Choosing bike tyres... for some riders this is a necessary evil, for others a chance to indulge their (perfectly legal) rubber fetish. For those of you who aren’t rubber fetishists (yet), we’ve put together a brief guide on what to look for when picking a tyre. So, whether for everyday road riding, race day, commuting, gravel or mixed terrain riding, we'll have you rolling in no time.
First things first - spend wisely
In our opinion, it’s well worth investing in a good set of tyres for riding. The payback you will get from good rubber in terms of comfort and performance can be pretty huge. As the only contact point you have with the ground when riding (sometimes it's your body....), the tyres you pick will make a big difference to how your bike feels to ride. Good tyres are also generally less likely to puncture than cheap ones - even a lot of the lighter weight ones. This is because they have been constructed to a much higher quality than lower end options, both in terms of the materials used and in their overall design, which will be much more sophisticated than a more basic tyre.
For us, this lower likelihood of punctures is in itself worth a lot - punctures are a right pain in the behind, and the cost of punctures can soon mount up in the form of replacement tubes, CO2 canisters and so on if your tyre isn’t providing adequate protection, so an initial investment in a higher quality, more expensive tyre can actually save you money (and a whole lot of hassle) in the long run. And as you’ve already spent the money on the bike, the kit, the inevitable upgrades, we think that investing in a good set of tyres to enable you to make the most out of these other investments is a bit of a no-brainer.
Picking tyres if you’re a road rider
The best tyres for road riding will combine a low weight, low rolling resistance, good grip, puncture resistance and a supple feel, all of which will translate to a fast, confident, delay-free ride. Depending on the kind of road riding you’re planning on doing, you may want to prioritise some qualities over others: for racing, on the day performance (especially low rolling resistance and grip) is paramount, whereas for winter training or commuting, toughness, grippiness and puncture protection are key.
Race day tyres
One of our favourite race day tyres is the Clement LCV (see below left), which is incredibly lightweight (sub-200g in the 23mm width) oh so supple and wonderfully fast. Its varied thread counts in the casing add a bit of toughness and plenty of grip, and despite its weeny weight, it packs in a puncture protective belt under the tread for added peace of mind whilst racing (racing on under-inflated tyres will have you pedaling squares hanging off the back!).
A good alternative to the LCV for racing is the Panaracer Race D Evo 3 (see below right - if you’re going to be racing in more savage conditions, this tyre should be top of the list). The Panaracer Race D Evo 3 is the most burly of Panaracer’s Race Evo range (the D stands for duro), incorporating greater puncture protection including (and especially) on the sidewall, but retaining the range’s race-oriented performance features, including superior grip in varied conditions.
Tyres for regular riding
For day to day riding through the seasons (whether that's club runs, training rides or coffee stop heavy weekend outings), you want something with a bit more grip and a bit more puncture protection. This will provide that extra confidence, especially when surfaces are slick, and importantly more protection from debris and poor road surfaces. We would recommend the Clement Strada LGG or the Vittoria Corsa G+ (images below left and right respectively).
The Clement Strada LGG has more tread than you get a lot of road tyres - an attractive chevron styled sidewall tread will offer excellent grip when you’re leaning into corners, and a puncture protective belt for keeping out nasties. The Vittoria Corsa G+ is renowned for coping well whatever the weather - its four compound construction incorporates the innovative Graphene (a revolutionary material made from a very thin sheet of pure carbon) which is said to give the tyre a superior performance in terms speed, grip, durability and wear resistance when compared with a non-Graphene tyre. Both the G+ and the LGG feel and ride like a race tyre, with their really quite impressive puncture protection adding only a few grams and compromising only a few watts - maybe you really can have it all!
Tyres for the urban rider, commuter or cycle tourer
If you’re an urban rider or commuter, you’ll need a workhorse of a tyre which will keep on going without complaint and which can stand up to a bit of abuse. Puncture protection is key (nobody wants to arrive late to work because of a flat tyre, or face having to change a tube on a cold dark ride home), and the most puncture protective tyres will have protection on the sidewall as well as the middle of the tyre. Also be aware that not all ‘puncture protective’ tyres are created equal - even those which use the same type of puncture protection (e.g. Kevlar, which is probably the most well-known puncture protection for bike tyres) can vary dramatically in performance. Look out for respected brands and also listen out for recommendations. A lot of cyclists have a particular tyre which they swear by, although speaking from experience it is also good to try out other options occasionally as you may find something which is even better than your previous go-to option!
Durability is also an important quality in a tyre for urban riding, as you don’t want a tyre that will be worn out within a few months of fitting it. In terms of tread pattern, something with a bit of tread but not too much is suitable for most urban riders, as this will provide a good balance between keeping rolling resistance down and being able to easily roll over uneven surfaces (i.e. your typical urban road). A moderate amount of tread will also work really well if your commute includes both road and off road sections (e.g. canal towpaths or bike paths). If you are planning on sticking just to the road and want something a bit faster, you could go for a slicker tread pattern instead.
The tyres we would recommend for urban riding or touring (on roads) are the Schwalbe Durano DD or the Panaracer Ribmo (see above images left and right respectively). The Durano DD has a relatively slick tread pattern so will still cover ground very efficiently, but is made from a dual compound which is designed to grip effectively even in the wet. Durano tyres are renowned for wearing very slowly and are designed with high mileage riding in mind. As well as a puncture protective belt across the middle of the tyre, they also have additional wraparound puncture protection which will keep you from getting puncture through any material cutting into the sidewall of the tyre.
