Few things will impact your ride more than good bike tires, but there's a lot more to these rings of rubber than most people realize.
In a hurry? The test winner after 12 hours of research:
continental gator hardshell
Why is it better?
Last Updated: January 2, 2019
By Max Shumpert: This article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information regarding bike tires available for those who are interested in upgrading your bicycle. The best 5 available have changed, and information has been added to assist individuals in finding the best bike tires currently available on the market. The FAQ has also been updated.
Continental Gator Hardshell
Maxxis Minion DHF 27.5 x 2.3
Continental Grand Prix 4
Vittoria Corsa G+ Road Tire
Schwalbe Hans Dampf Super Gravity Tubeless Tire
Best Road Bike Tires
These are the tires that most people will end up buying, and they'll work well for both road and commuter scenarios. If you're in need of mountain bike tires, keep scrolling down to get to them.
Continental Grand Prix Clinchers
When safety matters, it's always worth looking for the best - and these tires from German manufacturer Continental are easily among the best road bike tires for the money.
Introducing the Continental Grand Prix 4 Season Tires
Continental's Grand Prix 4-Season tires are made tough, with a particular emphasis on a double layer of protection under the tread that helps to maximize the resistance to cuts and punctures.
We were also impressed by the addition of a carbon compound, which reduces the wear on the tire and helps it last. This is no minor issue, considering these tires have been used in long-distance races.
Some reviewers also reported getting creative with these tires, using a combination of a slightly wider tire and a little lower pressure to provide added grip without reducing performance.
However, people also noted that these tires, despite their intended durability, wore out much faster than they should have. Even the best tires can have defective units, so you shouldn't try to get new tires right before you need them.
We'd also like to have seen a thicker tread, especially on the sides where it would improve their cornering ability. Long-distance tires like these are meant for smooth, wide turns, and some people need more than that.
These usually retail in the $50 to $70 range per-tire. Wider versions trend more expensive, although Amazon has good deals on all of them.
These are proven tires that use the industry's latest materials and techniques to make tough, high-quality wheels. If you're looking for a robust blend of performance and durability, these are the first tires you should look at.
CONTINENTAL HARDSHELL TIRES
If you're looking for durability over performance, Continental's Hardshell tires are an excellent place to begin your search.
Introducing the Continental Gator Hardshell Tires
We're always in favor of durable tires, and Continental's Hardshell line is among the most durable on the market. They're rated for as high as 120 PSI, allowing them to carry more weight (from people, groceries, etc.) than most other tires on the market.
Many reviewers who rode the tires long-term also noted having few or no flats despite heavy use. This is rarer than many people realize - flats are almost inevitable when riding more than a certain distance, so their rarity on these tires is a testament to the ruggedness and durability these wheels provide.
However, while these tires have outstanding durability, they don't have quite the same level of performance as the Grand Prix 4 Season option. That puts them squarely in the 'casual' category (even for long-distance riding), rather than the 'professional' range the best sport bike tires can be found in.
Additionally, some people may find it hard to locate stock outside the two most common sizes. Continental does produce more sizes, but their scarcity isn't helpful if that's the size you need. This is especially true if you want to go up a size.
These retail from just under $40 to just above $70 per tire. Amazon has been known to sell them right at the bottom end of this range.
While these aren't the best tires for a real sporting event, Continental's Hardshells are easily among the best puncture resistant bike tires. Ideal buyers include long-distance riders, casual bikers, and commuters.
Vittoria Graphene Road Tires
With their sleek design, Vittoria's tires are all about mixing comfort, quality, and performance.
Introducing the Vittoria Corsa G+ Road Tires
These high-performance tires are all about speed. If you're riding down the open road, you're going to be going faster (with less effort) than almost any other tires you could be riding on.
Despite the smooth nature of the wheels, Vittoria has managed to include an additional graphene compound that helps to reduce the wear and tear on the tread.
That said, many reviewers noted that these tires got flats particularly easily, sometimes in as little as the first few rides. One reviewer noted that their tire had torn from metal debris that most other brands wouldn't have been bothered by.
The frequent flats and tears here also mean you'd have to replace them significantly more often - sometimes as fast as every few weeks - which makes buying in bulk the only practical option if you're going to get these tires.
These tires usually retail from the low $40's to the high $90's for each unit. Amazon sells these on the low end for the common sizes, but expect to pay a little more for the 600c or the largest 700c.
