you may have found yourself in a bike shop (irl or online) scouring the road bike tire options and wondering, how the heck do i know which one to choose?
it’s an understandable struggle: there are hundreds of options, a huge range in price points, and frankly, you could make the argument that they all look the same at a glance. but subtle differences can change how your ride feels in terms of comfort and speed.
and nowadays, there’s one more choice to make: keep the tubes, or go tubeless. for mountain biking, all of us are fully tubeless now. but for road, we’re split about 50/50, for reasons we’ll explain in the faq section below.
so, for this buyer’s guide, we’ve split our recommendations into our top picks for both tube-type and tubeless categories…
best tubeless road bike tires
if you’re ready to make the jump to tubeless, these are the best tires we’ve been riding. our criteria were durability, grip, comfort, ease of tubeless setup, and how well they held air over time.
importantly, we’ve also noted whether they’re officially compatible with “hookless” (aka tss, tubeless straight side, or straight side rims), which we explain in the faq section at the bottom of this post.
best all around: schwalbe pro one
the schwalbe pro one tubeless tire is the most supple racing tire that we’ve found, but we also like it for jra (just riding around). it’s specifically designed to be used as a tubeless tire, which means, thankfully, it’s relatively easy to set up…which shouldn’t come as a surprise.
schwalbe was one of the first to offer a high-performance, low-weight tubeless road bike tire years before others. and, they claim it’s their best performing road bike tire, bar none, even outperforming the tubular tires their pros were riding.
these tires rate highly in every department – grip, durability, low rolling resistance, and low weight. they even add a 14mm wide puncture protection belt under the tread cap to protect against cuts and pokes. available with black or tan sidewalls.
- size: 700 x 25, 28, 30, 32mm
- weight: 280g for 28mm
- hookless/straight side rim compatible: yes
- msrp: $88
pros: fantastic traction and ride quality cons: might need a bit more sealant than others
best road feel: specialized s-works turbo rapidair
these are the tires that finally wooed their sponsored pro cyclists off tubulars, offering the supple world tour race-level performance they needed, with low rolling resistance and just enough puncture and cut protection for peace of mind during competition.
the specialized s-works rapidair tires have an extremely soft, comfortable feel on the road thanks to a comparatively thinner-feeling (yet still supportive) sidewall, intentionally flexible center section, and 120tpi casing. their gripton rubber and slightly textured sides corner with confidence and add to the overall smooth feel of these tires.
- size: 700c x 26, 28, and 30mm
- weight: ~270g (700×28)
- hookless/straight side rim compatible: yes, with a caveat (see faq)
- msrp: $80
pros: super supple, lightweight, feels really fast cons: less protection than some other tires here
best high performance: pirelli p-zero race tlr
honestly, the pirelli p-zero race could have also been our all-around top pick, too…it’s that good. it’s a regular on several of our personal bikes thanks to its grippy rubber, easy tubeless setup, and ability to hold air seemingly forever.
the ride quality is great, too, if only every so slightly less supple than the pro ones. to make up for it, the p-zero race tlr adds a full bead-to-bead cut resistant protective layer, making them a tougher tire for only a few grams extra weight.
- size: 700c x 24, 26, 28, and 30mm
- weight: 295g (for 700×28)
- hookless/straight side rim compatible: yes, for 700×28/30 sizes only
- msrp: $85
pros: excellent performer with cut and puncture protection cons: only the larger sizes are hookless-rim compatible
best racing: goodyear eagle f1
you’ll find goodyear taking our top “racing” tire spot in both tubeless and tube-type categories. maybe it’s subliminal, but there’s something about seeing that winged foot logo roll up to the start line. fortunately, their performance backs up their looks.
with road-hugging grip and long sipes to handle a little moisture, these are a reliable race day option when you don’t know what the course will bring. they setup tubeless easy, hold air well, and roll fast…what more do you need? (read our full review here.)
Read more: Best Mountain Bike Tires of 2021
- size: 700c x 25, 28, 30, and 32mm
- weight: 315g (700×28)
- hookless/straight side rim compatible: yes
- price: $65
pros: easy tubeless setup, excellent high-speed grip cons: heavy compared to the rest
best all-conditions: hutchinson sector
want a tire that sets up tubeless easily, holds air really well, lasts forever, and has full bead-to-bead puncture protection without a big weight penalty? the hutchinson sector is your tire.
not only is it super durable and tough enough for the worst roads (and litter-strewn shoulders), it manages all that with great grip and all-weather traction thanks to a dual-compound rubber and small, nubby treads on the sides. throw in a supple 127tpi casing and you get a great tire that’s comfortable mile after mile after mile.
still, need convincing? the pros have raced it on paris-roubaix’s cobbles, and it’s even rated for light gravel and e-road bike use!
