THE BEST TUBELESS BIKE TIRES
I’ll admit it, I didn’t get excited about using tubeless bike tires when they first became available for road bike wheels. I was quite comfortable setting up my tires with tubes, had a go-to tire model that was comfortable, handled well, was plenty durable, and ranked well in rolling resistance tests. I seldom flatted, and when I did, it was an easy fix.
So why try tubeless tires? Everything I read said they were harder to get on my rims, took a lot of work to inflate and seal, made a mess, had higher rolling resistance than tires with tubes, or what I’ll call “tubed tires”, and if you ever did get a flat on the road, fixing a tubeless tire was not going to be easy.
Seems that I was not alone. Even though wheel makers were selling more and more road wheels that were tubeless ready, road cyclists weren’t ready to go tubeless. In 2015, no more than 10% of us were riding tubeless bike tires.
And then, it happened.
Well actually, several things happened.
Tubeless valves with removable cores became the standard valve shipped with new tubeless ready road wheels. Injecting sealant through your valve once your tire was fully mounted instead of pouring it into your partially mounted tire made for little or no mess.
Rolling resistance tests of tubeless road tires began to show equal or better results than the best tubed clincher tires with butyl tubes.
Better tire compounds made the leading tubeless tires as supple and sure-footed as tubed ones.
Wider and better designed tubeless road rims and tires made the tires as easy to mount, inflate, seal, and stay sealed as tubed ones, requiring no more than a standard track pump in many cases.
The adoption of wider tires and rims and lower inflation pressure for added riding comfort also made pinch flats caused by the rubbing of underinflated tubes against standard clincher tires more likely. That negative and the positive of instant repair of tubeless tires in the case of most typical punctures made tubeless more attractive.
The parallel growth of road disc bikes and roadies adding dirt and cyclocross riding to their paved road experience made a tubeless ready wheelset with one or two tubeless tire options a more versatile and puncture resilient solution than using traditional clinchers with tubed tires.
Disc brake rims also didn’t need to worry about the heat generated and the resulting expansion and contraction from rim brakes. You got a more consistent seal between the tire and the rim when the temperature of the latter wasn’t changing.
Finally, a lot of good road wheels started coming not just tubeless ready or tubeless compatible but “tubeless optimized”. No need to tape; a pre-installed plastic strip covered the entire rim bed. The rims were wider, the beds had a center channel to make it easier to get tires on and some had small dimples along the edges of the rim bed to keep the tires in place and keep them from “burping” air under hard cornering and at low tire pressure.
All of this has led to more and more road cycling enthusiasts using tubeless bike tires, more and better tires getting introduced, and that ever-present doubt among roadies – do I have the best performing or best value gear? – to creep into yet a new area of our cycling consciousness.
Mine for sure! Yours too?
If you’ve adopted tubeless bike tires for your road and off-road riding or are seriously thinking about going tubeless on your new tubeless ready wheelset, this post is for you. I will tell you what matters most in picking between tubeless tires, which of the top half dozen everyday tubeless road tires available today perform best against those criteria, and which are the best values.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TUBELESS BIKE TIRES
Click on any red statement below to go directly to that part of the post
This is a long and involved review and I get that many of you may not have the time or interest to drink it all in. For those who want the bottom line at the top of the review, here are my recommendations.
Best Performer – Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL
It took a while for Continental to come up with a tubeless road tire and then a while longer from when they announced it to making it widely available. Now that they have done both, my testing and those of others I trust show that it is the Best Performer amongst tubeless bike tires for everyday road riding and darn near as good as the best tubeless, tubed or tubular road racing tires.
I’ve installed the GP5K TL on rims from several different manufacturers with inside widths of both 19mm and 21mm. The tires have gone on without me needing to use tire levers and usually with just a track pump. Note, these tires should not be used on hookless rims like the 4.5AR and 3.4AR wheelsets from ENVE or Stans Avion series rims or others without hooks for the tire bead to grab onto. They won’t hold.
The GP5K TLs ride very comfortably and give me confident handling when I run them at the same pressure I run other road tubeless tires. And while I haven’t worn them out yet, they do seem to be wearing evenly, not any more or less quickly than other good tubeless tires. No flats, burps, sealant leaks, road buzz, etc. You get a good feel of the road too. Neither damp/soft or rough/harsh. Goldilocks Mama Bear just right.
While it’s not always the case, we should expect all the benefits I’ve just described from tubeless bike tires these days as “table stakes” to get into the game for our enthusiast $, €, £, etc. these days. Tubeless road tires aren’t a new thing anymore.
Unfortunately, it’s not always the case that you get the balance of good performance along all of these installation and road feel characteristics. So that’s a strong vote for these new Contis right off the bat.
What makes the Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL better performers, let alone the best among tubeless bike tires? They have all the table stakes working for them and what currently looks to be the best aero and rolling resistance performance of any everyday road tubeless tire.
To judge aero performance, I look at how well tires and rims work together. When the tire is the leading edge, you want the airflow coming off of it to continue smoothly along the rims of your wheels rather than flow away at an angle that never sees or “sticks” to the rims. You also want the air to flow smoothly from the rim to the tire when the tire is the trailing edge. For this to happen, testing has shown that the rim should be no less than 105% the width of the tire or the tire no more 95% the width of the rim.
Most new road disc brake wheels have a 21.0mm – 21.5mm inside width and a 28-30mm outside width where the rim meets the tire. The 25C Conti GP5K TL inflated at 80psi measures 27.0mm to 27.5mm on the wheels I tested or right in the range where you get your best aero performance. The tire sidewalls are pretty straight and well supported which also makes for good handling.
Modern rim brake wheelsets have 19mm inside and 27mm to 27.5mm outside width measured at the brake track. On 19mm or “19C” rims, I measured the 25C Conti GP5K TL at 80psi between 26.1mm and 26.5mm wide, again, in the range for best aero performance.
True, there are still many 17C and 19C rims around whose outside widths are less than 27mm. In those cases, you pay a penalty with these tires when your ride at aero speeds. If you’ve got one of those wheelsets, consider the Zipp Tangente Speed RT25, my prior choice for Best Performer, or the Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance 11Storm, my current Best Value, as they measure a half mm narrower than the GP5K TL in similar situations on 17C and 19C rims and about a mm narrower on 21C rims. (See just below for a review of the Hutchinson)
As the wider is better hype continues, many riders wonder if 28C tires would be better for modern 19C and 21C wheels. While it might improve comfort and handling further, putting 28C Conti GP5K or even narrower fitting 28C Zipp, Hutchinson, Mavic and most other tires I’ve tested for this review on those wheels will put you beyond the best aero guidelines. You have to get to a 30mm wide rim for some 28C tubeless tires to work without wrecking your aero performance. Even a 25C Schwalbe Pro One, one of the more popular tubeless bike tires, measures a good mm wider than the GP5K TL and is often nearly as wide or wider than the rim it is mounted on. This is less than ideal aerodynamically.
The Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL’s rolling resistance as measured by Bicycle Rolling Resistance (BRR) also shows it to have less rolling resistance than any other everyday tubeless road tire it has tested by at least a couple watts and nearly as good as the lowest rolling resistance racing tires be they tubeless, tubular or tubed.
Rolling resistance plays a more important role than aero performance up to the point where you are riding at aero speed (roughly 20mph/32kph) and when you are drafting in a paceline. At aero speed and increasingly beyond it, your aero performance outweighs rolling resistance when comparing the effects of wattage losses from air and road resistance.
These tires seem to have everything going for them. Along with a price that isn’t unreasonable for all you get, this makes the Grand Prix 5000 TL a clear Best Performer choice.
Best Value -Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance 11Storm Road Tubeless
While Continental may be the most recent brand to introduce road tubeless bike tires, Hutchinson was the first to sell a tubeless road tire. Hutchinson did it about 15 years ago, coincidentally about the same time Continental started its long run with Grand Prix 4000 tubed tires. Continental’s and Hutchinson’s divergent paths came back together in 2018 when Hutchinson started selling their 11Storm compound tires just before Continental introduced their Grand Prix 5000 TL.
