THE BEST TUBELESS TIRES
Summary: With new tubeless tires being introduced and a better understanding of how they perform, I’ve deepened and revised my evaluations and ratings. I now recommend the Zipp Tangente Speed Road Tubeless as the Best Performer available at the best prices from stores I rate highly here and here, and the Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance 11Storm Road Tubeless as the Best Value and available here and here.
Those of us looking to buy the best tubeless tires for our road bikes have a lot to digest these days.
New and updated models are rapidly being introduced from established brands and those just starting to sell tubeless road bike tires. We’re faced with compelling reasons to choose between tubeless tires that claim to have lower rolling resistance or are more comfortable and handle better or install more easily or are more aerodynamic, sometimes creating unwanted trade-offs.
At the same time, new tubeless road wheelsets are also appearing that are often some combination of wider, deeper, cheaper, or all-road characteristics. They are usually different enough from each other and those we’ve been riding to give us another set of things to think about when we look for the right tubeless bike tires.
And if that weren’t enough, good old considerations like a tire’s puncture resistance, weight, wear, and price can still play a role in our decision making.
With all of that going on, I’ve taken a fresh, independent look and come up with better ways and evaluations to help you decide and for me to recommend the best tubeless bike tires for you, me, and our fellow road cycling enthusiasts.
- Road Bike Wheels – How To Choose The Best For You
- The Best Carbon Disc Wheelset
- The Best Carbon Road Bike Wheels (Rim Brake)
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TUBELESS TIRES
Click on any red statement below to go directly to that part of the post
WHAT MATTERS MOST
If your primary objective is to go fast and you have your tire pressure set right, choosing between tubeless bike tires that give you the right aerodynamic relationship with your rims matters most and should be where you start. Once you’ve got that dialed in, you can pick between tires that provide the best road feel (comfort, handling, grip) and rolling resistance, and that install easily on your wheels.
That’s why my analysis shows that the aerodynamics of the rim-tire combination is the most important criterion of the eight I will outline here. If you want to dig into these further, each is discussed in more depth in my accompanying post The Realities of Tubeless Road Tires.
1. Aerodynamics of the rim-tire combination
Josh Poertner, Zipp’s lead engineer during the development of the original Fieldcrest wheelsets, determined that “the rim must be at least 105% the [actual] width of the [mounted, inflated] tire if you have any chance of re-capturing airflow from the tire and controlling it or smoothing it” so that it sticks to your rims and reduces aerodynamic drag.
At less than 105%, air diverts away from your rims and you get limited aero benefit from those 40mm and deeper carbon wheels you and I spent so much on.
He called this the Rule of 105. It remains a guiding design principle in the design of wheels today.
My analysis of tests and expert input concluded that you could lose from 5 to 15 watts with your rim-tire width combination below the 105% ratio if your wheels are in the 40-65mm depth range and you are riding at 20 to 25mph (32 to 40kph). There’s far less to be gained as you go above 105%.
This means you can lose somewhere between 20 seconds to a full minute over a 25 mile, 40 kilometer solo ride or time trial course. On a typically longer competitive group ride, distance event or road race, you’re talking about riding at a 5-15 watt higher power level for several hours to keep up with the pack and avoid losing minutes.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not work that hard that long as punishment for picking the wrong tires.
Rim-tire combination results
Of all the evaluations and analysis I and my fellow testers did for this review, the most illuminating and important in this era of ever wider tires was finding out which rim-tire combinations follow the Rule of 105 and which don’t.
Because of that, let me tell you a bit about how I did the testing for this rule, share a couple of overarching conclusions, and give you specific test results before moving on to a discussion of the other tire evaluation criteria.
When I get a new wheelset for evaluation, soon after my childish excitement ramps down a bit, I weigh it and measure the inside width, outside width at the brake track, maximum width, and depth of the front and rear rims. After installing tires, I’ll measure the tire width on the front wheel.
Using a digital micrometer, I check the width of the rim and tire at a half dozen places until I get a pretty good fix on the midpoint of most of the measurements. While there are some outliers, typically there will be a variance of up to +/- 0.1mm.