The Panaracer Ribmo is described by Panaracer as a ‘fully protected, fast urban tyre’. It has an egg-shaped profile which, coupled with the relatively slick tread pattern, gives the Ribmo great speed and cornering abilities. Like the Durano DD it is designed to wear very slowly and to keep out all the roadside nasties. It's also made from a rather enticingly titled Mile Cruncher Compound, which is designed to be slow wearing without harsh ride inducing properties (something which can happen if a tyre’s rubber compound is made harder to increase its durability). The tyres use an extra strong thread in their construction to improve rigidity, pinch flat and side-cut protection, and offer bead to bead protection via a ProTite Shield compound.
If your commute involves any off-road riding or if you’re planning a cycle tour which will involve both on and off-road riding, we would recommend checking out our tyre recommendations for gravel, cross country and mixed terrain riding below.
Picking tyres for gravel, cross country and mixed terrain riding
When you’re regularly riding over terrain other than tarmac, whether that be muddy bridleways, forestry roads, bumpy farm tracks, rocky paths or gravel, you need a very different kind of tyre to that which you would use for road riding, one with a much more substantial tread and probably a different kind of rubber compound to better grip the varied surfaces you might be riding over. You'll probably also want to go quite a bit wider if possible - it is often a case of the bigger the better with tyres for off-road use. A wider tyre has many advantages for gravel, cross country or mixed terrain riding, not least because it can be run at a lower pressure, which can improve grip, momentum over uneven ground and comfort.
We have a fair few tyres in our modest range which fit the bill nicely for off-road or mixed terrain riding. At the less gnarly end of the range is the Clement X’Plor USH, which is ideal if you want a tyre that will do well on both tarmac and non-tarmaced surfaces. It combines a firm centre ridge with knobbly edges, and is made from a soft rubber compound for good grip and shock absorption. The Clement X’Plor MSO is like the bigger, burlier brother of the USH, with a much more knobbly tread pattern. Its smooth rolling centre knobs combine with more aggressive shoulder lugs for a winning combination of plush ride and effective traction.
The Schwalbe G-One (main image below) is perhaps the creme de la creme of gravel tyres, and is well loved among several gravel riders out there. With a tread pattern which is low profile, closely spaced and uniform, the tyres are fast on road and brilliantly grippy off the road.
The Panaracer GravelKing SK (below left) is again targeted towards riders who want to mix on and off road riding and want a tyre which will be both quick on the road and grippy off it. It combines a low profile knobbly tread pattern with larger shoulder lugs and is made from a compound which is designed to both offer low rolling resistance and wear resistance, and is reinforced to resist punctures.
The Surly Knard 41 (so called because of its impressive 41mm girth, shown below right) is the gnarliest of the tyres in the Always Riding range, with a tread pattern which is comparatively more widely spread to better be able to cope a wider range of terrains including mud or sand as well as the usual dirt and gravel. The extra width is great for enhancing comfort, grip and versatility, and it will be noticeable that you can just roll over stuff with it that you wouldn’t get away with when running a narrower tyre. The Knard 41 would be a great tyre for touring if you’re planning on getting off the asphalt for any significant amount of time, although we would recommend being particularly careful about clearance with the Knard because it is so wide.
A final note on sizing
The size of your existing tyre should be written along the tyre sidewall, either printed on or moulded into the rubber. For road and hybrid bikes, the size will be in millimetres (e.g. 700 x 23C, 700 x 35C) with the 700 referring to the tyre’s outer diameter and the other figure referring to the width of the tyre. For mountain bikes, the size will be in inches, again with the first number referring to the tyre’s outer diameter and the second number referring to its width (e.g. 26 x 2.2”, 27.5 x 3”, 29 x 2.35”).
If you want to go for a different width of tyre as part of your tyre upgrade/replacement, you’ll need to check it will work a) with your bike frame; and b) with your wheel rim. When going for a wider tyre, you’re most likely to hit frame clearance issues if a) you have a road bike with limited clearance under the front fork or b) you want to put a really wide or knobbly tyre onto a mountain or hybrid bike with limited clearance in the rear triangle. If you look at how much space you have above and either side of your existing tyre, this should give an idea of how much wider you should be able to go with your replacement tyre, although it’s worth bearing in mind that different brands and models of tyres which are labelled as the same size can actually come up quite differently in reality. If you’re changing the tread pattern significantly this too could be a factor, as a chunkier tread will obviously stick out further.
In terms of compatibility with your wheel rim, a tyre which is too wide for the rim can deflect sideways, affecting handling, whereas a tyre which is too narrow for the rim will feel harsh and drag more. To ensure you don’t end up in this situation, the rule of thumb is to have a tyre between 1.4 and 2.2 times the width of the rim.1 So, frame clearance permitting, the average road bike wheel (which is typically 15mm wide) will be able to fit tyres 23-32mm wide, the average hybrid wheel and some cyclocross or gravel bike wheels (where the rim is 17-19mm wide) will be able to fit tyres 28-50mm wide, and a typical mountain bike rim (around 25mm wide) will be able to fit tyres between 1.5-3” wide. For plus and fat bikes, rim widths may vary from around 25mm up to a whopping 100mm, and recommended tyre widths will vary between wheel manufacturers, so it is probably best to check with your bike manufacturer as to what options you have available.
For older bikes with imperial sizes (e.g. an old road or town bike) the ISO (International Standards Organisation) number can be a useful reference for finding a replacement tyre to make sure you get exactly the right size - this will be written along the tyre sidewall in the format 32-622.