some due to the tight fit though.

There’s good traction and cornering on damp roads, with the sidewalls adding stability, although that did lead to a slightly less supple feel than the best tyres. On the flip side, the tyres coped well with potholes and gravel excursions.

Pirelli P Zero Race TLR

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Pirelli P Zero Race TLR 28mm road tyre
An all-new 120 TPI TechWALL+ casing has been developed to boost puncture resistance and durability.
David Caudery / Immediate Media
  • Price£60 / US$70 / AU$106/ €70
  • Type: Tubeless ready (tested) or clincher
  • Colour options: Black or Classic (tan)
  • Size and width options: 700 x 24mm, 700 x 26mm, 700 x 28mm and 700 x 30mm
  • Size tested: 700 x 28mm
  • Weight: 299g
  • TPI: 120
  • Verdict: Fast, grippy ride and easy tubeless setup

The Pirelli P Zero Race TLR tyres give easy fitting and wide compatibility with wheels from different brands. They follow the latest standards for tubeless, giving compatibility with hookless rims, where they’re rated for inflation up to 73psi.

There’s a new 120 TPI casing, aimed at adding extra puncture protection and durability, and a new rubber compound called SmartEvo that Pirelli says ups traction and reduces rolling resistance relative to its previous generation tyres.

We found good air retention that was up there with tubed tyres and our riding confirmed that the rolling resistance was on a par with the best out there. Cornering was grippy and puncture protection good too, making these an excellent tubeless option

Specialized S-Works Turbo Cotton

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best road bike tyres
Specialized’s S-Works Turbo Cotton road clincher tyre is undeniably (and noticeably) fast, exceptionally grippy, and delivers an absolutely sublime ride quality.
James Huang / Immediate Media
  • Price: £65
  • Type: Clincher
  • Colour options: Tan wall
  • Size and width options: 700 x 24mm, 700 x 26mm, 700 x 28mm
  • Size tested: 700 x 24mm
  • Weight: 216g
  • TPI: 320
  • Verdict: Blazingly quick and supple tyre, but best saved for race days

These are a few years old now, but Specialized boldly claimed at the time that these were the fastest tyres it had ever produced. We can believe that too, because they’ve been used to win all manner of time trials at WorldTour level since.

Kasper Asgreen of WorldTour team Deceuninck-QuickStep recently took victory at the 2021 Tour of Flanders using a larger, ‘Hell of the North’ variant too.

Unfortunately, they’re quite pricey and their speed comes at the expense of reduced durability and puncture protection, but if you’re after the fastest clinchers possible you’d probably still struggle to beat these.

Cadex Race

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Cadex Race 28mm road tyre
Tubeless installation proved faultless, with one tyre lever and a regular floor pump adequate for popping the beads into place.
David Caudery / Immediate Media
  • Price: £65 / US$100 / AU$125 / €80
  • Type: Tubeless ready
  • Colour options: Black
  • Size and width options: 700 x 25mm, 700 x 28mm, 700 x 32mm
  • Size tested: 700 x 28mm
  • Weight: 331g
  • TPI: 170
  • Verdict: Fast rolling tyre for all-around performance

Coming from Giant’s performance component brand Cadex, the Race tyre is tubeless only. There’s a single layer 170 TPI casing to up rolling speed and suppleness, and proprietary puncture protection and rubber compound. They’re slightly heavier than other options though.

Tubeless setup was easy, needing just a floor pump and a single tyre lever to ease the bead over the rim. The tight seal led to minimal air loss over a week.

The Cadex Race copes well with rougher road surfaces and there’s a feeling of easy speed. There’s good support at lower pressures and predictable handling. A shallow herringbone tread pattern added some extra grip on gritty roads.

Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance 11Storm TLR

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance 11Storm road tyre
The Fusion 5 is an extremely good tubeless tyre with easy installation and grippy behaviour.
David Caudery / Immediate Media
  • Price: £41 / US$49 / AUI$72 / €49
  • Type: Tubeless ready
  • Colour options: Black
  • Size and width options: 700 x 25mm, 700 x 28mm, 700 x 30mm
  • Size tested: 700 x 28mm
  • Weight: 292g
  • TPI: 127
  • Verdict: Affordable and grippy but need pressures over 74psi

Hutchinson was one of the pioneers of road tubeless and that shows in its latest tyre’s easy installation. We got our set seated without tyre levers and using a track pump, but air retention was still good.