For 25mm and 26mm labeled tires on the 19C and 21C rims, I measured them inflated to 80psi. This is the maximum recommended pressure that a 170lb/77kg rider should inflate his tires to per the ENVE tire pressure guide. If you weigh 20lbs/10kg less or 30lbs/15kg more, the guide suggests you drop or raise your pressure from 6 to 10psi.
For the 28mm labeled tires on the same 19C and 21C rims, I inflate the tires to 60psi. That’s the right pressure for me at 150lbs. If you weigh 170lbs, the chart guides you to 66psi.
If you are using 28mm tires on a 25C rim, which I’ll tell you is about the only place where a tire that wide can live by the Rule of 105, a 170lb rider would be guided to a max pressure of 56psi.
The Zipp Pressure Guide came out more recently and recommends pressures more or less the same to the ENVE for the rear wheel. For the front wheel, Zipp’s guide recommends a pressure about 5psi less than it does for the rear.
My unscientific experiments of lowering tire pressure in search of more comfort typically end up also about 5 psi less than the ENVE guide. Many enthusiasts who have raced over the years prefer 5 to 10 psi higher pressures (though it is actually slower even though it may feel faster).
I’ve done enough tire measurements from 60 to 100psi to conclude that raising or lowering your pressure 10 psi from the 80psi mark will increase or decrease its width somewhere between 0.1mm to 0.2mm. Knowing where you like to run your pressure, you can tweak the percentages below for your situation.
A couple more things to finish off this preamble. Since the front wheel affects your aero performance far more than the rear, I’ve done all the tire rim-tire combinations on that wheel. If you can’t decide between prioritizing aero performance and comfort, you have my permission to put a wider tire on the rear wheel and break the Rule of 105.
Also, note that I’ve given you rim-tire combinations based on the rim width at the brake track and, where it is wider, also for the maximum rim width. There is some discussion about the applicability of the Rule of 105 at both locations that I went through in the accompanying post but won’t use precious bits to take you through here.
Finally, recognize that tires will stretch and widen after 500-1000 miles. How much? While I measured mostly new tires, those that I rode that distance were about 0.1 to 0.2 mm wider than when new.
I’ve used a traffic light color-coding system in the results below to suggest what rim-tire combinations will clearly be most aero (green) and least aero (red). When a combination shows yellow, you’ll want to look more closely at how your inflation pressure, rim width, or tire age compares to those I used.
While my measurements were limited to the wheelsets you see in the charts below, I’ve hopefully given you a wide enough range of wheels with different inside and outside widths and rim profiles to help you find where yours fits in.
If I were to bring all of this up out of the weeds and give you my conclusions from all of the rim-tire combination analysis, I’d tell you this:
- While 28mm tubeless road tires are promoted for their improved comfort and handling, most don’t abide by the Rule of 105 unless you have wheels with an outside rim width of at least 30mm.
- Most 25mm labeled tubeless road tires meet or exceed the Rule of 105 when installed on 19C rims that have at least a 28mm outside width and on 21C rims at least 29mm wide.
- If your rims are narrower than 27mm and you prioritize speed on your aero wheels, use 23mm tires.
Immediately below are my measurement results for rim-tire combinations of 19C and 21C wheels. The outside rim widths increase as you go across the chart from left to right.
This next chart shows the rim-tire ratios of wheelsets with even wider, 23C and 25C rims that are often ridden on both road and gravel roads.
2. Road feel
I started this What Matters Most section with the statement “If your primary objective is to go fast and you have your tire pressure set right, choosing between tubeless bike tires that give you the right aerodynamic relationship with your rims matters most and should be where you start.”
Getting your tire pressure set right may be easier to do (at least before you read this post) than following the Rule of 105, but too many of us roadies don’t and it can have a big effect on speed and on your road feel – the comfort, handling, and grip provided by our tires.