Hutchinson also puts its 11Storm compound into the more durable, all-weather, commuter-oriented Fusion 5 All-Season 11Storm model and the lighter, thinner racing-focused Fusion 5 Galactik 11Storm. The company makes the Mavic Yksion Pro UST and Zipp Tangente Speed Road Tubeless tires with the 11Storm compound as well but in different molds that inflate to slightly different inflated sizes and have somewhat different road feel.
Since I selected the Fusion 5 Performance 11Storm as the Best Value among everyday road tubeless bike tires, let me first talk about its low price.
As you’ll read in a moment, they are good if not the best performers on the road. And they are newly introduced and available at multiple stores with a low list price and slightly lower market price so it’s not like this is an introductory sale they are offering to attract attention and initial market share. The Fusion 5 model has been around for a while, the 11Storm being it’s latest iteration.
I could come up with a few theories as to why these tires sell at a relatively low price – high volume/lower costs thanks to their OEM agreements with Mavic and Zipp, lower brand/marketing/distribution expenses, highly competitive market, less greedy French company, etc.
It’s hard to know why and it’s probably not important as long as they perform well enough for the price.
And I found they do.
I really enjoyed the road feel (comfort, handling, grip, road noise) of the Fusion 5 Performance tires. Of course, it’s a personal thing but for me, they felt dampened, comfortable, grippy and were quiet. If you want a more energetic feel or more feedback from the road, you can inflate them 5psi or so above your normal level but they won’t ride as comfortably. You can also go with the more expensive Conti GrandPrix 5000 TL which I find give you both road responsiveness and comfort.
The Fusion 5 Performance 11Storm install easily enough with the odd tire lever required on rims with a shallower center channel and compressed air occasionally needed to get the beads to set into the hooks. With the range of rims out there, I’ve had a hard time blaming added difficulty installing and inflating tubeless setups on the tires or the rims lately. Unless the tire is very supple, as it seems the Conti GP5K TL is, it usually takes two to tango rather than the rim or the tire leading the dance.
After mounting the 25C Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance 11Storm, I did find they measure closer to the 25mm suggested size than the GP5K TL, Mavic Yksion Pro UST or Zipp Tangente Speed RT25. (Who comes up with these freaking tire names?!?!?). On a 19C rim @80psi, count on a 26.0mm width from the Hutch. With a 21C rim at the same 80psi, look for something closer to 26.3. If your external rim width is in the 26.5mm to 27.0mm range, these are going to be one of your better aero options in a 25C tubeless tire.
I’ve not seen independent rolling resistance testing data for the Fusion 5 Performance 11Storm. BRR’s testing of the Mavic Yksion Pro UST Tubeless which shares the same 11Storm compound shows its rolling resistance to be essentially the same as the Schwalbe Pro One Tubeless. The Schwalbe long set the standard for tubeless rolling resistance until the GP5K TL came along so this new Fusion 5 Performance is in good company.
And what of that Schwalbe? It is priced similarly to the Hutch. Why is it not a Best Value among tubeless bike tires?
The answer – width and wear. After installing and inflating, the Schwalbe Pro One Tubeless measures 1-2 mm wider than other 25C tires on 17C, 19C, and 21C rims. This makes it as wide and usually wider than the rims themselves, reducing aero performance.
The Pro One Tubeless also seems to wear more quickly and cut more easily than other everyday tubeless road tires. Some people still swear by them but many more swear at them than other tires I’ve reviewed.
True, they’ve been around longer than many I’ve tested and they once set the standard. But despite their good price, their width and wear no longer makes them a great value.
Here’s how the Conti and Hutch compare on performance and price against the other tubeless road tires I’ve reviewed.
TUBELESS VS. TUBED TIRES
There’s been a lot said and written recently about tubeless vs. tubed tires for road bikes. Not too many years ago, the debate was between tubed tires and tubular ones. And there’s still a lot of unsettled argument around disc brakes vs. rim brakes, electronic vs. mechanical shifting, and carbon frames vs. aluminum, titanium, and steel frames.
New technology creates debate and draws attention. It’s what opinion setters and writers like to talk about. It’s what product makers like to promote. It’s also what cyclists like to learn about and discuss among themselves.
It’s all good and interesting. But, I’m not going there in this post. I could write 10,000 words about tubeless vs. tubed tires but it wouldn’t advance the discussion. Both now work.
Some roadies are proud to be the last to change while others are just happy with the status quo. That’s fine. Tubulars and tubed clinchers work just fine. So, this post isn’t for you.
Other riders embrace what’s new, drink the Kool-Aid, and think tubeless is the next coming. Of course, it’s not that either.
Let me try to sprinkle some reality on the tubeless hype before talking about the best tubeless tires out there for you to choose from.
Compared to clincher tires with inner tubes, tubeless bike tires have been promoted for their
1) better puncture protection
2) greater comfort
3) better handling
4) lower rolling resistance
5) lighter weight
The current best everyday tubeless bike tires I’m writing about in this post do provide better puncture protection. Run at pressures below where you’d want to inflate tubed tires, tubeless will also be more comfortable.
I state that in a matter of fact way because I believe it is so. I don’t see anyone challenging these two assertions.
I haven’t seen any conclusive, independent testing showing that tubeless bike tires handle better. You can make an argument that wider, lower inflated tires should grip and handle better, but only up to at a certain point. If they are much wider than the rim, they won’t get the support needed for good handling. If they are inflated too low, they will feel mushy in the turns.
As to the latter two claims about lower rolling resistance and lighter weight, the best everyday tubeless tires with sealant and tubed tires with butyl tubes have rolling resistance and weight within you-won’t-notice-the-difference range, i.e. a watt or two and 0-50 grams. I’ll give you more specifics on this in the sections below.
I’ve no doubt that tubeless rolling resistance and weight will both continue to get lower as they have in the last couple of years. But for the time being, they are on par with tubed tires.
I wrote in the opening why I believe tubeless has moved forward to become a real option for those who want the benefits it can offer. Reduced worries about punctures, added riding comfort, and greater versatility to ride your tubeless wheel on different road surfaces conditions (ideally using different tubeless tires) are the biggest benefits over tubed tires now. As their rolling resistance and weight decreases further, the benefits will only grow.
My testing also shows that they aren’t any harder to install than tubed tires. Different, yes. For some different means harder. But, if you are still reading, you are likely open to tubeless tires or already using them. If you are either, different is just different and not harder once you figure out how to do different as easily as you know how to do same.
TUBELESS BIKE TIRE CANDIDATES
As with tubed tires, you can now get a range of tubeless tires for road bike wheels for everything from racing to training to commuting to gravel and cyclocross riding.
For this review, I picked everyday tubeless training tires. Like the Continental Grand Prix 4000S II benchmark tubed tire, these tubeless tires are the ones you will want to ride for individual and group rides, endurance, and shorter events, or most any kind of riding save for high-level road or triathlon racing. They provide the combination of performance and value we enthusiasts try to balance.
You could commute on these tires or do dirt path riding with them, though I’d think you’d likely want thicker or more treaded tires if you were doing most of your riding in those situations. You could also race on them though the top tubeless race tires will give you a few watts less rolling resistance at the cost of quicker wear.
In alphabetical order, they are:
- Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL
- Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance 11Storm Road Tubeless
- IRC Formula Pro Tubeless RBCC
- Mavic Yksion Pro UST
- Maxxis Padrone TR
- Schwalbe Pro One
- Zipp Tangente Speed Road Tubeless
I’ve provided the best market pricing information and links to recommended stores with the best prices at the end of this post. If you want to go there now, click here.
The Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Light TLR is an update of R3 TLR with new construction. While it is an everyday training tire like the group above, it is too new for independent performance test information to be available. I’ll add it if and when I get that information.
