Offices and factories around the world are currently closed due to COVID-19, so you'd be forgiven for thinking that buying the best commuting bike tires isn't much of a priority. However, with municipalities around the world closing road infrastructure to car traffic in light of the lockdown, there has never been a better time to get around by bike.
A ride around town before heading back to the home office means you'll get some fresh air and exercise every morning and, if you're a key worker, cycling to work means you can give crowded public transport a miss.
Replacing stock-standard rubber with a pair of the best commuting bike tires is arguably one of the best upgrades you can make to any bike and, dollar-for-dollar, will have the most profound effect on how your bike rides. What you're looking for in a commuting tire will largely depend on your commute. Are you battling bike lanes lined with broken glass, or headwinds and vast distances?
Commuting bike tires will come with either a wire bead or a folding bead; with the difference being that one utilises a steel wire to engage the rim, while the other will use a flexible fibre like kevlar.
Wire bead tires will be noticeably cheaper than folding bead tires, and considerably heavier too.
Tubes or tubeless
Tires on commuter bikes fall into two categories, tubed and tubeless. Tubed tires are your standard clinchers, with a tire and an inner tube that is inflated with a Presta or a Schrader valve. These are easy to replace but are susceptible to not only punctures from sharp objects poking through the tire but also pinch flats; where an impact punches the tube against the rim, leaving two small holes which look like a snake bite.
Tubeless tires have been popular on mountain bikes for quite some time, they are gaining popularity on road bikes and we are beginning to see some trickle into commuter tires too. Visually, tubeless tires look almost identical to a standard clincher but when used with a tubeless-ready rim, the inner tube is replaced with liquid sealant. If a sharp object manages to puncture the tire, the hole will be quickly clogged by the sealant — often without the rider ever realising they had a puncture. Tubeless tires usually roll with less resistance than their tubed stablemates and allow for lower tire pressures because there is no tube to pinch flat.
While all of this sounds peachy, tubeless tires aren't perfect and can be challenging to set up. Simply getting a tubeless tire on the rim can be a herculean effort in itself, and so can getting the tire to hold air — often requiring an air compressor or flash pump to seat the tire bead. Furthermore, the sealant has a use-by date and will need to be topped up periodically too.
There is another form of 'tubeless' tires on the market, which come in the form of airless or solid tires. While these have vastly improved in recent years, they still ride pretty rough and are downright scary when the pavement is wet. We would suggest you avoid non-pneumatic tires.
Commuter tires offer varying degrees of puncture protection either by adding a layer of sub-tread, or a breaker belt or puncture-proof belt. This can be something as simple as additional layers of rubber to increase the thickness of the tread. In contrast, others feature specially made fabrics which will sometimes extend over the sidewall to offer further protection.
Unfortunately, puncture protection usually comes at the cost of rolling resistance and adds weight to the tire. The right level of puncture protection will largely depend on what your commute looks like; if you ride through a veritable minefield of broken glass, the slower-rolling but more robust tires might be the way to go. On the other hand, if you cover a significant distance on your way to work or school, something faster-rolling is likely to serve you better.
With all of that said, making sure your tires are pumped up, and checking the tread for wear and embedded sharps every couple of days will limit how often you experience flats.
Tires can be one of the most intimidating upgrades to make to your bike because of the sheer number of options out there, and the fact that every brand has whizz bang names for every feature, including their tread pattern.
As a rule, if a tire can’t dig into a surface (like pavement) then the tread on bicycle tires doesn't add much if any grip. While most bike tires have some form of tread, when choosing a tire for a commute, think about the surfaces you will be riding on. If it's paved all the way, a slick or lightly treaded tire will be your best pick, while if there is some gravel or dirt on your commute a bit of tread might just be the ticket — prioritise shoulder tread as this is what provides grip in the corners.
Most commuters will have tires between 28mm and 42mm, and when it comes time to replace the tires on your bike, the width can have a major impact on the way your bike rides. Wider tires offer increased grip and comfort as they have a larger air volume and lower tire pressure can be run.
But, don't go out and buy the fattest tires you can find as they may not fit in your frame, and maybe too broad for your rim to provide sufficient sidewall support. Fenders and brakes can also limit the size you can run.