There’s been a lot of research published in recent years showing how over-inflated tires create energy losses (“impedance”) as our bodies absorb the road vibrations. These are different than and can be far greater than the losses in rolling resistance (“hysteresis”) when tires deflect and recover to absorb imperfections in the road surface.
Getting your tire pressure right which often means lowering it from your traditional level will:
- smooth out your ride and save you energy or watts you can use to put into your pedals for more speed over the whole ride, at key points during it, or just to ride longer at a lower power level, and
- increase your speed without expending any additional energy or watts
Use one of the modern tire pressure charts or calculators at these links from ENVE, Zipp or Silca that guide you to the right tire pressure for you. Here’s an example of the pressure suggested me on one of my recent rides:
By using a guide like this and staying within a few psi of what it recommends, fellow testers Nate, Miles and I could reduce or at least baseline the impedance losses that may have biased our views about ride quality and allow us to more effectively differentiate the “road feel” between tires.
To further bracket this admittedly subjective assessment of the comfort, handling, and grip between the tubeless bike tires we tested, we also used a limited number of 19C and 21C aero road disc wheels we were testing at the same time.
Picking between aero tires inflated to the right pressure should not detract from our comfort, handling, grip, or the role of rolling resistance in our pursuit of speed. For most road cycling enthusiasts, and in comparison with what recreational riders may prefer, we’ll be plenty comfortable on most 25C tubeless bike tires and some 28C ones on modern width wheels inflated to the right pressure that also meet the Rule of 105.
If you care most about optimizing your comfort and are willing to sacrifice speed and time and eliminate the benefit made possible from the depth of your wheels, ignore the aerodynamic relationship and choose the widest tires your rims and bike can safely fit.
3. Rolling resistance has become a popular decision criterion for many riders these days. With several labs publishing their results, it certainly is very quantifiable (and marketable).
However, the absolute results – usually stated as xx.x watts of rolling resistance – depends on the protocols used by the testers. Those results will vary with the tire and rim width, inflation pressure, drum surface, rolling speed, weight applied, and other testing choices.
With a few exceptions, the rolling resistance results of tires made for a similar riding purpose like those we roadies buy and that I’ve evaluated for this review (training or racing with a puncture belt) are not more than a few watts different (low single digits) at the speeds and pressures we ride tubeless bike tires under the testing protocols at each of four different testing labs I reviewed.
Of course, actual rolling resistance outside the lab differs based on the road surface you ride.
With all that said, here’s the really important bit: Because rolling resistance increases linearly or at the same rate as your speed increases while aerodynamic drag increases exponentially, rolling resistance matters relatively less than aero drag starting around 12 miles per hour and increasingly less as you go faster.
This chart courtesy of ENVE shows the relative contribution of each at different speeds.
Of course, aero drag from your wheels is only about 10% of total drag with the majority coming from your body and some from your bike.
But at the speeds we roadies ride, my take-away is that rolling resistance is both less important than aero drag or road feel and there’s little rolling resistance difference between most of the training and racing tires with puncture belts that we use. Putting on too wide a tire that doesn’t meet the rule of 105 on your aero wheels can more than overcome the small differences in rolling resistance between the tires we use.
4. Installation – 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, I can tell you that a lot has changed for the better in just the last few years.
I go into more detail about this in the accompanying post and provide charts and videos to help you install your tubeless tires.
The current reality is that some tires “install”, by which I mean mount, inflate, seal, and come off more easily on some rims than others. This is important not only when you put new tires on but even more so if you should have to install a tube on the road to deal with a major puncture that the sealant doesn’t fill.
For my tire ratings, I’ve noted which tires are easier or harder to install on the range of wheels we’ve tested.
What Matters Less
5. Puncture resistance – Of course, one of the main reasons to go tubeless is to protect yourself against punctures. When you puncture a tubeless road tire, the best measure is how quickly and well the sealant fills it.
This is puncture resilience, the ability of your tire to recover from a puncture. There are no tests I’m aware of for this. If there were, it would probably depend much more on the sealant than the tire, at least for tires with puncture belts.