There are also a handful of tubeless road racing tires out there now that I haven’t evaluated that you may see reviewed elsewhere. They include the Vittoria Corsa Speed, Hutchinson Fusion 5 Galactik 11Storm, Panaracer Race A Evo 3, and IRC Formula Pro Tubeless Light. They are fast as hell but don’t have puncture belts and will wear out in no time. I don’t recommend any of these as everyday tires but you gotta give them points for the creativity of their names.
EVALUATION AND DECISION CRITERIA
With any new technology, there is often an early adoption period where new products come to market, customers get their first experiences, and others watch from a distance to see if they should give it a try.
In this environment, companies try to influence the perception of what’s important in choosing between products and why customers should choose the ones they sell. Media write up these company perspectives and provide their own about why you should buy one product or another. Users also share some of their early experiences about what they like and don’t like about products they’ve used.
Lower weight, higher thread count, better compound, lower rolling resistance, better puncture resistance, superior dry and wet road handling, better aerodynamics, longer wear, greater ease in getting the tire on the rim, getting it inflated, sealing it, holding its pressure, filling punctures, etc., etc., etc. are all part of the arguments being made for certain models of tubeless road bike tires now.
It’s enough to make your head spin and struggle to make a well-informed decision.
I’ve poured through the arguments for and data about these criteria, ridden many of the tires myself and consulted those whose opinions I trust who have tested these and other tires.
I’ve also looked at this from the perspective I share with you as a regular cycling enthusiast who has become a new user of road tubeless tires over the last couple years. Yes, because I write reviews, I’ve probably tried more tires and tubeless wheelsets than most of you. But, like you, I’ve still got to decide which ones I want to ride for my pleasure and training rides, on group rides, and for the events I like to do.
I’ll go through the list of things I considered to figure out what matters most and tell you how the tire candidates listed earlier compare.
- Road Bike Wheels – How To Choose The Best For You
- The Best Carbon Disc Wheelset
- The Best Carbon Road Bike Wheels
DESIGN CRITERIA – WHAT MATTERS LEAST
Companies often cite design specs to suggest the important and differentiated characteristics of their products. While specs are quantifiable, quotable, and even marketable, they don’t predict performance and therefore, in my view, are not very helpful in choosing the best tires for you.
Regardless, since design specs are so often written about without context or comparison, I’ll try to provide both here to help disabuse readers of the value some companies put on them.
Weight – One of the arguments for tubeless tires is that they weigh less than tubed tires. As I mentioned above, this isn’t the case, at least not comparing today’s everyday tubeless tire set up, which includes sealant and tubeless valves and a tubed tire with a butyl tube.
Let me compare the weight of these two road tire “systems” to see just how much they weigh, why they pretty much weigh the same, and why their differences don’t matter to you as a road cycling enthusiast.
First, tubeless tires. There are currently two types of tubeless tires for road bikes. One is called Tubeless Ready or TLR. The other goes by the name (and initials) of Road Tubeless (RT) or just Tubeless (TL).
The RT or TL tires have a thin butyl rubber liner bonded to the inside of the tire. TLR tires don’t have a butyl liner.
Of course, butyl rubber is the same material used in most of the tubes that go into standard or tubed clincher tires. Some racers will use latex tubes because they are lighter than butyl and provide a notable reduction in rolling resistance – 3 watts or so at aero speeds.
Latex tubes don’t hold air as well, will puncture more easily and cost more than butyl tubes. That’s why we use butyl instead of latex.
Both TLR and RT/TL tubeless tires are designed to keep an inflated tire sealed. The butyl lining in an RT/TL tire is supposed to make it easier to get the tire to seat in and seal to the rim and then hold the air at your desired pressure longer than an unlined TLR tire.
If you buy into this claim, you might be led to believe that you don’t need to put sealant into an RT/TL tire to get it to hold air. You would save can save 30-50 grams per tire if you didn’t add the sealant.
I found no difference between TLR and RT/TL tires in getting the tires to initially seal and then hold air. (More on that below.) So, that would suggest you don’t need sealant and that the RT/TL tires with their extra butyl lining only adds weight.
Sealant can help in the initial set up process. And, the fact that so many tubeless bike tire makers put butyl linings in their tires suggests their research shows there is a benefit that is worth the added weight.
We can continue to debate those points.
But, what almost no one would debate is that you need to put sealant in both TLR and RT/TL tires to fill a puncture. Frankly, I think you’d be a fool to ride tubeless without sealant for that purpose alone.
RT/TL tires, those with the butyl liner in the tire, weigh between 30 and 40 grams more per tire than the same size TLR ones.
For example, the 25C Mavic, Schwalbe and Maxxis TLR tires in this review measure between 256 and 259 grams. The RT/TL tires from Specialized, IRC, and Zipp weigh-in from 290 to 299 grams.
Using sealant in both types of tires and all else being equal, this says you’d want to go with one of the TLR tires and save yourself 60 to 80 grams of weight in your wheels. Of course, all else isn’t equal and there are other factors that can have a much bigger impact on your performance than 60 to 80 grams, an amount most enthusiasts will never be able to notice.
To the rounded-up amount of 260 grams of a TLR tire and 295 grams for the average of the RT/TL ones reviewed here, add 30 grams for the 30ml of sealant you are going to want to put in your tubeless tire and another 5 grams for the mid-depth tubeless valve.
Altogether then, you are looking at about 295 grams for a TLR tire set up and 330 for an RT/TL one.
As a reference, a top everyday tubed tire like the 25C Continental Grand Prix 4000S II weighs 215 grams. With a good butyl tube inside your Conti tire, you add about 75 grams, bringing the total to about 290 grams.
So, a top tubed road tire and tubeless ready (TLR) road tire each set up on your wheel are going to weigh essentially the same amount. No diff. An RT/TL one will weight 35-40 grams more. You can’t tell that difference out on the road.
Thread Count – Here’s another spec that some companies and reviewers try to translate to performance. The belief basically holds that the higher the threads per inch or TPI, the suppler, faster and better handling the tire.
Were it only that simple. The compound and its thickness, the puncture belt, and whether heat is used to combine them with the threads (“vulcanization”) play large roles in the handling and rolling resistance you get on the road. I can’t draw a straight line from TPI to speed or feel and have never seen a study that can.
Compound – This is where the secret sauce of tire making and, along with it, tire marketing comes in. Who hasn’t heard of Black Chili, the compound used in the Continental GP4000S II? Compound is claimed to be the difference maker in rolling resistance and handling.
It’s all a bit of black art. Tire makers mix some combination of organic polymers, man-made synthetic materials, silica (the most common constituent in good old sand), and who knows what else, all to reduce the friction within the tire when it is doing its thing rolling down the road. The less friction, the less energy required for the tire to return to its shape (aka “hysteresis”) after it deforms or deflects from the unevenness in the road surface. All of this goes into lowering a tire’s rolling resistance.
On the other hand, a compound that returns the tire to shape a little slower provides better grip and handling. Some tires use a lower hysteresis compound in the center width of the tire to provide low rolling resistance and a higher hysteresis compound in the sides of the tire to provide better grip and handling when you are leaning into turns.
INSTALLATION CRITERIA – ALL THAT MATTERS UNTIL YOU FIGURE IT OUT
For those of you who have been tubeless converts for several years or those who remain interested but have held off because of some of the horror stories of installation difficulties and road failures you may have heard, I can tell you that a lot has changed for the better in just the last few years.
For this post, I went looking for a few videos to share with you about best practices in taping, mounting, injecting sealant, inflating, seating, etc.
I also read through user forums to see what issues frequently came up for those who have been using tubeless wheels and tires for their road bikes.
Finally, I did my own installation experiment with the tires for this review and a couple different modern tubeless ready wheelsets to see what differences there might be installing these tires and what I could share with you about the whole experience.
Looking across the videos and user forums dated as “far back” as 2014 and 2015, there’s a lot about how to convert your standard rims for tubeless use or pouring sealant directly into the tire from a measuring cup and complaints about tires blowing off the rims.
