THE BEST TUBELESS TIRES
Summary: As new tubeless tires are introduced, I continue to test more of them and update my evaluations and comparative ratings. I recommend the 25c and 28c Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite TLR (available online here and at local bike shops) as one of the better-performing everyday tubeless tires with a puncture belt based on its superior aerodynamics, road feel, and ease of installation.
If you are skilled at installing even the toughest tubeless tires, the 25c Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL (available here and here) will be your best option for hooked rim wheels that have deep center channels as it has superior rolling resistance among all tubeless tires with a puncture belt. It is not compatible with hookless rims and the 28c model is less aero on all but the widest hooked rims.
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. They have different aero, rolling resistance, comfort, grip, handling, and installation strengths that force you to consider what wheels you ride and the type of riding you do when deciding which tires to buy.
Along with that, emerging views about which tire widths and inflation levels give you the best performance and new standards to make tubeless tires and wheels more consistent across them and compatible between them are enough to make your head spin nearly as fast as your wheels do.
And if all of that weren’t enough, good old concerns like a tire’s puncture resistance, weight, wear, or price play in the decision-making of some of us who historically focus on these better-understood measures.
With all of that going on, I’ve updated my evaluations and comparative rankings of tubeless tires road cycling enthusiasts who want an everyday tire with a puncture belt should consider based on a prioritized list of what I believe matters in choosing between them.
- The Best Gravel Tires
- Road Bike Wheels – How To Choose The Best For You
- The Best Carbon Disc Wheelset
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 lowest rolling resistance, and that install easily on your size 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.
However, if you don’t care about riding fast, average at least 18mph/29kph, or have wheels deeper than 40mm, then aerodynamics won’t matter to you.
Other considerations including puncture resistance, weight, wear, and price matter relatively less. That’s because they aren’t as important as the four that matter most to your performance and overall experience or that the differences between tires aren’t notable enough in most cases to outweigh the other criteria.
I’ll explain each of the criteria that matter most and matter less in the following sections.
1. Aerodynamics of the rim-tire combination
Josh Poertner was Zipp’s lead engineer during the development of the Fieldcrest wheelsets that, along with those from HED, first led the industry in search of new aero efficiencies. From wind tunnel testing, he 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”. “Control” meant getting the airflow that comes off your tire onto the rim to “stick” to your rim or flow alongside it smoothly enough to significantly reduce aerodynamic drag.
At less than 105%, airflow comes off your tires and diverts away from your rims. You get limited aero benefits from those 40mm and deeper carbon wheels you and I spent so much on.
Poertner 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 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 depending how much time your are riding into the wind vs. tucked away in the draft of a paceline.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not work that hard that long as punishment for picking the wrong tires.
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 measurements 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 eases a bit, I weigh it and then measure several rim dimensions.
First, I’ll measure the depth of the front and rear rims. Most are the same but not always.
Next, I’ll take down the inside rim width between the hooks or the full inside rim width if it is a hookless rim. I’ll then put my calipers across the rim’s outside width at the “brake track” or where one would be if it weren’t a disc brake wheel. If the rim has any variation in width such as a toroidal profile, I’ll also measure the rim’s maximum width.
Using a digital micrometer, I check these depths and widths at a half dozen places until I get a pretty good fix on the average of most of the measurements. While there are some outliers, typically there will be a variance of up to +/- 0.1mm across the places where I take these measurements.
For 25mm and 26mm labeled tires on the 19C and 21C (or 19mm and 21mm internal width) rims, I measure 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.
For a 28mm tire on 23C or 25C rims, I also inflate them to 60psi for these tests. That’s about 10psi more than would be recommended for a 150lb ride and 4psi more than for a 170lb rider but it’s a comparable benchmark.
The Zipp Pressure Guide came out more recently and recommends pressures more or less the same as 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 and Zipp guides. 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 measurements of 25mm and 28mm tires at pressures from 60 to 100psi on 19mm or wider rims to conclude that raising or lowering your pressure 10 psi will increase or decrease its width somewhere between 0.1mm to 0.3mm. 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. It won’t matter that much to your aero performance unless you are doing a 40K time trial type of event.
I measure new or minimally used tires (typically with under 250 miles) and, as with the rim measurements, use the calipers to get readings at a half dozen places across the widest part of each mounted and inflated tire.