The Fusion 5 Performance uses the brand’s 11Storm silica-rich rubber compound, which Hutchinson says independent tests have shown is softer and gripper than its predecessor. There’s a 127 TPI casing for a high-quality ride over bumpy roads.

You need to keep the tyre pressure up with the Fusion 5 Performance tyres though, as they don’t like pressures below Hutchinson’s 74psi recommended minimum. That’s higher than we ran other tyres tested, but there was still plenty of comfort on offer, although they didn’t feel as fast-rolling as some.

Maxxis High Road HYPR K2

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Best road bike tyres
The Maxxis Highroad HYPR K2 is the brand’s top road race tyre and features a 170 TPI casing with a composite puncture protection layer.
Philip Sowels / Immediate Media
  • Price: £55
  • Type: Tubeless ready or clincher
  • Colour options: Black
  • Size and width options: 700 x 25mm
  • Size tested: 700 x 25mm
  • Weight: 288g
  • TPI: 170
  • Verdict: Easy to live with tubeless road tyre with good feel and grip, but only one size available

The High Road HYPR K2 is Maxxis’s top-end road racing tyre, and it’s got pretty much everything you could want in such a tyre: a low rolling resistance rubber compound, plenty of grip, not too heavy and it’s tubeless ready.

It’s somewhat of a shame it’s only available in 25mm widths, because this limits versatility. This is currently the most popular size among racers though, so it’s unlikely to be a deal breaker for some riders looking at this type of tyre.

For those who aren’t ready to ditch their inner tubes, there’s a standard clincher version that’s a little lighter and cheaper.

Vittoria Corsa TLR G2.0

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Vittoria Corsa TLR G2.0 road tyre
The Corsas are among the easiest tyres here to fit and inflate, and measure up true to size.
David Caudery / Immediate Media
  • Price: £70 / US$80
  • Type: Tubeless ready
  • Colour options: Black
  • Size and width options: 700 x 25mm and 700 x 28mm
  • Size tested: 700 x 28mm
  • Weight: 315g
  • TPI: 170
  • Verdict: Performance we’ve come to expect from Vittoria, now with easy tubeless setup

With a compound containing graphene and tubeless-ready construction, the Corsa tyres feel as fast as they come. You can feel the low rolling resistance however bad the surface, and there’s great grip in the dry.

Tubeless setup is particularly easy and the tyres cope with a wide range of pressures, with 60psi being a sweet spot. 

We found wear rates to be high though, with easy cutting of the tread pattern, so they’re best as an option for fast summer rides on good roads. They’re pricey too.

Best gravel bike tyres

If you’re keen on getting off the road and exploring some of your local trails and towpaths, then a few of the wider options on this list will do the job in good weather, but a dedicated gravel tyre is likely to be a better choice.

Fortunately, we’ve also compiled a list of the best gravel tyres currently available too.



Buyer’s guide to road bike tyres

What should I look for in a tyre?

The ultimate bike tyre would be super-light, totally resistant to punctures and fast. Unfortunately, that tyre doesn’t exist and so you generally have to make do with two of these three attributes.

Your predominant type of riding should ultimately dictate your tyre choice. For example, if most of your time is spent heading out on gravel backroads or commuting on rough inner-city roads, you’ll be better off with a tyre that’s geared towards puncture protection over speed and weight.

On the other hand, if you often ride on good roads that are smooth, debris-free and dry, then some lightweight, racy tyres can be a great choice.

You can find out where most tyres sit in the weight / puncture protection / rolling resistance triangle by checking their packaging or the manufacturer’s website. And, of course, our reviews will let you know how those claims stack up in the real world.

Types of tyre

Tyres for road bikes come in three styles: clincher, tubeless and tubular.

Clincher tyres

Roval Alpinist CLX wheels with Specialized Turbo Cotton clincher tyres
Your road bike is probably rolling on clincher tyres because it’s by far the most common type of tyre these days.
Specialized / @Billy_lebelge

Clinchers are the most common type of tyres found on road bikes. They have an open casing that houses a separate inner tube and is held on the wheel by the rim bead hooks.

The main advantage of clinchers is that they make fixing a flat easy because all you have to do to get at the punctured tube is pry off one side of the tyre. This usually requires a tyre lever or two, but with some tyres you can do it with just your thumbs.

There are two types of clinchers: folding and non-folding. The difference is in the material used to make the bead (the part that hooks onto the rim).