In short, these are excellent tires if you're looking for great performance on clean terrains, such as some indoor biking areas or cleared sporting events. You may want to buy something a little more robust if you plan to ride outside the recommended terrains.
Best Mountain Bike Tires
These tires are designed specifically to help you tear through even the roughest terrain.
Schwalbe Mountain Bike Tires
If you're looking for mountain bike tires with excellent grip, these may be the tires you're looking for.
Introducing the Schwalbe Hans Dampf Mountain Bike Tires
These are unusually thick tires, so they don't require a lot of air to use properly. Some reviewers noted that inflating them to as low as 17 PSI worked for helping them keep their grip on trails and terrains, and that's always good to hear.
The Hans Dampf line got the best reviews for muddy terrain, where the relative sparseness of the knobs helps to prevent buildup and keep the tires on the ground.
Schwalbe provides several different versions of these tires, from an all-mountain version to a light, puncture-resistant SnakeSkin model and a heavier, more durable SuperG line.
However, the side knobs on these wheels are known to wear out quickly, which reduces your ability to keep control of the bike while taking corners.
A few other reviewers noted that the tires aren't very good at holding up under the strain of competitive biking - and when you're going over rough terrain, you do want tires that are up to the challenge.
These tires retail from the low $40's to the mid $150's each. Amazon usually offers the in-stock versions for around $70, which may be the best price you'll find.
Essentially, these are mid-range mountain tires ideal for riders aiming to go over moderately rough terrain on a regular basis. They don't have the extreme performance of some mountain tires, but most riders will find them to be a reliable, affordable option.
Maxxis Mountain Bike Tires
Professional-grade tires are better than amateur tires, and Maxxis' mountain bike tires more than deserve their reputation for quality.
Introducing the Maxxis Minion Mountain Bike Tires
Despite their deceptively simple appearance, these smooth black tires offer aggressive grips and control over rough terrain.
That would be good all by itself, but Maxxis has also managed to make the tire tough enough to withstand the impacts and sharp edges of mountain bike terrain, and none of the reviewers we saw found them lacking.
Several reviewers noted that they got just one tire to install on the front. If you want more control of your bike without sacrificing the strength of your existing rear wheel, getting just one Minion works.
If there's one thing we dislike about this tire, it's the lack of different sizes. The Maxxis Minion has one size, and if it doesn't fit your bike, you're out of luck. That's a real shame since it's an excellent tire overall - and we hope Maxxis will branch out a little and provide for the rest of the market.
The Maxxis Minion typically retails in the low $60's per-tire.
As far as the best mountain bike tires go, the Maxxis Minion may well be the best value for your money. It's durable, grips most terrain well, and can withstand even the rigors of most competitions. If you're looking for a mountain bike tire and still don't know which one to get, this is a good choice.
What are Bike Tires?
As the name implies, bike tires are a type of tire designed specifically for bikes.
They come in three categories: Road, Mountain, and Commuter. More information on these is available below, but first, let's look at the parts of each tire.
Anatomy of a Bike Tire
Bike tires have many different parts, but the five sections below are the most important to consider when you're buying tires.
The Bead is a thin line of material that helps to hold the tube and casing in place when the tire is under pressure. After all, the last thing you want is for your tire to pop off the rim when you're inflating it.
There's usually one bead on each side of the tire - anything that varies from this is an unusual tire design.
Beads are always made of a non-stretching material to ensure they don't bend under the significant pressure placed on them. Steel is a common choice for cheaper tires, while well-made tires often use Kevlar beads instead.
The casing is a cover for the inner tube of the bike, and the beads run through the casing to keep everything in place.
Aside from protecting the inner part of the tire, the primary goal of the casing is to both resist internal stretching while simultaneously conforming to the shape of the ground.
Casings don't vary much regardless of the type of tire you get. Almost all casings are made from nylon, but not woven together (which helps to reduce wear and improve the longevity of the tire).
The Sidewall is a particular part of the casing. Unlike the outside of the tire, the sidewall is never meant to be in contact with the ground.
Sidewalls come in two common forms. The first, known as a gum wall, uses natural rubber as a protective layer. This type of sidewall provides a decent amount of damage protection for the tire and is ideal for buyers who prioritize safety.
The other type of sidewall is the skin wall, which has little or no rubber along the outside. This reduces the rolling resistance of the tire (improving its overall performance), but reduces the damage protection and raises the possibility of the tire being punctured from the side.