Also, note that I’ve given you rim-tire combinations based on the maximum outside width. There is some discussion about the applicability of the Rule of 105 at the “brake track” vs. the maximum outside width but the research is not so comprehensive as to differentiate there. I’ve also seen far fewer new rims these days with big differences in outside rim widths than there were at the height of the toroid-shaped rim movement.
Should the Rule of 105 really be the Rule of 108?
Unless you put on new tires every 1000 km (620 miles), you need to account for the reality that tires will stretch and widen once you begin to ride them. How much? While I’ve measured mostly new tires, Jarno Bierman at Bicycle Rolling Resistance has done testing that sheds some interesting light on how tire performance and dimensions change over the lifespan of a tire.
He has an ongoing endurance test that tracks changes in the width, tread-thickness, and rolling resistance among other factors of a 28C Continental Grand Prix 5000 (non-tubeless) clincher at 1000km (620 miles) intervals. He’s found that the tire widened by 0.5mm or 1.8% at his first 1000km checkpoint but only another 0.2mm or under 0.7% all the way up to 5000km (3100 miles).
Most of us enthusiasts by definition ride 5000km (3100 miles) to 10,000 km (6200 miles) a year and might go through one or two pairs of tires a season. Based on what Jarno found in his endurance testing, that means our tires could be another 2 to 3% wider during most of the time we ride them, ie., after about 1000km or 620 miles.
If that’s the case, a Rule of 107 or Rule of 108 for a new tire would keep them aero and in sync with the Rule of 105 as the tires widen with use.
Using these guidelines, I’ve used a traffic light color-coding system in the results below to suggest what rim-tire combinations will clearly be aero over the life of your tires (green – Rule of 108), aero over the first 1000 miles or so (yellow – Rule of 105), and not ever aero (pink – <105%).
The hookless rims showing up on wheels now and likely even more in the future take us into a realm that I’ve only seen conjecture about to date. Specifically, those making wheels with hookless rims suggest those rims 1) make the tire sidewalls straighter and 2) create less turbulence at the interface of the rim-tire intersection. The graphics from Zipp below illustrate these arguments.
Despite not seeing tests to prove these claims, I’m willing to throw the hookless rims a few extra percentage points in the rim-tire rules based on what seems like reasonable points. So where the rim-tire ratio for a hookless rim is at least 105% I’ve given it the same green color as a hooked rim for 108%. Where the hookless rim-tire ratio is 102% to 104%, I’ve coded it the same yellow as the 105% to 107% of the hooked rims. Below 102%, pink for not passing the aero test.
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.
Results and key take-aways
Here are my key conclusions from measuring combinations of 8 tires, 4 of them in both 25mm and 28mm sizes, across 14 wheels with different inside and outside width dimensions.
First, the take-aways and results of 25c tires on wheels with 19mm and 21mm inside rim widths:
- The Measured Tire Width (MTW) of most 25c tires runs 26mm-27.5mm wide once mounted and inflated on modern rims with a measured inside width of 19mm to 21mm.
- For wheels with a 19mm inside rim width and at least 28mm outside width, you can find many 25c tires that will be aero over their lifetime judged by the Rule of 108.
- For wheels with a 21mm inside rim width and at least 29mm outside width, you can find many 25c tires that will be aero over their lifetime judged by the Rule of 108.
Next, my conclusion and measurements for 28c tires on those same wheels with 19mm and 21mm inside width rims.
- Most 28c tubeless road tires aren’t aero on 19mm or 21mm rims based on the Rule of 108 unless those rims exceed 30mm outside width.
Finally, here’s the picture for 28c tires on some of the latest hooked and hookless rim wheels that have 22mm to 25mm inside rim widths.
- Wider inside rim widths require even wider outside rim widths, ideally at least 32mm to create an aero rim to tire ratio with 28c tires.
As you can gather looking across these charts, the Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Light TLR tires in both 25C and 28C sizes are aero in more combinations than any of the other. The Schwalbe Pro One TLE, Specialized S-Works Turbo RapidAir, and Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL, roughly in that order, provide fewer aero combinations than the Bontragers.
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 or 108. However, too many of us roadies don’t set our pressures right and it can have a big effect on our speed and road feel – the comfort, handling, and grip provided by our tires.
There have been many articles published in recent years, mostly by tire and wheel makers, describing how over-inflated tires create energy losses (“impedance”) as our bodies absorb the road vibrations. These are different and can be far greater than the losses in rolling resistance (“hysteresis”) when tire casings deflect and recover to absorb imperfections in the road surface.
