BEST ROAD BIKE TIRES

Best Tires Featured Image

What tires should I get?  It seems like a pretty easy question.  Many of us in the market for new gear put a lot of time and energy in figuring out the right bike, wheelset, components or power meter to get next.  But tires?  That should be a tap-in, a lay-up, a no-brainer, right?

Actually, it’s not.  In addition to what tire to get, what width, what tube and what pressure are all questions I’m hearing.  And, they are good questions.  Questions that can lead to measurable, manageable and meaningful time, watt, handling and comfort differences depending on how you answer them.

In fact, tires have been the #1 vote getter ahead of 20 other categories of products when I’ve polled In The Know Cycling readers about what you’d like to see reviewed next.

Until the last couple of years, I’ll admit to never giving tires too much thought.  I used the same model and width of tires I’d always used, pumped them up hard and off I went.  But, there’s a fair amount about tires that has changed following the changes made in the design of the wheels those tires go on.

Fortunately, there’s also been a good deal of independent testing and experience being exchanged about tires recently as well.  For this review, I’ve analyzed that knowledge and added my own analysis to try to guide you to the right answers and recommendations to the key questions about tires.

If you don’t want to get into the details, here’s my bottom line.  For the best combination of minimum rolling resistance, maximum aerodynamic performance and confident handling, order a pair of Continental Grand Prix 4000S II clincher tires online at Competitive Cyclist, eBay Cycling, Amazon, ProBikeKit code ITK10, Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles in the 23C/23mm size and pump them up to between 85psi/5.8bar to 95psi/6.5bar (lighter riders, softer ride) and 105psi/7.2bar to 115psi/8bar (heavier riders, firmer ride) and use a light butyl inner tube.  Don’t use a 25C/25mm size Conti tire unless you have wheels that are 27mm or wider at the brake track and don’t buy them in a physical store where they will cost you at least 1/3rd more.

If you want to know how I reached that conclusion and all the details behind it, please read on.

And if you want to know what combination of tire and wheel sizes working together will improve your comfort, speed and handling, read this post.

WHY TRUST THIS SITE AND MY RECOMMENDATIONS

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For this review, I’ve evaluated racing and training or everyday road clincher tires from the 3 major road tire companies and another 5 significant suppliers.  I’ll tell you what matters (and what doesn’t) when considering tires and which tires I recommend for the road cycling enthusiast.  Click here to see how I define that term and if you generally fit that description.

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Contents – The Best Road Bike Tires

Clinchers Only

Selection Criteria

Performance

Design

Quality and Cost

Rolling Resistance Test Compilation

Where to Buy Road Tires

Comments

Keep reading or click on any of these links to go directly to another section of this review.
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CLINCHERS ONLY

I have not reviewed tubular or tubeless tires in this post.  My recommendation is that you buy clincher tires (and wheelsets of course) if you are a road cycling enthusiast.  Quite simply, clinchers are the easiest to deal with both before and during a ride and they perform as well or better than the best tubular or tubeless tires on the road when considering the criteria that matter to most cycling enthusiasts.

Tubular wheelsets require you to glue up your tires and can leave you stranded on the road if you have a flat and aren’t carrying an extra tubular or aren’t handy with tape, glue or patches.  Yes, if you are a top-level amateur racing criteriums or a pro racer with sponsors and want the ultimate lowest weight wheels available, or you grew up in the age before carbon clinchers became a viable alternative and have built up a comfort level with them, you might go with tubular wheels and tires and spend the days required to glue them on your rims (see a pro mechanic do it here) and carry the supplies to service them on the road.  You can also pay your shop to do it.  Most road cycling enthusiasts aren’t serious or nostalgic enough to put up with the extra work of tubulars and don’t want the extra hassle if they puncture out on the road.

Here’s a video that address the clincher vs. tubular question directly and another here that shows that clinchers outperform tubulars in time trials, hills and sprints mountains on aerodynamic mid-depth wheels like those reviewed here.

Tubeless wheelsets and tires provide a kind of insurance against pinch flats, the kind of flats you get when an under-inflated clincher tire bottoms out, pinching the tube against itself near the rim.  Pinch flats can be largely eliminated in clincher tires by a) properly inflating your tires and b) riding on the road and staying clear of potholes, things most road cycling enthusiasts do pretty religiously.

When you run over something with tubeless tires that create more of a gash than a pinch flat or pin prick puncture, tubeless tires lose air just like any clincher tire would.  To repair a tubeless tire for the road, you need to insert a tube to get your tire back in business.  Because getting them to seal without a tube is a key to keeping them inflated, prying off the tire to make way for a new tube and putting it back on, even with a tube in it, is more work with a tubeless tire than a clincher.

If you do ride your road bike on gravel or dirt paths as well as on the road or don’t periodically check and set your tire pressure to the right level then learning the often messy technique of mounting a tubeless tire and filling it with sealant (or having a shop do it for you) on tubeless ready wheels is the situation where these tires perform best.

For most road cycling enthusiasts who ride on paved roads with tires at the right pressure, tubeless is unnecessary extra work with little to no benefit.

As Ben Delaney of BikeRadar recently reported, industry representatives that promote road tubeless admit that only 5 to 10% of cyclists using 700c road sized wheelsets (vs. mountain bike sized ones) use tubeless tires today, over a decade after they were first introduced by a collaboration of Hutchinson and Shimano, then two powerhouses in the wheel business.

Here’s another video that looks at the trade-offs between clinchers and tubeless tires.

SELECTION CRITERA

Let’s get real for a minute.  A good pair of clincher tires are generally under $100, £70, €100, AU$120 give or take.  Inner tubes will run another $20, £15, €20, AU$25.  They are a small fraction of the cost of your bike.  How different can they really be?  And how much does any difference make?

I’ll lay the answers out in the context of the four categories of selection criteria I use to come up with my recommendations between one product and another in all my In The Know Cycling reviews.  For tires, the key criteria within each category would be as follows:

Performance: rolling resistance, aerodynamics, puncture resistance, handling

Design: tire width, inflation level, thread count, compound, puncture belt, weight, tread pattern, graphics, color

Quality: tire wear rate

Cost: purchase price

These criteria are listed roughly in order, both between and with categories, of the importance they play to what I think should be your purchase decision and where my recommendations come out.

PERFORMANCE

Let’s start with rolling resistance, probably the most important criteria for a road cycling enthusiast in picking a tire.  There are three independent sources of rolling resistance tests that I’ve studied

  • Tom Anhalt, mechanical engineer and occasional Blather ‘bout Bikes blogger has tested about 50 tires including clinchers, tubulars and tubeless tires over the last several years. You can see his results here.
  • Bicycle Rolling Resistance, an aptly named site dedicated to the topic has tested 15 leading road tires to date and also tests mountain bike tires
  • The German magazine Tour Int. published a test of 9 road tires in April 2014

I should also mention the work of Al Morrison, a forum member of Bike Tech Review who did a lot of the initial independently conducted and published rolling resistance testing starting in 2006.  Unfortunately, his last published tests are now five years old so I’ve not included them.

I’ll share the detailed and comparative results I’ve compiled from these tests later in this post.  But in brief, they clearly show there can be 5-10 watts of difference in the energy you need to put out to roll tires from different competitors intended for the same purpose (racing or training), of the same size standard (e.g. 23C or 25C), and inflated to the same pressure.

Further, there is another 5-8 watts of difference that is available from using high performing/more fragile latex vs.  standard/more durable butyl tubes.

Finally, these tests show as much as 20 watts difference between what is considered the best training tire and the most durable all-season road tire.

To put it simply, 10 watts of difference translates to a little more than 30 seconds over a 25 miles or 40 kilometers.  This is almost half the time savings you get going from a low profile alloy wheel to a deeper section carbon one.  So by picking the right tires, most of which cost the same, with the best rolling resistance and at the right size for your wheels you can save (or lose) a massive amount of time at very little expense, especially when compared to what you spend on other ways to help you ride faster.

You can see the relative benefit of better rolling resistance in this chart I prepared for my post How To Ride Faster On Your Bike: 10 Better Ways – Gear and Kit.

Faster Featured Photo and Stats

The aerodynamics of the tire-wheel combination is just as important as rolling resistance in making your tire decision.  While there’s less independently published data on tire aerodynamics than there is on rolling resistance, it’s pretty clear that the width and shape of the wheel-tire combination drives aero performance.  A wider tire will be less aerodynamic – more surface into the wind – though have less rolling resistance if inflated to the same level as a narrower tire.  A tire that is much wider (or narrower) than the rim will also be less aerodynamic because it breaks up the intended air flow across the rim and the tire.

The chart below shows just how much difference in drag (or aerodynamic resistance) there can be using different tires, all top training ones, on a FLO 30 wheel.  The rim on this wheel is a 30mm deep, 24mm wide (at the brake track) alloy hoop with one of the most aerodynamically shaped profiles (a toroid) available on wheel rims today.

FLO 30 with different tires

When the wheel is at an angle of more than about 7.5 degrees to the wind, the drag differences become significant, translating to about 10 watts between the most and least aerodynamic of the wheel-tire combinations at 10 degrees.  (Note: 50 grams of drag translates to 6.5 watts.)  At that same angle there’s just a couple watts difference between two of the more popular tires (the Continental and Michelin ones) but that increases to about 5 watts of difference at 15 degrees.  Roadies ride within that 15 degree range most of the time according to people who track and design around these things.  (Indeed there are such people!)