Schwalbe Marathon Plus
Bead: Wire | Width: 25c-45c | Diameter: 16in, 20in, 24in 26in, 650b, 700c
The Schwalbe Marathon is arguably the gold standard of commuting tires. They come in a range of tread patterns, levels of puncture protection and are even available in tubeless-ready options; but the Marathon Plus road tires with Smart Guard are the best all-rounder tires for getting you from A to B. Suitable for use on e-bikes, the Marathon Plus aren't going to be the fastest rolling tires you can buy, but they are Schwalbe's most puncture-resistant tires, and it takes an impressive effort to cause a flat.
The hallmark feature of the Marathon Plus is the Smart Guard puncture protection belt, which puts 5mm of rubber between the tread and the carcass of the tire. This means the tire can pick up a piece of broken glass and the brand's unique blend of 'India Rubber' will prevent this would-be culprit from making its way through to your tube. The tire also features Schwalbe's anti-aging side wall, which extends the life of the tire through resistance to developing cracks, it also features grooves to power a Dynamo.
Bead: Folding | Width: 23-32 | Diameter: 26in, 27in, 700c
We've long used Continental's Gatorskin as a winter training tire because of its puncture protection, reinforced sidewall and limited rolling resistance. While it won't stop a shard of glass dead in its tracks the way the Schwalbe Marathon does, the PolyX Breaker belt finds the right balance between rolling resistance and puncture protection.
The sidewalls are made from what Conti calls Duraskin anti-cut fabric, a polyamide mesh bonded to the sidewall that not only staves off damage but also limits how far a cut spreads should one occur, in a similar way to ripstop nylon. All of this, combined with the beefy tread makes for a heavy-duty tire that doesn't feel like your pedalling while squeezing your brakes.
Bead: Folding, Wire | Width: 23-36c | Diameter: 26in, 650b, 700c
Ribmo stands for Ride Bike More, and that's precisely what these tires will make you want to do. With bead-to-bead puncture protection, the 800D polyamide cord carcass is reinforced by a layer of PT shield fabric, so these tires are tough, to say the least. The Mile Cruncher compound is one of the harder rubbers used by Panaracer, not only to extend the life of the tire but also to further discourage sharp objects from embedding themselves and making you late for work.
With all of this, you would be forgiven for thinking the Ribmo tires would be lumbering and slow; however, they roll along with surprising enthusiasm. Be warned, they are not the easiest tire to get on your wheels, so make sure you have a good set of tire levers — and muscular forearms too.
Michelin Protek Urban
Bead: Wire | Width: 28-40c | Diameter: 20in, 26in, 700c
Michelin's lightly treaded ProTek commuting tires are its highest grip urban tires, thanks to the rubber compound borrowed from the Pro 4 Grip Service Course high-performance road tires. This compound excels in the rain, hanging onto wet ground like velcro while still providing for minimal rolling resistance. The tire is lightly treaded, with ‘progressive grooving on the shoulder’ which Michelin claims helps to displace water, even though bike tires can’t hydroplane.
To keep your spare tire kit safely in your saddlebag or backpack, the Protek Urban tires feature an Aramid breaker to prevent sharps from disturbing your tube. Available in a range of sizes, the Protek tires are good to go on eBikes and feature a wire bead and reflective sidewall.
Bead: Wire | Width: 23-50c | Diameter: 26in, 650b, 700c, 29in
While WTB is best known for its off-road and mixed-surface tires, the Thickslicks are its take on an urban tire. Based around a burly casing, the tread is thick and free of any grooves or knobs as the name suggests.
WTB makes the ThickSlick in Comp level and Flat Guard casings. The Comp tire features the brands 60A durometer rubber, a 'durable impervious casing' and a wire bead. The Flat Guard sees a second layer of rubber throughout the entire casing, as well as an extra layer of rubber beneath the whole width of the tread to provide extra thickness where the tire is likely to encounter sharp road debris.
Vittoria Zaffiro Pro
Bead: Folding | Width: 23-32c | Diameter: 700c
While Vittoria's Zaffiro Pro tires fall more into the road category, they are incredibly hard-wearing, fast rolling, and don't succumb to many punctures; which in our book makes them an ideal candidate for everyday use on your get-around-town bike.
They feature a paired down version of the brand's Graphene 2.0 compound which makes big claims about improvements to durability, cut resistance and grip, and in the real world, seems to deliver on both of these claims to a certain degree. With a folding bead, they shed serious weight over their metal beaded compatriots and feature a full-width nylon casing and a breaker belt under the tread.
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