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The Best Tires For Road Cycling

The most important part of your road bike is where the rubber meets the road. Here's what you need to know to pick the best tires for your bike and some of the top models for racing and training.

Written by: Bruce Lin

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No matter how expensive or advanced your road bike is, it will all go to waste if your tires let you down. That’s why a good set of tires is usually the first upgrade cyclists should consider. Whether you’re interested in riding faster, going farther, or just making it to your destination without flatting, here’s what you need to know about choosing the best road tires for your bike. 

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Tire casings, puncture protection, and rubber compounds

Continental GP 5000 tire casingCutaway of a Continental Grand Prix 5000 showing it three-layer nylon casing and puncture protection strip under the tread. Photo courtesy Continental. 

Most of the tires listed below can be classified as “competition tires.” Competition tires focus on speed and performance. For most serious road cyclists, competition tires are the best choice for daily riding and occasional racing.

Competition tires have supple, high-TPI casings with a small amount of puncture protection under the tread. They also use stickier rubber compounds for better cornering and wet-weather grip. Most competition tires use durable nylon casings, but a few racing tires will use cotton casings (e.g., the Vittoria Corsa and Specialized S-Works Turbo Cotton). Cotton casings are the most supple and fastest casing option, but they are also more puncture prone. 

Tires intended for training, commuting, and touring place prioritize durability with extra layers of puncture protection and harder rubber compounds for durability. The trade-off is that they weigh more, roll slower, and have less grip. We’ve also included a couple of these tire options for riders who just want a tire that will last.  

What does TPI mean? 

Maxxis tire TPI comparisonA comparison of different TPI tire casing fabrics. Photo courtesy of Maxxis. 

Bike tires consist of a casing made of fabric that supports the rubber on top of it. Tires will list “TPI” on the packaging or on the tire itself. TPI stands for “threads per inch” and it describes how a tire’s casing is constructed. 

Competition tires generally have higher TPI casings. With more threads per inch, there’s less open space between the threads of the casing for the tire rubber to fill. This means the tire will be lighter and more supple. This provides more grip, more comfort, and lower rolling resistance. Lower TPI casings allow more tire rubber to fill the empty space between threads. This results in a stiffer and tougher casing that’s cheaper and more puncture-resistant but also heavier and slower. Most competition tires will have 100 TPI casings or higher. Don’t get too hung up on TPI numbers though. It’s only part of the story and higher-TPI tires aren’t always better than lower-TPI tires. 

Clincher vs. tubeless road bike tires

Clincher vs tubeless road bike tiresThe vast majority of road cyclists choose between clincher and tubeless tires. Clincher tires are inflated using an inner tube and have been the standard for decades. It’s a familiar tire system for most cyclists. Clinchers are generally cheaper and easier for home mechanics to install. 

Tubeless tires, as the name implies, don’t need an inner tube. They are made airtight by adding tubeless sealant and require tubeless-ready wheels. Tubeless is quickly becoming common, and many new road bikes now come from the manufacturer with tubeless-ready wheels. There are lots of pros to tubeless road tires, including lower rolling resistance and better puncture protection. Tubeless tires will also work with an inner tube if desired. Some newer tubeless-ready road wheels are “hookless” and require you to use tubeless tires, even if you choose to run them with inner tubes, so be sure to check what tires are compatible with your wheels.    

What’s the best road bike tire width?

Mattheiu van der Poel Paris Roubaix tiresPro racers generally ride 25mm tires but switch to wider 28-30mm tires for rough races like Paris-Roubaix. Photo: A.S.O./Pauline Ballet

Road tires range from 23-32mm wide. Narrower tires are lighter, but wider tires are more comfortable because the increased air volume allows you to run lower tire pressures. For competitive riders and racers, tires around 25mm provide the best balance between speed, comfort, and weight; 28mm tires are a popular choice for riders seeking more comfort without sacrificing too much performance. For riders who want to maximize comfort and occasionally explore unpaved dirt and gravel roads, 32mm is a great size. 

For riders unsure of what tire width to purchase, I suggest simply buying the widest tire your bike can fit. Be sure to research and confirm the maximum tire clearance of your bike before committing to a wider tire. Tires should have at least 3mm of clearance at the fork, chain stays, and seatstays to prevent rubbing. 

Tanwall vs. blackwall road bike tires

Tanwall tires look great on the right bike.

With modern road tires, there’s little difference between tanwall and blackwall tires beyond appearance (with a few exceptions — read our style guide to learn more: Tanwall vs. Blackwall Tires). Tanwall tires mimic the look of vintage tires which have exposed casings, and some riders prefer the classic look of tanwalls. Choosing between them is really a matter of personal preference. 


