When it comes to performance, tyres are one of the most critical components on any bike.
Poor-quality tyres will sap your energy, reduce your cornering confidence and make your ride less comfortable.
In contrast, the best road bike tyres can transform a dull bike into a lively one, make you faster for less effort and absorb road imperfections more easily.
As with anything, though, separating the wheat from the chaff isn’t easy.
After all, almost every manufacturer launches new tyres with bold claims of reduced rolling resistance, improved durability and lower weight.
With that in mind, we put eight of the latest high-performance tubeless road tyres to the test, both in the lab and in the real world, to see which live up to the hype and which don’t.
What we tested
For this test, we picked eight of the latest high-end, road tubeless tyres from the major brands in this category.
These tyres are the top-of-the-range, all-round options for fast road riding and racing.
All are claimed to offer low rolling resistance, high levels of grip and a supple, comfortable ride feel.
(grams, per tyre)
|Challenge Criterium RS||£69.59/$94.99/€69.59||700x27c||263||350|
|Continental GP5000 S TR||£79.99/$97.99/€79.90||700x28c||280||220|
|Goodyear Eagle F1 R||£65/$80/€70||700x28c||313||120|
|Michelin Power Cup TLR||£69.99/$79.99/€79.99||700x28c||283||120|
|Pirelli P Zero Race TLR||£78.99/$99.90/€84.90||700x28c||310||120|
|Schwalbe Pro One TLE||£74.99/$91/€74.90||700x28c||267||127|
|Specialized S-Works Turbo 2BR||£55/$80/€85||700x28c||285||120|
|Vittoria Corsa Pro TLR||£89.99/$99.99/€94.95||700x28c||274||320|
For all tyres, we tested a size 700x28c, with the exception of the Challenge Criterium RS, for which we selected the closest available size – 700x27c.
We chose this size because we feel it represents a sweet spot for the average road rider, as things stand, offering a good balance of speed, weight, grip and comfort.
Whether wider tyres are faster than narrow ones has been a hotly debated topic in recent years. As we’ve seen at this year’s Tour de France, the answer isn’t a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – it usually depends on many other factors.
Crucially, though, most modern road bikes can accommodate this size of tyre, and many of the best road bike wheelsets are now optimised for it, too.
Why did we only test tubeless tyres?
We opted to test solely tubeless tyres because this is where all of the major research and development in road bike tyres is being focused.
While some brands have released clincher-only versions of their latest tyres, some of the biggest names have not.
For example, Continental has not released a clincher version of its latest high-performance road tyre, the GP5000 S TR.
It is worth noting that all tubeless tyres can be used with inner tubes if desired, although the stretch-resistant tubeless beads can make installing tubeless tyres with inner tubes more difficult.
How we tested
To assess the merits of each tyre, we performed a combination of lab-based and real-world testing.
Our lab testing was performed at the Silverstone Sports Engineering Hub, on its bicycle-specific rolling resistance rig.
This rig uses an oversized, motor-driven roller to rotate a wheel, with a vertical mass applied to simulate a rider’s weight deforming the tyre as on the road.
Using a torque meter, the machine can then determine the rolling resistance of a tyre by comparing the power required to turn the roller at a given speed, with and without the tyre contacting it.
All else being equal, tyres that produce less rolling resistance should enable you to ride at a given speed for less effort.
Each tyre was mounted to a Hunt 54 Aerodynamicist Carbon Disc front wheel, which has a hooked rim with a 20mm internal width.
While all of the tyres we tested were tubeless-ready, we used a Michelin latex inner tube for the lab test.
This helped to save time between tests (time is money in these scenarios), and reduced mess and wasted tubeless sealant.
It also removed the variable of air retention, because some tubeless tyres require time for the sealant to coat the tyre to make an airtight seal.
According to independent testing by BicycleRolllingResistance.com, a latex inner tube produces a similar amount of rolling resistance to using 20ml of tubeless sealant, so it doesn’t affect the results.
For this test, we selected a contact patch load of 40kg and a test speed of 30km/h.
All tyres were inflated to 80psi/5.5 BAR using the same track pump and pressure gauge.
