As the contact patch between you and the road, tyres are one of the most important components on your bike. Ensuring your tyres are fit for the type of riding you’re doing can make a huge difference to your comfort and performance.
And while tubeless mountain bike tyres have long been the norm, road cyclists and the surrounding industry have been much slower on the uptake. Though the technology has now existed for over a decade, there has never been a universally accepted standard for tubeless road tyre and rim specifications.
2019 has seen a marked step-change in all of this, however. Rumours of an imminent ETRTO road tubeless standard have been circulating for months now, and with major manufacturers such as Continental and Pirelli on board with road tubeless, this is surely just around the corner. Once this exists, the nightmare scenario of buying incompatible tubeless tyres and rims should hopefully be consigned to the past.
Furthermore, with riders such as Alexander Kristoff and Fabio Jakobsen winning WorldTour races and a stage at the Tour of California on tubeless tyres, and numerous teams at the Tour De France going tubeless, it seems that tubeless road tyres are making headway into the highest level of the sport. Some brands are even heralding the end for tubular tyres.
It’s worth noting that in order to run tubeless tyres you do need a set of tubeless-compatible rims. It is technically possible to convert standard rims to be tubeless compatible using specialist rim tape, however, this is generally not recommended by rim or tyre manufacturers.
The best tubeless road tyres
Continental finally joins the road tubeless game
RRP: £65.99 | Size: 700x25c, 700x28C, 700x32C | Weight: 300g, 340g, 380g | Casing: 3x180tpi | Puncture Protection: Vectran
The Grand Prix 5000 TL is Continental's first foray into road tubeless, having seemingly waited until the last possible moment to jump on the bandwagon.
Luckily, it’s a great first effort – with teams already having used it at the Tour de France. Like the GP4000 before it, it somehow manages to combine low rolling resistance, great grip and good durability.
Independent testing also shows it to be very fast for an all-round race tyre – it’s almost on par with TT-specific tyres that have more limited puncture protection.
The only negative is that it’s carrying a few more grams than some of the competition.
Rolling resistance does naturally suffer a bit compared to less robust tyres, but that might be a trade-off worth making if you want to reliably get in the miles.
Weight is also good, despite all the added puncture protection, and it’s also available in a wide variety of sizes, up to 35mm, which would make a great option for anyone who regularly rides a mixture of asphalt and gravel roads
The tyre that Specialized says could spell the end for tubulars
RRP: £61.00 | Size: 700x26C, 700x28C | Weight: 260g, 305g | Casing: 120tpi | Puncture Protection: BlackBelt puncture protection layer
When Specialized launched the S-Works Turbo RapidAir at the 2019 Tour de France, they essentially said it was the tubeless tyre to kill the tubular.
Better cornering grip improved rolling resistance and the ability to self-seal punctures would seem to back that up, but it remains to be seen how long it will take for Specialized sponsored teams to make the switch. On a recent trip to the Bora-Hansgrohe training camp, all race bikes were still shod entirely with tubulars, suggesting they aren't quite ready just yet.
In the meantime, for us mere mortals who don’t have a mechanic to glue our tubulars, the S-Works Turbo RapidAir makes a compelling case as a great all-around race tyre. Specialized has invested heavily into tyre development in recent years and it shows.
Specialized has also made a rim compatibility chart, and promises the tyres should seat on compatible rims with a normal track pump.
Schwalbe Pro One TLE
Updated all-round race tyre, now with added souplesse
RRP: £66.99 | Size: 700x25C, 700x28C, 700x30C | Weight: 245g, 270g, 295g | Casing: 127tpi | Puncture Protection: V-Guard puncture protection belt
Updated for 2020, the new version of Schwalbe’s popular Pro One tubeless tyre has a new Addix compound and Souplesse casing that promises decreased rolling resistance and increased comfort over the previous version.
It also promises decent puncture protection thanks to its V-Guard puncture protection belt, and Schwalbe has a rim compatibility chart on its website – making it far easier to know in advance whether it will play nice with your wheels.
Vittoria Corsa Speed Graphene 2.0
Possibly the fastest road tyre in the world
RRP: £64.99 | Size: 700x23C, 700x25C | Weight: 225g, 240g | Casing: 320tpi | Puncture Protection: Ultra-lightweight puncture protection belt
Generally regarded as one of the fastest road tyres in the world, Vittoria is keen to point out that the Corsa Speed won every time trial at the three Grand Tours in 2018. So, if you want to go as fast as possible, you’ve come to the right place.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch however and the trade-off for all this speed is puncture durability, or more accurately, a lack thereof. With Vittoria’s thinnest and lightest casing, and only an ultra-lightweight puncture protection belt, it’s designed as a race-day-only tyre (and by race, we really mean time trial – not Paris-Roubaix).
Vittoria does offer its Corsa tyre range in two other variants with incremental increases in puncture protection. The Corsa Control TLR is the sturdiest and grippiest, but heaviest and slowest of the three, while the Corsa TLR strikes a balance between.
Running it tubeless, you do of course get extra protection against small punctures, but the tread nevertheless wears out a fast rate, so don’t expect miracles. Look after it though, and you’ll be setting personal records in no time.
