For tyres and tubulars there is generally a well-known trade-off
Low rolling resistance
It is impossible to have all four targets met. Even if money is no object, you still have to choose a tradeoff between low rolling resistance / low weight and puncture resistance.
I spend more time researching and choosing tubulars to buy than I do anything else. So many combinations, choices, decisions and tradeoffs!. In the good old days, I’d just shove Continental Competition on and have done with it. But, I fear I’m losing too much time with good old Continental Competition. Even now I have an increasing choice of tubulars, I can spend ages trying to work out which tubular to use. In short, there is no easy answer.
When it comes to buying tubulars, I’ve often caught in two minds. I want to use a lightweight tubular like Vittoria Chrono / Veloflex Record, but then I think about puncturing and walking along a windswept dual carriageway for 10 miles, and I think I might as well stick to Continental Competition.
The problem is that as the competition gets more intense, and you look harder for marginal gains, the idea of getting better tubulars becomes more attractive.
Front Wheel / Back Wheel
Another consideration is that the rear wheel is more likely to puncture / more likely to wear down because it is the rear wheel which transmits your power output. Therefore, it is a good idea to consider getting a slightly more reliable (heavy) tyre for the rear. I generally risk lighter tubulars on the front wheel.
In an ideal world, you would change your tubulars depending on conditions. For a dry day on a nice smooth dual carriageway, It is worth risking a proper track / timetrial tub like Vittoria Crono. Also, if you think you’ve got a chance for a PB, it makes sense to choose the fastest tubular. But, if you’re doing a 30 mile hilly time trial on rough roads in the wet, you have a higher chance of puncturing; in these conditions, it is not a good choice to go for a feather lightweight smooth tub.
I don’t particularly like the hassle of changing tubulars before every race – so tend to go for the default stronger puncture resistance. However, I am leaning more towards faster tubulars these days.
Width of Wheel
When I got into cycling, I made the ‘schoolboy error’ of buying 18′ width tyres. I made the assumption that the more narrow the tyre – the less rolling resistance there will be. Nowadays, you can hear the fastest tyres are 25′ even 28′. There are conflicting reports, but I’m happy with anything – 22-25. Perhaps slightly wider at the rear is preferable. I heard Team Sky use 24.5′ width tubulars – I’m not sure how they calculated 24.5 is better than 25. But I wouldn’t lose too much sleep if you have a 23′!
Too many models
The reason that I revisited this post is that whenever I go to buy tubulars, I always spend hours trying to find the best tubular. One problem is that companies make a bewildering array of tubulars – just as you get used to one model, you find it has become discontinued and you can’t buy it anyway. This happened yesterday with Veloflex Record Sprinter – I couldn’t find anywhere to buy it.
Getting punctures is often a big discouragement for people taking up / continuing with cycling. Several years ago my parents bought some cheap hybrid bikes They had good intentions to start cycling. But, after one or two rides, two tyres got punctures and they have been sitting in the garage ever since; I think the idea is that as the family cyclist I will sometime get round to mending the puncture. But, it hasn’t happened for a long time.
It’s a shame many beginners get put off by punctures because with a bit of preparation, you can make punctures a very rare experience. I blame cycle manufacturers who sell cheap hybrid bikes and put on cheap, useless tyres which are more likely to puncture. I’m sure everybody who buys a bike would prefer to pay an extra £20 to get puncture resistance tyres, but in the pursuit of cheaper bikes, we end up buying cheap tyres – which puncture and then we get put off cycling.
The quick check list for avoiding punctures
Buy the best, puncture resistant tyres.
When replacing an inner tube, be careful to put it on properly. Use fingers not tyre levers (avoid getting inner tube caught between rim and tyre)
Replace worn tyres.
Keep tyres at recommended psi (if too low, they are more likely to get pinch flat)
Avoid the grittiest part of the road, where punctures are more likely.
1. Puncture Resistant tyres
If you buy a road bike / hybrid bike, there are some excellent tyres, which have very strong puncture resistance. This is the best investment and upgrade you can make to any bike. Unless you are racing, don’t worry about the extra weight. You won’t really notice it for a commute into town, but you will appreciate the reduction in punctures.
On a commuting bike, I would suggest something like an Armadillo Specialized All Condition (Armadillo Tyres at Wiggle) or Schwalbe Durano / Marathon
Both tyres are very puncture resistant. I’ve averaged a puncture more than every 3,000 miles using these tyres. They are very rare.
For summer training, racing, I might choose a lighter tyre, with less puncture resistance, but still pretty good. On a training bike, I often use Continental Dura Skin or Continental Grand Prix. You can see reviews of good road tyres here.