Interestingly, the tires in this wind tunnel test that performed best had inflated widths closest to the width of the wheel at the brake track.  I haven’t seen enough other data to know whether this is a coincidence or consistent with other testing but it certainly supports the theory and criteria that some wheel builders use in designing their wheels and in recommending tires to go with them.

I’ll get into the other criteria in a moment.  But, as rolling resistance and aerodynamics are, from my research, the most important criteria and make the most difference when choosing between tires, I’ve reached a straightforward conclusion about how to select a tire if you are a roadie who puts a premium on going fast.  It goes like this:

Pick the clincher tire with the lowest rolling resistance in a size whose inflated width is as close to the brake track width of the rims you are riding.

As far as the other two performance criteria go – puncture resistance and handling – it’s hard to discern or quantify a difference.   I’m sure there is and I’ve seen data but it’s not really something that I think is strong enough to swing me toward or against one tire or another.

For the most part, training tires have puncture belts and race tires have either light ones or none at all.  Those with a puncture belt generally resist puncture about the same or within a few percent of each other.  Those race tires with a light belt or none at all are worse and not something I would recommend unless you have a neutral service vehicle following you.  Frankly, whether or not you puncture is usually going to be more about what you roll over and what type of inner tube you have than whether one tire has 5% more puncture resistance than another.

Handling is another highly subjective measurement. Tour magazine, which does a lot of their testing on custom designed lab fixtures and is one of the most scientifically focused and analytically driven gear testers I know, resorted to hiring a stunt rider to test out different tires and give them grip grades.  The grades were based on how fast the rider could hit a turn on watered pavement before losing contact with the road and how well the tire provided feedback to the rider that he was about to lay it down if he didn’t slow up.

Really.  That was the test.  Remind me not to sign up for that job.

Even with this, most of the tires tested got the best rating of 1 (on a 5 point scale) and the worst got a 3 because it lost contact only a couple of kph slower than some of the better performing ones.  Perhaps counting and sizing the bruises acquired after each crash would have been a more differentiated measure.

Grip and handling are also clearly a function of road surface, moisture, tire inflation and speed.  You can make decisions about all of these in real or near real-time that will have a lot more to say about your handling on a given day than the relative design differences between tires.

DESIGN

As with most gear, suppliers design tires in an attempt to deliver the performance they want.  Of course, what matters is the performance that results and not the design, unless the performance is not comparably favorable, at which point some suppliers resort to promoting their design.

Of the design criteria – tire width, inflation level, thread count, compound, puncture belt, weight, tread pattern, graphics, color – I would argue the first four lead to noticeable differences in tire performance and the last three don’t.

Tires, like wheels, are given an ISO (International Organization for Standardization) size designation like 700 x 23C. The first number represents the rim diameter the tire is intended to fit and the second number is the tire width, both in millimeters.  The C stands for clincher, T for tubular and TL for tubeless.

Many suppliers and consumers translate these ISO sizes directly when defining tire width.  So a 23C tire is assumed to be 23mm wide.  You’ll see many boxes marked as 23mm rather than 23C.  Unfortunately, a 23C or 23mm marked tire is almost never 23mm when mounted and inflated on a rim.  It can measure 0.5mm less to as much as 1.5mm more depending on what width rim you put on and, to a lesser degree, what pressure you inflate it to.

The same goes for other size tires with the variation being even bigger for wider tires.

HED puts the following proviso on the web site page describing their Belgium rims, one of the wheels that started the wide revolution: Our wide rims increase clincher tire volume, causing actual inflated sizes to be larger-than-advertised on the tire.  Inflated sizes will be 1-2mm wider on our 23mm C2 rims, and 2-4mm wider on 25mm Plus rims.

Further, among the competitive brands, one tire supplier’s 23C or 23mm marked tire is usually quite different in size than another marked the same way.   And within brands, the variances aren’t consistent – a 23C that measures 23.5mm doesn’t mean that its 25C will be 25.5mm wide.  One major tire makers sells a popular model of its 23C that measures considerably less than 23mm and a 25C far more than 25mm.

It’s enough to create quite a headache and make the decision on what size tire to buy hard.

Many of us roadies have gone to wider tires in the last couple of years because we’ve heard or read it will improve our rolling resistance and make the ride more comfortable and the handling better.  Smaller tire patch, larger volume of air in the tire, etc.  Sounds good right?

The reality is that going from a 23C to 25C tire from the same brand will improve your rolling resistance by a couple watts only if inflated to the same tire pressure.  But, most people will run the wider tire at a lower pressure to further improve comfort, essentially negating the rolling resistance benefit of the wider tire and making them less aerodynamic.

By discouraging you to ride 25C tires and tubeless ones in most situations, I may sound to some of you like a reactionary.  The hype isn’t supported by the results in these cases.

Some riders have asked me if they can put the popular 25mm width tires on their conventionally sized 15mm inside width, 19mm outside width stock or alloy upgrade wheels.  Not if you want to go faster or improve handling I say.  A wider tire on any wheel is less aerodynamic than a narrower one and one that is much wider than the rim width will do more of its turning on its sidewall than base rubber, making it squishier in and out of turns.  Bad idea!

I took some photos of combinations of tires and rims of different sizes so you can see how much of a width gap you can get between the two if you just pick a tire size based on the current trend or the size on the box and without trying to align it to your known brake track width.  In all of these, the tires are inflated to 100 psi or a tad under 7 bar.

First, here’s an off-season set-up of my stock Mavic Ksyrium stock wheels with a 23C Continental all-season tire.  Rolling resistance and aerodynamics isn’t important during training period and I’m not going fast or cornering hard so the excess tire width compared to the rim width or “overhang” isn’t an issue.

Overhang 1

 

Next consider set-up #2, the currently popular 25C or 25mm size Continental Grand Prix 4000S II on that same stock Mavic Ksyrium wheel whose size is common with most stock and many low profile alloy upgrade wheels from Shimano, Mavic, Campagnolo, Fulcrum, Giant, and DT Swiss.  Unfortunately, this is where a lot of people with entry-level or first step-up wheels end up when they hear wider is faster and more comfortable.  If you want to go fast, the overhang on this combination is an aerodynamic nightmare and handling will also be sloppy, especially if you’ve also lowered the pressure to 80 or 90 psi to make your ride more comfortable.

Overhang 2

 

I rode this set-up #3 below for many years.  The 23C Mavic Pro4 Service Course on this rim was actually the closest to 23mm (a touch under) and provided the least overhang for this wheel.  I didn’t have any knowledge of this ahead of time, nor that this tire’s rolling resistance is one of the worst among competitive training tires.  The rim’s aerodynamics is also amongst the worst, even for stock wheels.  I did like that the tire came with a red side wall to match my bike.  Such was the state of my tire decision-making at the time.

Overhang 3

 

I’ve been demoing the HED Belgium wheelset with a PowerTap G3 hub below #4.  This wheel’s width represents the first generation of wider wheels common in many all-around and climbing wheels I’ve reviewed (click here for the links to those and other wheelset reviews).  Note that the same 23C Conti 4 Seasons tire that measured 24mm on the narrower Ksyrium wheel in #1 runs 2mm wider on this wider HED rim.  So, even with the 23C on this wide rim, it still has a couple of millimeters of overhang, negatively affecting my aerodynamics.

Overhang 4

 

But what about the really wide rims, the ones that are 25mm to 27mm wide and represent the latest carbon wheel technology?  Certainly those should take 25C tires, right?  Well let’s have a look.

In #5, you see a 23C Conti Grand Prix 4000S II measuring nearly 26mm on the front wheel of the new ENVE SES 4.5.  The tire is actually 1.3mm narrower than the rim’s 27mm brake track.  I’ve ridden this set-up at 90, 95 and 100psi and it is fast, comfortable and handles well at all those pressures, perhaps most comfortable at 90 and faster and firmer handling at 100psi underneath my 68kg/150lb excuse for a cyclist.

Overhang 5

 

Lastly, in #6 below you see the 25C version of the Conti Grand Prix 4000S II on the same rim as in the set-up above measuring 26.7mm wide, within a few tenths of the rim’s width.  This tire, with its top rated rolling resistance and its near identical mounted width, offers the best combination of rolling resistance and aerodynamics.  I’m actually running this 25C tire on the front wheel or “4” (for 48mm tall) of the SES 4.5 now and a 23C tire on the rear wheel or “5” (56mm tall) which is taller and narrower than the front wheel.  The “5” rear wheel is 24.7mm at the brake track and the 23C Conti measures a near identical 24.5mm wide.

Overhang 6

To underline the point that good alignment between wheel and tire width is key to reducing aerodynamic drag, let me provide you some further detail on the earlier chart that showed the aerodynamics of four different tires on the FLO 30 wheels.  The measured widths of the tires used on the 24mm wide FLO 30 rim for this test, in order of most aerodynamic to least were 24.2mm (Continental 23C), 23.0mm (Bontrager 22C), 23.3mm (Michelin 23C), and 21.5mm (Vittoria 22C).

The tire with the biggest rim-tire gap of 2.5mm had 10 watts more drag at a common 10 degree angle to the wind.  This is a smaller width gap than each of the first four examples above and only 1/3rd the gap of the 25C Conti Grand Prix 4000S II on the traditional stock or alloy upgrade wheel so many major wheel makers sell.