Schwalbe Pro One TT
Brand new, lightweight time trial tyre from Schwalbe
RRP: £64.99 | Size: 700x25C, 700x28C | Weight: 205g, 215g | Casing: 127tpi | Puncture Protection: None
The Pro One TT is a brand new tyre from Schwalbe designed, as the name suggests, for time trials and maximising speed at all costs.
At just 205g for a 25mm tyre, it’s seriously light and despite their nominally low tread count, Schwalbe says they have vastly improved souplesse (French for flexibility), for better ride comfort and rolling resistance.
Independent testing has already shown them to be very fast and the tan sidewalls mean it looks great too. There’s no puncture protection belt but the stiffer 127tpi casing makes it slightly more robust than its nearest competitor, the Vittoria Corsa Speed.
The legendary Italian tyre manufacturer's first tubeless road tyre
RRP: £45.90 | Size: 700x25c, 700x28C, 700x32C, 700x35C | Weight: 290g, 320g, 350g, 390g | Casing: 66tpi | Puncture Protection: Aramid breaker strip and bead-to-bead nylon protection layer
The Pirelli Cinturato was the first tyre to use a wrap-around, radial structure. Originally designed for Pirelli’s motorsports use, it’s the design that almost all modern tyres are based on.
So Pirelli knows a thing or two about making tyres, and it shows with the Cinturato Velo TLR. Designed specifically as a puncture-proof road tyre, it has a compound designed for high-mileage, an aramid breaker strip beneath the tread and a bead-to-bead puncture protection layer.
In a recent Pirelli Cinturato Velo review, Guy Kesteven summed it up perfectly: "Unsurprisingly there is some trade-off in terms of rolling speed compared to the fastest 28mm all-rounders from Continental, Schwalbe and Specialized when you start monitoring wattages in back-to-back test rides. It’s slightly quicker than the puncture-proof rival, the Continental Gatorskin, and doesn’t feel as wooden and numb either. On the whole, the Pirelli Cinturato Velo tyres are very well priced considering their premium performance, especially as that extra tread depth translates to extended wear life."
A large-volume, slick tyre that’s fit for any road
RRP: £44.99 | Size: 605Bx47C | Weight: 515g | Casing: 60tpi | Puncture Protection: None
The WTB Horizon is a bit of a wildcard in this list – in reality, this fits more into a ‘Road Plus’ category. Most of us are on board with the fact that, under most circumstances, wider tyres are faster, so why stop at 28mm?
At a massive 47mm wide, the WTB Horizon will keep you rolling fast over even the roughest roads. Yes, you’ll need a set of 650B wheels, but on those wheels, this tyre is around the same overall diameter as a 700x28-30C tyre, so it’s entirely possible these will fit a standard, modern disc-brake road bike. If you’re unsure about your frame though, WTB has a compatibility list on its website.
Fast-rolling, comfortable and with grip for days – if you ride broken, pothole-filled roads, this tyre could be a revelation for you.
Challenge Strada Bianca TLR
Brilliant grip and all day comfort, if they will fit on your bike
RRP: £54.00 | Size: 700x36C | Weight: 347g | Casing: 120tpi | Puncture Protection: Puncture protection strip
If the Strada Bianca TLR will fit on your bike, you won’t be disappointed by its performance. Inspired by the white gravel roads of Tuscan and the Strada Bianche road race, it’s designed to perform on both tarmac and gravel roads.
The wide tread puts a huge amount of rubber on the road, so you get tons of grip and the large 36mm width means comfort is amazing (especially if you’ve only ever ridden 25mm tyres).
At just 347g, it’s a surprisingly lightweight tyre too. The only issue is whether it will fit in your frame.
The advantages of road tubeless tyres
1. Puncture protection
One of the main benefits is increased puncture protection. Since tubeless tyres use sealant to make the tyres airtight, you also get a level of puncture protection beyond the simple puncture protection belts.
When an object pierces the tyre (such as a big nail, like you tend to see in all the promotional videos), the sealant rushes to that area and hardens, plugging the hole and fixing the puncture with only a small loss of pressure.
Most of the time, with the kind of punctures you tend to pick up from small bits of glass, rocks or thorns, you might not even notice it happening and can just keep riding along as if it didn’t.
Sealant alone won’t be able to fix larger cuts in the tyre (anything over about 5mm), but you can get dedicated tubeless tyre plugs to fix these holes while you’re out on the road, should you be so unlucky.
2. Lower pressures
By eliminating the inner tube you practically eliminate the risk of pinch flatting, so you can, therefore, run much lower pressures with tubeless tyres.
The benefits of this are increased comfort, grip and speed if the roads you’re riding on aren’t perfectly smooth.
3. Lower rolling resistance
Removing the inner tube from the equation gets rid of a key source of friction in the rolling resistance game.
While it's a complicated picture overall, with many different factors at play, independent testing has shown that tubeless tyres can be some of the fastest – and when you factor in the increased puncture protection compared to the fastest clincher and tubular tyres, the balance seems to tip even more in favour of tubeless for race day use.