Getting your tire pressure right usually means, per this thinking, lowering that below where you’ve inflated it to in the past. The reduced impedance losses will be far greater than the increase in rolling resistance and make for a more comfortable ride while saving you energy or watts.
You can put those saved watts into your pedals for more speed over the whole ride, at key points during it, or just ride longer at a lower power level.
Use one of the modern tire pressure charts or calculators at these links from ENVE, Zipp, or Silca to guide you to the right tire pressure for you. Here’s an example of the pressure suggested for 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 a tire’s “road feel” – its comfort, handling, and grip – allowing us to more effectively differentiate between them.
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 25mm tubeless bike tires and some 28mm ones on 19C and wider wheels inflated to the right pressure that also meet the Rule of 105 or 108.
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 results, it is more easily quantified than aero performance or road feel.
However, the absolute results – usually stated in 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 (everyday tires 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 and is very difficult to consistently or comparatively test.
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 exponentially 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 the total aero drag shown above as the majority comes from your body and some from your bike.
But at the speeds we roadies ride, the difference in rolling resistance between the better tires is both less important than potential energy losses from a rim-tire combination that doesn’t meet the Rule of 105 or 108 (5 to 15-watt losses) or an overinflated tire that creates impedance losses and saps watts of energy from your body that could be put into your pedals for more speed.
Take a look at the chart below from Bicycle Rolling Resistance of tires in this review and other everyday tubeless tires with puncture belts I considered reviewing. At 60psi and 80psi, the pressures where we’ll be riding tires (or at least should be), the difference between the lowest rolling resistance Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL tire and the next three closest ones from Specialized, Schwalbe, and Michelin is 2-2.5 watts. The next group of tires from Vittoria, ENVE, Hutchinson, and Pirelli is another 2-2.5 watts more.
Those are small differences compared to potential aero and impedance losses.
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.
Newer, wider, deeper road tubeless wheelsets have a center channel in the rim bed that is supposed to be 2.6-3.4mm deep for hooked rims and 2.9 – 3.5mm for hookless ones per the 2020 ETRTO standard.
Some also have “bead locks” or shallower, narrower channels running inside the rim walls where the tire beads sit after the tire is installed and inflated. Those without locks have the horizontal rim bed meet the vertical rim wall with or without hooks.
Compare the tubeless optimized wheelset on the left with the classic clincher one on the right.
The channel is the key to getting your tires on. 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 your wheels.
Without using the channel, you probably won’t get your tires on. You’ll blister up your thumbs, abuse the rim beds and tape using tire levers, and likely swear till you are blue in the face.
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.
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 there than if it were in the channel.
IRC created this graphic to show the steps.
Here are a couple of 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 put on the tire, 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 if you don’t have a valve with a removable core through which you can add the sealant.
We’re seeing more wheels being introduced with hookless rims. They are less expensive to make and improve aero performance slightly. At 50 to 70psi pressures typical of what you’d use for 23C and 25C wheels with 28mm tires, the beads hold the tires in place without concern for them coming off the rim.
New or updated ETRTO and ISO standards established in 2020 define the rim diameter and bead lock tolerances for hooked and hookless rims. They also use a more modern rim width for tire makers to use in labeling the size of their tires. This means that tires should fit more interchangeably with rims and measure truer to size once installed and inflated.
Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. While I hope installation becomes simpler and more uniform as the next round of tubeless wheels and tires are introduced, the current reality is that some tires mount, inflate, seal, and can be removed more easily on some rims than others. This is important not only when you put new tires on but even more so if you 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 get on and off 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.
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.
Puncture resistance is most relevant to the tube and clincher tire world but matters much less in the tubeless one. Not only because of the role of tubeless sealant in filling the puncture but because tests run by BRR, Tour, and Wheel Energy show little difference in puncture resistance between everyday tubeless road tires with puncture belts.
By my lights, puncture resistance testing essentially evaluates the strength of your puncture belt and the thickness of your side walls. They don’t 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 different sizes in the bottom and side of the tire spinning at cycling speeds would be more useful in choosing between them than the small differences in puncture resistance. Another test that evaluated the relative 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 engineers will come up with them soon.