I don’t know about you, but it seems a bit crazy to me to buy a new set of wheels like most of those that sell for over $1000, £700, €900, A$1100 (and some for less) that are designed with improved aerodynamics in mind and then put tires on them that promptly defeat some of the aero benefits you just spent good money on.

Tire width is something you should really get right.  If you want more comfort, go ahead and get a wider tire but know that you are affecting your aero performance and potentially your handling.  You can just as easily reduce the pressure a few psi in tires that are sized right for your rims to make the ride a bit softer for an easy day and then pump them back up when you will be riding more aggressively.

A bit later in this post, I’ll give you a chart of what popular tires of different sizes and from different brands actually measure out when inflated and mounted and where you can find actual rim widths of most of the models for major brands.

Let’s move on to other design criteria.

Changing the inflation level from a hard 110 psi to a cushy 85 psi affects the drag by a watt or less.  It has more effect on comfort and handling than on drag.  While each tire manufacturer has their own recommended inflation chart, some of them seem too racing oriented to me.  They’ll have you pumping your tires up to 110 psi or more.  I keep coming back to the Michelin chart below that I’ve featured in several of my posts not because it is right but because it seems to me and others I’ve consulted to be a good middle ground between inflation charts of different suppliers and a good place to start.  I’d suggest you vary you pressure off of what is in the chart in increments of 5psi or a half bar until you find what you feel best with.

michelin-tire-pressure-chart

My recommendation then is to get the combination of actual tire and rim width in sync on a tire with low rolling resistance to optimize aerodynamics, handling and rolling resistance.  Once that is settled, you can modify the inflation pressure for comfort as this has been shown to have the least impact on drag.

The thread count and compound are design pieces that determine rolling resistance and how the wheel will feel, grip and handle.  As I’ve written, the rolling resistance is objectively measurable while the feel, grip and handle are subjective and largely controllable by your own decisions.

Thread count along with the presence of a puncture belt will determine the puncture resistance, about the same for those wheels that have a belt.

There’s no doubt that different cyclists like the feel and ride of different tires, but it appears to be based on one’s personal experience and subjective preferences rather than based on any set of definable, common characteristics that would allow me to differentiate and recommend one tire vs. another based on feel.

Weight, which too many enthusiasts obsess about when discussing wheelsets, varies little (10-30 grams per tire) between 23C tires intended for the same purpose (racing or training) from different brands and a little more (40-50 grams per tire) when moving up a size.  I’m not going to even mention the tire weight; you weight weenies already know and the rest of you shouldn’t care.

Going from a butyl to a light butyl tube cuts weight by about 30 grams per tube, again a relatively insignificant amount, but improves rolling resistance by 2-3 watts which is a more significant difference.

Tread pattern, graphics, and color are all marketing and have no effect on performance.  A hard road surface is going to put a lot more of an impression on your relatively soft tire than its tire pattern will ever put on the road.  The late Jobst Brandt, an innovative cycling enthusiast who never worked in the industry but whose research and publications influenced many who did was one of the first to make this point (here).

Testing has also shown that a smooth tire with no tread pattern has better rolling resistance and corners better on dry and wet roads than one with a pattern.  Yet, with few exceptions like Vittoria’s ‘slick’ models, tire makers still put tread on road bike tires as many cyclists will steer clear of a treadless tire.

QUALITY AND COST

As far as quality goes, most tires intended for the same purpose (racing or training) will wear at about the same rate.  Plan to get at most about 5,000 kms/3,000 miles out of a pair of training tires and 1/3 to 1/2 of that out of racing tires before you’ll want to change them.  Most will have wear-marks that disappear you when its time to change them.

An all-season tire should last you a lot more miles than a training tire but will also ride stiffer and have a lot higher rolling resistance (20 watts more).  They really should call them ‘off-season tires’.  You wouldn’t want to ride them on the road during the season if you want to keep pace with your friends merely to get a little longer life out of your $100 investment in them.   You ride them on rough or gritty roads or for commuting when durability is paramount.

Higher thread count tires or those with a light or no puncture belt will be more likely to cut than those with lower counts and belts.  Again, those intended for similar purposes will have similar thread counts – training tires usually around 120 TPI or threads per inch and racing tires around 330 TPI.

The Conti GP4000S II is a notable exception with a supple casing with three 110 thread count layers, a racing fast yet training durable compound and a full-on puncture belt.  This combination tests out with rolling resistance numbers as good as most any racing tire but is also a durable, long-lasting training tire if you treat them right.

I, for one, did not treat them right earlier this season when I followed a paceline mate into a pothole the size of the Grand Canyon, flatting both my tubes and cutting my new relatively new Conti’s enough to retire one to the trash bin and needing to patch the other.  I’m quite confident the same damage would have happened with almost any training tire and perhaps a few all-season ones as well.

Finally, among the selection criteria for tires, purchase price is a factor that varies little for tires intended for much the same purpose.  If you are a smart shopper, you can find almost every training tire in the $40-50 market price range and racing tires in the $60-80 range.

At these prices relative to what you spend on the rest of your bike gear, kit, trips and event fees, I would never let price enter into the purchase decision especially when you consider the gains in rolling resistance and aerodynamics you get from picking the right ones.

Some tires, for example Bontrager and Specialized are sold almost exclusively in local bike shops (LBS) or independent bike dealers (IBDs) with list and market prices being the same and being about what you pay for the others online.  The leading bike tires in terms of volume – those from Continental, Michelin, and Vittoria – are carried in the LBS at list prices that are typically nearly 2x what you pay for them online.

ROLLING RESISTANCE TEST COMPILATION

I’ve compiled some of the results of independent tire testing done Tom Anhalt, Bicycle Rolling Resistance and Tour magazine that I linked to earlier in this post.  While all their test results come from tires mounted to a wheel that runs over a spinning drum roller covered with a plate that simulates the road surface, there are small differences in how they run their tests (for example, wheel load and test temperature) and a fairly diverse set of wheels and tires they run their tests on.

While Tom Anhalt has been at this the longest of this group and has tested a fuller range of tires for both road cycling enthusiasts and triathletes, I was able to compile the results from all three testers run on many of the same brands and models of tires, at more or less the same air pressure (120psi for Anhalt and BRR, 109psi for Tour) and speed (30kph/18.6mph for Anhalt, 29kph/18mph for BRR, 35kph/21mph for Tour).

Anhalt uses the benchmark Mavic Open Pro 15C wheel as his testing wheel.  This is a traditional race and stock width wheel, one with a 15mm inner rim width and a 19.4 mm outer width.  Most of his tests are on 23C tires with latex tubes.

BRR does most of its road tire tests with 25C tires with butyl tubes on a more modern width 17C wheel for their tests. Rim widths for these wheels are typically 17mm inner and 23mm outer.  Tour’s article didn’t say what size wheel they used.

Each has run tests with enough of the size tires and tubes that the other normally runs so that I can reasonably correlate these results.

Do you know what size your wheels are?  Most stock and alloy upgrade wheels are 15C, the latter running 15mm inner and typically 20 or 21mm outer.  The widest road wheels today run 19-20mm inner and 25-28mm outer widths.  These are not very common.

Note also that Anhalt runs his tests with tires inflated at one pressure but at 3 different speeds, BRR runs tests at 3 different pressures but at the same speed, and Tour ran their lab tests at one pressure and speed.  So while I’ve only included the results at the closest speed and pressures, I was able to study the tests run at different speeds and pressures and saw enough correlations to convince myself that their test results for different tires under varying speed and pressure conditions line up relatively where they should.

Pressure changes within the 80psi to 120psi range that road cyclists might set them make relatively minor differences (a couple watts) in rolling resistance compared to speed differences from 30kph/18.6mph to 50kph/31mph (6-10 watts).  You can click the earlier links to the tests if you want to dig into the results under these different conditions.

‘Taint a perfect comparison but it’s about as good as it gets in the cycling world where most tests are run inside companies or by hired labs and results are usually unpublished.

The test results I’ve compiled tell a clear story… well at least after you look at them for a while. Even with the variability in testing protocols that I’ve described, the relative performance of different tires and brands is consistent between testers and even the absolute numbers are within a few watts in most cases.

So huge chapeau to Tom Anhalt, BRR and Tour for doing and sharing these tests.

Here’s the compilation chart.  Below it I’ll tell you what I’ve concluded from analyzing the data.

RR Compilation Chart wSchwableFirst, an explanation of the chart.  Tires are listed alphabetically by brand down the left.  Within each brand the racing tires are listed first followed by the training ones.  They are then listed in order of their ISO size: 23C, 25C, etc.  Tom Anhalt’s results are in red numbers shaded in pink (in honor of the Giro going on as I write this), BRR’s are in blue and Tour’s are in green.  The current list price (MSRP) and market price are numbers I’ve added.  I’ll provide you links to the best places to buy these tires later in the post.

Here’s how to read this chart.  The tires with the least rolling resistance are the ones with the lowest watt readings in the Rolling Resistance column.  The tires with the gold stars and the number 1 marked next to their brand names had the least rolling resistance of all those tested.  The Purpose column shows they are race tires and the Inner Tube column shows they were tested with a latex tube.

The fastest pure race tires according to these tests are the Specialized Turbo Cotton 24C and Zipp Tangente Speed 25C, both of which have an Actual Width about 24.5 mm give or take a couple of tenths of a mm (on Tom Anhalt’s 19.4mm outside width Mavic Open Pro) and regardless that the number entered in the ISO Size column suggests they are different widths.

