Choosing the best road bike tyres for your intended use can make or break a ride. A good set of tyres is by far the most important weapon in your bicycle’s arsenal. It is, after all, the only point of contact your bike has with the ground and failing to recognise this fact can completely affect the way your bike performs.
You’ll be surprised by how much a tyre can affect the overall efficiency, traction, compliance, rolling resistance and weight of your bike. Technology has also contributed to the evolution of the tyre where wider rim tracks have given rise to a whole new breed of options.
The introduction of wider rubber has all but put paid to the 23mm tyre with the industry now very much in favour of 25-28mm, the benefits of which claim to yield greater comfort, lower rolling resistance, added cornering grip and better aerodynamics.
And then, of course, there is the tubeless tyre which is slowly making inroads into the professional rungs - it seems as though the rise of tubeless technology is unavoidable. The potential benefits would suggest tubeless is the way forward: they’re light, fast, can run lower pressures and the sealant radically reduces the threat of puncturing, however, early teething problems have meant there is still some reluctance across the pro peloton. In spring of 2019, UAE Team Emirates’ Alexander Kristoff proved the technology's potential when he won Gent-Wevelgem and finished third at the Tour of Flanders on Vittoria Corsa Graphene 2.0 25mm tubeless tyres, but he went on to regret using it after three punctures at Paris Roubaix. More recently, Fabio Jakobsen professed his love for the technology, stating "If the team allows me, I will race with them all the time".
Additional setup time means consumers are also slow to take up the technology. However, most good road bike wheels and today's best tubeless road tyres are slowly conforming to a single standard, meaning fitment is improving.
As for which tyre format is best - clincher, tubular or tubeless - personal preference is still very much the deciding factor, but like mountain bike tyres, most manufacturers are convinced tubeless tyres are the future of road cycling.
The best road tyres you can buy today
Specialized Turbo Cotton
The best blend of straight line speed and cornering grip
Protection: BlackBelt | Tubeless: No | Bead: Foldable | Format: Clincher | Width: 24c, 26c, 28c | Weight: 260g (700x25)
Just an out-and-out race tyre designed for maximum grip and even more speed. The Turbo Cotton has gained plaudits the world over among racers who often frequent tight, technical criteriums due to their unrelenting grip which simply invites you to push the boundaries to the limit.
That's not all though, the Turbo Cotton is still the tyre that Specialized will spec on any of its range-topping race bikes due to its outright speed. The Turbo Cotton has been around for a number of years, but the only thing Specialized has done to keep it current is introduce a wider 28mm version, as well as a limited run of Hell Of The North tubular tyres.
Schwalbe Pro One
A grippy, super-fast tubeless tyre geared for competition use
Protection: MicroSkin | Tubeless: Yes | Bead: Foldable | Format: Clincher | Width: 23, 25, 28, 30mm | Weight: 260g (700x25)
Tyre manufacturers love coming up with colourful marketing prose designed to entice you in every imaginable way, but with Schwalbe, we’re inclined to believe the claim that its Pro One tyre is the fastest of its kind.
Even at the minimum tyre pressure of 70psi the Pro One delivers great rolling speed, feedback, and pliancy levels. Schwalbe claims the Pro One tyre is 25 percent lighter than its predecessor — it certainly feels this way, even with sealant mixed into the equation.
In terms of puncture protection, the tyres mightn't be the sturdiest out there, but run tubeless, any holes caused by thorns, glass and flint are quickly sorted by latex sealant.
Bar the premium sticker price, the Pro One is hard to trump as far as outright speed and grip are concerned.
Pirelli P Zero Velo 4S
The best for all-weather race-ready performance
Protection: Aramid fibre belt, breaker | Tubeless: No | Bead: Foldable | Format: Clincher | Width: 23, 25, 28mm | Weight: 220g (700x25)
While Pirelli is one of the oldest tyre manufacturers in the world it's better known for the rubber it produces for the car market. Few realise, however, that the Italian company produced an impressive range of cycling tyres until it left the world of pedal-power for internal combustion in the 1980s.
Having recently returned to cycling, Pirelli's current portfolio comprises options not just for road riders but gravel grinders and mountain bikers, too. The P Zero Velo 4S is Pirelli's range-topping all-year-round road tyre, boasting a SmartNET Silica compound and a 127tpi casing which claims to strike a balance between puncture protection and rolling efficiency.
The tyre certainly looks good too, with blue accents denoting its position within the range. In terms of performance, the P Zero Velo 4S tyres offer prodigious grip, speed and water displacement making them an ideal option for wet-weather riding. They come in three sizes for now - 23, 25 and 28mm - and are not yet configurable as a tubeless application.
With a choice of black or tan wall, and clincher or tubeless Continental is the popular choice
Protection: Vectran | Tubeless: Yes | Bead: Foldable | Format: Clincher, tubeless | Width: 23, 25, 28, 32mm | Weight: 220g (700x25)
The GP4000’s 14-year reign at the top of the Continental pile was usurped by the GP5000, a clincher/tubeless tyre aimed at the performance enthusiast. Recently, continental has followed the en vogue trend by offering the GP5000 in a limited edition tan wall version.
Like its predecessor it also employs a BlackChili compound, albeit an updated formula, which claims to be faster and more compliant than before. While puncture protection on both tyre formats - clincher and tubeless - is handled by a Vectran Breaker layer, the latter adds another line of defence comprised of latex sealant.
Despite these innovations Continental has managed to keep weight to a minimum and, in some cases, lighter than the GP4000 - just 220g in 25mm trim, resulting in the fastest and most resilient clincher tyre the company has ever produced.