Unfortunately, at the moment it is hard to get completely puncture resistant tyres for road bikes. For some bikes you can get solid tyres, which offer a puncture resistant ride, but I wouldn’t want to ride them. When racing I always choose a tyre with good layers of puncture resistance, at least 1 or 2 kevlar belts. For training and even racing, I would rather choose a slightly heavier tyre and have an improved chance of avoiding a puncture. Only on very short hill climbs, will I risk the lightest tubulars.
Good Tubular puncture resistance
If you ride tubulars, a good puncture resistant tubular is Continental Competition (not the fastest) but pretty hardy. This is my Continental competition, I plucked out a sharp piece of glass from the rubber – no puncture. But most other tubs would have punctured because it’s quite big piece of glass.
2. Avoid the grit at the side of the road
Often on busy roads grit and debris accumulate on the side of the road; riding amongst all this grit definitely increases the chance of getting a puncture. Don’t feel pushed into the edge, keep an eye on the road surface and avoid potential problems. (BTW, there is a post here – don’t ride in the gutter, but give yourself a good distance from the edge. This gives you room for manoeuvre when avoiding potholes and thorns.)
Also, it’s important to look out for potholes, if you ride over a pothole, you can puncture or even worse come off and break your wheel.
Also, there have been times, when I’ve got off and walked by a newly cut thorn hedge which the farmer has kindly left on the road.
3. Put on the tyre properly – avoid pinch punctures
The biggest cause of ‘repeat punctures’ is putting on a tyre with tyre levers. This invariably causes a pinching of the inner tube between rim and tyre. To avoid this, it is important to always put a tyre back on with your hands.
This video is good.
One thing I would add is after replacing inner tube and tyre, blow up to 20psi and then go around both sides of the tyre to check you can’t see any inner tube caught between rim and tyre. If it is, make sure you get rid of this, as it will cause a pinch puncture. This is especially important if you used tyre levers.
If you want a really amateur video about putting on a tyre. In the days of a full head of hair, and steel time trial bikes. (it only weighed 6kg!)
4. Tubeless and self-fixing slime
Another option is to go tubeless. Tubeless avoids pinch punctures. Also, you can put self-healing slime into a tubeless, so if you do puncture, the slime should automatically seal the puncture, and avoid 99% of punctures. I’ve gone tubeless on one rear tyre.
5. Correct tyre pressure
At a low tyre pressure, you are more likely to get pinch punctures. This is why mountain bikers are much more likely to use tubeless. By running tubeless, they can run low psi of 30ps – 40psi – without worrying about getting a pinch puncture (inner tube stuck between tyre and rim). If you run ordinary inner tubes and tyres and keep a low psi, you may end up with a pinch puncture.
6. Use new inner tubes
I never use a puncture repair kit. I just buy inner tubes in bulk. At least a failed puncture repair is one less thing to worry about.
8. Check tyres for wear / scratches and embedded grit
I frequently check tyres for wear. I prefer to replace at early signs of wear. I have seen some riders wear tyres down so much, you can actually see the outer layer is completely gone! This Continental GP 4000 has been worn down by riding on rollers. I could get more miles out of it, but, it’s done a good few thousand, so I’d rather replace now.
Another good thing to do is to check for pieces of glass that have got embedded in the tyre. I will use a sharp point (nail or safety pin) and flick the grit out. (watch out for your eyes). This prevents the grit getting pushed further into the tyre and causing a puncture at a later date. I usually tolerate one or two scratches in a tyre, but, when they start to look deep or prevalent, I chuck the tyre out. Better to replace too early and avoid that puncture!
9. Make sure there is rim tape on the wheel.
I’ve had two punctures because the rim tape slipped off the centre of the wheel; this meant the inner tube was in direct contact with metal rim, and this caused a puncture because the metal rim can have sharp edges.
10. Tubulars over inner tubes and tyres
The advantage of tubulars is that they are less likely to suffer from a ‘pinch puncture’. But, overall it really depends on the quality of the tubular. For racing, I use tubulars, not so much for better puncture resistance, but they are lighter. However, when you do puncture it is more expensive. So road tyres and inner tubes are better for training.
11. Never blog about how you never get punctures
I once blogged about not getting punctures and preceded to get 5 punctures in a week. But, sometimes you can go a long time without puncturing.
12. Avoid riding in the rain
People often find that riding in the rain causes an increased chance of puncture. I think this may be due to the fact that the water reduces friction and makes it easier for grit to penetrate the tyre. I guess nobody would choose to ride in the rain unless they can avoid it. But, be prepared for higher risk of puncture if it is wet.
