Road Bike Tires | Recommendations
It makes contact with the ground, is the number one wear part and has to meet many different requirements at the same time: the road bike tire. In addition to a desirable puncture protection, the tire should roll easily, have good damping properties, offer reliable grip and of course not be too heavy. Road bike tires used to be barely 20mm wide, but widths up to 32mm are common today. We have summarized for you whether this development makes sense and which advantages and disadvantages result from it.
General information on road bike tires
The first set of tires that is installed on your new road bike is usually driven without having to worry about it. But at the latest when the tires are worn out and you are looking for replacement, the large selection that the market offers you becomes clear. In no case should you underestimate the riding characteristics, the differences of which can be experienced even in a direct comparison by newcomers to road bikes. Whether a tire lies well on the road or jumps, is nervous or good-natured in its steering behavior, feels hard or has a damping character directly influences the riding behavior and the comfort of your bike. Then the question arises of the right tire width and the right model or maybe you have other demands on your tires in the meantime because your driving habits have changed.
Often you only notice how important the tire is when it runs out of air. Suddenly nothing works and the tour or race comes to an abrupt end. Blessed is the one who made provisions and can help himself. A suitable replacement tube in the saddle bag and a mini pump on the bottle holder or in the jersey pocket have already saved many a trip. In many areas there are already practical tube vending machines whose exact location can be localized via the Internet – very helpful in the event of a breakdown on a Sunday or a holiday.
Road cyclists with a tubular system can still drive slowly despite a flat foot (a great advantage of this system), whereas tubeless riders can also pull in a tube … if they get the tight-fitting tire off the rim. A question of the right tool kit.
Does it make sense for you to switch to a different system? The best way to answer this question is to know which road bike category you are in and what your tire requirements are.
Weight, rolling resistance and puncture protection are the three major factors that significantly influence the properties of a road bike tire. This is followed by personal preferences, experience, price, handling and appearance.
Important tips for road bike tires
In the 80s and early 90s, 19mm wide clincher tires with inner tubes were standard on road bikes, today tire widths up to 32mm are increasingly being found in a wide variety of variants. The tire widths and types are mainly based on the intended use, as well as the comfort and puncture protection.
In addition to the classic clincher tires, there are also the lighter and space-saving folding tires, both of which have to be driven with a tube. Tubeless tires, on the other hand, require special, so-called tubeless-ready rims and screwed valves, which result in an airtight system with a sealing milk. In the tubular system, the tire and tube are sewn or vulcanized together and must be carefully glued to the carbon or aluminum rim.
In the past few years, the trend towards wider tires in the racing bike segment has been clearly recognizable and it definitely has technical advantages: wider tires simply roll better, which has also been shown in numerous test series. In addition, wider tires offer greater puncture protection and more comfort thanks to the lower air pressure with which they can be driven.
But be careful, wide tires don’t just have advantages. On the one hand, they are somewhat heavier than narrow tires due to the higher use of materials, and for some riders they are compared to sluggish in handling and acceleration. Not all road bikes offer sufficient tire clearance for wide tires, often the brakes, the fork and the frame are the limiting sizes. When it comes to air resistance, the wide tires also perform worse than their narrow counterparts.
The majority of road bike tires, by the way, come completely without or with a minimalistic profile without any real function, as they are designed for use on the road and are intended to create the greatest possible contact between the tire and the road. Slight markings in the tread are usually wear markers that show you when the tire has worn off. With proven all-weather tires, however, there are small channels or a roughened tread, for example to drain water better and offer more grip. Only the tires for the gravel and cyclocross drivers have a distinctive profile, as they often ride on changing surfaces away from paved roads.
What is the proper tire pressure for a road bike?
The correct tire pressure depends on the load (body weight), the tire width, the surface and of course your personal preferences. As a guide, you can set the tire pressure using the following table – depending on the surface, you can deviate 0.5 bar up or down.
The common tire sizes for road bikes today are:
- 23mm – the tire for purists and lightweight fans who like to accept a loss of comfort for a lower weight and for whom a racing bike simply has to stand on narrow tires.