On the other hand, puncture resistance, the ability of a tire to initially resist a puncture, is important if you have no recourse other than to get off your bike and replace your tube. It’s a criterion that’s a throwback to the clincher world and matters much less in the tubeless one among tires with puncture belts.
Further, there’s little difference in the puncture resistance results between most of the tubeless training and racing tires with puncture belts we enthusiasts ride. I’ll point out the ones that are well above or below average from the testing available but in the end, should matters far less in deciding between tubeless bike tires.
The most important thing you can do to overcome the inevitable puncture is to make sure you put in and maintain the right amount of sealant in your tires. I recommend 1 oz or 30ml for 25C tires and perhaps 10 ml more for 28Cs.
6. Weight – As with puncture resistance, the differences are small to non-existent between like tires in this review. Again, I’ll mention the outliers but also urge you not to make decisions based on weight. You won’t be able to feel the difference on the road and you shouldn’t let it get into your head.
Oh, and if you’re debating between tubeless and clincher tires based on weight, I detail the differences in the accompanying post. Spoiler alert: there’s essentially no difference in actual weight or at least, not enough that you could tell.
7. Wear – The good news about riding different wheels and tires all the time is that I get to try out and evaluate a lot of new gear and report that out to you. The bad news is that I really don’t get to ride any one set of tires more than 1,000 miles.
Other than a tire that wears quickly or cuts easily within our testing period, I can’t really offer my own opinion on tire wear or whether one model lasts 2500 miles while another goes 4000 miles. Of course, we all ride on different roads, some of which are harder on tires than others so wear is personal thing anyway.
While I and most roadies I know are frugal and are always looking for a good deal, I will always pick a better performing tire over a longer lasting one that doesn’t perform as well. Spending $25 more per tire to get better performance or spending an extra $50 or so to replace better tires even twice as often shouldn’t be a budget-buster for most road cycling enthusiasts.
8. Price – Most better-performing training and racing tubeless road tires with protection belts have a market price between USD$50 and $60 per tire. One or two may sell for $15 less or $20 more depending on a current sale or from a particular store. But, compared to what we spend on our bikes, gear, apparel, food, event fees, etc., tires are a minor cost for such a big contributor to our performance and enjoyment on the bike.
With that in mind, I don’t let the price of tubeless road tires enter into my decision making criteria.
REVIEWS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF TUBELESS BIKE TIRES
The chart below brings together the relative ratings of tubeless tires for the criteria we evaluated that matter most and less.
A “o” rating means that the tire performed about average compared to the others we evaluated. Those that performed better than average earn a “+” rating; worse than average earns a “-“.
In the reviews that follow, I say more about why each tire rates where it does. I also pick a Best Performer and Best Value.
Zipp Tangente Speed Road Tubeless – Best Performer
The Zipp Tangente Speed Road Tubeless scored + ratings in all four of the “What Matters Most” criteria in our test. No other tire earned more than two.
While I tested Tangente Speed Road Tubeless tires in my rim-tire width measurements that had somewhere between 500 and 1000 miles on them, the 25mm size consistently equaled or bettered all other tires, many new and unstretched, in abiding by my aero-surrogate Rule of 105 criteria.
The 28mm size Tangente was consistently wider than the same label size Schwalbe and Specialized though those two only met the 105 bar on rims 29mm and wider.
Gripping and cornering well are real positives for these tires. They also roll over most paved surfaces very comfortably at or near recommended pressures.
While Zipp may have designed these tires, they are made by Hutchinson and use the latter’s 11 Storm compound. Independent rolling resistance tests show this Tangente Speed Road Tubeless model to be right on the heels of the Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL, both a step above others in this review for which such data exists.
Installing the tires, or more properly mounting, inflating, sealing, and removing them is about a simple as it gets with a tubeless or clincher tire. I’ve noticed this from the first time I installed a new model of the Tangente.
Perhaps it has a slightly larger diameter than other tires and that makes it easier to get on more wheels. This is the opposite of what appears to create the problem getting the Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL on some wheels. But, I’ve never experienced sealing challenges or air loss issues with the Tangente typical of tires that aren’t tight or hard to get on the rim. Best of both worlds!