- size: 700 x 28, 32
- weight: 290g claimed (700×28)
- hookless/straight side rim compatible: see list of compatible rims here
- msrp: $75
pros: durable, grippy, comfortable, proven by the pros cons: limited sizes
best tube-type road bike tires
not quite ready to make the jump to tubeless? that’s fine, there are still a lot of great tires being made specifically for tubes. these are the favorites from our resident holdouts still running an inner tube.
note that none of these tires should be used on a hookless rim, and that while they may have lighter weights than some tubeless tires, you’ll be adding about 80-100g per wheel from the tube.
best racing: goodyear eagle f1 supersport
while their standard f1 tubeless tire feels a bit meatier, this tube-type goodyear eagle f1 supersport feels ultra-lightweight, like a good race tire should.
compared to the tubeless model, the supersport version sheds some of the extra rubber to create a race day tire that’s wicked light yet still keeps a small puncture belt under the tread cap. that construction, plus a supple 120tpi casing, gives it a weight of just 180g for the 23mm clincher option. thankfully, they make wider sizes, too.
- size: 700c x 23, 25, 28mm
- weight: 210g (700×28)
- msrp: $65
pros: great for racing, lightweight cons: really meant for racing only, not everyday mileage
best endurance: continental gatorskins
this bikerumor editor spends a lot of time coaching junior camps that rack up hundreds of miles in the course of each week. and while it’s fine if juniors are flatting on the regular (and they are), it’s less impressive if the coach constantly needs to stop.
for years, i’ve relied on the tried and true continental gatorskins, and i kid you not, i’ve never had a flat during a camp. i’ve run these tires until wires are poking out of the casing, and still, they just don’t quit.
are they the fastest, the lightest, or the least rolling resistance? hell, no. will they get you from point a to point b without stopping for a lengthy flat repair? most likely.
- size: 700c x 23, 25, 28, 32mm
- weight: 300g (700×28)
- tubeless ready: no
- msrp: $60
pros: relatively bombproof cons: heavier, less racy
best budget: pirelli p7 sport
the pirelli p7 sport uses pirelli’s pro rubber compound, adds puncture protection strip under the tread, and uses a tread pattern inspired by the brand’s top-level p zero race… for under $35!
the tradeoffs for this price point are a less supple 60tpi casing (versus 120tpi), and a lack of the extra sidewall cut protection found on higher end tires. but it keeps the sipes to move water away and add cornering grip.
in short, as one editor put it, it’s the perfect all-seasons training tire. read the full overview here, then grab a set for those base miles.
- size: 700c x 24, 26, 28 and 32mm
- weight: 310g (700×28)
- tubeless ready: no
- msrp: $35
pros: great price, good grip and durability cons: a bit heavy, less supple
best all-weather: bontrager aw3
the bontrager aw3 (“all weather”) is designed to be more flat resistant than other road tires, especially when the going gets rough. they also come in the widest size range out of any tire we have on this list, and the inclusion of a 38mm wide option makes them ‘gravel adjacent’.
meaning, it’s a great tire if your rides sometimes include a few dirt roads or crushed-stone bike paths…or just a lot of rainy days. it has more texture to it than other road tires, with channels to wick water and dimples to improve traction in corners.
independent testing by wheel energy in finland found these tires were 78% stronger in terms of puncture protection compared to previous iterations, thanks to an aramid/nylon weave under the rubber tread.
- size: 700c x 25, 28, 32, 38mm
- weight: 305g (700×28)
- tubeless ready: no
- msrp: $60
pros: impressively flat-resistant, great traction in adverse conditions cons: heavy
road tire buyer’s guide
know the tire size. tires are usually listed as diameter x width. for example, a “700×28” tire will fit a 700c wheel (which is what most road bikes use) and the tire will measure about 28mm wide once mounted. the actual tire width will vary slightly by manufacturer and by the width of the rim it’s mounted on.
know your wheel size. most road bikes will use standard 700c (or 28-inch) tires, but double check what size tires are on your bike right now, just to be sure.
know how wide you can go. your bike will have a certain tire clearance. most road bikes can fit up to a 28mm tire. road riders often use between 23mm and 25mm, though more are shifting to the slightly wider 28mm for more comfort, since wider tires provide a cushier ride and, counterintuitively, can be faster and more efficient, too.
bikes with rim brakes typically max out at 28mm, but many modern disc brake road bikes can comfortably fit a 32mm tire. just check with your bike’s manufacturer to confirm before ordering, this spec is usually listed on their websites for each model. or just google it.
know what type of tire you want. there are three types of road tires:
- clincher: the most common road tires, these tires require a tube. they’re the easiest to install and change out for different conditions, and often the cheapest option.