- 25mm – the golden mean between light and comfortable for the racing cyclist, who competes in bike marathons
- 28mm – the perfect tire for touring riders who want to drive quickly and comfortably in any weather and even on poor surfaces. The few grams of extra weight are gladly accepted for the increase in puncture protection.
Tires for Racing Road Bikes & Aero Bikes
Fast time riders and lightweight fans usually want to save weight and are happy to forego comfort and even accept slight losses in rolling resistance, which is why they usually drive with profile-free folding tires in 23 or 25 mm width on a clincher rim. If the narrow tires alone are not light enough, switch to the tubular system, which, however, requires a special and more expensive tubular rim made of carbon. If you want to increase puncture protection, orient yourself more towards tubeless, here too both rim and tire must be tubeless-ready.
Bikes in the racing category are best used with folding tires and inner tubes. This is easy to handle and changing a tube is not a problem for most cyclists. It is important to use a correctly fitting rim tape, since especially with rim brakes great frictional heat is transmitted, which can cause the tube to burst, e.g. on long downhill runs. A suitable replacement tube and a handy tire lever are sufficient for repairs on the go.
If you are not afraid of assembly work and regular maintenance, you can increase the puncture protection with a tubeless system. In order to seal the system with the required sealing milk, tubeless-ready rims and tires are required. Small punctures are sealed immediately by the sealing milk contained in the tire. Rather rare and unusual in the race category, as it can cause problems due to the high tire pressure and has no measurable advantages.
Fast time trials who want to make the financial investment can save even more weight with a tubular system and even continue to drive in the event of a breakdown. The carbon rim has a special shape, which increases the strength and on which the tubular tire is glued. Installation requires a certain amount of experience and is rather unsuitable for beginners. Professionals swear by this system because the rim is much lighter and more stable without the usual rim flange. Due to the price and effort, more for purists and very ambitious racers in competition, where not every gram matters.
The most popular tires in the Race / Aero category:
- Continental Grand Prix 4000 S II
- Continental Sprinter / 4000 / Competition
- Michelin Pro 4
- Schwalbe Pro One
Tires for Touring Bikes & Endurance Bikes
Touring riders in the popular endurance category now roll on 28mm wide tires. Because they dampen more due to their larger volume and can therefore offer more comfort, the longer you sit on the bike, the more they play out their advantages. Since lightweight construction is not the primary goal of an endurance road bike, the advantages of puncture protection, comfort and easy rolling behavior outweigh the added weight and slight loss in handling.
Endurance racing bikes are also best used in everyday life with folding tires and inner tubes. This is easy to handle and changing a tube is not a problem for most cyclists. It is important to use a correctly fitting rim tape, since with rim brakes great frictional heat is transmitted, which can cause the tube to burst, e.g. on long downhill runs. This aspect is even omitted for wheels with disc brakes. A suitable replacement tube and a handy tire lever are sufficient for repairs on the go.
Road cyclists keen to experiment can also try out the tubeless system. The first assembly is a bit more complex because a compressor is required, but the advantages of this system fit well with this road bike category, as the tires tend to be driven with less pressure. It offers high puncture protection by immediately sealing small punctures when driving, and the lack of tubing compensates for the weight disadvantage of the wider tire. In the event of a major defect, a tube can still be pulled in afterwards.
The most popular tires in the Endurance category:
- Continental Grand Prix 4 Season
- Continental 4000 S II
- Schwalbe Pro One
- Michelin Pro4
Tires for Gravel Bikes & Cyclocross Bikes
Road cyclists of the Gravel and Cyclocross category are often away from paved roads, so the wheels are ideally equipped with profiled tires up to a width of up to 43mm. The width and profile ensure good grip on forest and gravel soils. However, since these tires tend to be driven at a lower pressure, the risk of puncture on a clincer rim with a tube increases.
The tubeless system offers exactly the advantages that racing bikes of the gravel and cyclocross category need, after all the system comes from the MTB area, where you can also ride with low tire pressures. Tube defects due to a breakdown no longer exist and, despite lower air pressure, increased puncture protection can be achieved. In the event of a major defect, a tube can still be pulled in retrospectively, provided that the appropriate tool is used.