Sub-treads are an optional component of tires. When present, they provide additional protection against punctures.
Most sub-treads are placed directly underneath the main tread and are made from material like nylon or Kevlar.
Sub-treads are a good choice if you find you've been getting flats on a regular basis. They're also a good investment if you tend to ride over rough terrain (gravel, dangerous objects on sidewalks, etc.), but they aren't necessary for rides over safe terrain.
The tread is the part of the tire that contacts the ground. Treads come in several styles:
Bike Tire Types
Bikes come in several main types, including road, mountain, and commuter. These are quite distinct in construction, so here are the differences you need to know.
Road Bike Tires
These tires are designed specifically for travel over asphalt, sidewalks, and other smooth terrains - though many will do just fine on road-like conditions such as hardpacked trails.
Road Tire Dimensions
Road bikes are designed to hold specific tire sizes, and the best road bike tires fit into this standard. For most road bikes, this is 700c in diameter and 23mm wide at the beads. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has regulations for bike tires that most manufacturers follow, and for tires of this size, that number is 622.
Accordingly, your tire should have both "700c x 23mm" and "23-622" listed on it.
Always check your bike's manual (or the tires the bike was sold with) to confirm the size. It will almost certainly be 700c x 23mm, but rare exceptions do exist. The most common exception is the 650C (ISO 571), which is typically seen on high-performance bikes intended for petite riders.
Types of Road Tires
Road tires come in three primary forms.
Clinchers are the most common type of road tire. These have the steel or Kevlar beads that lock into flanges on the rim of the tire's frame.
Clinchers are especially popular because the inner part of the tube is easy to reach if repairs or replacements are needed.
Tubular (or 'sew-up') tires have more of a torus shape and are sewn onto compatible rims. Historically, tubular tires have been lighter and better at accelerating than clincher tires, which made them popular in sporting and racing events.
However, tubular tires are also more complicated to repair, so they've largely fallen out of favor with most manufacturers.
Tubeless tires are the most resistant to puncture and damage, but they're also somewhat heavier than other types of tires. These do exist - mainly from the manufacturers Shimano and Hutchinson - but they're not common in any sense of the term.
Still, if you're particularly worried about the roads you'll be driving over, it may be worth looking for tubeless options. Expect to replace the rims of your bike if you decide to switch over to tubeless tires.
Mountain Bike Tires
The best mountain bike tires are designed for rougher terrains, including trails, areas with lots of potholes, and gravel roads.
Many mountain bike tires come with thick, puncture-resistant treads because they're more likely to roll over small, sharp objects. Thicker treads also help to improve the grip of the tires, lessening the chance of a fall over rough terrain.
Mountain Bike Tire Dimensions
Mountain bike tires are more varied than road tires and come in three common dimensions. The most popular size is the 26" (ISO 559), but you may also see a 29" (ISO 622) or a 27.5"/650B (ISO 584).
The 29" is quite similar to the 700c road tire, but tends to have a wider, taller frame that doesn't actually fit the road bike wheels. Therefore, you should always check to be sure you're getting the right type of tire.
The 650B, on the other hand, is more popular on older mountain bikes and in some parts of Europe. It fell into disfavor for awhile, but recently, this size has been showing up more often on serious sports bikes.
Front- or Rear-Wheel Tire Treads
Some mountain bikes have different treads for their front and rear wheels. This is due to the different purposes of each wheel.
The front tire is intended mainly for steering and braking. As such, it helps if this tire is wide and has a good tread.
The rear tire, on the other hand, carries most of your weight. The best rear mountain bike tires will have a thick tread to prevent punctures, but otherwise, the design doesn't matter too much.
Commuter Bike Tires
These tires are like road tires, but they're designed to match the uneven, often debris-laden surfaces of urban areas. Most commuter tires have slick or semi-slick tread designs, with thick sub-treads as added protection.
Commuter Tire Dimensions
The best street bike tires are about the same as road tires - 700c x 23mm. 26" and 27.5" diameters are also available, but these are distinctly less common on newly manufactured bikes.
Tubes vs. Tubeless Tires
Whether to go tubed or tubeless may be the biggest decision you make when deciding on a particular tire to buy.
Tubed wheels are the more common of the two, and most bikes are sold with these. Part of their popularity stems from how easy these tires are to repair and replace. Tubed tires are most appropriate for road bikes, where comfort and performance are more important than resistance to damage.