On the criteria that matter less, as a butyl lined tire it’s a little heavier than most though weighs the same as the Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL. The several pair I’ve ridden have also worn well, as have the Contis and I’ve had, both with no puncture issues.
All in all, these are awfully hard to beat, especially if you are new to tubeless bike tires and want all the performance benefits with none of the hassles.
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Specialized S-Works Turbo RapidAir
Specialized’s S-Works Turbo RapidAir are excellent performers on the right wheels.
Their combination of top-rated aerodynamic performance and road feel, my two most important criteria, puts them among the top two overall best performers.
The 26mm RapidAir clear the 105% bar in combination with as many of the rims as any other tire I tested. At the right pressures, they are also supremely comfortable and grippy on straights and in corners, leading to great road feel.
Rolling resistance is a touch better than the former standard Continental Grand Prix 4000S II clinchers. While the new 5000 and other training and racing tubeless road bike tires with puncture belts have bested the 4000S, the RapidAir still rests in the middle of today’s tight tubeless pack for a measure that’s less important as I described in the criteria descriptions above.
Putting these tires on the right wheels is key to removing them when you need to. Either the RapidAir’s tire bead diameter is larger than in most tubeless tires or that the diameter of the bead lock on rims made by ENVE and Zipp is smaller than those on other wheels. The net result is that I found it next to impossible to remove the RapidAir from these wheels by myself.
This is not a situation you want to find yourself in if you have a puncture that sealant won’t fill on the side of a road. It’s also a little embarrassing when you show up at the LBS asking for the strong guys with big hands guys to remove them from my rims when I couldn’t.
These tires come off easily from wheels sold by Specialized’s Roval division. This just adds more fuel to the effort to get tire and rim specs more aligned (the subject of current ETRTO efforts) or for more wheelset companies to make tubeless tires for their own wheels (in addition to Specialized/Roval, see Mavic, Zipp, Bontrager, and now ENVE).
The RapidAir tires are a bit pricey, $20/tire more than the average model in this category and $45/tire more than the lowest-priced ones. That said, compared to all the other stuff we spend money on to feed our cycling habit, I’d happily pay this extra amount for the speed and road feel the RapidAirs offer on the right set of wheels.
Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL
Market price USD$50, £46, €53. Available at the best prices through these links to my top-rated stores Competitive Cyclist and Merlin Cycles. You can also find them at other stores I recommend in my Know’s Shop (here and here).
The Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL had previously been my top pick for this category. No longer. After revising my evaluation criteria as described above and working with them on a wider range of wheels, some warts have emerged.
These tires still provide a great combination of comfort and handling at the right pressures. And they still lead other tubeless training and racing tires with their low rolling resistance.
Using the rule of 105 as a surrogate, the Conti GP5K TL’s relative aero performance is not as good on as wide a range of wheels as others. Further, I’ve found they run small, and not just tight, to the point where new ones don’t easily mount or mount at all on top-of-the-line wheels including the Easton EC90 SL, Bontrager Aeolus XXX 6 or Roval CLX 64.
As we come through the relatively standard-free era of tubeless wheels and tires, I can’t blame this exclusively on Continental. But as I try one of the 4 pairs of these TLs I’ve bought at different times from different stores that now range from new to used on a wider range of tires, there’s a bigger mismatch between these tires and others when it comes to getting these tires on rims even with the use of tire irons.
You don’t want to force these on at home and then have to deal with remounting them on the road.
That said, if you’ve got a wide outside rim that these go on and come off relatively easily, they are great, fast, low rolling resistance tires to ride.
Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance 11Storm Road Tubeless – Best Value
While I’d never buy a pair of tires to save $30 or 50 grams without considering more important performance criteria, Hutchinson Fusion 5’s lowest price and weight among the “what matters less” criteria certainly piqued my curiosity.
Among the more import criteria, these tires do have has a great road feel, ride comfortably and grip confidently. They are also amongst the easiest tires to install and pass the aerodynamic surrogate Rule of 105 measurements at the widest point of most tires though not as often at the brake track.