Folding clinchers generally use Kevlar, a durable material that – as the name suggests – allows the tyres to be folded. Non-folding clinchers use a bead made from steel wire bead and can’t be folded.

Folding clinchers are more expensive but they’re also lighter and are easier to get on and off a rim. The fact that they fold isn’t really important as far as riding is concerned, but it does usually mean such tyres have slightly lower levels of rolling resistance.

Tubeless tyres

Best road bike tyres
This diagram from Schwalbe shows a cross-section of its Pro One Tubeless Easy tyre, on a hooked tubeless-ready rim.
Schwalbe

Tubeless tyres have been a mainstay in the mountain biking world for some time and they’ve now come to road cycling.

As the name suggests, tubeless tyres don’t use an inner tube. They’re very similar to standard clinchers except that the tyre and rim seal together to become airtight and remain inflated, just like the tyres on most modern cars.

Such an airtight seal can’t be achieved with any old rim and tyre though, A tubeless setup not only requires tubeless-specific tyres (which have a special stretch-resistant tyre bead) and rims but also a special valve, viscous liquid sealant and special rim tape.

The idea is that removing the inner tube from the equation reduces weight and rolling resistance, and, without said inner tube, you can also run lower tyre pressures without the fear of a pinch flat, meaning a more comfortable ride and more grip.

The addition of the sealant can help eliminate punctures from small, sharp objects. This is particularly welcome on tyres designed for going off-road and delicate racing tyres such as the Schwalbe Pro One TT and Vittoria Corsa Speed, which use thin casings and eschew puncture protection strips in order to reduce rolling resistance to the absolute minimum.

If the puncture hole can’t be sealed by sealant alone (because it’s too large, for example), you still have the option of fitting an inner tube, or there are ‘tyre worm’ repair kits such as Stan’s NoTubes DART.

Campagnolo Bora Ultra WTO wheelset
Tubeless tyres use sealant to seal-up small cuts before they become punctures.
Campagnolo

Tubeless tyres aren’t a panacea, however. In order to aid air retention, manufacturers sometimes have to make the tyre casing thicker and heavier than on a standard clincher tyre, which can dull ride feel and increase rolling resistance.

They can also be far more difficult to install if you get a rim and tyre combination that doesn’t play nice, and you may also need an air compressor or special ‘flash’ pump to properly seat the tyre bead.

Much of the bike industry, and particularly wheel and tyre manufacturers, are convinced tubeless is the future for road cycling, though. In fact, it’s quite unusual to see a new tyre or wheelset without tubeless compatibility these days.

Some brands are even beginning to release hookless rims for road use, on which the bead hooks have been eliminated. This means compatibility is limited to tubeless tyres only because standard clincher tyres (which have much stretchier tyre beads) require the bead hooks to prevent them from blowing off the rim when inflated.

Tubular tyres

Mechanics pre-stretch tubulars for easier mounting
Tubular tyres see the inner tube sewn directly into the tyre, which is then glued on to a tubular rim.
Ben Delaney / Immediate Media

Despite the rise of road tubeless technology, tubulars are still what most pro riders use for racing.

They still rely on an inner tube but instead of the casing being open, like on a clincher, it’s sewn shut around the inner tube, so that the pairing takes on a tubular form — hence the name. The tyre then has to be glued (or taped using special double-sided tape) onto a rim specifically made for tubular tyres.

Unlike rims designed for clinchers, tubular rims don’t have bead hooks inside the sidewalls for a tyre to clinch onto. Tubulars rely on tyre pressure and glue to hold them on the rim.

Some riders still swear by tubular tyres, claiming they offer a superior ‘feel’. This can largely be attributed to the fact that until recent years, many tyre manufacturers only released their fastest tyres in tubular form.

Tubular tyres also tend to have slightly higher rolling resistance than an equivalent clincher because of frictional losses in the glue.

But the big, tangible advantage to tubular systems for road use is that the equivalent tubular rims can be made much lighter than a clincher or tubeless-ready rim. This makes them extremely popular with weight weenies and hill climb obsessives.

Best road bike tyres
Having a pro mechanic to glue your tyres on to your rims makes using tubular systems much easier.
Ben Delaney / Immediate Media

A second, more esoteric advantage is that tubular tyres can still be ridden when punctured. This is because they won’t separate from the rim, unlike clinchers, meaning a rider can continue riding until the punctured wheel can be changed – vital in pro races such as Paris-Roubaix where punctures are historically very common.