My experience with road tubeless gear started more recently and suggests a lot of those instructions and concerns from just a few years ago are now moot if you are using modern tubeless wheels and tires.
Let me explain it by asking and then answering the basic questions.
Q1. Are some tubeless tires easier or harder to get on a tubeless rim?
There’s nothing about current tubeless tires that should make them any harder to get on and off your modern tubeless ready rims than tubed clinchers. There are also only small differences I’ve found about different brands of tubeless tires that make some easier or harder to mount than others.
However, I often hear or read people complain that getting any tubeless tire on their rims, let alone getting them inflated and staying sealed is a big issue.
Here’s what I think is going on. When we enthusiasts upgrade our wheelsets these days, it’s likely to be a tubeless ready or tubeless optimized one since most wheels are now made that way. And if we haven’t upgraded in a few years or are replacing a stock wheelset, it’s also likely to be our first tubeless wheelset. So, if there is any difficulty getting the tires on, many enthusiasts will assume it’s because the wheelset is tubeless.
But, it’s equally likely that our new wheels are either wider or deeper than what we’ve been riding before.
Just a few years ago, most wheelsets were sized either 15C or 17C. Nearly all new wheels are at least 17mm wide internally, and the best are 19mm or even 21mm.
If you are going from an alloy to a carbon wheelset, you may also be opting for a deeper wheelset, going from something like a 20mm-25mm deep alloy one to those that are carbon and in the range of 40mm, 50mm or even deeper.
It’s the added width of these new wheelsets that makes it harder to get your tubeless bike tires on, but only if you try to put them on the same way you put tires on your older, narrower tubed clincher wheels.
Most of the newer, wider, deeper tubeless wheelsets have a center channel, an area in the center of the rim bed that is a few millimeters lower than the rest of the rim bed. Some also have dimples or smaller indentations in the rim bed closer to the edge of the rims.
You can see an example of a center channel and dimples in the cross-section drawing of the tubeless ENVE SES 4.5 AR Disc wheels on the left. By comparison, the drawing on the right shows the older ENVE SES 4.5 rim brake wheelset which isn’t tubeless compatible. The 4.5 rim brake wheels have a depression in the middle of the rim beds but they are not as pronounced as the channels in the 4.5 AR disc brake wheels.
The channel is the key to getting your tires one. At that spot in your rim bed, while the wheel’s diameter is reduced a few millimeters, the circumference is reduced over 3x (or by Pi) more and that makes all the difference in getting your tires on wider and deeper wheels.
Without using the channel, you won’t get your tires on. You’ll blister up your thumbs, abuse the rim beds and tape of your tubeless wheels using tire levers, and likely swear till you are blue in the face.
I’ve even had a reader tell me he returned a set of perfectly good wheels because he couldn’t get the tubeless tires on and he’s been installing wheels for over 20 years and has seen it all. After an exchange with him, it was clear that despite his experience, he didn’t know about the channel and had never installed tires on wheels with one.
So, use the channel and make it easy on yourself.
How? As you put the first sections of the first bead of the tire over the edge of your rim, put the bead into the rim channel and then mount the rest of that first bead into the channel as you go all the way around. Keeping that first bead in the channel, mount the second bead over the edge and into the same channel as go all the way around installing the second bead.
If you are having difficulty with the second bead, check to make sure that both sections of beads you already have mounted are still in the channel. When your tire also has dimples, you want to keep the beads from going into them while you are putting the rest of the tire on.
You also want to put the sections of each bead near the valve on last since the channel is blocked by the valve and the tire will sit higher than if it were in the channel.
IRC created this graphic to show the steps.
They and others also recommend sponging the beads and rim with soapy water (the blue in fig. 1) to reduce the friction between the rim and tire during installation. Some companies even sell a soapy water solution though it has high-priced sounding names.
Don’t ever use grease or oil lubricants for this purpose as it will prevent you from getting an airtight seal later on.
Even if you use the channel as I’ve described, some tires will mount a little more easily than others on the same rims. And, the same tire may mount more easily on some rims than others.
As the saying goes, “it takes two to tango.”
I’ve had varying experiences, both good and bad, mounting, inflating and sealing tubeless tires over the last few years. While my knowledge and skill have improved, I was never able to tell how much my success in getting the tires on was due to the tires I was working with, the rims I was trying to put them on, or how my cumulative experience or middle-aged memory loss affected the results.
For that matter, I didn’t know how much anything else unrelated to the tires and rims – the temperature in my garage, my fatigue, frame of mind, the music I had on, etc. – affected my success. Remember, I’m a fellow enthusiast like most of you. Having never been a bike mechanic or ever worked in a bike shop or for a bike company, I’m just another cyclist consumer trying to get educated and decide whether to use and choose between the new product and technology the bike industry pumps out there.
So, for this review, I did a controlled experiment. I spent an afternoon with a couple of modern deep and wide rims and 5 different tires to see if I could determine any patterns mounting and inflating tires. It definitely wasn’t highly scientific, but at least for me, it was quite instructive.
I grabbed two front wheels I’ve been testing. The first was a 46mm deep, 21mm wide (inside) Zipp 303 NSW Disc wheel that has a tubeless strip pre-installed. The second was the Mavic Comete UST tubeless disc wheel which was deeper (65mm) but narrower (19mm inside) than the Zipp wheel.
The 303 NSW disc wheel has Zipp’s latest tubeless rim technology and the Comete has Mavic’s UST or Universal Standard Tubeless technology, their latest tubeless wheel offering.
I put on and took off one of 4 models of tubeless tires on each of these rims and then moved on to the next tire. I picked tires of different widths, some of which were new and some which had 500 or so miles on them.
The first two were brand new, a Zipp 25C Tangente Speed RT and Maxxis Padrone TR 28C. The second two were used, a 25C Yksion Pro UST and 25C Schwalbe Pro One.
As a benchmark, I started by installing a used 25C Continental Grand Prix 4000S II tubed clincher tire without the tube.
As you can see from the chart of results, each of the tires was relatively easier to get on the 21C Zipp NSW rim than the 19C Mavic Comete UST rim. While both rims have center channels, there was something about one rim that made it easier to get the tires on than the other, regardless of the tire. Perhaps it was a slightly different channel width or depth?
Regardless, none of the tires took more than 5 mins to get on the Cometes and in only in two cases did I need to resort to using a tire lever.
And while it only took me about 20 seconds longer to get the Conti tubed tire on the Comete than the 303 NSW, I’d expect it would take at least another minute or two to put a tube on the rim, inflate it a little and then make sure it was tucked into the tire with the first bead on and then more slowly put the second bead on so as to be sure not to pinch the tube as I go around the rim putting the second bead on.
Bottom line, in trying to decide between tubeless tires, I couldn’t favor one tire over another based on how hard or easy it was to put them on a tubeless rim.
Q2. How easy or hard is it to get tubeless road tires to inflate and seal?
Another thing I read from cyclists and now from tire makers is that some tires inflate and seal easier than others. I wanted to test that out too.
The first part of my experiment showed that I could get all the tires on within a few minutes. It just took a little longer with some than others but mostly based on the rim depth rather than the tire.
Unlike my experience getting a tire on, getting it to inflate and seal was binary. It either does or it doesn’t and that becomes clear within about 30 seconds. Sometimes you can get it to inflate and seal with a track pump. Sometimes you’ll need a compressor. And sometimes you’ll need a compressor and a tubeless tire whisperer, someone who knows all the tricks of manipulating a tire to get the beads to seat in the rims.
Before I lay out this part of the experiment (the results are in the chart above), let me tell you what some tire makers are doing to try to make it easier for we enthusiasts to get their tires to inflate and seal.
Tubed tires are made of materials that are lighter and more porous than tubeless ones but won’t hold air on a taped clincher or tubeless rim without a tube. Tubeless tires use various materials that are supposed to seal the air in and hold it at pressure for days at a time.