The most important thing you can do to overcome the inevitable puncture is to make sure you’ve got the right amount of sealant in your tires. I find 30 to 40ml (or about 1 to 1.5 ounces) is the right amount to initially get your tires sealed and protected against normal punctures. However, because water dry out over time, you’ll want to make sure to add sealant every 3-4 months to keep it at that level.
Of course, there are times when a puncture is so large that sealant won’t do the job. Usually, that only happens with a good-sized gash in the side or bottom of your tire or when you are racing on a tire with no puncture belt. For those situations, carrying a tube to inflate the tire and using a food wrapper or paper currency to block the tube from going through the gash is a good backup plan.
Using a set of all-season tubeless road or cross tires for commuting or on roads full of puncture-rich obstacles will give you better puncture resistance than everyday tires with puncture belts but will make for considerably poorer rolling resistance and road feel.
6. Weight – One of the arguments for tubeless road tires is that they weigh less than clinchers. As I mentioned above, this isn’t the case, at least not comparing today’s everyday tubeless tire setup, which includes sealant and tubeless valves to a clincher with a butyl tube.
Everyday tubeless road tires with puncture belts come in one of two forms, either TL or TLR.
Tubeless TL tires have a butyl lining bonded into them. The 25C TL tires in this review weigh an average of 270 grams on my scale and range from 243 to 292 grams.
TLR tires don’t have the butyl lining. Those in this review average 260 grams for the 25C size model and range from 236 to 289 grams.
Add to that another 30 grams for the ounce (30ml) of sealant and another 5 grams for the mid-depth tubeless valve.
Altogether then, you are looking at about 305 grams for a TL tire, sealant, and valve and 295 grams for a TLR set up. (Note that some TL tires are labeled TLR).
As a reference, a top everyday clincher tire like the 25C Continental Grand Prix 5000 weighs 220 grams. With a good butyl tube inside your Conti tire, add about 75 grams, bringing the total to about 295 grams.
So, a top clincher and tubeless setup are going to weigh essentially the same amount. No diff.
Sure, if you add 2 ounces of sealant instead of 1 (or 30 grams), you’ll add another 30 grams to tubeless. Or, if you want to go with a latex tube instead of a longer-lasting, lower-maintenance, less expensive butyl one, you can save another 30-40 grams per tire. Most roadies won’t.
While it might weigh on the minds of weight weenies, you’d be hard-pressed to tell these differences out on the road. That’s why I put weight in the matters less bucket of criteria.
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 and spend a lot of time installing and removing them to make way to test others.
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 too, some of which are harder on tires than others so wear is a personal thing anyway.
I and my fellow testers can tell which tires wear quickly within the first 1,000 miles and can project wear based on what we see during this interval.
While I and most roadies are frugal, I will pick a better-performing tire over a long-lasting one every day of the week. Spending $25 more per tire to get better performance or spending an extra $50 or so to replace worn tires with better ones even twice as often shouldn’t be a budget-buster for most of us road cycling enthusiasts.
8. Price – Most better-performing tubeless road tires with protection belts have a market price of around USD$60. You can see the $USD market prices for each of the tires I’ve reviewed in the table below and in USD$, £, € in each review.
One or two may sell for as much as $20 more or less depending on how they are priced or if they are on sale. 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 suggest you put the price of tubeless road tires at the bottom of the list of decision-making criteria.
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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 “-“. You can click the chart to enlarge it.
In the reviews that follow, I say more about why each tire rates where it does.
Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite TLR
Market price USD$60, £49, €58. Available online here at the Trek site and at local bike shops that carry Bontrager and Trek products.
This latest iteration of the Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite TLR was introduced at about the same time the latest ETRTO and ISO standards came out in 2020. It’s not unsurprising then that the 25c and 28c R3 tires I measured run truer to size than others once mounted and inflated on the range of wheels in our tests.
The result is that the R3s pass the Rule of 105 and 108 in combination with a range of 19C through 25C rims more often than any other tires we’ve tested. This should give you an aerodynamic benefit when riding on 40mm or deeper wheels at speeds greater than 18mph/29kph for the life of your tires.
Add to that a superior road feel on par with the Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL and Specialized S-Works Turbo RapidAir. Despite the “Hard-Case Lite” name that might suggest otherwise, the Bontrager R3 is actually quite comfortable, feels quite supple, and handles well when cornering at high speeds.
