How to Select the Best Road Bike Tires for Your Needs – Speed, Grip, and Durability

Choosing the right road bike tire isn’t as simple as it sounds. There’s a lot more to it. As a bike geek who spends way too much time obsessing over equipment, I’ve got all the ins and outs to share with you.

With that said, today I will dissect the details of road bike tires to help you do this job the only way it’s supposed to be done – the right way.

Types of Road Bike Tires

First off, let’s talk about the three main types of road bike tires: clincher, tubeless clincher, and tubular. Here’s a breakdown:

Clincher Tires

  • Common and easy to find: These are everywhere. You probably already have them on your bike.
  • Inner tube required: They use an inner tube to hold air pressure. When you get a flat, you just replace the tube.
  • User-friendly: Pretty much anyone could change a clincher tire. It’s that easy.

Tubeless Clincher Tires

  • No inner tube needed: Say goodbye to that pesky tube.
  • Sealant magic: They use a liquid sealant to deal with small punctures.
  • Lower air pressure: You can ride with lower pressure, which means more comfort and fewer pinch flats.

Tubular Tires

  • Race day special: Mainly for the serious racers out there.
  • All-in-one unit: The tire and inner tube are one piece, glued to the wheel.
  • Gluey mess: Changing them is a nightmare, but they perform beautifully.

Sizes Matter

Best road bike tires

Tire sizes can be as confusing as trying to understand why people still use fax machines. The typical road bike tire sizes you’ll encounter are 700×23, 700×25, 700×28, and 700×32.

What do those numbers mean? The first number is the tire’s diameter in millimeters, and the second number is the width.

  • 23mm: Aerodynamic but uncomfortable for long rides.
  • 25mm: A good balance between speed and comfort.
  • 28mm: More comfort, better traction, but a bit slower.
  • 32mm: Maximum comfort and traction, but you’ll feel like you’re dragging a small anchor.

Tire Clearance and Rim Width

Before you go and slap those 32s on your bike, you might want to double-check the clearance. You don’t want to ride around with your tire rubbing against the frame or fork like some kind of amateur.

Let’s not forget about rim width either – you can’t just throw any old tire on there and expect it to play nice.

Proper Tire Pressure

Durable bike tires

Tire pressure isn’t just about mindlessly pumping air until your arms feel like they’re going to fall off. There’s a bit more to it than that. Getting the pressure just right is key if you want decent performance.

Too high, and you’ll feel every little pebble and crack in the road – it’s like driving on a bed of nails. And too low? Kiss goodbye to your tires and say hello to sluggish handling and pinch flats. Generally:

  • High pressure: More speed, less comfort.
  • Low pressure: More comfort, better traction, but slower.

Tire Width Options

Choosing between 23mm, 25mm, 28mm, and 32mm tires boils down to what you prioritize:

  • Wider Tires (28mm, 32mm): More comfort and better traction. They also allow for lower air pressure, reducing the risk of pinch flats.
  • Narrower Tires (23mm, 25mm): More aerodynamic and faster, but can be uncomfortable on longer rides.

Tread Types

Tread types vary depending on where you ride:

  • Smooth Treads: Faster on paved surfaces. Great for road warriors.
  • Treaded Tires: Better grip on rough or unpaved roads. Ideal for adventure seekers.

Tire Compounds

Road cycling tires

Tire compounds can affect your ride experience significantly:

  • Racing Compounds: More elastic and efficient. Think of it as premium fuel for your bike.
  • Touring Compounds: More durable. Perfect for long-distance and everyday rides.

Dual Compounds

Some tires feature different compounds in the center and edges. This combo optimizes speed and grip. It’s like having the best of both worlds without needing to switch tires.

The Contact Point

Remember, your tires are the only contact between you and the road. Picking the right one is crucial. A bad tire choice can turn your smooth ride into a teeth-chattering ordeal or a leisurely cruise into a snail race. A quality tire is also good for safety on the road bike.

Brands to Consider

1. Continental Grand Prix 5000 S TR

Tire grip for bikes

Continental decided it was time to replace their old GP5000 TL road tubeless tire with the shiny new Continental Grand Prix 5000 S TR. This new tire is fast, grippy, and light as a feather.

It’s even compatible with those fancy “hookless” rims. And the best part is that this tire is tough enough to handle the pounding of the Paris-Roubaix race.  You know, that legendary one-day cycling event where the roads are about as smooth as a cheese grater.

Didn’t stop Sonny Colbrelli from winning it on these tires in 2021, so they must be doing something right.

Type Tubeless-ready
Colour options Black or ‘transparent’ tan
Size and width options 700x25c, 700x28c, 700x30c, 700x32c
Size tested 700x28c
Weight 280g
TPI 220
Price $98.95

2. WTB Exposure

Bike tire speed

If you’re looking for the absolute fastest road tire out there, this ain’t it, but this tire is super-versatile. WTB Exposure can handle a little light gravel in between those leisurely Sunday spins.

If you’re in the market for a tire that won’t exactly set the world on fire but will let you explore the great outdoors comfortably, then this should be your best bet.

Type Tubeless-ready
Colour options Black or tan
Size and width options 700x30c and 700x36c
Size tested 700x30c
Weight 305g
TPI 60
Price $55

3. Pirelli P Zero Race TLR

Road bike tire selection

Pirelli P Zero Race TLR is one of my personal favorites. The Speedcore update they dropped last spring took everything to the next level. This was the upgrade that absolutely smoked the competition in resistance tests.

However, It’s not all just lab numbers – this tire delivers where it counts, with killer real-world performance, a nice smooth ride, and a tubeless setup that’s a breeze. Sure, it might have sized up a bit smaller than I expected on my test rims, and it’s not exactly the lightest in its class.

But when it’s all said and done, when it comes to pure, unadulterated performance, this tire is an absolute beast.

Type Tubeless (tested) or clincher
Colour options Black (with grey, white, yellow or red logos) or classic tan
Size and width options 700x26c, 700x28c, 700x30c, 700x32c, 700x35c and 700x40c
Size tested 700x28c
Weight 310g
TPI 120
Price $99.90


Choosing the right road bike tires is about balancing comfort, performance, and durability. Here’s a quick recap:

  • Clincher Tires: Common, easy to replace tubes.
  • Tubeless Clincher Tires: No tube, sealant for punctures, lower pressure.
  • Tubular Tires: Racing-focused, glued to the wheel.
  • Tire Sizes: 23mm for speed, 32mm for comfort.
  • Pirelli: Reliable brand with a satisfaction guarantee.
  • Tread Types: Smooth for speed, treaded for grip.
  • Tire Compounds: Elastic for racing, durable for touring.

Don’t settle for the first tire you see. Evaluate your needs and match them with the right type, size, and brand.

Bike tire buying guide

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