I wrote above about the two types of tubeless tires – Tubeless Ready aka TLR and Road Tubeless aka RT or just Tubeless aka TL. The RT or TL tires are lined with butyl rubber which is the same material that regular tire tubes are made of. TLR tires don’t have a butyl liner. As I went through above, RT/TL tires weigh about 35 grams more than TLR tires.
Both RT/TL and TLR tires are constructed to keep the tire sealed. Putting the butyl liner in is supposed to make them easier to get the tire to initially seal and then hold the air at your desired pressure once sealed. (While you shouldn’t need sealant to keep the tire sealed, you should use 30 grams of it to coat your tires and have a reservoir left to fill punctures.)
1) Is an RT/TL tire, with its butyl liner, any easier to inflate and seal than a TLR one?
2) Will the RT/TL tires hold air in the tire at your desired pressure longer than a TLR tire?
3) If the answers to those two questions are yes, is it worth adding 35 grams to each of your wheels to make your life a little easier?
To cut this very long chase, my answer to each of these questions is no. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy a tire that is RT/TL, it just means you shouldn’t buy it because it is RT/TL. There are other reasons why you might want to buy an RT/TL tire over a TLR one and take on the minor weight penalty.
To reach these conclusions, I attempted to inflate each tire on each rim first with a hand pump and, if that failed, then with a compressor.
To isolate the effectiveness of the butyl liner, I didn’t put any sealant in the tire before inflating it. This is normally the way I install a tubeless tire. I want to know that the beads are fully seated in the rim so after I do put the sealant in through the valve core, I’m confident that I’m not going to make a mess trying to inflate the tire.
As you can see from the results, my ability to get a tire to inflate and seal related more to whether I was working with a used tire or a new one and not whether it was RT/TL or TLR. As you might expect, a used tire stretches out a bit over the course of a couple of hundred miles and that appeared to have made it easier for me to get them to seal than the ones I took right out of the box.
In my tests, the new Maxxis Padrone TR (a TLR tire) and the Zipp Tangente Speed RT needed a compressor to inflate and seal while the used TLR Schwalbe Pro One and RT/TL Yksion Pro UST went on with a hand pump.
I must add that this is more a guideline than a rule. As you can see from the chart, I was able to get the Padrone to seal on one rim with a compressor but couldn’t get it to seal on the other even with a compressor. The mechanic in my shop could do it with a compressor.
Another interesting variation – Mavic ships its UST wheels with new UST tires already mounted. When I tried my first UST wheelset, a low profile set of Kysrium Elites, I sealed the front tire with a hand pump but it took a compressor to get the second one to pop the beads into place and hold the air.
You can get a good basic 100 to 130 psi compressor like these from Home Depot or Loews for $70 to $100. That’s a bit more than the price of a couple of tires. Not a bad investment, especially if you do odd jobs around the house where a compressor would help or need something to blow the lint out of your belly button from time to time.
You also need to pick up the attachment to connect from the compressor for a Presta valve. The one I use is the PrestaCycle PrestaFlator Mini Inflation Tool, Presta Valve that sells for $37 on Amazon.
If you need a new floor pump (and don’t want a compressor), you can also go with one that has a built-in reservoir to give you the equivalent of a high pressure, CO2 cartridge blast. The Topeak Joe Blow Booster Floor Pump available from Competitive Cyclist 10% off w/code ITKCC19 or Tredz 10% off w/code ITK10 is a popular one but will cost you about the same as the compressor and Presta attachment
I still challenge myself to inflate and pop each new tubeless tire into place with a basic floor pump but it’s nice to have the compressor around if I can’t. After I get the tire set up, I add the sealant and then can will re-inflate and seal with just a floor pump.
Q3. How well do tubeless tires hold pressure?
Another belief about tubeless road tires is they don’t hold air as well as tubed ones.
My habit, and I think this is at least one good habit I have among many bad ones I’ll admit to, is to inflate my tires before going out on every ride.
But, do you need to? Or, do RT/TL tires with their butyl liner hold air better than a TLR type without one?
And, don’t tubed tires with a butyl inner tube hold air best of all? We know tires with latex tubes, while providing lower rolling resistance than those with butyl ones, don’t hold air very well at all.
Again, a simple test is illustrative.
I inflated a TLR Schwalbe Pro One, an RT/TL Zipp Tangente Speed RT28 and Mavic Ykison Pro UST, and a Conti Grand Prix 4000S II with a butyl tube to 80psi and checked each of them after 24 and 48hrs.
The Conti tubed tire lost about 1psi in 48 hours. The tubeless tires, regardless of type, each lost a psi or two every 24 hours. No, I didn’t ride any of these tires between measurements and my test wasn’t anything near a controlled lab experiment. But, if my tires are going to drop a psi or two every day or two just sitting there regardless of the type of tires they are, I’m going to take a minute to inflate them before I go out.
I suggest you do as well.
OK, enough for my fellow enthusiast advice and experimental results. Let’s hear from the pros.
Here are two videos that show some best practices for how to install modern tubeless road tires on tubeless ready rims. They take slightly different approaches, but both work.
This one from ENVE starts with a tubeless road rim and shows you how to tape it and then inflate and seat it before injecting sealant. That’s the approach I follow.
This next one from GCN starts with a pre-taped tubeless road rim and shows how to use sealant before inflating to help you seat your tire bead. This approach works too.
While not said in these videos, my research and experience suggest that 30ml of sealant is best for 25C and 28C tubeless road tires. More than that gives you a much larger reservoir of sealant than you need to coat your wheel and have some in reserve for punctures and just sloshes around and adds unnecessary weight. Less than that and you’ll probably want to top off your sealant after any puncture rather than once every 3-4 months.
PERFORMANCE CRITERIA – WHAT MATTERS MOST
There are five criteria I have found matter the most in choosing between tires to create the cycling experience you want. These are what I call the performance criteria.
1. Rolling resistance – Rolling resistance seems to be the most important decision criteria for many riders these days. It certainly is the most quantifiable. All things being equal you want a tire with the lowest rolling resistance number.
Simple, right? 11.6 watts of rolling resistance is better than 13.8 watts.
Well, rolling resistance tests don’t exist in a vacuum and a number that comes out will vary depending on a lot of factors. It will vary with tire width and inflation pressure. It changes based on the road surface you ride on and the testing surface used to emulate it. The width of the wheel you’ve mounted the tire on, the weight applied to the wheel, the speed at which you roll the wheel, the test equipment you use, the temperature you test at, and other environmental and testing protocol factors all affect the rolling resistance number that comes out.
Since we’re talking tubeless, we don’t have to worry about the effect of running different types of tubes (butyl, light butyl, latex) which does affect rolling resistance by a couple of watts. But, the amount of sealant you put in a tubeless tire also affects rolling resistance but by only by less than a watt.
So, rolling resistance scores are more relative within a specific testing protocol than absolute between testers or tires.
And now allow me to share the fortunately and unfortunately soliloquy I’ve been working through to give you an answer to which tire has the best rolling resistance, which is second best, etc.
Fortunately, there are some people who focus intensively on rolling resistance and other tire performance testing. They appear to be thoughtful, qualified testers whose results you can learn from. I’ve worked through the published results of the first three testers mentioned below for the tires in this review to come up with some relative rolling resistance performance rankings.
Jarno Bierman at the site Bicycle Rolling Resistance (BRR) and the test lab at Tour Magazine (German language, subscription required) regularly conduct and publish independent tests of tire performance and make them available to readers of their sites.
Wheel Energy Laboratory also does rolling resistance and other testing for bike, motorcycle, ATV, UTV, and care tire company clients. While they don’t publicly share their client data, they have conducted testing for a selection of bike tires brought to them by Velo News and Bike Radar for articles about rolling resistance published by those media outlets.
Jan Heine, whose company makes tires mostly for touring and off-road bikes, also tests tires and has developed a reputation and following for his testing methods and views on tire widths, inflation levels, and rolling resistance that is contrary to most everyone else. He wrote about them in this post of his Off The Beaten Path blog.