As a bonus, they install far easier than the Conti and Spech. And by “install” I’m referring to how easily they go on, inflate, seal, and can be removed. While I nor my fellow testers have flatted on the R3s over many miles and independent tests show better than average puncture resistance, the knowledge of how easily you can take this tire off and put it back on can greatly reduce the anxiety some have about wrestling with a tire that will need a tube if you get a nasty flat that sealant won’t plug while out on a ride.
The 25mm and 28mm tires we’ve been riding have shown little wear and are compatible with both hooked and hookless rims. And their $60/tire price is similar to or lower than most of the tires in this review.
Much worse than average rolling resistance is the major negative with the R3 tires. This mars an otherwise stellar report. It also adds to the complications involved in buying tubeless tires these days.
But if you prioritize aero performance, road feel, and ease of installation and have a relatively narrow rim (19mm inside and 28mm outside or less, or 21mm inside and 28.5mmm outside or less), or insist on riding 28mm tires or have hookless rims, the Bontrager R3 tire is going to be your best performing option.
If you aren’t riding fast enough to get serious aero gains (20-25mph/32-40kph), prefer 28mm or wider tires, have rims with bead hooks, or have a shop or friend install your tires, the R3 isn’t going to be as fast the Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL.
If you are unsure, I encourage you to review the above discussion and charts in the What Matters Most section.
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Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL
Market price USD$62, £45, €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 and installing them (or attempting to) 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 their low rolling resistance numbers still lead all other everyday tubeless tires that have a puncture belt and a lot of tubeless race tires without one.
Using the rule of 105 and 108 as a surrogate, the 25c Conti GP5K TL’s aero performance is also good on the range of 19mm and 21mm hooked rims with varying outside widths that I mounted them on.
But they don’t mount or come off easily on those rims. The tire beads are very stiff and when new, the tires seem to have a bit smaller diameter than most. That combination is just enough to make them quite tough to get on unless your rim has a deeper center channel than most. Getting them off can be even tougher if your rims have a bead lock. It’s taken me marginally less effort as some I’ve been using tires have aged and stretched a bit but it’s still never easy to get these on and off.
You don’t want to force tires on at home and then have to deal with remounting them on the road if you aren’t skilled with tubeless. Yes, I ride them and have fortunately never flatted. But, I know what I’ll be up against if I ever do and the sealant doesn’t fill. That’s probably why I try to stay on well-paved roads when I’m riding my Contis.
As we come out of the relatively standard-free decade of tubeless wheels and tires, I can’t blame these issues exclusively on Continental. They were late to the tubeless party (2019) and appear to have chosen a conservative path judging from the tight fit they get on rims likely as a result of the tire’s stiff bead and its smaller diameter.
Continental has also clearly stated that the Grand Prix 5000 TL is not compatible with hookless rims. That means you can’t use them on some of the newer and less expensive wheels from the likes of ENVE and Zipp.
That said, if you’ve got a rim that these go on and come off relatively easily or are skilled with tubeless tires, these are fun, fast, low rolling resistance tires.
For the rest of us, I expect or at least hope that Continental will introduce an updated version (Grand Prix 5000S II TL?) that is totally consistent with the new ETRTO tolerances for wheel and tire diameter and that has a bead that is easier to install on both hooked and hookless rims. Time will tell.
Specialized S-Works Turbo RapidAir
Market price USD$80, £65, €72. Available at the best prices through these links to top-ranked store Competitive Cyclist in the US/CA and at recommended store Tredz for UK/EU residents where you can receive a 10% discount exclusively for In The Know Cycling readers with code ITKTDZ10.
The Specialized S-Works Turbo RapidAir tubeless tires are excellent performers at the right pressures on the right wheels.
They have a great road feel, both supremely comfortable and grippy on straights and in corners. Riding the S-Works Turbo RapidAir gives me great confidence in any road handling situation.
Specialized makes a 26c version of the Turbo RapidAir rather than the 25c size that most tubeless tire brands come in. But as most 25c tires measure 1-2mm wider than their implied 25mm width and the Turbo RapidAir 26c measures pretty close to 26mm, the size designation difference seems irrelevant
What is relevant is that the 26c Turbo RapidAir clears the Rule of 105 and 108 for good aero performance in combination with as many 19mm and 21mm rims as any other tire I tested.
The 28c Turbo RapidAir needs to be mounted on a rim with an outside width of about 31mm or wider to follow the rule. This tire may have been designed for Specialized’s Roval division aero CLX64 wheelset as its one of the few that lives by the rule.