Tubulars are also said to be more resistant to ‘pinch flats’, where the inner tube is pinched between the rim and tyre, usually caused by hitting a sharp-edged obstacle such as a pothole. This is probably more a function of the tendency to run tubulars at higher pressures than their construction, though.

The disadvantages of tubulars – which tend to be felt much more keenly by regular cyclists than the pros with team mechanics – are that having to glue tyres to the rim makes the initial installation laborious (although tubular tape arguably eases this issue) and sorting a puncture during a ride can be very difficult.

Your two options are using a CO2 inflator cartridge containing sealant, and hoping it can seal the hole, or tearing off the punctured tubular and replacing it with another, which obviously means riding with a spare. (Actually repairing a punctured tubular, rather than simply replacing it, means breaking out the sewing kit.)

You can – very carefully – ride home on a spare tubular stretched over a rim, but you must glue this new tubular in place before your next ride.

Glueing a tubular is no piece of cake either. It requires attention to detail and plenty of patience because a bad job can result in the tyre rolling off the rim, likely causing a dangerous crash.

Rolling resistance continued…

As already noted at the beginning of this article, there are a lot of factors that determine the rolling resistance of a tyre. Let’s explore those in more detail.

Tyre construction

Tyres with thinner treads and higher TPI casings tend to be more supple, and thus require less energy to deform. This in turn means less energy is lost to hysteresis, which decreases rolling resistance.

The exact recipe of the rubber compound used in the tyre’s tread makes a large difference too. Additives such as silica or graphene are used to reduce losses to friction and hysteresis, but each manufacturer guards its own exact recipe very carefully.

Increasing the thickness of the rubber tread or adding puncture protection strips or layers can also affect rolling resistance by increasing the amount of energy required to deform the tyre.

The fastest tyres combine supple casings, thin treads and low friction rubber compounds. The downsides to these tyres though are usually significantly decreased puncture protection and service life.

Schwalbe Pro One TT Tubeless Easy tyre
Tyres with a lightweight casing will often roll faster, but that may come at the cost of durability and puncture protection.
George Scott/Immediate Media

Tyres that use thicker treads on stiffer casings will be slower, but you’ll generally also get better puncture protection and service life.

For this reason, many riders will switch to tyres such as the Continental Gatorskin or Schwalbe Durano during the winter, when the increased rolling resistance is less of a concern than the prospect of having to fix punctures with cold hands.

It’s a well worn cliché, but it’s also true that nothing is slower than a puncture. Time trial tyres are unlikely to be the best choice for training, long distance sportives or commuting. Choose tyres that have the right balance of characteristics for your personal riding needs.

Tyre width

Parcours Strade wheels
Road bike tyres are getting wider.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media

The main thing you need to know is that, for most people, wider tyres are generally faster and more comfortable.

This is because, at the same pressure, wider tyres have a shorter contact patch with the road than narrow tyres and this decreases the deformation of the tyre, which decreases rolling resistance.

Of course, in the real world, we tend to run wider tyres at lower pressures than narrow ones, which can cancel out that rolling resistance advantage, but you also get increased comfort and grip with the wider tyre, which makes a big difference to how fast you can ride on imperfect roads.

The only downsides are that wider tyres increase weight and aerodynamic drag slightly, meaning they require a little more energy to accelerate and push through the air. The benefits of wider tyres outweigh these marginal losses at the speeds most of us ride at, though.

The tables only really turn at the higher speeds seen in time trials or on the track (because the faster you ride, the more aerodynamics matter), but with modern wheels now designed around 25mm or wider tyres, there’s very little reason to choose 23mm or narrower tyres anymore.

Planet X Exocet 2
There’s little reason to run narrow 23mm tyres anymore.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media

Tyre pressure

On a perfectly smooth surface, like rollers or an indoor track, higher pressures mean less tyre deformation and therefore lower rolling resistance.

As most people know all too well, in the real world the roads are we actually ride on are not perfectly smooth. In fact, if you were to look very closely, even the smoothest road is actually full of small holes, bumps and imperfections.

Because of this, tyres run at too high pressures have a tendency to bounce over the road surface. This may feel fast, but it’s actually slowing you down because the energy you’re putting through the pedals isn’t contributing to driving the bike forward when the tyre isn’t in contact with the ground.

Lowering your tyre pressure enables the tyre to act as a kind of suspension system, keeping your rubber in contact with the road more of the time and wasting less of your energy input.