13. Ride a solid wheel
You can now get solid tyres which are 100% puncture-proof. They are a bit slower but will last a long time. No air, so no puncture a Korean Company Tannus is manufacturing them. It will be interesting to see if they catch on.
No ordinary tyre guarantees to be absolute puncture free, but improvements in technology have gone a long way to reducing your chances of puncturing. For the average rider and commuter, buying a puncture resistant tyre is probably one of best upgrades to make.
Highly puncture resistant tyres usually have a trade off of greater weight and higher rolling resistance (i.e. slower) but the slight decline in speed is well worth the greater peace of mind that comes from having less punctures.
These are some of the puncture resistant tyres that I have used over the years.
Armadillo – Specialized All Condition
The tyre feels pretty tough – it is a very robust 60 TPI (Threads per inch) – which is very different feel to the racing tyres of 300TPI. It’s toughness makes it very resistant to small scratches and glass cuts. It gives more confidence for commuting on a rought canal path. A minor downside of its toughness is that it’s a bit awkward putting on rim with fingers, but then you rarely have to change a puncture. It claims to be designed for low rolling resistance; but, in practice it feels heavy – it is is noticeably slower than a Grand Prix 4000. But, I am quite happy using it on my commuting bike and have also added to the rear wheel on my winter training bike, at various times.
I have been using them for over seven years (5 days a week) During that period I have had three punctures and one was a 6 inch nail. Roughly speaking its a puncture rate of 3 / 9,000 miles or 1 per 3,000 miles. It’s also pretty hard wearing, I get maybe 3,000 miles on rear and 5,000 miles on front, which is a long time for a commuting bike. At £30, overall this is a very good value tyre which offers excellent puncture resistance. It really is a good investment and one of my favourite.
Winter involves a lot of long cold miles on slippery roads. My main priorities for a winter tyre are:
Strong puncture resistance
Reasonable rolling resistance
Grippy in the wet.
Not too difficult to take off rim with cold hands.
Over the years, I’ve ridden several different tyres during winter. Primarily Continental Gatorskin and Continental 4 Seasons. Sometimes, I’ve gone into winter with lighter summer tyres still on, like the Gatorskin, Continental Grand Prix 4000. Sometimes I’ve gone to the other extreme and ridden really hard, heavy puncture resistance tyres like Specialized All Condition, but find these are just a bit too ‘heavy’ and slow – even though I never picked up a puncture with these tyres. Generally, it becomes a toss up between spending time mending punctures and being slowed down by heavier tyres. The good news is that even reasonably light and decent rolling resistance tyres are now fairly puncture resistant. There seems to have been improvement in tyre technology since I started cycling 20 years ago.
Best size tyre for winter?
For myself. 25″ is the new 23″ I’d strongly recommend 25″ in winter, especially for the rear tyre. I used to have this idea that the smaller the tyres the faster you go, but it’s more complicated than that. There is no discernible difference in speed between using 23 and 25, but you get a bit better grip. I’ve visited quite a few bike shops this week, and many road tyres seem to be 23″. But, for training, I prefer riding 25″ – especially in winter. 25″ will be perfectly fine for summer riding too.
The Best Winter road tyres
Schwalbe Durano Plus Performance
These are an excellent tyre. They last a long time, have one of the best puncture resistance and have reasonably rolling resistance. It’s everything that you want and need from a winter road bike tyre. I’ve only used one. But, it lasted a good 3,000 miles and I don’t remember getting a puncture. I’ve ordered another one for the rear wheel. It was 33% off which helped. The downside is that it is a bit on the heavy side, the smartguard puncture protection is fairly thick. It means the 25″ tyre weighs 380g (23″ weighs 340g) Compared to the Specialized All Condition it feels it has a little more spongyness, and a little better grip. Though heavy, they are not completely ‘dead’ and offer decent rolling resistance. Keep them well inflated, and you should get few punctures. The other downside is that, especially the first time, they are hard work putting on; they are very tight to the rim. But, once on you can almost forget about them for quite a while.
I’ve used Gatoskin for the past couple of winters. They are relatively light for a winter training tyre, and good enough for summer training too. (23″ only 230 gram and 25″ 250gram) I’ve left the last pair on almost all year. They are quite flexible and a quite easy to fit. They are quite fast. However, I want to change them now winter is really setting in.
They have been a bit slippy on recent rides. I got bad wheel spin on a climb to Brill (16%) and nearly skidded out on a damp corner. I might have been better off with a 25″ and it’s always slippy in winter. But, I’m going back to Durano Plus for my real mid winter tyre.