Rolling resistance is in the group of chasers just a couple of watts off of the Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL. Unless you’re time trialing, this amount of rolling resistance difference is less important than the Turbo RapidAir’s aero performance and road feel.
Putting these tires on the right wheels is key to removing them when you need to. Either the Turbo RapidAir’s bead diameter is larger than in most tubeless tires or the diameter of the bead lock on rims made by others is smaller than those on Rovals. The net result is that I found it next to impossible to remove these from non-Roval 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 was also a little embarrassing when I showed up at my LBS asking for one of the stronger techs with bigger hands than mine to remove them from my rims when I couldn’t.
Fortunately, most of them are bigger, stronger, faster, and don’t make fun of me when I drop in for something like this. Bringing a dozen donuts along with my stuck tire also helps.
The RapidAir tires are a bit pricey, $20/tire more than the average model in this category and $40/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.
Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance 11Storm Road Tubeless
Market price USD$39, £28, €40. Available at the best prices through these links to top-ranked store Merlin Cycles, Tredz (10% discount exclusively for In The Know Cycling readers with code ITKTDZ10), and other recommended stores at Know’s Shop.
While I’d never buy a pair of tires to save $30 or 50 grams without also considering more important performance criteria, the Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance 11Storm’s lowest price and weight among the “what matters less” criteria certainly piqued my curiosity.
Among the more important criteria, these tires ride comfortably and grip confidently though not to the level of the Bontrager, Continental, or Specialized. The 25c tire is also amongst the easiest ones to install and passes the aerodynamic surrogate Rule of 105 and 108 measurements for a great number of 19mm and 21mm inside width rims.
While I’ve not seen independent tests of their rolling resistance, results of a Hutchinson tubeless tire using the same 11Storm compound without a puncture belt landed it in the third tier of tires in this comparative review, about 5 watts below the benchmark Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL and 3 watts below the second tier. They’ve also not been tested for compatibility with hookless rims.
But if you’re a budget-weenie and don’t need the best road feel, handling, and rolling resistance, it’s hard to deny the value you get from these tubeless tires.
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 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 carries more accurate size labels (the new 25c is the old 23c, the new 28c is the old 25c, etc.). My measurements suggest that regardless of what molds they are using, they have effectively gotten their stated tire sizes closer than most others to actual tire widths after mounting and inflation on 19mm through and 25C rims.
The result is good aero performance for rim-tire combinations with the 25c tire but not for the 28c on all but rims whose outside width is around 31mm or more. As I’ve described in the What Matters Most section above, this is based on using the Rule of 105 and 108 rim to measured tire width ratio as a surrogate for expensive wind tunnel testing.
The Pro One is also compatible with hookless rims on wheels used by Zipp and ENVE among others.
Out on the road, these Schwalbe provide only average comfort, a characteristic that was never a strength of the original Pro One. But because these tires 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, just a couple of watts off the pace of the Continental.
Depending on the retailer, the 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. Not the worst but not always the easiest either.
That and their tendency, like their predecessors to cut and wear 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.
Michelin Power Road TLR
While an everyday tubeless tire, the Michelin Power Road TLR is the only one in this comparative review without a puncture belt. Instead, Michelin added a fourth 120TPI (thread per inch) layer to the casing in place of the belt and a bead-to-bead liner to improve its puncture resistance.
Bicycle Rolling Resistance’s puncture (and rolling) resistance tests of this tire came in very similar and in some cases better than other tires in this comparative review. That, along with the Power Road TLR being the first tubeless road tire offered by this brand with a long history of making good road tires convinced me to give them a try.
Remember what I wrote above about puncture resistance is one of the things that “matter less” and rolling resistance is less important than some of the other things “matter more?”
Well, I found both to be true in this test of these Michelin tires.
On all but the 19mm rims with a nearly 29mm outside width and 21mm rims with a 31mm outside width, the Power Road failed the Rule of 108 for new tires that ensure it will pass the original Rule of 105 for the life of the tire after it stretches. While a relatively new tire, this Michelin already measured 2-3mm wider than the 25mm width suggested by its 25c designation.
And while the Power Road tires mount and uninstall easily, they don’t hold air the way an internally lined tire should. They would lose 20-30 psi overnight and, worse, 10-20psi over a several-hour ride. Retaping the wheels didn’t do the trick but doubling the 1 oz of sealant I normally put in each tire did. To be sure it wasn’t the wheel or my tape jobs, I subsequently mounted another TLR tire on the same rims with 1 oz of sealant and have only had routine air loss.