But don’t choose one of these two yet.  There’s more to reveal that I’ll walk you through in the remainder of this post that will hopefully lead you to the best decision on what tire to get.

For example, note the rolling resistance of the best training tires or those that can confidently be used for both racing and training.  These are marked with the silver stars with the number 2 inside.  The first brand and model of these is the Continental Grand Prix 4000S (now called S II – only difference is that the II come in colors) in 23C, 25C, and 28C.  They are only a few watts behind the pure race tires.

The two other fastest training tires are the Specialized S-Works Turbo 24C, an actual 1 mm wider than the Continental GP 4000S 23C and the Zipp Tangente Course 25C, just a few tenths of a mm wider than the 23C Conti.

Note that while there’s only a 3 or 4 watt difference between the lowest rolling resistance racing and training tires at a 30kph speed, that difference grows about a watt with every additional 10kph increase in speed.

Another take-away is that a butyl tube adds between 3 and 5 watts of rolling resistance over a latex one at 30kph and 5-8 watts difference at the higher speeds racers ride.  You can see this in the yellow oval marked with the number 3 inside.  This was seen in tests run on three different sets of tires of tires by two of the testers.

Add these up and you can see that if you are racing a crit or time trial at 40kph/25mph, we’re starting to talk about some serious differences in rolling resistance alone by riding on a race tire with a latex tube vs. a training tire with a butyl one.

But, if you are a road cycling enthusiast that doesn’t race but still wants to go faster, I don’t suggest you start using a racing tire and latex tube.  Racing tires typically wear 2 or 3x more quickly than training ones and don’t have as good a puncture belt or next to none at all.

Latex tubes are also less durable than butyl ones on the road, need to be topped off with air every day and don’t store well in varying temperatures.  These issues make them less practical, harder to find and probably suitable only for racers.  Don’t expect to leave one in your saddle bag for months and have it ready to rock and roll when you need it.  A better option is to go with a so-called ‘light’ or thinner butyl inner tube for fast riding and a heavy butyl one for training.  The light butyl tube will probably save you about a couple watts over a heavy one at enthusiast level speeds.

Next, let’s look at the effect of wider tires on rolling resistance.  This is marked on the chart with the number 4 over a one-sided ladder.  Both BRR and Tour tested the Conti Grand Prix 4000S in 23C, 25C and 28C sizes and found essentially 1 watt less resistance as you went up in size.  Interestingly, Tour also looked at the same progression of sizes in the Schwalbe One clincher tires and found 1 watt more resistance as you went up in size. And recall, this is maintaining the same pressure in the each tire, while most people put on a wider tire in part so they can reduce the pressure and increase the comfort without concern for pinch flats.

This really pulls back the curtain on the belief that wider tires roll faster.  They don’t really roll much faster (and some roll slower) even at the same pressure.  When you reduce the pressure to get a more comfortable ride, they have essentially the same rolling resistance as BRR’s resulted showed here when testing the three Conti sizes at 80, 100 and 120psi.

Yes a 25C tire at 80psi will be more comfortable than a 23C at 100psi but if you put it on any rim that isn’t about 26mm or wider at the brake track, you’ll probably be taking a 3-5 watt aerodynamic hit depending on your speed and how much rubber overhangs your rim.

Let’s look next at the relative performance of the leading models of training tires.  These tests establish that the Conti GP4000S, Specialized S-Works Turbo and Zipp Tangente Course have the least rolling resistance (silver stars with number 2 inside).  But how much is the difference over the other major brands?

Here are the results with the comparative brands noted on the chart as 5* in black (Anhalt tests) and 6_ in blue (BRR tests).

Tom Anhalt

  • Conti GP4000S 23C, Specialized S-Works Turbo 24C and Tangente Course 25C – 24 watts
  • Zipp Tangente Course 23C – 25 watts
  • Vittoria Rubino Pro II 23C, Vittoria Rubino Pro Slick 23C – 27 watts
  • Specialized Roubaix Pro 23/25C, Michelin Pro4 Comp 23C – 29 watts
  • Michelin Pro4 Service Course 23C – 30 watts

BRR

  • Conti GP4000S 28C – 23 watts
  • Conti GP4000S 25C – 24 watts
  • Conti GP4000S 23C – 25 watts
  • Schwalbe One 25C – 25 watts
  • Vittoria Rubino Pro II 25C – 26 watts
  • Michelin Pro4 Service Course 25C – 30 watts

Since, there are differences in the testing conditions between the Tom Anhalt and BRR, look at the relative results within Anhalt’s and BRR’s group of tested tires rather than the differences between the same models of tires in the different test groups.

What I find interesting is the relative position and order of training tire models from the major brands is the same in both Anhalt’s and BRR’s tests – Continental followed by Vittoria followed by Michelin – as is the difference between them – Conti’s perform about 3 watts better than the Rubinos and about 6 or 7 watts better than the Pro4s.  These wattage difference between these tires is significant.

I’m not saying these results are conclusive, but the consistent rankings and significant performance differences suggests to me which tires roll better and by how much.

It is one thing to get a tire with low rolling resistance and it’s another to get one that also has good aerodynamic properties.  Wheelset engineers put a lot of effort into coming up with innovations to make their rims aerodynamic – rim shapes (toroid vs. U-shaped vs. V-shaped), leading edge treatments (Swirl Lip Generator) and spoke hole and adjustment fittings (internal vs. external) being just a few examples.

It doesn’t make sense to do that and ignore the aerodynamic effect of the rim-tire intersection and the shape the mounted tire takes on.  Zipp has designed its own tires (made for them by Vittoria) and companies like FLO have both conducted and published the results of tests essentially recommending which tires are most aerodynamic for their FLO 30 wheels.

Take note of the Actual Width column (brown box with the number 7 inside) and compare to the Size (ISO) column to its left.  This shows the actual size that each tire measures when mounted and inflated.  There’s variance within this based on the inside width of the rim and inflation pressure.  Tom Anhalt measures this to one decimal place and BRR rounds it off, and they use 15C and 17C rims respectively, but it’s a lot better guide than the size you see on the box either as something like 23C or 23mm.  Tour’s numbers were all 0.5 mm wider than the ISO size which I don’t take as credible so haven’t used them.

You can see from the six wheel-tire set-ups I prepared and measured for this review how different the same tire can size once mounted and inflated and how wrong you can get the overlap if you don’t pick it right.  While I’m trying to flip the switch for you, hopefully the light bulb has gone off in your head rather than making up the shape of your tire.

Again, the size on the box is not a good indication of the tire’s actual mounted and inflated size. There is no consistency – some actual widths are wider, some narrower, and some are close to the ISO size.  So it is important to know the actual width of the tires you are interested in and get one as close to the brake track width of your rim.

Some of you may not know the brake track width of your rim.  If you’ve got a toroid shaped rim, the brake track is often angled and it’s narrower than the marketed rim width which is often the widest part of the rim on the toroid.  Also, the rim width listed by the manufacturer may not always be exact for the same reason that the wheel weight isn’t usually right – marketing.

Fortunately, Greg Kopecky who writes for Slowtwitch has done us all a great service by measuring and publishing actual rim widths (inside and outside) as well as rim depths of most of the major wheelsets. His latest table can be found here.

I recommend you confirm your wheel’s outside width with Greg’s table and match it up with the Actual Width measurement in the chart above of the tires with relatively low rolling resistance to help you pick tires which will have the best combination of rolling resistance and aerodynamic performance for your rims.

The challenge for many of you who have stock wheels and some of the traditional design alloy upgrade wheels is that these rims are far narrower than many of the readily available popular brands of tires.  The actual widths of the 23C versions of the Michelin Pro4, Vittoria Rubino and Zipp Tangente Course are the narrowest, roughly in that order but have the higher rolling resistance, roughly in the same order as the wider Conti GP4000S 23C.

You can get 20C versions of many of these tires.  I haven’t seen rolling resistance test results on those but I’d expect they would run in the same order as the wider ones and run much closer to your wheel width than the 23C versions.

WHERE TO BUY ROAD TIRES

Hard to believe I’ve written 8,000 words on tires but as I hope you can see, making the right choice is not simple.

Fortunately, buying them is a lot easier.  Online they cost about the same from model to model and store to store, not enough to change your decision about what tire to buy or even where to buy it if you typically prefer one store over another.

If you buy two tires and a couple of light butyl tubes to go with them, you’ll typically get close to what you need to cover the amount that qualifies for free shipping.  If not, add in a new set of tire levers, some chain lube or hub grease, a jersey or something else you’ve been thinking about.

Buying them in the store, though key if you are in a pinch, will typically cost you 65% to 100% more than the online prices at the stores below, unless they are Bontrager or Specialized tires which sell principally at LBS/IBD shops.

If you like what you’ve read here and want to save yourself serious money the next time you buy some cycling gear, you can do so in a way that also supports the costs of cranking out these reviews.  Simply click on and buy through the red links next to each product I’ve reviewed.  These will take you to the lowest price, in-stock listings across stores that sell online and have high customer satisfaction ratings.  I regularly update these links in each review by looking at over 60 stores.  Some pay this site a small commission when you buy through them but I pick the best stores either way, same as when I’m buying gear myself.  If you prefer, you can support the site by making a contribution here using your credit card or Paypal account or when you buy anything through these link at Amazon or eBay.  There’s more on all of this at the about and support pages.  Thanks.