Continental have also brought out a Gatorksin Hardshell. This adds an extra 48 gram to the tyre and adds an extra layer of puncture protection. I’ve had one hardshell variety, and I couldn’t notice much difference in terms of rolling resistance, so the better puncture protection is good for winter. For winter, the Hardshell is definitely a good option. The Gatorskin are more of an all season tyre.
I find the Gatorksins are very long lasting. I’ve been riding on the same pair for the past 12 months, which is perhaps close to 5,000 miles on that wheelset. Continental have made progress in making the tyre more resistant to scratches and sidewall splits.
Veloflex Record and Veloflex Sprinters are a top of the range tubular good for track, time trials and hill climbs.
The Veloflex Record is made with a high TPI (350) which is one factor giving a potential high quality fast supple tyre . The Veloflex Record is perhaps best known tub, but the Veloflex Sprinter is also a good choice for a fast tub with an extra layer of puncture protection.
The Veloflex Record weighs 190 grams, the Veloflex Sprinter 225 grams. The Sprinter is the better all rounder choice, the Record is more of a specialist front wheel tyre.
In rolling resistance tests, I’ve heard the Veloflex Record gives good results, though I couldn’t find any studies.
The Veloflex Sprinter is a development from an older version called the servizio corse.
It is 22″ width, which would be close to my preferred choice – perhaps would prefer a 23″ or even 24″ – given trend towards wider tyres. For hill climbs 22″ is a pretty good width.
The Record seemed a good choice for a rear wheel in time trials. Rear wheels tend to wear more quickly (due to more weight on rear of bike) and also seem more prone to puncture. If you want to go all out for speed, you could put Veloflex Record on both wheels, but I tend to be more risk averse – you can’t win if you have to walk home with a puncture. I put the Veloflex Record on my disc wheel for a few time trials in the summer, and have now moved it to my Zipp 202 rear wheel that I use for hill climbs.
It feels faster than a Continental Competition (which is the tub I’ve used most frequently in TTs). It is also lighter. After doing several races over gravelly roads, the tyre still looks in good shape, without any scratches.
I’ve chosen this tyre for hill climb season, though a couple of weeks before national, I may switch to a lighter rear tyre like the Vittoria Chrono. At this stage in the season, I’d rather have the puncture protection than 25 grams of weight – even if it is rotational.
Like many high quality, low weight tubulars, it seems to lose air pressure pretty quickly. In a four hour race, this could be a bit of a problem. In four hours it can easily lose 10 PSI. It means I tend to blew it up slightly more than my targeted PSI before a race. But, since it’s a guess what tyre pressure to use anyway, it’s not such a big deal.
Tread. smooth running tubular.
It looks good – black and gum coloured. Simple design like a tyre should be. I believe there is a Veloflex Extreme which is same tyre but black sidewall rather than gum coloured – don’t know why you need a separate model for different coloured sidewall.
It’s actually slightly muddy after yesterdays race. Despite driest September on record I still managed to find a muddy puddle at the top of Walbury hill.
I bought the Veloflex Record on the recommendation of a fellow tester, and so far I would be happy to recommend too. No punctures and good performance in time trials and hill climbs.
The big drawback to the Veloflex Record is the cost at a RRP of £90, it’s a case of hoping that the price justifies it’s value. The old law of cycle racing is never skimp on a good tyre / tubular. But this still stretches the wallet a little more than I would like. Still if does offer good combination of rolling resistance, weight and puncture resistance it will be money well spent. The Veloflex Record costs £97.00 and seems to be interesting in getting record for most expensive tubular. I may try it on front wheel next year though.
One of the top end road tubs, the Vittoria Corsa Evo CX is a good all round tubular, which is a popular choice for road racing and time trials. It is my second most used tubular after Continental Competition, and has been pretty hardy so far.
It has a tpi of 320. This high thread count helps offer smooth ride with low rolling resistance. The puncture resistance is helped by a PRB 2.0 puncture resistant belting. At 245 g it is not the lightest tub on the market. It’s ideal performance would be on a tough road surface. If you are riding on pancake flat tarmac, you might get away with a thinner tyre – like the Vittoria Chrono or Veloflex Record.
Tubeless tyres are a ‘relatively’ new technology that dispenses with the need for inner tubes. Instead, you use specific wheel rims which can keep an airtight seal between the special tubeless tyre and the bead on the wheel .
I’ve updated this post because (inspired by readers comments) I’ve got round to actually buying and using a tubeless (Hutchinson Atom). First impressions are very good, I was quite surprised because previously I had decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. But, now I’m considering next wheel purchase will be tubeless. It was easy to fit and I’m fairly confident to run that wheel virtually puncture free.