Unfortunately, I don’t know how to relate the results that Jan Heine comes up with to the ones that the other three do. Considering Heine’s approach and findings, you are left with a kind of an either-or option.
You either are won over by his approach, buy-in completely to his results and throw out those from all the others evaluating tire performance or you acknowledge his views as interesting but hard to correlate with the principles and methods of the others.
My view is that Heine’s principles and testing approach may be more appropriate in evaluating tires for the touring and off-road riders he sells his tires to than for road cycling enthusiasts like me and you. Also, I haven’t seen any data from him on the tires I’m reviewing for you here so I don’t have any results to compare or correlate with those that I do have data for.
BRR, Tour, and Wheel Energy each test a little differently and produce different absolute rolling resistance numbers.
For example, the popular 25C Schwalbe Pro One has a rolling resistance of 11.6, 12.8 and 14.8 watts at 100psi, 80psi, and 60psi inflation pressures respectively in BRR’s tests which are run with a 42.5 kg load at 18mph/29kph on a diamond plate drum using a 17C wide rim.
For the same tire, Wheel Energy comes up with a 30.2 watt rolling resistance at 80 psi but with a 50kg load on the tire rotating at 25mph/40kph on an unevenly rolling diamond plate drum using a 19C wide rim.
Tour uses an actual rough flat road surface and oscillates two wheels in a pendulum fashion loaded with 110kg of load which somehow translates to a combined rider and bike weight of 85kg traveling at 30kph. They come up with 67.4 watts of rolling resistance (or 33.7 watts per wheel) for this Schwalbe Pro One Tubeless tested at 6bar/87psi. They don’t specify the rim width on which they run the tests but judging from the wheels they tested at the same time, I’d expect it is 17C wide rim.
You still with me?
Unfortunately, all the tires that you or I might be interested in haven’t been tested by each of these three testers. Fortunately, there’s some overlap between what they have tested and from that, I can make some relative comparisons.
If the different tests and protocols produced different absolute results but the same relative rankings and similar percentage differences between various tires, I’d be ok with that.
Unfortunately, they don’t in all cases.
For example, the Schwalbe Pro One has a just slightly lower rolling resistance than the benchmark Continental Grand Prix 4000S II in the drum tests from BRR and Wheel Energy but a 10% higher absolute score in the Tour test. However, the relative positions of the tubeless tires are pretty consistent.
Sorry to put you through all of that but I just wanted to provide you some context and discourage you from picking a tire based a single published rolling resistance number or test ranking for a single source. Unfortunately, it’s just not that straightforward.
Alright, with that overly long health warning now delivered, here’s what I found.
The Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL has the best rolling resistance of the everyday tubeless tires in this review for which there is solid comparative data. It beats the others that are in this review for which tests have been done on either the drum type tests that BRR and Wheel Energy do or the pendulum tests that Tour does. And,
there’s a pretty big gap between the Conti GP5KTL (about 2-3 watts or about 20-30% better in the BRR testing) and the Schwalbe Pro One Tubeless, the next closest but there is little difference between the Schwalbe and the next group of tires I’ve tested for this review.
The rolling resistance of Maxxis Padrone TR and Mavic Yksion Pro UST are only about 4% more than the Pro One per different tests. That translates to between 0.5 and 1.3 watts of difference per tire depending on the protocol. That’s a very little if any noticeable difference and not a compelling reason to choose one of these tires over another unless all other considerations are equal.
The advantage of these three tires to the IRC Formula Pro Tubeless RBCC, stretches out to 6-10% or 3 to 6 watts off the Pro One for two wheels in the worst case. That’s starting to get noticeable.
I’ve seen limited rolling resistance test data for the Zipp Tangente Speed Road Tubeless and none for Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance 11Storm. However, since those two tires and the Mavic Yksion Pro UST are all made by Hutchinson and use the same 11Storm compound, I’ll assume they have nearly the same rolling resistance as the Mavic for which there is independent public testing.
The numbers I’ve seen on one test of the Tangente Speed RT, done by one of these testers privately for Zipp, is within striking distance of the Schwalbe just as the public test of the Mavic showed. And, the competitive rolling resistance results of other recently developed everyday tubed tires sold by Zipp are top shelf and suggest to me that they and their suppliers know how to create low rolling resistance tires.
By the way, if you are all about low rolling resistance you should consider racing tires. The lowest rolling resistance tire now, tubeless, tubular or tubed is the Vittoria Corsa Speed G+ 2.0 which is another roughly 20% lower than the Continental GP5K TL.
While racing tires excel at speed, they lack the puncture resistance and durability of everyday tires. They have no puncture belt, use less durable casings, and are amongst the thinnest tires you can find. And, they are way expensive too. All of this is why I don’t recommend them unless you are looking for a tire to race on pristine road surfaces every now and then.
2. Puncture resistance – Of course, one of the main reasons to go tubeless is for what is to protect yourself agains punctures. I prefer the term puncture resilience, the ability of your tire to quickly recover from a puncture.
Unfortunately, the testers only evaluate what they call puncture resistance, the ability of a tire to initially resist a puncture.
Nearly all bike tires will puncture. The beauty of a tubeless tire is that the sealant will fill punctures almost without you knowing after a few revolutions of the wheel and with little pressure loss.
As my good luck would have it, I seldom puncture either tubed or tubeless tires. I do remember puncturing a tubeless tire on a 135-mile ride out in the middle of nowhere and the tire resealed so damn fast I could only tell I punctured from the quick hissing sound that interrupted my swearing after I ran over something evil on the road. I did notice what ended up being about a 10psi pressure loss that I refilled at the next stop.
BRR, Tour, and Wheel Energy run puncture resistance tests that measure how much weight or how long it takes to puncture the bottom and sides of tires with pointy objects of known diameter (1mm and up).
These tests rate the Conti, Schwalbe, Maxxis and Mavic tires selected for my review with very similar tread and sidewall puncture resistance and IRC’s tubeless tires as inferior to them.
By my lights, puncture resistance testing essentially evaluates the strength of your puncture belt and the thickness of your side walls. They are probably helpful predicting the puncture resistance of tubed tires, but I don’t think they tell you anything about the puncture resilience of a sealant-filled tubeless tire.
A test that measured whether and how fast a tubeless bike tire resealed punctures of two or three different sizes in the bottom and side of the tire spinning at cycling speeds would be more useful in choosing between them. Another test that evaluated the effectiveness of different sealants would be a bonus.
I don’t know how to do those tests but I’m sure or at least hope that some smart tire engineer could come up with something that tests tubeless tire puncture resilience rather than mere resistance.
The most important thing you can do is to make sure you’ve got the right amount of sealant in your tires or that you’ve got sealant at all. I’ve been out on spring season rides with friends who forgot to put sealant in their tires at the beginning of the season and others who don’t keep the 30ml or so of sealant I and others recommend you keep to fill the holes. I wrote a Know’s Notes post on this topic that you can read here.
Of course, there are times when a puncture is so large that a sealant won’t do the job. Usually, that only happens with a good-sized gash in the side of the tire where there is no puncture belt. All but racing tires have puncture belts in their bottoms and the parts of their sides that come in regular contact with the road.
One of my readers commented several times about all the bad things he had heard and read about the Schwalbe Pro One as the primary reason not to buy a tubeless wheelset whose manufacturer recommends that tire. He directed me to Amazon user reviews about the tire. I read through it and found some interesting trends in the comments. So off I went looking for similar threads with users reporting on their puncture and other experiences on other popular cycling forums for this tire and others in this tubeless review.
Cycling forums can be the equivalent of the dark web for product information. You’ll find good people looking for answers to their knawing cycling gear problems, others sincerely trying to help from their personal but often narrow experience base, small shop owners responding with authority and answers that favor the brands they carry, people ranting about how they’ve been wronged by this company or that product, and legions of trolls giving you snarky, cynical, and unhelpful responses.