Here are the shops with great customer satisfaction ratings that have the tires (listed in order of rolling resistance performance) in inventory at the best prices as of August 2016. For any purchases from ProBikeKit, use code ITK10 for a 10% discount exclusively for In The Know Cycling readers.

Training Tires

Racing Tires

When ordering from ProBikeKit, use the exclusive code ITK10, available just for In The Know Cycling readers, for an additional 10% discount.

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222 comments

  • Joseph Rodriguez

    Hi Steve. I truly enjoyed your article. Great research. I recently purchased a pair of 2015 Zipp 303s clinchers. I’m torn between purchasing the Conti’s 4000s II or the Specialized S-Works Turbo. I’ve owned the Conti’s on a previous bike and was thinking of trying something different. I’ve read about 23c up front and 24(Specialized)/25 on the rear as beneficial for Zipp 404s. What that be advisable for the 303s too?

  • Here is a data point. Just mounted 23C Conti GP 4000S II on my Giant Defy Advanced stock wheels (PR-2 disc). These are 17 mm wheels (inside) with 23 mm max width. The tire width on these wheels at 105 psi actually measures 25.4 mm. So still 2.4 mm wider than the wheels. Glad I read this article and didn’t go with 25C tires. Thanks Steve!

  • I bookmarked this page and will reference it in the future. Awesome article with a lot of great information. I recently ordered aTrek Emonda SL5 with 17.5mm inner 23mm outer rims. For now I live in Wisconsin and the roads aren’t very good because the winters devastate them. You can use MUPS or go out into rural areas where it’s much better however they don’t have bike lanes and cars are whizzing by you at 50mph. Before I saw your article there was a sale on Amazon for $35 25mm GP4000s which I just received. Now I wish I bought 23mm with your great insight but at the same time the 25mm at lower pressure are enticing for the roads I ride on. I am 160 pounds and only bike to train, but I love to go as fast as possible and will be using a Garmin to work on increasing my cadence and speed to my full potential. I haven’t opened the package yet so now I have to decide if I should return the 25mm and pay the extra $ for 23mm or keep the 25mm for the rough roads at the cost of nightmarish handling and aerodynamics. Should I just return them?

    • James, Well your stock wheels (Bontrager Race Lite?) aren’t the most aero so you probably won’t pick up a lot of speed with the narrower tires. It sounds like the 25C tires will give you a lot of comfort on the roads you ride so I’d probably stick with those given your riding situation. There are other ways to get speedy without spending a dime more (see here) so try some of those and enjoy the ride. Steve

  • Hi Steve!

    Thanks so much for your informative articles! Your article on best climbing wheels convinced me to get a pair of Dura Ace 35 clinchers and so far I love it! I enjoy climbing more than even and descending has given me much more control. I’m from San Francisco, ride about 100-150 miles/week and climb about 5-10K feet/week. I weigh about 160 lbs. I’m not a competitive cyclist at all, I do it mostly for fun and to stay fit.

    Quick question… I’ve been using 26c Specialized Turbo Cotton’s on my wheels. I’m thinking of switching to a 24c Turbo Cotton on my front wheel to reduce drag and keeping my 26c on the rear mainly for comfort. Is this ok to do? Shouldn’t be a problem right?

    Thanks Steve!!!

    -JP

    • Jason, Glad you are enjoying the new wheels. No it’s not a problem but if you want superior handling without a loss of comfort I’d go with the Specialized 24C front and back. The wheels are already plenty compliant/comfortable without the need to add width and reduce handling performance as well as increasing drag. There’s more about the tire-rim width relationship and its affect on comfort, handling and speed here: https://intheknowcycling.com/2016/04/03/best-wider-road-bike-tires-wheel-sizes/. Secondly, I’d suggest you consider the S-Works Turbo rather than the Turbo Cotton. The S-Works Turbo is a ‘training’ tire with rolling resistance as good as the Conti GP4K that will last longer than and cost about 2/3rds that of the Turbo Cotton, which is a racing tire. Steve

      • Hi Steve!

        Thanks so much for the response! I do have a pair of Specialized Turbo 24c’s, had this tucked away and will hook them up. Also, after reading your reviews on the Conti’s, bought a pair of 4Kiis 25c’s as well. Again, I don’t race so I prioritize comfort and handling over speed. I’ll compare both the Turbo 24’s and Conti 25’s and see which gives me the best feel on my Dura Ace 35s. Thanks steve!

        -JP

        • Hi Steve,

          Update from my April 19 response.

          After reading all your posts (including the newest one), comments from readers and your responses over and over again, I am trying to convince myself that my 15c Dura Ace c35s are still ok and that I don’t need to buy a pair of Zipp 303 firecrest clinchers. I almost made a deal to purchase a custom built Zipp firecrest 303s with white industries T11 hubs and a 24F/24R DT swiss spoke count. This new wheelset will cost me $3200. But I only have 1500 miles on my c35s and I want to believe that I still have a great wheel where I can put in a right sized good performing tire that will give me the best in comfort>handling>speed. I know you recommend the 20c as the perfect tire for this wheel based on rim width but I think that would be a little too much for me as I put aero effects as my last priority. You also recommend nothing more than 23c’s, so I will mount some Conti GP4ksii 23c’s and will sacrfice that 3mm overhang just for better comfort and handling. I’ll be doing the Death Ride in Tahoe this July (150m + 15K vert) so I hope this 23c’s won’t give me butt issues. I do have 25c Conti GP’s, but as you’ve said in your responses over and over again, nothing more than 23c’s on the c35s.

          Please convince me that my Dura Ace c35s are just fine with 23c Conti GPs and that I will survive the death ride with this set-up!!!! I’m a phone call away from calling the wheel builder and dropping 3g’s!!!!

          Thanks Steve! your reviews and quick responses to readers are my main source of cycling knowledge.

          -JP

          • Jason, You’ll be better than fine with the DA c35s on 23C Contis. That would be my first and only choice if I were you. Why? This ride (heat and 15K of decent) and your inexperience (me as your main source of cycling knowledge – yikes!) suggests you are best off with alloy brake tracks and the 23c are going to be 25mm wide on your wheels and you’d be foolish spending 2x the price of what you can get a new set of 303s for by going to a custom wheel builder. I don’t recommend 20C tires for a ride like this (only for racers) and a 25C (27mm wide mounted and inflated) might be mushy on a 15C rim making turns at speed going downhill on a hot day. You’ll be good. Steve

  • Hi Steve. Thanks for the great article. For those who haven’t seen it, Jan Heine of Bicycle Quarterly had this to say about tire inflation pressure and performance: “The biggest surprise of all our testing (above) was this: For supple tires, pressure makes little difference in performance”. I’m curious what you think about his article:
    Link: https://janheine.wordpress.com/2016/03/09/tire-pressure-take-home/

    In my case, I just bought a road bike built around 650c wheels which I did to eliminate toe overlap, get more normal frame geometry and most importantly better fit. That’s a whole other topic but I can say that I’ve nearly gone down twice on my old bike because of toe overlap (I’m 5’5″ but with Euro size 42.5 – 43 feet). And I have a 2″ arm length difference which requires a very short top tube.

    For the wheels and tires, I’m not racing anymore but I still like to ride fast so I am trying to get a comfortable ride but still with good performance. The stock wheels and tires are Weinmann Cobra rims with 32 spokes and 23mm Vredestein Fortezza tires, and they aren’t very comfortable riding even at 85 PSI (I weigh 147 lbs). I would like to get more air volume but it seems like no one makes high performance foldable 650c x 25mm tires. I think the stock rims are pretty narrow. I will be getting a lighter custom-made or stock wheelset and I’m trying to figure out which rim width to use. From your article it seems like I should use 17mm internal width rims since I am stuck with 23mm tires. I am wondering if you have a recommendation for 650c rims with 23mm tires, based on emphasizing comfort?

    Also, one thing I didn’t get is why using a 23mm tire on a wider rim should be more comfortable than the same tire on a narrower rim. Isn’t the air volume the same? I would think there would be more air volume inside the wider rim but then the tire would be stretched flatter so overall air volume would remain the same. How does this work and will using a wider rim with the same tire be a more comfortable-riding combo for me?
    Thanks alot.

    • northk, Frankly, much of what I read in the post you linked to was not new or newly confirmed. The sources I cite in this post above and this post here https://intheknowcycling.com/2016/04/03/best-wider-road-bike-tires-wheel-sizes/ have concluded the same.

      As to your question about rim width, it really goes to two points that I like to come back to. 1) stock wheels aren’t generally very compliant/comfortable and those putting 25mm tires on them are essentially putting lipstick on a pig and 2) good wheels are both laterally stiff and vertically compliant and don’t need wide tires that worsen handling and aero drag to improve comfort. I’m finishing up a review in the next couple of weeks that evaluates 17C and wider alloy wheels though I’ll have to leave it to you to figure out which are sold in the 650C size.

      Finally, a wider rim will hold more air at the same pressure for the same reason a wider tire will and will also improve handling and aero performance with the same size tire on them. My suggestion would be to start with a wheel that is going to be compliant, pick the tire size base on your priority for comfort vs. speed and handling and whether you ride at speeds and have rim profiles where significant aero performance can be gained or lost and adjust the tire pressure to fine tune the feel you want.