The main advantages of tubeless technology are:
Avoiding those irritating pinch flat punctures, where you get the inner tube pinched between rim and tyre. Some claim this is 99% of punctures, but I don’t believe it is that high. Nevertheless, I’ve had many pinch flats over the years, tubeless eliminates these.
If you want to ride at lower tyre pressure, tubeless are good because you don’t need to worry about pinch flats. Lower tyre pressure can be good for giving better grip and traction and comfort. (though a lower psi will also have a higher rolling resistance)
With tubeless you can put a small amount of liquid sealant in the tyre. If you puncture, this sealant will fix most of these punctures. This gives you excellent puncture protection – better than standard inner tube and tyres where you can’t run sealant.
Alternatively, if you do flat, you can put in a spare inner tube, and the tubeless tyre will still work
Can be marginally less weight than a standard clincher tyre and inner tube because you don’t need an inner tube.
If a tubeless tyre does puncture, air should escape more slowly – there is less risk of the inner tube bursting and causing a rapid deflation – which could be dangerous when descending rapidly. I ran an ordinary inner tube on a tubeless wheel, when I punctured, I was able to cycle home 7 miles because the air leaked out very slowly.
They can be difficult to fit. Because the tyre needs to be airtight against the rim, many models are difficult to put on. This is a real pain if you puncture out on a ride. For some tyres you may need an air compressor to put on. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. I found that the Hutchinson Atom tubeless went on very easily. The other advantage of fitting a tubeless tyre is that you don’t have to worry about using tyre leavers – there’s no inner tube to pinch.
To get the best from tubeless tyres is it advisable to purchase some sealant. This makes it airtight and also enables punctures to be fitted.
So far they haven’t really caught on, (at least for road bike. MTB seems more successful because MTB tyres are often at lower pressure). There is no critical mass meaning most local bike shops often don’t carry them. Even online, the choice isn’t great.
They are not particularly cheap.
Ordinary road tyre technology has improved a lot meaning you can get some good tyres which rarely puncture. These days clincher tyres are really quite good value. As long as you are very careful in refitting an inner tube to avoid puncture flats, there isn’t such a big puncture risk.
Now the winter is officially and very firmly behind us (cue return of rain, sleet and snow) it’s time to take off the winter road tyres and choose the best summer road tyres for all the upcoming halcyon days of riding on dry smooth tarmac in temperatures approaching the mid 30s.
Depending on the tyre you choose, there can be a big difference in terms of rolling resistance – up to 30 watts worth between best and worse performing. Also, The faster you go, the more you will notice the difference.
Over the years I’ve tested quite a few different road tyres. To some extent it becomes hard to choose between different models. But, the good news is that I feel the technology of tyres has improved in recent years, giving cyclists a really good choice of tyres. Because I have so many sets of wheels, I’m often riding several different types of tyres / tubulars at the same time, which gives an idea of how different tyres compare.
I would say the golden rule of buying tyres is don’t penny pinch. It is invariably worth getting a relatively expensive tyre. The cheapest models of tyres tend to be poor value.
When choosing tyres, it is always a trade off between different factors
Low rolling resistance
Grip on the road
Ease of maintenance – changing in case of puncture e.t.
Generally racing tyres will be light, low rolling resistance, but you sacrifice some puncture resistance. I’m often torn between using the lightest tyres and risk having to walk along a dual carriage way because of puncturing. It is only on hill climbs that I really throw caution to the wind and ride track tubulars which are ridiculously light. For my general road bike, I tend to go for a good all-rounder, like Continental Gatorskin / 4 season. For racing, I use tubulars – either Continental Competition (Good puncture protection, but definitely not best rolling resistance) or Corsa Crono Evo)
When buying tyres, it is hard to know the rolling resistance that the tyres offer. From trial and error and testing, you can notice a difference between different tyres – especially when doing time trials, but it is always tricky to measure exactly. The graph below shows the power required for different tyres, which were tested at Continental in Germany Link. If it was tested at Continental, it’s interesting that Continental tyres don’t come out so well on the rolling resistance.
The test shows the rolling performance at 7 bar (101psi) and the power needed to overcome rolling resistance of the tyre. This shows, there is over 20 watts difference between the worst performing tyre (Hutchinson Top Speed) and the best performing tyre. With a threshold power of 300 watts, 20 watts is a lot to give away to a slow tyre.
Vittoria Open Corsa Evo CX
I have used the Vittoria Open Corsa Evo, but I was probably put off re-buying by the relatively poor puncture protection. However, looking at the rolling resistance, it is a tyre which is really focused on performance, with very low rolling resistance. If you want one of the fastest tyres, this is a very good choice. The weight is just 210 grams for the 23″ option.