Tubeless tires are most popular on mountain bikes, where the added resistance to flats can make a real difference in your ride. That said, it's important to note that 'tubeless' doesn't mean 'no air' - there's still air inside, and if it escapes, you'll probably have to replace the whole tire.
Commuting bikes can go either way, though we favor tubeless because you never really know what you're going to be riding over in a city.
There is a third option here - solid tires. However, while these are completely resistant to flats, the lack of air for suspension also means that these tires tend to have significantly lower ride quality.
If safety is your most important priority and comfort doesn't matter too much, consider getting solid tires. Otherwise, tubed or tubeless are better choices.
Activity and Recommended Tire Pressure
Most tires should be inflated to 50-60 pounds per square inch (psi). It's important to check the pressure of your tires on a regular basis - especially tubed tires, which slowly lose pressure over time as air escapes. If you squeeze the tire and feel it deform under your touch, the pressure is too low.
Every tire lists its recommended tire pressure somewhere on the inside. Use these numbers as your guide when inflating.
When to Replace Bike Tires
Even the best bike tires need to be replaced on occasion. However, contrary to common belief, tires do not need to be replaced at a set distance.
Instead, only replace them in the following situations:
Otherwise, the tire is likely suitable for continued use. It is worth noting that high-quality tires tend to last for much longer than their cheaper counterparts. A low-quality tire may only last for 1000 to 2000 miles on average, while a high-quality tire might last for 10,000 miles or more.
How you ride your bike will affect how often your tires need to be replaced.
If you're constantly going over rough, sharp terrain (like gravel), you may need to replace your tires more often than most people. Similarly, if you brake hard and often, you could wear out both the brake pads and the tread faster than usual.
Why You Should Choose Your Bike Tires Carefully
There are two main reasons to be careful when choosing the sorts of bike tires you want.
First, bike tires will affect your performance. There's no point in buying a mountain bike whose tires aren't suitable for going up a mountain.
Buying the wrong tires is a lot like buying the wrong type of car. Sure, you could buy a sedan to haul things in, but it's probably not going to work as well as getting a truck or a minivan.
Second, the right type of tires will help you be safe. If your tires don't work properly, you could find yourself thrown off your bike, skidding into dangerous territory, or crashing into something (or someone) you were trying to avoid.
What to Pay Attention to When Choosing Your Bike Tires
There are six major points to pay attention to when deciding what sort of tire to buy.
This is the single biggest factor. What kind of bike you buy dictates the type of wheel you should get to go with it. Mountain bikes get mountain bike tires. Commuting bikes get commuting tires. And so on.
You don't need to mix-and-match different types of tires, though you may want to buy a different set of tires if you plan to regularly travel over different sorts of terrains and don't want multiple bikes. In these cases, make sure you get a mountain bike frame - it's always better to plan for rougher terrain instead of smoother.
Most wheel sizes are standard, with each of the categories having 2-3 common tire sizes.
That said, the fact that they're not completely standard means you still need to check and make sure you're getting the right size of tire for your bike. When in doubt, refer to your bike's manual.
This usually goes along with tire sizes, since there isn't much variation. The key point to understand here is that wider tires tend to be better at gripping and turning, while narrow tires tend to be better at accelerating and going straight.
Which you should go for depends on the types of areas you'll be riding in.
As we discussed above, different treads are intended for different terrains. Always look for a tread pattern that matches your intended use.
If you aren't sure how you plan to use your bike, just go for inverted treads. They don't have quite the best performance in any area, but they're excellent for casual riders and people who plan to ride in many different terrains.
When it comes to tires, more durable is always better. Durability is almost always tied directly to price - the more expensive your tire is, the longer it's likely to last.
Cheap tires may seem like a good idea at first, but constantly replacing them means they could be more expensive over time... and that's not taking the safety issues into account if they go flat at an inconvenient time.
Finally, how do you plan to ride your bike?
Are you a rougher rider? If so, you'll probably want to look for wide, thick treads that can stand up to your style.
Do you prefer a smoother, gentler ride? You can get away with something sleeker and slimmer than other people.
To the untrained eye, most bike tires are little more than rings of black rubber - but as we discussed above, there's a wide variety of features and options available to you.
Ultimately, though, it comes down to this: When you're riding a bike, you should have the right tires.
Now that you know what to look for, you're ready to compare prices and features to ensure you have exactly the right tires for the terrain you want to ride in.
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