- tubeless: as the name implies, these tires use a strip of tape on your wheel’s rim plus an ultra-snug fit and some sealant rather than a tube. originally a mountain bike staple, they made their way to cyclocross and road in recent years. (tires that are tubeless-compatible can also be used with a tube if necessary, but rarely is the reverse true).
- tubular: some racers still swear by tubulars, tires that are all-in-one with tubes, the tire, plus a casing that is glued to the rim of the wheel. it’s a messy process, and very old-school. unless you have a compelling reason to use tubulars, stick to clinchers or tubeless.
consider the roads you ride. if you tend to ride bumpy roads, consider a wider, burlier tire that’s designed with comfort and flat protection in mind. if you do a lot of smooth, fast group riding, you can likely get away with a more narrow tire in a lighter-weight, racier style.
consider your goals. do you care about going faster in training, or do you prefer to avoid flats? this isn’t to say that every racy tire will wear out fast or immediately puncture, but the more lightweight and speedy a tire, the less longevity it tends to have.
check the size twice before you hit buy. sometimes sales are too good to be true, and a certain tire might only be on clearance in a size that won’t fit your bike.
frequently asked questions about road tires
how much do road tires cost? you can spend anywhere from $20 to $150 on road tires. as with most things, the best value lies somewhere in the middle: tires in the $50-80 range will typically have the benefits of a pricier tire without the hefty price tag. you may end up with slightly heavier, less supple tires, but they’ll also likely be more durable and longer-lasting.
are road tires directional? some are, some aren’t. if it clearly has a tread pattern, it likely has a direction. look for the way the arrows or chevrons on the tread are oriented to help you figure out which way to mount your tire -they usually point forward on the top of the tire- but also check the sidewall for an actual directional arrow to confirm.
what do the numbers on the tire mean? we explained the tire sizing above, but some tires list their sizes differently. important to note: most tires list sizing in french or inch style, and most road tires will be 700c and 28-inch.
Read more: How To Pick the Correct Tire and Tube Size?
- french size specification: what you see on most road tires. this is listed as the approximate outer diameter of the tire as well as the width. example: 700-33c
- european tyre and rim technical organization (etrto): sizing is by tire width in millimeters and the inner diameter of the tire in millimeters. example: 33-622
- inch classification: similar to the french specification, but in inches, which can make it much less precise. example: 28×1.3
can i run different tires for my front and rear? for sure. some racers and gear enthusiasts might prefer to stick to a matching set, but in general, mixing and matching won’t be a problem. though unlike in mountain biking where there are potential benefits to a specific front tire and specific rear tire for traction, road riders will not notice a major difference.
what tire pressure should i run? tires will have a range of psi (pounds per square inch) that indicates how much air you can pump into them. the lower you go, the more rubber will connect with the ground, which will give you more traction, comfort, and control. and tubeless tires let you safely run lower tire pressures without fear of pinch flatting a tube.
the higher you go, the firmer your ride will be. while this may feel faster, research has proven that lower tire pressures actually improve efficiency and decrease rolling resistance because the tire can absorb tiny vibrations and imperfections in the road, rolling faster and more smoothly.
there’s a sweet spot between squirmy and firm, so experiment to see what works best for you. check out this explainer article from silca and our q&a with zipp about tire pressure for guidelines and a a more scientific explanation of why lower is better.
tl;dr – most riders with tube-type tires opt for around 80 to 100 psi for road rides, depending on body weight. tubeless riders typically run 60 to 80 psi. if you’re just switching from tubes to tubeless, drop the pressure a few psi each ride until you find the right pressure for you.
if you need a better, more accurate floor pump to dial in your tire’s air pressure for every ride, you can find a list of our favorite bike pumps here.
do i need a tube?
with tube-type clincher tires, yes. if you’re set up for tubeless, no. (though you should carry a spare tube with you on rides in case of a flat that won’t reseal.)
should i run tubeless?