Best road bike tires for racing

Best road racing bike tiresPhoto: A.S.O./Pauline Ballet

These are the fastest tires we carry and our top picks for speed freaks. You’ll see these high-performance tires regularly topping race podiums. If you want to compete or even just beat your personal bests on a Strava, look no further. 

Vittoria Corsa 

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The Vittoria Corsa is one of the fastest tires in cycling and the choice of many pro cycling teams. It’s so dominant that sixty percent of WorldTour victories in 2021 and the last three Tours de France were won on Corsas. It uses an ultra-supple handmade cotton casing to reduce rolling resistance and weight as much as possible, so it’s best saved for races and important events. 

Vittoria Corsa N.EXT

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The Corsa N.EXT is an all-rounder version of the Corsa that uses a nylon casing and a puncture protection strip to provide extra durability for everyday riding. We did an in-depth review of the Corsa N.EXT and were very impressed with the combination of speed, durability, and comfort it provides. 

Continental Grand Prix 5000

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Continental’s Grand Prix 5000 tires are the successor to the mega-popular Grand Prix 4000, and many riders consider it the benchmark for competition road tires. It uses Continental’s light and supple Vectran puncture protection strip for durability. Based on independent testing, the tubeless version is one of the fastest rolling nylon casing tires currently available. 

Specialized S-Works Turbo 

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The Specialized S-Works Turbo tire is another benchmark road tire known for being fast, light, and supple. There is also an S-Works Turbo Cotton model, which uses a cotton casing like the Vittoria Corsa. The Turbo is favored by several pro teams and the last two Elite Men's Road Race World Championships were won on S-Works Turbos.

Pirelli P Zero Race

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Pirelli is a relative newcomer to bike tires, but it’s been one of the top automotive tire manufacturers for decades, even providing the tires for Formula 1 race cars. It used its tire-making expertise to develop its bike tires and now supplies tires to the team of two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar. 

Best road bike tires for mixed surfaces

Best road bike tires for dirt and gravelPhoto: John Watson

Adventurous riders need a tire that can tackle rough and broken pavement or dabble in dirt and gravel without sacrificing speed. These tires often have wider size options and a bit of extra tread so you can confidently head off the beaten path.

Panaracer GravelKing Slick

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As you’d expect, the Panaracer GravelKing Slick excels on gravel. The slick version of Panaracer’s popular gravel tire still has a file tread pattern paired with its “Zero Slip Grip” rubber compound and “Anti-Flat” casing for enhanced grip and protection on unpaved surfaces. 


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With the SES Road, ENVE’s goal was to make the ultimate all-rounder tire with the perfect blend of rolling speed, aerodynamics, and durability. The tread was developed through CFD to complement ENVE’s SES aero wheels, so they’re aerodynamically optimized to go fast on any surface.  

Challenge Strada Pro / Strada Bianca

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The Challenge Strada Pro and Strada Bianca are handmade so they’re extra supple and comfortable on rough roads. A herringbone tread pattern provides grip on unpaved surfaces. The Strada Pro tire has an ultra-fast 300 TPI casing while the Strada Bianca switches to a more robust 260 TPI casing and comes in even wider options for more dedicated gravel riding

Best road tires for training, commuting, or touring

Best road bike training tiresIf you want a tire that will last for multiple seasons and survive the worst the road can throw at it, then you need tires built with tough casings and long-lasting rubber. These tires let you spend more time riding and less time fixing flats. 

Vittoria Rubino Pro

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Vittoria says the Rubino Pro is designed for “intensive training,” but it borrows enough tech from its speedier Corsa siblings to be suitable for occasional racing. The Rubino Pro uses a rubber compound with soft shoulders and a hard-wearing center to provide sharp handling and long service life. 

Continental Gatorskin

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The Continental Gatorskin is the benchmark for long-wearing puncture-resistant tires. It uses a PolyX Breaker polyester protection strip, similar to what's used in car tires, under the tread, combined with DuraSkin sidewall protection to provide maximum defense against cuts and punctures. 

Final thoughts

There are a lot of tire brands and models out there, and unfortunately, I can’t list them all. The tires listed here are top sellers and proven favorites, so you can’t go wrong with any of them. But I’m sure there are plenty of riders who will chime in to let me know that I forgot to include their favorite rubber (Schwalbe and Michelin tires are notable omissions). So let me know in the comments what your favorite road tires are! 

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