      Steve

  • Hi Steve, very excellent article.
    I just bought new Scott Solace 10 and it comes with Syncros RP2.0 & Schwalbe Durano FOLD 700 × 25C. My old bicycle has carbon wheels sets: Shimano RS81 C35 with Continental Grand Prix 4000S II (25c back and 23 front).
    shall I keep the existing wheel in the solace? or swap them with the Shimano ones as they are carbon wheels? I use solace for long rides, daily training. I live in a very hot and dry country. There is a lot of gravel and potholes.
    once again, thanks for the great article.

  • Hi Steve

    I value your opinion so I would like to know which Continental tyre from the following you would choose for a non racer like me (& my buddies):

    1. Continental 4 Season
    2. Continental Gatorskin
    3. Continental Hardshell

    NB : I have 2 sets of continental 4000 S II on my two bikes and I would like to change to something more durable. A buddy of mine has had 4 flats in 4 spins ( no exaggeration). I service his bike and I must say his tyre shows a lot of nicks. I checked the tyre last time to see where it punctured. All punctures have been on the outside of the tube in different locations. Could be poor cycling on his part or just plain unlucky.
    He does not cycle much. His tyres are relatively new.

    I myself have not punctured but my tires show signs of wear without much done. Just a change is all I am looking for.

    • Ray, sounds like your buddy is riding on some very rough off road trails or through a field of porcupines. Normal riding won’t create 4 flats in four rides on any pair of tires I know. I’ve only ever used the 4 Season so can’t advise about the others. Ask him where he’s riding. He may need some off-road tires. Steve

      • Thanks Steve for the swift reply!

        My buddy cycles on Irish roads. Better surfaces than I. But they are poor surfaces, the normal in most parts of the West of Ireland.

        He would be on the heavy side as far as cyclists go which does not help (IF HE EVER READS THIS I AM DEAD).

        That aside I am far from impressed with the state of his Continental 4000S II. He has ridden less than 1000 miles (that is being generous) on his set to date.

        My tires are also showing signs of wear and when I ride I tend to ride long distance on some poor surface roads. I like to get away from the traffic.

        Guess the surface amounts to off road compared to the smoother tarmac others ride.

        I see DCRAINMAKER gave his durable vote to the Maxxis REFUSE (But that was in 2008). He has not done a piece on tyres which I find mystifying.

        The Maxxis may be an option too. I have spent a season on the Continental 4 Season tyres and didn’t puncture either. I liked them but us cyclists are always looking for something new…

        I too don’t know how the Gatorskin or Hardshell perform.

        Either way I need to get the next tyre choice right for both our sakes.

        Keep up the good work.

        Ray

        • Ray

          i have seen Dc’s Rainmaker review too about Maxxis Refuse…..

          Let me share my experience.I got a brand new bike fitted with Continental Ultra Sport ii 25mm wired not foldable. During first 1000 Kms i had 3 or 4 puncture! One was due to low psi about 6 bar and obviosuly was my fault…

          Then i got paid and finally got Maxxis Refuse from local bike shop they had plenty of them stock and in 23mm. Wheels are ETRD 622×14 and CORRECT Steve told me to install 23mm tyres. I did and had 4000 kms without puncture and keep going strong(please do not be doomster!) on same roads same bike same driver. Rolling Resistance is high due to small dots on tire but i dont care much. Maxxis cost 36 each total 72 euros. I knew Conti were 40 euros each but it was winter then and Conti is summer tires as i found out from web.

          Roads in Greece are full of potholes….only in highway you can drive safely not going left or right trying to avoid them but is against rules and probably you get fine almost 200 euros.

          My next upgrade will be Continental Gp 400 sii as everyone said is summer tire and best tyre in terms of rolling resistance speed cornering grip etc. Also in 23mm. I will be lucky or not? I will fit them next month (July) due to very low price here 80 euros a pair.

  • Hi Steve,

    I came across your article whilst trying to find if any one else had found that new Continental tyres are narrower than old.

    Sounds odd, but let me explain… I have been running Continental Grand Prix 4 season tyres in 28mm for a couple of years now. They are mounted on Mavic Open Pro Rims. I had to change the rear tyre as it had a deep slice in it and was very worn after after about 6000km. I replaced it with another 28mm Conti 4 Season, but when measured, its closer to 25mm. It looked narrow when I first fitted it so I compared it with the front, which measures 28mm with the callipers.

    The front tyre is a similar age to the rear and also on a Mavic Open Pro rim. I checked the new tyre and the old and it is definitely a 28mm. I thought it may have been a mis-labelled tyre at first which I had bought when Ribble had a sale on last year so went out and bought another from our local Evans shop and find it’s exactly the same – closer to 25mm.

    One thought is that do tyres ‘give’ after prolonged use and perhaps stretch? I can’t think why else the new tyre would be so much narrower than the old.

    Thanks for the great article by the way. Very interesting reading.

    Regards, John

    • John, Can’t really explain what you are seeing with the 28 measuring 25. Are you measuring it sidewall to sidewall when it is mounted and inflated? And yes, tires do stretch out after use but maybe only a few tenths of a mm. Steve

  • Hi Steve,
    Do you know what a 23/25c tire is? Looking at a Specialized Roubaix Elite and they tell me it has 23c patch with 25c volume. Kind of confused me. So can I put that on the Dura Ace 35c clinchers I bought will be they be too wide? Or should I just go to a Conti 4000 23c?

    • Brett, Never heard of a 23/25c tire. Sounds like they might be describing a 23C tire that stretches to 25mm wide once installed. This is the same thing that happens to the Conti GP4K 23C. And since Spesh hired the head Conti tire engineers a few years ago, Spesh’s tires have been looking and performing a lot like Contis. Steve

  • There is no rational reason to recommend 23mm tyres and in many cases even 25mm to anyone other than racers cycling in excess of 20mph where aerodynamics may play much greater role, especially as the riders weights, road surface and type of riding can vary significantly.

    It’s not true that a wider tyre has lower rolling resistance only at the same pressure. When a wide tyre is ridden on the road at lower pressure, the suspension losses are reduced. In simple terms it absorbs vibrations more efficiently and hence allows smoother rolling and higher speeds with more comfort. In case anyone forgot, that’s exactly the purpose of pneumatic tyres… Bicycle Quarterly has covered it very well.

    As for the recomendation regarding pressure, anything around 100PSI is very unscientifically speaking stupid and defeats the object of pneumatic tyres. It offers no performance benefits and only reduces comfort dramatically.
    In the old days of 23mm tyres on very narrow rims it was necessarry to avoid pinch flats but nowadays? If you need to roll on anything over 80PSI you need wider tyres/rims or go tubeless.
    Outside laboratory on the actual road, higher pressure doesn’t make one faster, often quite the oppoosite.
    Bicycle Quarterly tests have shown that on a smooth tarmac you can drop lots of pressure without compromising speed. 60PSI can be just as fast or faster (depending on the surface) as 100PSI on the real road.

    What those guys also demonstrated during their wind tunnel session was that the difference in aero drag between 25mm and 32mm tyres were within statistical error. Unlike other, marketing driven tests, theirs involved a fairly realistic scenario with a “normal” guy riding at around 20mph.

    Message to take home:
    Lower your pressure if you can as it’s more likely to increase rather than reduce your speed. Don’t buy xx mm tyres only because pros, jurnos, marketers and some club gurus tell you too. After all those guys were wrong for decades about rolling resistance, pressure and tyre width…
    Get wider (than you think you should) tyres to enjoy more comfort, grip, traction, confidence, rim protection and longer tyre lifespan, without any loss of speed.

    Experiment!

    • Janusz, thanks for your passionate comment. I think it’s an ongoing discussion that many have and are contributing to. I don’t see it as definitively as you do. For example, I can give you one simple and quite rational reason not to put a 25C tire on a 15C wheel, which is still the most common wheel size roadies use – handling. A rim that narrow is not going to provide the support a tire that wide needs, increasing the potential for the tire to fold over on itself, especially if you have lowered the pressure. Beyond sluggish handling, the potential for pinch flats and the bike going out from underneath you with poor support of the sidewall increases in this scenario. The same goes with a 28C tire on a 17C rim. I don’t believe a single turn was made in the Bicycling Quarterly tests. Of course we make a lot of them out on the road.

      Rolling resistance, aero performance, tire pressure are also debatable points and somewhat rider-specific. For example, I don’t think it’s a good idea for a 100kg/220lb rider to be going down the road with tires at 80psi. Another example, lots of non racer roadies want to go as fast as they can or put out as little effort/power as they need to ride at a given speed and are willing to give up some comfort for better aero performance to increase speed or reduce power output.

      Tire brand, width, inflation decisions also can be wheelset-specific. I’ve ridden some wheels that aren’t very compliant/comfortable even with wide tires at low pressures (e.g. 25C tires on 17C rims at 80psi) and others that are very comfortable with narrower tires on wider rims at higher pressures (23C, 19C, 90psi). It’s the combination of tire, rim, spoke and hub that matters.

      So while I agree we should experiment, I respect that people will come out at difference places based on their comfort and speed objectives, their rider profiles, and the wheelsets they own.