I’ve not seen independent tests of their rolling resistance so can’t judge this. Past Hutchinson Fusion 5 tubeless tires using compounds that pre-dated the 11Storm found in this model finished in the middle of the pack.
Schwalbe Pro One TLE
Schwalbe introduced the successor to the popular Pro One tubeless tire around the same time the ETRTO standards body had made clear their intention for tire labeled sizes to measure closer to the actual installed sizes on wider, modern wheels.
The updated Pro One with the orange 1 graphic is rumored to be made in the same molds as the original ones but now carry more accurate size labels (the new 25mm is the old 23mm, the new 28mm is the old 25mm, etc.). My measurements suggest that regardless of what molds they are using, they have effectively gotten their stated tire sizes closer than most other tubeless tires to the reality of the actual size on 19C and 21C rims.
The result is a more aero rim-tire combination than most of the other wheels on test. On the flip side, this current Pro One model provides only average comfort, a characteristic that was never a strength of the original Pro One.
Because they provide good grip and handling, the overall road feel falls in the middle of the pack. After reviewing independent rolling resistance tests, I also rate them at the average of the tires tested for this review.
The new Pro One carries several suffixes including EVO and TLE, the latter of which stands for “tubeless easy”. Ironically, getting these tires on and seated well enough to hold air with sealant can be a challenge for these tires in combination with some rims we tested.
That and their tendency, like their predecessors to cut more easily than others during our testing period make the Schwalbe Pro One TLE feel more like a fast yet temperamental race day tire than one I would confidently pick for lots of training and competitive rides.
Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Light TLR
Market price USD$65. Available through local bike shops that carry Bontrager and Trek products.
Bontrager’s R3 Hard-Case Light TLR tires are grippy, corner well at speed, and make for a comfortable ride at the right pressure. We didn’t get a chance to ride them on wet roads but the absence of any tread pattern to channel water away or help control the wind at higher yaw angles was a little concerning.
On most rims, this 26mm labeled tire ran afoul of the 105% rim to tire width ratio for optimum aero performance including on Bontrager’s own Aeolus XXX 6 nearly 28mm wide rim.
Perhaps because this is a newer tire, I’ve seen no rolling or puncture resistance testing data to compare it to other tires
It’s not the easiest tire to install (mount, inflate, seal, remove), but there are many worse and only a few better in this regard.
The R3 stands out by being 35-40 grams/tire heavier than the next group of heavy tires we tested and about 65 grams more than the lightest group.
Vittoria Corsa G+2.0 TLR
With all the acclaim for the chart-topping, low rolling resistance of Vittoria’s Corsa Speed Graphene pure racing tires, I was looking forward to testing the Corsa G+2.0 TLR, an update of their Corsa G+ TLR training and racing tire.
Unfortunately, it was a big disappointment.
Aerodynamically, the tire is wide, only meeting the Rule of 105 at the widest, normally middle section of a rim’s wall slightly over 28mm. That makes for a higher drag section from the brake track to the middle of the rim.
Worse, the very supple tire sidewalls made it difficult for the tire to inflate on every wheel I tried even with a compressor and the core valve removed. Without the rim walls to assist them, the Corsa G+2.0 TLR didn’t have enough strength to stand up on their own in rims wider than 29mm and just wouldn’t inflate.
This meant I could only inflate and test the tires on “narrower” wheels where the aerodynamics would be compromised.
On the road, the Corsa G+ 2.0 gripped and cornered well but wasn’t terribly comfortable at several inflation pressures I tried. And while I’ve not seen independent rolling resistance data on this new tire, testing of the old and new clincher version of the same tire shows that performance actually declined and would make it no better than an average performer.
* * * * *
Thank you for reading. Please let me know what you think of anything I’ve written or ask any questions you might have in the comment section below.
As new training and racing tubeless tires with puncture belts get introduced, I’ll add our reviews of them to this post.
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First published on August 9, 2020. Date of the most recent major update shown at the top of the post.