Vittoria’s most beautiful and versatile tyre is now tubeless
Protection: Corespun casing, graphene | Tubeless: Yes | Bead: Foldable | Format: Clincher, tubular | Width: 23, 25, 28, 30mm | Weight: 255g (700x25)
The Vittoria Corsa falls under the company’s ‘Performance Race’ range of tyres and is available in clincher and tubular guises. Using an updated four-layer Graphene 2.0 compound, Vittoria claims to have improved rolling resistance, grip, durability, braking performance and puncture protection considerably over previous models.
The qualities of Graphene 2.0 compound are also said to change depending on the load and situation: cornering, straight line or braking — it’s all very clever. They sure look fast, a notion highlighted by the contrasting tan walls.
Vittoria has also added a tubeless (TLR) version to the line-up, as is already being ridden by a few teams within the pro peloton.
Ultra-fast, user-friendly, high-volume tubeless race tyre
Protection: BlackBelt | Tubeless: Yes | Bead: Foldable | Format: Clincher | Width: 26, 28mm | Weight: 260g (700x26)
Specialized S-Works Turbo RapidAir is the fastest feeling 28C road tyre we’ve used, but still all-weather confident and really easy to live with. Available in 700 x 26C and 28C, the RapidAir tyres are the result of a long process of testing in Specialized's own factory dedicated to creating the best tyres.
Specialized has been developing its new RapidAir tyre for three years working closely with the Deceuninck-QuickStep pro team on the evolution of their silica enhanced Gripton rubber compound and totally new carcass construction.
Despite the generous sizing, the ride feel of the tyres isn’t as damped and ‘warm’ as the smoothest feeling 28s we’ve ridden. It's certainly not harsh, it's more purposeful than plush, but it is intended as a race tyre. It also happens to be - so far - an extremely impressive high-speed, high-volume all-rounder that is also refreshingly easy to live with.
The indisputable king of all surfaces
Protection: PP3 | Tubeless: Yes | Bead: Foldable | Format: Clincher, tubular | Width: 25mm | Weight: 240g (700x25)
Soft in feel but hardy in nature, the Challenge Strada Pro is available in both clincher and tubular format. They have an elegant yet retro look about them thanks to the use of tan sidewalls and subtle graphics.
At 240g, they're on the lighter end of the weight scale but still manage to provide a compliant and controlled ride quality, something that’s noticeable on bumpier terrain.
Available in 25mm only, the Strada Pro can also be used as a tubeless setup which further bolsters its reputation as a do-it-all tyre.
An all-round training tyre with exceptional performance
Protection: Breaker, graphene | Tubeless: Yes | Bead: Foldable, wired | Format: Clincher, tubular | Width: 23, 25, 28, 30mm | Weight: 250g (700x25, Rubino Pro)
The Rubino represents the middle ground of Vittoria’s tyre collection, doubling up as training and all-weather racing option. The five-prong line-up offers tyres of varying functionality and weight class - a standard Rubino weighs in at a portly 335g while the race-focussed Rubino Pro Speed just 200g (25mm).
Graphene 2.0 features throughout the model line-up, a compound known for adding life and improved levels of performance to mix. The Rubino offers impressive levels of grip and puncture protection, the trade-off of which is straight-line speed.
Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite
The best for the road bike commuters
Protection: Hard-Case Lite | Tubeless: Yes | Bead: Foldable | Format: Clincher | Width: 23, 25, 28, 32mm | Weight: 200g (700x25)
Bontrager's R3 Hard-Case Lite road tyres have been designed for speed. Naturally, they possess all the qualities you'd expect from performance-focused rubber such as faster rolling efficiency and added traction. They also feature a longer-lasting tread-pattern design for all-weather security.
More importantly, the R3 range is appreciably durable and resistant to punctures thanks largely to Bontrager's proprietary TR-Speed compound and updated Hard-Case Lite casing. The range is pretty extensive and offers sizing options ranging from 23-28mm - there's also a 32mm tyre which is reserved for the tubeless TLR version.
There's also a model that utilises reflective sidewall technology for added visibility in low-light conditions.
Maxxis High Road SL
The best for weight weenies
Protection: K2 Breaker | Tubeless: No | Bead: Foldable | Format: Clincher | Width: 25c, 28c | Weight: 170g (700x25)
Weighing in at just 170 grams (size 25c), the Maxxis High Road SL is a tyre for the weight conscious. They are positioned right at the top of Maxxis' range, touted as the brand's 'lightest and highest-performing tyre' to date.
At such a weight, it's perhaps unsurprising to see even Maxxis confirm that the tyre isn't built to be durable. 'They're designed to be fast, not last' was the official line at the recent launch. For the time being, we're limited to clincher-type only, however tubeless is set to be made available later this summer.
Veloflex Master SPS
Super-light clincher, now carbon-rim compatible
Protection: SPS sidewall protection, Kevlar | Tubeless: No | Bead: Foldable | Format: Clincher | Width: 23, 25, 28mm | Weight: 220g (700x25)
Italian tyre maker Veloflex refers to its clincher tyres as open tubulars, citing the ride quality and feel is on par with the real thing. Weighing 220g, they're also very competitive in this regard and have become a staple choice for weight weenies the world over.
Owing to incompatibility concerns with non-ETRTO-approved wheels, the company has just released its new Master SPS Line rubber designed specifically for all forms of carbon hoops. In terms of performance, the tyres offer similar levels of rolling efficiency and pliancy as the tubulars on which they're based - thanks in part to the core-spun, high-density 320 TPI casing.
Featuring a trademark tan-wall design and prominent Veloflex moniker, the Masters are quite possibly one of the most aesthetically pleasing options on the market.
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