Using forums to get your questions answered can initially appear to be helpful until you start seeing contradictory suggestions that leave you uncertain about what to do. You evaluate the credentials of those responding to your query to try to judge the value of the suggestion while others come in. At some point it becomes frustrating and then you can get really pissed off at yourself for wasting your time thinking you could get something valuable by reading them.
Occasionally you do, and that’s why you go back. That was my hope, though I’ll say I’d have preferred to be out on my bike.
I found that there are far more comments and complaints about the Schwalbe Pro One than any of the other tires in this review. Perhaps because the others in this review are newer or less popular, there are actually very few comments I could find from users about them.
The rap against the Schwalbe Pro Ones on the forums appears to be that they cut and puncture too easily. I can’t tell if they actually cut and puncture more easily than other tires.
I got the sense that some of those who commented on the forum were quite aggressive with where they were riding the Pro Ones, perhaps assuming that since they are riding tubeless, they won’t puncture or gash if your ride them on almost any surface or road conditions. Other may have had the same issues riding on normal paved roads.
Testing shows that the Pro Ones (and Contis, Maxxis, and Mavics) have essentially the same bottom and sidewall puncture resistance.
In the same way you might have picked a Conti Gatorskin or Grand Prix 4 Season tubed tire to give you a tougher, longer lasting tire for any condition instead of the faster Grand Prix 4000S II tires, you can go with tubeless tires that are also tougher, etc. than those in this review
I wish I could be more definitive here but my experience, the experience of those I read about on forums, and the test results don’t allow me to rank the tires in this group on their puncture resilience.
Take it all with a huge grain of salt or perhaps, in this case, a 30ml syringe of sealant. At least the sealant should be effective in filling the holes you get in your tubeless tires if not the ones in this analysis.
3. Road feel – How the tire feels on the road is a very subjective evaluation criterion. Of the three test labs I’ve cited above, only Tour Magazine goes out of the lab and actually rides tires on the road. The other two don’t comment on handling, grip, comfort, road noise or any other aspects of the feel the tire gives you on the road.
(Note that Heine only tests on the road, but as mentioned earlier, to my knowledge he hasn’t tested the tires in this review and his methods are contrary to other testers to the point where I can’t correlate them)
There are all sorts of variables that can affect the feel of the tire on the road. The pressure you inflate the tire to, the kind of road surface you ride it on, how stiff or compliant the wheels are that you’ve mounted the tires on, and how straight/turny, flat/hilly, slow/fast, dry/wet, etc. the roads are that you ride on can all affect the road feel you experience.
So, yeah. Pretty subjective.
I don’t pretend to have the right formula or experience to tell you which is best. I can only tell you what I experience doing the kind of riding I do.
I’m a B group rider (18-20 mph average) that does rolling terrain (+/-5%) during the week with more climbing (up to 10-12%) on longer weekend rides on mostly well maintained though not super smooth roads. I’m lucky enough to have ridden these tubeless tires most of the time on carbon, 19C and 21C wheelsets with just a little roadwork using 17C alloy hoops.
I don’t purposely go out in the rain though I occasionally come back on wet roads, don’t race crits that require a lot of handling but do enjoy going fast down turny mountain roads and taking right and left-hand turns at speed.
Lately, I’ve been riding mostly 25C tubeless tires at 60 psi front and rear, levels that I find are a good compromise between firm & fast (80/85psi) and cushy & super grippy (60/65psi) for my 150lbs/68kg weight. I do ride 28C occasionally at 5-10 psi lower and tubed 25C tires at 10psi higher. I also ride 23C tubed tires on 17C alloy wheels when testing those.
I’ve also incorporated input from my fellow testers Nate (A group ride leader, cat 3 racer) and Moose (200lbs/90kg+) and other reviewers whose independence and objectivity I trust to come up with my evaluation of the road feel, specifically the handling, grip, comfort, and road noise of these tires.
The good news is that most of these tires feel good on the road. I find the Conti, Hutchinson, Mavic and Zipp to have the best overall road feel. The IRC and Schwalbe is down a notch from those and the Maxxis are the least enjoyable.
The handing is totally confident and the grip is sure on my top 4. They are totally quiet (no road buzz) and comfortable without feeling posh at the pressures and with the wheelset sizes I tested them on.
I didn’t find the Yksion tires on 17C Mavic Ksyrium Elite alloy wheels particularly comfortable but my heavy tester Moose did. Was it the wheels or the tires?
In addition to the 25C, I rode a 28C Zipp Tangente Speed Road Tubeless at 50 psi front and 55 psi rear, pressures that some of the all-in, wide-tire, low-pressure Heine followers might think is high. They felt downright cushy comfortable and almost squishy in turns but didn’t feel particularly fast. Pumping them up 10 psi made them feel as fast and good on the road as the 25Cs did.
As you can see, it’s both subjective and subject to what wheels you put them on and what pressure you inflate them to.
The Schwalbe Pro Ones have “street cred” (pun intended) earned by being the first tubeless tire to break through the low rolling resistance numbers set by the iconic Conti Grand Prix 4000S II tubed tire. They still feel fast and handle well but I noticed a definitive buzz riding them after rolling on the other tires in this review.
I’d ridden Pro Ones at 23C, 25C and 28C widths over the last few years and never noticed the buzz before. At first, I thought one of my rotors was rubbing against a caliper. That wasn’t it.
Reinstalling the tires and putting in new sealant didn’t change things. It just may be that I never noticed it before. After riding the other tubeless tires for this review, I did. I’ve experienced this with a few tubed tires over the years and was now hearing it with the Pro Ones. This was a real negative. On a group ride with all the focus, communication, and shifting going on within the group, I hardly notice it but on my own, I do.
IRC’s Formula Pro Tubeless RBCC is all about the handling. It feels super grippy and like riding on rails. It’s not quite as comfortable as the others though, perhaps because of whatever they put in the compound to make it grippy also makes it less supple.
The Maxxis Padrone is a comfortable tire on the road but doesn’t handle as confidently as the others. While the size rating (“25C”) is the same as the others, it’s narrower and a little less full or square sitting in the rim. Perhaps being a mm or two narrower than the others once mounted and inflated, while providing a better aero profile, makes for slightly less confident handling.
4. Aerodynamics – When road wheels first went deep and aerodynamics became a differentiator in cycling performance, most wheelset decisions were made on the basis of aerodynamics and weight. When the two were in conflict, aero proved to be more important in speed and time measurements in nearly every situation except mountain climbing.
As for tires, testing demonstrated and patents validated that they should be narrower than the rims they were mounted on to get the lowest drag coefficients when riding at aero speeds.
Now that deep wheels and tires have gone both wider and tubeless, the range of tire models and width choices has expanded and trade-offs between comfort, handling, and speed have made tire selection more challenging.
The added comfort of wider and especially tubeless wheels and tires is undeniable and worth making a big part of any tire decision.
The kind of riding I and I think most road cycling enthusiasts do doesn’t make handling a priority above comfort or speed. We generally aren’t racers turning at high speeds in criterium courses and, unless commuting, don’t find ourselves out riding in the rain all that often. Most tires will handle plenty well enough for our riding. That said, the added confidence wider and less inflated tubeless tires offer is welcome.
When it comes to a tire’s contribution to your speed, the rolling resistance component gets a lot of attention from testers. Tire marketers use the numbers to proclaim the superiority of their models.
But when you are riding at aero speeds, basically at least 18mph/29kph on average and 20mph/32kph and above at any point during your ride, a tire’s rolling resistance matters less than the wheel and tire’s combined aero performance, the other contributor to tire speed.
Having written an entire post a few years ago that aims to help my fellow enthusiasts decide what tire width to get knowing their rim width and the relative priority of comfort, handling, and speed, I feel compelled to update it here.
In brief, most wheelsets are designed for 25C tires these days. And, while the discussion a couple of years ago was about whether to run 23C or 25C on the then new breed of 17C wide wheelsets, it’s now about whether to run 25C or 28C tires on the now new breed of 19C and 21C wheelsets.