The key to tyre pressure is finding the right balance between having it high enough to minimise tyre deformation but low enough to absorb the vibrations and keep the rubber in contact with the surface you’re riding on.

Unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast rule for what pressure this will be for you because, just like with mountain biking, it depends on myriad factors such as what kinds of terrain you ride on, what wheels and tyres you’re using and how much you weigh.

The best advice we can offer is to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, experiment with different pressures and err on the side of being slightly too low instead of slightly too high. That way you’ll at least be more comfortable and have more grip.

Inner tubes and tubeless

The inner tubes in a clincher or tubular system are also the source of some frictional and hysteresis losses.

Thinner, lighter inner tubes generally contribute less to rolling resistance because there is less material to deform, meaning they’re more flexible.

Latex inner tubes, though more expensive than standard butyl inner tubes, offer even less rolling resistance because latex is more supple than butyl and requires less energy to deform.

Best road bike tyres
Even the type of inner tube you use will have a small but measurable effect on rolling resistance.
Simon Bromley/Immediate Media

Tubeless systems offer reduced rolling resistance by eliminating the inner tube altogether. However, it’s not as simple as saying ‘tubeless is therefore faster’ because tubeless tyres often have more material added to the tyre itself to make it airtight, which can increase the rolling resistance of the tyre compared to an equivalent clincher.

The amount of sealant added to a tubeless tyre system has also been shown to affect rolling resistance (adding more sealant than you need increases rolling resistance), so we’d always recommend following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Anatomy of a tyre

Best road bike tyres
This is a side cut of a Continental Grand Prix 4 Seasons tyre, the red cross-hatching is added sidewall reinforcement to protect against punctures.
Courtesy
  • Bead: This is what holds clincher and tubeless tyres on the wheel rim. The air pressure inside the tyre pushes the beads out, making them hook onto the rim. Wheels with hookless rims require the use of tyres with a tubeless-specific bead because standard clincher tyre beads may stretch off the rim when inflated, leading to a potentially dangerous blowout.
  • Casing: This is cloth fabric ‘woven’ around the beads that creates the main body of the tyre. While the vast majority use nylon fabric, higher-end tyres may use cotton or silk. The casing has a major effect on ride quality because of the threads per inch (TPI) value. Tyres with a low TPI will have thicker threads, which cause greater rolling resistance but make the tyre more resistant to punctures. Meanwhile, tyres with a high TPI use finer threads for less rolling resistance and lower weight, but will be more susceptible to punctures.
  • Sidewall: Rubber is applied to the side of the casing between the tread and the bead to form the sidewall. Each tyre will have different rubber compounds and thickness depending on its intended purpose.
  • Sub-tread: Some tyres will have a sub-tread layer to fend off punctures. Cheaper tyres may just have an additional layer of rubber beneath the tread, while those at the higher end of the price range will have specially designed fabric strips. These have an unfortunate side effect of increasing rolling resistance, so are often left out of tyres designed specifically for time trials.
  • Tread: This is the rubber that comes into contact with the road. It’s thicker than the sidewall and sometimes features a three-dimensional pattern. Tread pattern is a hotly debated issue, with many claiming that road bike tyres have no need for tread. However, according to Finnish outfit Wheel Energy, because the texture of any road surface is so varied, some tread patterns provide a measurable mechanical adhesion to the ground. Recent testing even shows that tread pattern can affect the aerodynamic performance of tyres too. The rubber compounds used for different tyres are a closely guarded secret. Generally, softer compounds will offer superior traction but will wear quickly, while harder compounds will stand up to more abuse but won’t have the same grip.

How often should you replace your tyres?

Best road bike tyres
Some tyres have wear indicators, which will disappear over the life of the tyre. Once they go, it’s time to replace the tyre.
BikeRadar

There’s no hard and fast rule for deciding when to replace a tyre. Some have wear indicators – usually a dot or groove in the tread that will wear away over the life of the tyre. In most cases, these indicators offer a pretty good sign of how much life remains in your tyres, but they’re not perfect.

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For tyres that don’t have these markers, keep an eye out for gashes and cuts in the tread and sidewalls, ‘squared off’ tread or a flat section in the middle of the tyre, or any odd lumps or bulging. If cuts and gashes are so deep that you can see the casing fabric underneath, or you’re repeatedly suffering flats, it’s time for a new tyre.