more and more road riders are switching to tubeless tires. tubeless tires don’t require tubes and instead use a tape around the wheel’s inner rim to seal off the spokes, then sealant is poured into the tire and the tire is seated, usually using an air compressor or a bike pump with a second chamber in order to add enough air quickly to get the tires to ‘sit’ on the rim of the wheel.
the sealant does exactly what you’d assume it would: keeps the air sealed into your tire, even if you get a small puncture or you hit an obstacle hard and pinch your tire. they’re less prone to flats because of that, despite the fact that they can be run at lower pressures.
modern road tubeless wheels and tires are now mostly standardized for fit, making them easier to mount and remove. and most of our recommended tires set up tubeless quite easily. however, there are outliers, and it can be messy, so if you’re not much of a mechanic, you may want to stick to regular tubes while you build your skills. or have your local bike shop set it up for you.
one caveat: tubeless tires typically need to be reinflated more often than tubes, possibly before every ride. but the performance and ride quality gains are worth the extra effort.
what are “hookless” rims?
hookless tubeless rims, also known as tubeless straight side (tss) rims, are rims with a straight, smooth sidewall on the inside of the rim bed. where standard clincher rims have a small hook at the top that helps trap the tire’s bead, hookless rims don’t.
while they originated on mountain bike tires where we run lower tire pressures, hookless designs are moving into gravel and road, and that’s a good thing. the rims can be made simultaneously stronger and lighter, and they generally improve the tire’s mounted profile and performance, too.
that said, there are two caveats: first, your tire must be approved for tss use, and not every tubeless tire is. we listed that spec in our tire choices above, but you should look for that on your tire’s packaging or website to confirm.
you can also check your wheel’s website for lists. zipp lists the hookless-compatible options here, and enve has a list here.
tire brands like hutchinson have lists of specific rims that are compatible with their tires, while companies like schwalbe are a bit more open-ended about it, saying that while the pro one tires are designed to meet hookless requirements, they’re still only “basically compatible”. and specialized told us their s-worksturbo rapidair was designed to be universally hookless compatible, but has only officially been tested and approved with zipp’s latest tss rims, and then only for some combinations.
second, tss rims are only for tubeless use…never install or ride a tube-type clincher tire on these rims. that said, you can install a tube on these rims if you end up flatting and your sealant isn’t doing its job, but only with a tss-approved tubeless tire. read our tech story with enve and our interview with zipp for more about hookless rim designs.
what about tubulars?
nope. (not unless your team mechanic has mounted them for you and handed you a bike fully equipped with them, anyway. otherwise, far too much work for minimal payoff for the average rider, and definitely not for training.)
what materials are road tires made from?
the simple answer is “rubber,” but of course, that’s not all. each tire company will have their own unique synthetic or natural rubber compounds and blends, some designed to be lighter and faster, others designed to be longer lasting.
two popular ingredients are silica and graphene, both of which help improve grip and durability. most mid-level and high-performance tires have at least one if not both of these, albeit sometimes with fancy names…but they’re essentially the same base ingredients across all brands.
all tires wrap the rubber around an inner casing, usually a woven nylon fabric. many tires also have reinforcements using protective materials like kevlar to help protect you from flats. (want more? we have a deep dive on tire construction right here.)
what does a tire’s tpi rating mean?
tpi—threads per inch—is used to notate what type of casing a tire has. most “performance” tires will start at 60tpi, which is great for most riders and has a good balance between suppleness and durability.
lighter-weight “race” tires can get 120tpi+ casings, which use thinner fibers to increase the thread count. they are very flexible and help the tire deform to match the terrain, so they feel amazing, but they’re expensive and not nearly as cut resistant.
what about tire beads?
some tires come neatly folded up in a cardboard wrap, while others are open to full size. that’s because some tires have wire beads around the rims that make them rigid, while others have folding beads, typically made of kevlar or a similar material.
wire bead tires are cheaper, and heavier…you won’t find any on this list, and likely not on any bike costing more than $450 these days. folding bead tires are lighter and higher end, but also more expensive. tubeless tires will always be folded.
how do i know it’s time to replace my road tires?
most of the time, road tires need to be replaced simply because you have a flat that isn’t fixable. frequent fixable flats are another telltale sign that the rubber is getting a bit thin, which sometimes reveals itself as a visibly flatter center section. but another way to tell if they’re worn out is if you can see any wire or threads poking out of the rubber. once you spot that fraying, it’s past time to replace them.