In general, go with 25C tires if you are using a 19C and 21C wheelset and perhaps 28C tires on a 21C rim if the wheel maker recommends it as the most aero setup.
Of course, two tires with the same “C” number won’t measure the same width when mounted and inflated on the same rims. There’s just no standard for tire width. And know that a 25C tire almost never measures 25mm once mounted and inflated so please don’t equate the C size with actual width. Depending on the internal width of the rim you are mounting the tire on, most will measure 1 to 2mm wider than the C designation.
The C size on rims is much more accurate, typically within 0.25mm in my measurement of many rims.
I’ll say more about how the tubeless tires in this review size up in a moment. First, here’s some interesting data and perspective from a few aero wheel makers on the relationship between tires and wheels and the performance of the combination that goes into their product design.
DT Swiss in collaboration with their aerodynamics partner Swiss Side published a data-rich explanation of their approach to designing their wheelsets to optimize drag, handling, and efficiency (which they define as the combination of comfort, grip, and rolling resistance).
The major takeaways for me:
- At aero speeds,
- drag increases by 5 to 10% going from a 25C to a 28C Continental GP4000S tire depending on yaw angle
- drag differences between several wheelsets that compete on aero performance are far smaller than those from tire width differences at the -10 to +10 degree yaw angles where roadies spend most of our riding time
- At the same pressure, a 28C Conti will have lower rolling resistance than a 25C by 5% or less between 6bar/87psi and 7bar/102psi. Reducing the pressure increases rolling resistance by a far smaller percentage within this pressure range
- A wider tire provides better grip and better pinch flat protection at the same pressure.
- A wider rim supports the same tire better and provides better handling
So wider rims and tires offer better grip, handling, and rolling resistance than narrower ones when both are inflated to the same pressure.
Below aero speeds, the benefit of lower rolling resistance from a wider tire outweighs the benefit of lower aero drag from a narrower tire. Once you start riding at aero speeds, the relationship reverses and you get more benefit from the reduced drag of the narrower tires. The faster you go, the relative benefit you get from the narrower tire increases.
Zipp adopted the so-called 105% rule for their breakthrough Firecrest toroid rim designs at the beginning of this decade. The rule stated that rim widths should be no less than 105% of the tire width for optimal aerodynamics.
Over the years, leading wheel designers including HED, Easton, and Reynolds recommended tires widths that were consistent with this “rule”. As I detailed in my post on this topic that I referred to earlier in this section, Easton’s research with 15 different tires on their EC90 Aero 55 clincher wheelset showed that time savings increased as tire widths decreased and the rim to tire ratio exceeded 105%.
With the evolution to wider tires and rims and the knowledge gained over many rim and tire development cycles tires since the Firecrest, Zipp representatives tell me they “have moved beyond that rule.”
They haven’t shared with me what the new rule is or if there even is one but clearly, as the saying goes “it’s complicated.”
Relative tire and rim width is certainly part of the mix but wheel makers now incorporate a greater appreciation of other factors like rolling resistance, handling, inflation pressures, sidewall support and who knows what else in recommending tire widths for their rims.
To the extent you want to consider relative tire and rim widths in selecting the fastest tires, and the data from DT Swiss/Swiss Side and ENVE and all that has come before that I detailed in my earlier post suggests you absolutely should, I offer the following on the tubeless tires reviewed for this post.
My measurements of tires on the rims I mounted for this review and others I’ve evaluated over time shows quite a disparity in tire widths.
The 25C Schwalbe Pro One is the fat boy in this bunch and likely to be wider than the outside width once mounted on most rims. It’s not going to be a good aerodynamic choice.
At my standard measurement inflation pressure of 80psi for tubeless tires, it expands to about 26.5mm on a 17C rim, 28.5mm on a 19C and 29.1mm on a 21C. Those will be well or just beyond the external widths of most rims that size.
The 25C IRC Formula Pro Tubeless RBCC also tend to run quite wide at 26.2mm on a 17C rim. Most 17C rims aren’t going to have an external width more than 25mm. At the same time, however, most of the newer tubeless wheels designed with an aero depth and profile in mind are going to be 19C for rim brake wheels and 21C or wider on disc brake ones.
The 25C Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance 11Storm, Maxxis Padrone TR, Zipp Tangente Speed Road Tubeless, and Mavic Yksion Pro all measure closer to the 1.5mm to 2.0mm wider than the C dimension. On a 19C or 21C wheelset that sports a 26.5mm to 29.0mm external width, these tires will measure less than or close to the rim’s width.
As I wrote in my recommendation above of the 25C Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL, it’s about the best aero fit for the modern 19C rim brake whose outside widths are 27mm to 27.5mm and 21C disc brake wheels whose outside widths are 28-30mm. Perhaps they benefited from being the last one to the party and could adjust their 25C size to what they saw going on with rim widths.
For what it’s worth, the Conti GP4KS tubed tire that designers have been using for years as the benchmark for their aero testing measures wider than most of its other non-tubeless tire brethren. Among the more popular everyday road tires, only the Schwalbe measures wider in my experience.
I give you these guidelines, examples, and this 1000-word section on tire-rim aerodynamics to help you navigate to the right choice for your situation. I pray that you won’t send me with your “how aero” questions about your wheelset and the tires you are considering. I’m just not equipped to answer them and do other reviews, ride my bike, do my job, and even see my family from time to time.
I did do a Know’s Notes write-up here that predated the Conti GP5K TL and gave some different tire and rim combination examples in a chart. Take a look there for some specific guidance. Thanks.
5. Durability – Not having ridden any of these tires but the Schwalbe for more than 1,000 miles, I can’t really offer my own opinion of the relative durability of this group of tubeless tires. None have been obvious fails in my experience and the Schwalbes I and others I know have ridden have held up well.
As I wrote earlier, there is a netherworld of commentary on the Schwalbe Pro One tubeless in various reader forums.
I would summarize the user feedback you can find there on the durability question as follows – they don’t last as long as people would like.
Whether that’s a sound finding or kinda what you’d expect, I’ll leave that to you to decide. I’ll also note that I’ve read and heard much the same thing about the Conti GP4KS II tires over the years.
There are many users who report on forums that they get 2500 or so miles out of the Pro Ones and many others that say they theirs haven’t lasted nearly as long and the tires cut and puncture much more often than other tubeless tires they’ve used. The IRCs have a reputation for being a longer lasting, more cut resistant alternative.
I wish I could offer you a relative ranking on this topic of durability. While I and most roadies I know are frugal and are always looking for a good deal, I will always pick a better performing everyday tire over a longer lasting one that doesn’t perform as well. Spending $20 more per tire to get better performance for even 1000 miles or 20-40 rides is a no brainer for me.
PRICE – THE CRITERIA THAT MATTERS TO ALL ROADIES
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Ah yes. Price. It’s where many of us start when choosing between road cycling gear. I put it last in this review of tubeless bike tires because the absolute price differences between tires are relatively small compared to almost any other type of cycling gear that plays such a big part in the enjoyment I get from cycling.
That said, we don’t want to leave money on the table, do we? Especially if it’s money we could save for or spend on other gear or even use at the café on a great ride.
With that in mind, here are the links to stores I’ve found that have the best prices and recommend because of their top customer satisfaction ratings.
Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL – List price USD$95. Market price USD$76. Available at the best prices through these links to top-ranked store Competitive Cyclist and other recommended stores at Know’s Shop (here and here).
Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance 11Storm Road Tubeless – List price USD$45. Market price USD$39. Available at the best prices through these links to top-ranked store Merlin Cycles and other recommended stores at Know’s Shop.
Schwalbe Pro One Tubeless – List price USD$85. Market price USD$42. Available at the best prices through these links to top-ranked stores Merlin Cycles and Competitive Cyclist and other recommended stores at Know’s Shop.
Zipp Tangente Speed Road Tubeless – List price USD$74. Market price USD$74. Available at the best prices through these links to top-ranked store Competitive Cyclist in the US/CA and at recommended stores Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle for UK/EU residents.
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