      In case you haven’t seen it, there’s more on all of this at my post on this very subject https://intheknowcycling.com/2016/04/03/best-wider-road-bike-tires-wheel-sizes/

      Cheers,
      Steve

  • While I agree that putting a 28mm tyre on a very narrow old school rim isn’t ideal, plenty of of people do it and enjoy the benefits. In the UK and other places where roads are far from smooth, a wide “mismatched” tyre will still be a better option on old wheels.

    A 100kg or even heavier rider will be perfectly comfortable fast and safe on 80PSI or less, as long as his wheel/tyre setup takes his weight into account. Logically he should be on wider rims and tyres, not riding what everyone else does and just pump it up to 115PSI… There isn’t a perfect setup or a tyre/rim size for everyone either when it comes to speed or comfort.

    I don’t want to repeat myself but…there is no evidence that at least when it comes to racing tyres, higher pressure is faster outside laboratory on real roads. Just because it feels that way, doesn’t mean it actually is.
    Apart from the work by Bicycle Quarterly (some of it in paid magazine issues) which I mention before, there is an experiment I remember where the testers evaluated the effect of static vs rotating weight when climbing up Alpe d’Huez. In one part of the test the tyres were delibetarely seriously underinflated but despite that the time was marginally faster… (powermeter was used) There is also a pro team blog on which one of the riders completes his TT or triathlon run at 28mph with half flat punctured tyre (it didn’t happen at the very end). He had a good run.

    Bearing in mind the above, the benefits of wider tyres/rims don’t lie in a different shape of a a contact patch but in ability to run optimal (usually lower) pressure that reduces vibrations transmited to the rider – suspension losses. A dramatic example of it will be riding cobbles. where the fastest pressure would be the lowest one you could possibly get away with, without destroying the wheels. Suspension losses make a part of the rolling resistance equation. One cannot analyse tyre performance witout taking it into account.

    I’ll say it again to everyone:
    Ignore standards and what everyone else is using. Experiment with your setup and don’t assume something is wide, narrow, comfortable, hard or soft untill you test the extreme ends of the scale. Trust your stopwatch and your a**, not gurus.

    P.S. For the record, at 80kg with 31mm and 27mm tubeless tyres (actual widths) I would never run more than 60-70PSI I can get away with 10PSI less without any loss of speed if I want to. More pressure feels faster but my Garmin says otherwise. I’ve never found comfort and speed mutually exclusive.

    • Janusz and Steve,

      I’m in agreement that less pressure is going to be better at least for me. The question I have is, how does one determine minimum safe tire pressure? It has to be enough to hold the tire on the rim during hard cornering and high speeds, as well as of course prevent pinch flats. I think it would depend on the tire and rim width difference, maybe tire and rim construction too.

      I have a new wheelset (yet to be used) which has a 17mm inner rim width with 23mm Continental Grand Prix 4000S II’s (marked width) which are actually 25.5mm when inflated to 85 PSI.

      I’ve been running about 85 PSI and I’d like to go lower, but don’t want to risk the tire coming off the rim or something like that. The Jan Heine article I posted above only says pressure “needs to be high enough that the tire does not collapse during hard cornering” and “See what feels best to you”. I’m thinking of trying 75 PSI next.

  • Northk, depends how much you weigh and how hard you ride. I ride those brand and size tires on that size rim at 85 front and 90 rear and I weigh 68kg/150lbs and I get the comfort and responsiveness that works for me. Below 80psi (on 25C tires) and they feel soft going down the road and sloppy in the corners with no improvement in comfort. On the other hand, I’ve ridden 23C tubeless tires at 70psi on 19C rims and they were cherry. So it depends

    I’d suggest you start with the Michelin chart for your weight and pressure and experiment with 5psi increment drops from there. Steve

  • I appreciate all the info – I was really hoping for some information on Veloflex and their tires, especially the Master or Corsa. Opinions on them?

    • Les, Sorry, don’t have any experience with them. Small Italian brand started by employees who left Vittoria. Steve

      • Thinking about this all weekend — it has been years since I last rode some Conti’s, and with the latest improvements that they say they have made to the rubber, ….well, I have a set on order, should be here in a day or two. Can’t wait to mount them up. I’ll let you know how I think they compare to the Veloflex.

        Thanks again for the great info!!

        Les

  • Steve, I have a Conti GPS4000 II on Shimano DA C35. What is the best tire pressure I should strive for the lowest rolling resistance? I weigh about 160lbs.

    • Andrew, pressure has little effect on rolling resistance – a couple of watts at the extreme. (See here). For your weight, I’d suggest somewhere between 80 and 90psi. Steve

  • Hello Steve !

    Another question for tire pressure. For a 98 kg rider what would be preferable for the front and rear tire ? Conti Gps 4000 23mm tires.

  • Steve, as always a great post. Quick question for you: you recommend the gp4000 over the others, but what would be the correct size and pressure to mount on a dura ace cl24? I am a light rider – around 72kg.

    In terms of performance how does this tire compare to the gatorskin? and what about puncture protection? Same level or much worse?

    Thank you!

  • Hi Steve, really good article here. I just got some new Williams system 31 clinchers that are 25mm wide at the brake track and have purchased conti 23c grand prix 4000S ll. (207 lb. rider) Question #1. I am running 110 psi.is that sufficient pressure for my size. #2. Should I have purchased 25c based on my weight? Thanks,
    Ken

    • Ken, The 23C Conti GP4KSII at 110 to 115psi would be about right for your weight. 110 will give you more comfort. The external width of those wheels are actually 24mm and, while not stated by Wiliams, I’d suspect the internal is 17mm. On that dimension rim, the 23C Conti at 110psi will probably run about 24.5mm which is pretty good to maximize speed. If you don’t ride over 18mph/30kmph where you get aero benefit or if comfort is more important to you than speed, the 25C would be the better option. It will spread much wider on those rims, probably close to 26.5 or 27mm but you could lower the pressure to about 100psi for a smoother ride. Steve

  • Great and thorough article as always.
    Just a shame that you didn’t (have time to… (They launched beginning of April)) include Michelin Power Competition, which according to BRR scores way better than the Pro4s and similarly to GP4000.
    Out of curiousity I bought a pair this spring and have been pleasantly surprised. I don’t feel much difference in resistance, but I fell more confident in corners than on gp4000s which I’ve been riding for years.
    Any chance for an update to the article, to get your analysis of this tyre?
    Best regards, Asger

  • Hello Steve,
    I have a set of Belgium + rims and have both 23 and 25c Conti 4000 ll’s to ride with. I am 170 lbs. With this wider internal rim width, which tire size do you recommend and what pressures? Thanks

    • Barry, These are low profile wheels so there is no aero consideration. If you want to maximize comfort, you can go with the 25C. Use the chart in this post as a starting point for inflation pressure. Steve

  • Steve, discovered your website this summer. Amazing range of info with incredible detail. Thanks for your efforts!
    I want to move to a carbon wheelset from 6yr old Mavic Kysrium Elites on my 4yr old Giant Defy Advanced 2. Debating between Reynolds Attack and Giant SLR1 Climbing wheelsets. I’m in my early 50’s, 180lbs, ride about 100 miles per week on rolling terrain, all decent paved roads. Average speed 17.5mph, with 20 to 21mph in the flats. I ride for fitness, but if I could go faster with the same physical effort, all the better.
    The rim depth on the Attack’s and SLR1’s are 29 and 30mm respectively, with 25mm (actual is 24.5) and 23mm widths respectively. I’ve been riding Michelin Pro4 Endurance tires for a couple years and love the durability, but the better rolling resistance on the Conti GP4Kii’s is enticing.
    Can you give me any recommendation on both the wheelset choice and corresponding tire and tire width options? Your advocacy for the lowest rolling resistance combined with similar tire (inflated) and rim width makes total sense, but is it all moot for an old, slow horse like myself?
    Thanks for your time and consideration.
    John

    • John, Welcome to the site and thanks for your feedback. As to your next wheelset, here are some thoughts. You are riding at a speed that is just below where you’d get some aero benefit from a deeper all around wheelset. Not sure why you have focused in on the Attack and SLR1 but if you are willing to train up to get to 18+mph average, you could go faster and still climb well with many of the wheelsets I reviewed in my all-around review here. As to tires, no doubt you’ve read my recommendation about the Conti GP4Ks. The choice between 23C and 25C is a function of your rim width and preference between comfort and speed. More on that here. Personally, I’m a fan of the 40mm deep Reynolds Assault SLG wheelset for a price similar to what the Attack costs and recommend you ride them with 23C Contis which measure up about 25mm once mounted and inflated. You can also run them with 23C tubeless tires like the Schwalbe Pro One if you want more comfort without losing aero benefit. Personally, I find the 23C Contis plenty comfortable on a compliant wheel. The 25C version can also be harsh on a less compliant wheel. It takes two to tango so to speak and it’s not as easy as just going wider. Steve

  • No mention of Vredstein…. I’m in Spain, running on Fulcrum 3s, and have kept to the Vredstein Fortezza Senso 23s, having had lots of Tri Comps. Over the years I’ve had a fair variety of experimenting with different types and manufacturers, including a long period doing time trials of up to 12 hours on Conti LA 19 tubs, which were great, but not for every day. TheVredsteins seem to tick all the boxes for me, and I am particularly impressed by the cornering grip ((in the dry, some of the mountains here have big drops, so risks are avoided) and I am a bi surprised you have not given them a try. Fascinating site! Thanks very much. Rob Allan

  • Steve, Wow this article (and the comments) really are informative. I too had bought into the idea that I needed to just go to 25c tires and that would make me faster because of lower rolling resistance and more comfortable. I did notice immediately that I did not like my tire/wheel combo at lower pressure (older Easton EA90 with a 15 mm interior width). I have been running the 25c Conti GP 4000’s at 100. I weigh 157 and have been reading your reviews on new wheelsets…I need to rethink this entire scenario!