Given lab-derived rolling resistance figures can only tell us so much, it’s also important to test its performance in the real world.
For this, myself and fellow tyre nerd, Ashley Quinlan, BikeRadar’s senior technical editor, subjected the tyres to a range of tests using two sets of the Hunt wheels mentioned previously.
We first assessed how easy (or otherwise) each set of tyres was to mount to rims and set up tubeless.
Following this, we judged their subjective ride quality, looking for how efficient, grippy and comfortable each tyre felt on the road.
In terms of rolling resistance, bar one notable outlier, the tyres all performed fairly similarly.
The most efficient tyre, the Pirelli P Zero TLR, required 11.86 watts to overcome rolling resistance.
In contrast, the least efficient tyre on test, the Vittoria Corsa Pro TLR, required 16.68 watts to overcome rolling resistance – 4.82 watts more per tyre than the Pirelli.
As you need a tyre for each wheel on your bike, doubling that figure gives a more realistic view of the performance differential between each set of tyres.
The Vittoria aside, the rest of the tyres were a much closer match for the Pirelli, ranging from 14.32 watts for the Specialized S-Works Turbo 2BR to 12.08 watts for the Schwalbe Pro One TLE.
Of course, even relatively small differences in rolling resistance such as these can still be important for many riders. But, as we’ll discuss shortly, it isn’t the only thing that matters.
As you might expect from top-of-the-range tyres, ride feel, grip and real-world performance were generally impressive from every tyre in the group.
Efficiency aside, then, the major differences played out in terms of installation, livability and cost.
To read our in-depth review of each tyre, check out the links below:
- Challenge Criterium RS review
- Continental GP5000 S TR review
- Goodyear Eagle F1 R review
- Michelin Power Cup TLR review
- Pirelli P Zero Race TLR review
- Schwalbe Pro One TLE review
- Specialized S-Works Turbo 2BR review
- Vittoria Corsa Pro TLR review
Is rolling resistance all that matters?
If you’re interested in riding your bike faster for less effort, then rolling resistance is definitely something worth paying attention to.
That said, it’s worth noting that the spread between the top seven of the eight tyres we tested was less than 2.5 watts per tyre at 30kph (the eighth tyre was a notable outlier in this regard) – a difference that would be near impossible to detect while riding in the real world.
Even the most dedicated watt-counters should therefore acknowledge it isn’t the be-all and end-all of tyre performance.
But unless you enjoy fixing punctures regularly, and have deep pockets to cope with the lower durability and wear life of these tyres, they’re likely to disappoint you in terms of all-round performance.
Likewise, a super-fast tyre with poor grip won’t inspire confidence in corners or on descents, and may ultimately cost you more speed than you gain from any reduction in rolling resistance.
Tyres also produce varying degrees and qualities of ‘ride feel’, a largely subjective but nevertheless important factor in real-world performance.
High-performance road tyres, such as those tested here, are expected to produce excellent ride feel, damping vibrations and enabling you to feel the level of grip available.
Lastly, should you wish to sweat the finest details, it may also be worth considering the aerodynamic performance of your tyres.
While it’s a complicated subject with many variables at play, using a tyre that’s slightly narrower (when inflated) than the external width of your rim is usually a good starting point.
A note on durability
While recent advances in tyre technology have improved the durability of many race-focused tyres, the tyres tested here are generally on the more delicate end of the spectrum.
Instead of being optimised for high puncture protection and reliability, all of these tyres prioritise speed, grip and comfort. Given this, it’s worth managing your expectations when it comes to durability.
Luck and local road conditions inevitably play a role too, of course.
If you live in an area with clean, well-maintained roads, these tyres may provide many kilometres of hassle-free service life.
On the other hand, it’s also possible to come across some broken glass in the road and damage a tyre beyond repair within the first few minutes of riding.
Misfortune aside, if you frequently log heavy mileage in tough conditions, these may not be the right tyres for you.
In that case, you’ll likely be better served by tougher, all-season options such as the Continental GP5000 AS TR or Pirelli P Zero Race 4S (which was recently released in tubeless form), or perhaps even one of the best winter tyres.