Tubular tires are the first choice for racing cyclists in this category, because they offer several advantages: on the one hand, they can be driven with a very low tire pressure by 1 bar without the risk of a tube defect due to puncture, and on the other hand they offer they have an enormously high grip due to the complete utilization of the contact surface.
If you are afraid of the assembly effort, you can also drive with folding tires and tubes in this category. This is easy to handle and changing a tube is not a problem for most cyclists. It is important to use a correctly fitting rim tape, since especially with rim brakes great frictional heat is transmitted, which can cause the tube to burst, e.g. on long downhill runs. In this category, however, disc brakes are mostly installed on the current wheels. A suitable replacement tube and a handy tire lever are sufficient for repairs on the go. However, the increased risk of breakdown at low air pressures must be taken into account here.
The most popular tires in the Gravel / Cyclocross category:
- Panaracer GravelKing
- Challenge Strada Bianca
- Clement PDX Cross
- Dugast Typhoon
- Schwalbe X-One
Tubes, valves and sealing milk for road bike tires
The majority of the racing bike tubes are made of butyl (butyl rubber). It is a very elastic and extremely airtight synthetic rubber. Due to the great elasticity, a butyl tube can be used for several different tire widths. For example, a tube for 23mm tires also fits 25mm tires and vice versa. From a width of 28mm, suitable tubes should also be used here, the recommended tire width is on the package and the tube itself.
The disadvantage of butyl tubes is that they are relatively heavy (75 to 120 grams). There are so-called light or extra light tubes that only weigh 60 grams, but the susceptibility to breakdowns increases significantly even with small punctures.
PU (polyurethane) tubes
PU, or in this case thermoplastic, is actually known from plastic pipes or the like, but more recently, extremely high-quality tubes have been made from the aging-resistant material. These are extremely light and yet puncture-proof and puncture-proof. On the negative side, tubes made of PU are quite expensive and only keep the air for a short time. For example, the tire pressure should be checked and adjusted before each journey. In addition, the tubes are almost inelastic, which is why only the right size with a certain tire size can be used.
Latex tubes are more elastic and puncture-proof than their butyl counterparts, but they hold the air significantly worse. Due to the high elasticity, latex-equipped tires roll off particularly well, but here too, as with PU tubes, it is necessary to pump again quite often. In the meantime, only a few manufacturers still produce latex tubes because the advantages hardly outweigh the negative sides.
The biggest disadvantage of latex tubes is their sensitivity to heat. During heavy braking maneuvers such as long downhills, latex tubes can suddenly fail and burst. Of course, this aspect does not apply to disc rims.
If you want to ride tubes on your racing bike, it’s best to use the standard butyl version. It offers the best puncture protection and keeps the tire pressure constant for a long time. Any weight saving on the tube is expensive to buy with a high susceptibility to breakdowns.
Even if there are different valve types, ultimately only the Sclaverand valve, also known as the French valve, is recommended for use on the road bikes.
The Sclaverand valve is installed on racing bikes as standard, because its small diameter makes it ideal for narrow racing rims. The biggest advantage, however, is the small lock nut, which securely closes the valve seat and prevents unwanted opening and thus escape of air.
In addition, Sclaverand valves have a removable valve core, which is practical for cleaning dirty valves. This point is particularly interesting for tubeless systems because the sealing milk can stick the valve.
Sealing milk for tubeless tires
Most tubeless valves are designed as Sclaverand valves. What is special here is that the valves are not connected to the tube, but are inserted in the rim by means of a sealing rubber and are pulled into the rim hole by a nut placed on the outside. This seals the tubeless valve and prevents the air from escaping.
The sealing milk is a white, slightly viscous mass, which is either filled directly into the tire during tire assembly or later supplied via the valve. About 25 to 40 ml of sealing milk are required per tire. After filling, the tire should ideally be inflated with a compressor until it audibly clicks into place on the flanks in the rim. It can be helpful to lightly wet the tire flanks with detergent. Then the sealing milk is evenly distributed inside the tire by turning the impeller. From now on, small punctures in the tire will be sealed by the sealing milk while driving. The sealing milk should be replaced every few months.