    I have been thinking about one of your recommendations… Easton EA90 and have been thinking of staying with the Conti 25c but now I am unsure. It bothers me that they are tubeless. Can I just treat them like non tubeless? In other words just through a tube in them.

    Back to tire choice with an inner measurement of 19.5 and an outer width of 24.5, it sounds as though I should still choose the 23c tire. Am I wrong in my thinking? I don’t race often, but ride with some strong riders and want the fastest setup with best control that I can find. I do ride some rougher roads but my biggest concern is wheel damage and possible pinch flats as I ride of MANY cattle guards that are pretty rough. This is another reason for the higher tire pressure. The roads are also mostly chip seal and we do have periods of wet weather.

    GREAT article…but, I think I may be more confused now than before.

    Conclusion…
    1) If I go with new Easton EA90’s should I go with Conti 23c or 25c?
    2) If I stay on my current Easton EA90’s am I correct in thinking I should go back to the 23c?
    3) I am little nervous about your suggestion of going with Bortola Pro-Light but love the price.

    Confused…

    • Paul, Not to worry. Tubeless or “tubeless ready” wheels can use regular tubes and tires. Basically, the rim channels on tubeless wheels are just sealed, usually with tape or plastic, to keep the air from getting out if you decide to use tubeless tires at some point. The EA90 SLs aren’t deep enough to give you any aero benefit so the choice between tires and sizes should be made on the basis of your comfort, handling and rolling resistance. If you want to go as fast or faster than your buds and stay with low profile wheels, you are going to have to train up for it and can do a bunch of other things that won’t cost you any money. (See here https://intheknowcycling.com/2015/04/15/how-to-ride-faster-on-your-bike-10-better-ways-part-1/)

      The research I published here shows you which tires have the best rolling resistance. As you can see, the rolling resistance difference between tires is often bigger than between tire sizes. The Conti GP4Ks are one of the lower rolling resistance tires. I and others have also found them to be one of the more comfortable and better handling tires, likely due to their materials and construction. They will size larger than most other tires, however.

      On the EA90 SLs, I tried four different tires. 23C Zipp Tangente Course tires (similar rolling resistance to the Contis) measured 24.7mm wide. 23C Michelin Pro 4 (now discontinued) ran 25.0mm. 23C Conti GP4K ran 26.0 and 25C of the same model ran 27.3mm wide. All inflated to 100psi. So the Zipp Tangente was the closest to the rim width but I found it buzzy. Hated it. The Michelin is a high rolling resistance tire. (They claim the new models are competitive with the best. I’m waiting for results). The 23C Conti is essentially a 25mm wide tire once installed and inflated on this wheelset. The actual 25C Conti tire is only a mm wider than the 23C on this rim once installed and inflated but is starting to get wide relative to the 24.7mm wide rim.

      I liked the handling of the 23C Conti best, but not at 100psi. On good roads and even the occasional rough ones including chipseal, someone your weight shouldn’t be riding tires at any more than 90psi to maximize handling and comfort with no rolling resistance penalty and little likelihood of pinch flatting. I’m 150 and ride 80-85 psi on all kinds of roads without an issue unless I ride through a hole. If you ride cattle guard rough roads, you are going to flat from time to time no matter the tire or pressure unless you use high rolling resistance, nearly flat-proof gatorskin type tires or…. wait for it… tubeless tires.

      So, to answer your questions directly 1) 23C, 2) yes, 3) best value not best performer

      Clear?….

  • I’m 190lb using Conti GP4K. Is 100psi a good level to maximize handling and comfort?

    • 25C, yes. 23C, I’d start at 110psi and try it +/- 5psi from there.

      • Thanks Steve!

        • Steve, when you mention Michelin Pro4’s, you are clearly not a fan based on test results, particularly rolling resistance. In a recent post you said “they claim the new (Michelin) models are competitive with the best, but I am awaiting test results”. Are you referencing the Version 2 model of Pro 4’s (yellow/blue packaging versus the small white/black box packaging of the v1 models) or the new Michelin Power line of tires? I’ve read a couple posts which say the v2 Pro4’s are much improved over the v1 Pro4’s?
          Thanks!

  • Hello Steve,
    Do you have an opinion about the new Power line from Michelin ? It seems that the Power Competition outperform the GP4000SII where the Power Endurance will be at the same performance (read rolling resistance level) and puncture protection than the same famous GP4000SII.
    Thanks.

    • Jean-Christophe, It definitely looks like Michelin has upped it game though I don’t quite see it the way you summarized it in your comment. My summary: The Michelin Power Competition tire is now competitive with the Continental GP4000SII, at least on the basis of specs while the Power Endurance is a good deal below these two. On the road, I don’t have a comparison of the two Power Comp and Conti GP4KSII as yet.

      The numbers I’ve seen suggest the Power Comp’s rolling resistance is about 1 watt per tire better at 100psi and 0.1 watt better at 80psi. The Pro Comp widens its lead to 1.3 watts at 120psi and loses it back to Conti GP4KSII by about a watt at 60 watts. All in all, not much of a difference and since most enthusiasts ride in the 80-100psi range, were talking about a total difference of between 0.2 and 2.0 watts across the two tires. The puncture resistance is essentially the same. The Schwalbe One Schwalbe One V Guard and Vittoria Corsa (Open) G+ Graphene also perform in the same range of rolling and puncture resistance. See here for testing results. The Conti rides a little taller (25mm vs 24mm) than the Power Comp and is a very small amount thicker at the center of the tire (0.3mm) and sidewall (0.05mm). The Power Comp use 3x180TPI carcass layers and the Conti only 3x110TPI but they weigh within 3 grams. Both 25C tires measure about 27mm when inflated on a 17C rim.

      Of course, you can’t compare the ride of tires based on the numbers. They have different compounds and tread patterns which undoubtedly have different ride characteristics on the road and in different road and weather conditions. But it’s safe to say that the Power Comp and Conti GP4KSII are very competitive at least by the numbers. This is a big and welcome step forward for us roadies as Mavic has typically priced their tires competitively.

      The reviewer I consulted for all the numbers above (bicyclerollingresistance.com) seemed to feel that, based on construction and performance, the Power Comp was more a successor to the Mavic Pro 4 Comp (a racing tire) than the Pro 4 Service Course as claimed by Mavic.

      The Pro4 Service Course that was probably the most popular Michelin tire for roadies from that Pro4 line appears to be succeeded by the Power Endurance, neither of which have reinforced sidewalls (the Pro4 Endurance did). They also have about the same rolling resistance, which is about 4 watts per tire greater than the Continental GP4KSII both at 80 and 100psi

      Steve

      • Hi Steve,

        Again a great article. Thank you so much! I have two questions about thrying to figure out what tire to ride on what wheels.

        1) I am a fairly competitive rider who likes to compete in road races a few times per year. Right now I have a Mavic Aksium wheelset with a 25 mm tire. Since the Rim Widht here is 17 mm intern and 22 mm extern I understand I am better off swithcing to a 23 mm tire (I ride Contintental 4000 GPS tires).

        I am also looking to buy a new set of wheels and I probable take your advice and go for the Pro Lite Bortola’s. They are 17,5 mm intern and 23 mm extern width. In this case it is probably best to go with the 23 mm tire as well?

        I weigh 73 kilo which means 7,5 bar according to Michelin man… Off course I can play with this a little whatever feels good…

        2) My brother just bought a new set of 50mm full Carbon Clinchers from Mantel. They advised him to ride these with 25 mm Continental 4000 GPS tires. He is at about the same competition level as I am. The rim width of his new wheels are 16 mm intern and 24,5 mm extern. So they are probably right about going with the 25 mm? Or can he also go for the 23 mm because they are actually about 24,1 mm when inflated?

        He weighs about 70 kilo. Could it be an option for him to race with 23 mm tires at 7,2 Bars and to do his training at 25 mm tires or with 23 mm tires but a little less inflated? about 6,7 Bar?

        Thanks again!

        • JK, Right, I’d advise 23C tires on both. If it makes you feel better, they will measure 25mm wide once mounted and inflated. Putting on 25C will make your handling a bit mushy on both sets and wreck the aero performance on your brother’s wheels. I’d suggest you train and race at about 6.5 to 7.0 bar. Steve

  • Hello Steve, just came across your site, great info! Question please – what race tire(s) would you recommend for a HED disc wheel on a TT bike? It seems the HED rims add a few mm to the actual tire size, e.g. a 23mm tire “becomes” 25mm when fitted on a HED wheel. Anyway, more interested in what brand (Continental GP TT, Michelin Power Competition, Zipp Tangente Speed, etc.). My weight is 88-90kg. Thanks!

    • Charl, Despite the width designation on a tire (e.g. 23C or 23mm) tire widths will vary based on the brand, bead width, psi and how old it is. Read this post for more on what is the best width tire for your wheelset. The charts in this review will tell you which tire brands and models have the least rolling resistance, which will also vary by width. Steve

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