It’s clearly not an issue as long as you remember to double your normal sealant volume. And while I’ve said weight is also something that matters relatively less, you essentially add 30g to the weight of each tire by doubling the amount of sealant based merely on tire construction. That’s kind of like an “own goal” though you’re the only one that will know you’ve scored on yourself.
On the road, they feel quite grippy – actually more like “tacky”. They ride quite comfortably perhaps because they are a bit wider than most 25c tires. Overall, the Power Road TLRs provide a good ride but not to the level of the best and more similar to the Schwalbe or Hutchinson tires.
These haven’t been tested yet by ENVE for hookless compatibility.
ENVE SES Road Tire
ENVE has earned a reputation for high-performance wheels. Looking to complement their road wheels better than they must have concluded tires made by others did, the ENVE SES Road Tire line was introduced in 2020 with black and tan walled tires in sizes 25c, 27c, 29c, and 31c.
The seemingly odd or at least unique combination of sizes are actually intentionally designed to signal the actual tire widths once mounted and inflated on ENVE wheels with 19mm internal width rims (25c=25mm, 27c=27mm) and 21mm internal width rims (29c=29mm, 31c=31mm)
After testing pre-release 25c and production versions of the SES 25c and 29c tires, I’ve concluded that those tires made by others – or at least many of those in this comparative review – do a better job than the ENVE tires on both ENVE wheels and hoops made by other major brands.
Using the Rule of 105 or 108 to suggest the aerodynamic performance you would likely see in a wind tunnel, the SES 25 should have quite good aero performance on wheels like the ENVE 5.6 disc with its hooked, 19.6mm front rim, the hookless, 21mm ENVE 45 Foundation and similar width wheels I measured from the likes of Zipp and Roval.
However, the SES 29 proved too wide to suggest good aero performance on wheels using rims with internal 21mm, 23mm, or 25mm widths, either hooked or hookless. The 27c ENVE tire would likely be more aero on their 25mm internal width ENVE 3.4 AR and 4.5 AR wheels and others in 23mm to 25mm width range.
On the road, I found the comfort and handling of the ENVE SES Road Tires to be adequate and provided confidence but not more than average in their comfort, grip or handling. They didn’t make me want to go out and test the limits of my speed or endurance.
I actually found the tan walled SES 25 quite buzzy even after several hundred miles and the SES 29 to be only slightly less so. The tires were nearly as loud as the freewheeling sound that comes from ENVE’s hubs. I actually don’t mind the relatively low-frequency acoustics of ENVE’s rear hubs when coasting, I just don’t want to hear that volume of sound all the time coming from my tires.
Independent testing has shown that these ENVE tires are in the third rolling resistance tier (see chart above), certainly not where you’d expect an ENVE product to land.
Unfortunately, the only place where the ENVE Road Tire seemed to match established tires like the Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL and Specialized S-Works Turbo RapidAir was in the competition for how hard it is to install these tires. The ENVEs are darn near beastly with their beads the stiffest I’ve come across.
Yes, I could get them on but doing so took 3 or 4 tire levers worth of lifts to accomplish the tasks. They were no easier to get on the ENVE wheels (5.6 disc, 45 Foundation, and 3.4 AR) with their supposedly deep channels than on wheels from other brands that I tried.
Mercifully, once on the wheels, the beads lock out well and 1-1.5 ounces of sealant does the trick to hold the pressure as well as any tubeless tire does.
ENVE has been transparent about having these tires made by Tufo, an established Eastern European tire producer. As with other wheelset companies that took a few iterations to get improvements in their tire lines – Mavic and Bontrager being notable examples – I expect or at least hope that ENVE will keep working to raise the performance level of their SES Road Tires.
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 tire.
Unfortunately, it was a big disappointment.
Aerodynamically, the tire is wide, seldom meeting the Rule of 105 or 108.
Worse, the very supple tire sidewalls made it difficult for the tire to inflate on a couple of the wider 21mm wheels 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.
The Corsa G+ 2.0 gripped and cornered well but wasn’t terribly comfortable at several inflation pressures I tried. And the independent rolling resistance data on this new tire is higher than most in this review.
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Thanks and enjoy your rides safely! Cheers, Steve
First published on August 9, 2020. Date of the most recent major update shown at the top of the post.