There are three important contact points on your bike; two where you touch the bike, the saddle, and the handlebars and the third where the bike touches the tarmac – your tires.
The first two points are important to get right for your comfort and the third contact point is extremely important for your safety and transferring your hard produced power to the road to propel you forward. Some would argue the third contact point, via your tires, to the road is the most important as it is for your safety, comfort, and propulsion.
When you first purchase your bike, you should be looking to make these contact points right for you. Ironically these are areas where bike manufacturers save a few pennies and expect you to change them.
In this article we will discuss the different type of tires available for road and triathlon bikes and the best brands we have tested and that that get our stamp of approval for training and race day.
- The Best Triathlon Tires
- 1. Best to both Train and Race – Continental Grand Prix 5000 Performance Road Bike Tire
- 2. Best Tire for the all-out Racer – Vittoria Corsa Graphene 2.0
- 3. Best All-Season Tire – Pirelli PZero Velo 4S Road Bike Tire
- 4. Best Tire for Puncture Resistance – Continental Gatorskin Hardshell
- 5. Best Indoor Trainer Tire – Vittoria Zaffiro Pro Home Trainer Fold Tire
Types of Tires
You have three main choices for tires: clincher, tubeless and tubular. We will go through these in turn and cover the pros and cons of each plus I will also touch on choices for your indoor trainer.
Clincher tires are the most common and what you used as a kid on your bike. They are an ‘open casing’ type of tire and require and an inner tube, and mount onto standard-hooked wheel rims. The main benefit of these is their practicality and availability. They are also relatively easy to change at home or by the side of the road if you are unlucky and get a puncture. On the downside, this is generally a heavier set-up than the other two.
Tubeless tires are open casing as above but as the name would suggest don’t need an inner tube. They are attached to specially designed, tubeless-compatible wheels where the tyres are attached by sealant. The benefits of this are you can run the tyres at slightly lower air pressure, which maintains good speed but also aids grip and comfort. On the downside, the sealant’s rather messy when fitting. I find it best to get a bike shop to do this!
Tubular tires have a tubular casing that is sewn around an inner tube. This is then glued or taped to the rim. This special construction means you can reach higher air pressures, which in theory means potentially higher speeds. The downside is they are difficult to change and best done by a bike shop professional. This means that they are usually the reserve of professional cyclists with support teams rather than age group triathletes.
Indoor Trainer Tires
Many high-end smart trainers involve taking your back wheel off and attaching your bike frame directly to the trainer using a reinforced skewer, so you won’t need a special tire. If you have a “wheel on” indoor trainer, then you will need to consider a tire that will be reinforced and that can handle the extra forces and high temperature you will apply to it indoors.
An indoor trainer tire is smooth and grips to the metal rather than having tread like outdoor tire. Unlike regular road tires, trainer tires are heat resistant, which is important as it spins in the same place on a barrel constantly throughout your workout and generates a lot of heat!
It’s worth investing in one of these tires as in my experience you can avoid the unexpected load bang when a standard tire burst – trust me it is loud! They also last a long time so will give you many years of good service ripping around the various worlds on Zwift or on the IRONMAN® courses on Fulgaz.
Nearly all triathletes will be rolling on 700c tyres. When you look at your tire wall you will see something like “700 x 25mm” where 700 is the diameter and 25 is the width both in milimeters. In the past most riders chose 700 x 23mm, because narrower tires were thought to be faster, the theory being that the contact point was less and so less rolling resistance.
But recent studies have shown this isn’t the case. Slightly wider tyres like 25mm roll just as quickly but offer a more comfortable ride. Most triathletes now choose 25mm for racing and everyday use. If you ride on more rough terrain, like cobbles, then you may opt for 28mm wide tires for a smoother ride.
Before we launch into the best tires for triathlon it’s a good idea to consider your race day tactics. If you are planning to use clincher tires on race day, then it’s well worth spending a Sunday afternoon learning to change a tire quickly. If you have ever had a puncture race day you will know this is a very useful skill to learn to avoid the dreaded DNF! All you need is a spare inner tube, some tire levers and a C02 cannister with inflator to re-inflate your tire quicky. All these items are lightweight and well worth packing in a cycle kit carrier.
Our best of list is based on tires that have clincher and/or tubeless versions of the same tire. As mentioned the tubular tire type is the preserve of professional cycle teams so we won’t cover these.
The Best Triathlon Tires
1. Best to both Train and Race – Continental Grand Prix 5000 Performance Road Bike Tire
Type: Clincher and Tubeless
Material: Blend – Black Chili
Use: Road Tire for racing and training
Size: 650x25b to 700x32c
Weight: 0.639 pounds
Price: $32.99 – $94.95
Pros: Good balance between grip and rolling resistance plus great puncture resistance. They are available as both clincher and tubeless tires.
Cons: Heavier than race tires
This tire is known for its “Black Chili” tread compound, produced only in Germany, which has a good balance of grip and rolling resistance for both training rides and on race day.
The tire is designed to absorbs vibrations and smoothen your ride. The special grip on the shoulder of the tire provides great grip on corners.
The tubeless version is denoted by “TL” which has been designed for the demands of road cycling and is relatively easy to install.
2. Best Tire for the all-out Racer – Vittoria Corsa Graphene 2.0
Type: Foldable Clincher
Use: Road Racing
Size: 700×25 and 700×28
Weight: 0.56 Pounds
Pros: Good for racing as it has a low rolling resistance
Cons: Less puncture resistance than the other tires
The Corsa features 4C Graphene four compound technology for increased wear life, lower resistance and improved grip on the sides allowing for higher speed.
They have a Corespun-K reinforced casing with cotton casing providing a smoother ride, easier rolling, and better grip ideal for racing.
The tires claim to fame as a tire is that it is used by pro cyclists in the grand tours such as the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España and the Olympic Games.
3. Best All-Season Tire – Pirelli PZero Velo 4S Road Bike Tire
Use: Road Tire for year-round use
Size: 700x25c and 700x28c
Weight: 0.485 Pounds
Price: $51.23 – $70.90
Pros: It’s good for all four seasons (hence the name 4S) and relatively light weight.
Cons: Being an all season tire it is not a fast rolling as a pure race tire.
The Pirelli PZero is a great all-season tire and has scored high for road rolling, dry & wet grip, puncture protection, mileage, and comfort. The tire tread sheds water from your path as you ride to enhance your grip on those wet, rainy rides.
The Pirelli’s SmartNET Silica compound was developed for motorsport and is now included on this road bike tire. It also features an aramid fiber belt located underneath the tread to protect the casing from sharp objects so even though not as good as the tire specifically armoured for puncture resist it does offer great protection in all weather conditions.
4. Best Tire for Puncture Resistance – Continental Gatorskin Hardshell
Type: Clincher and Tubeless
Material: Blend – Black Chili
Use: Road Tire for racing and training
Sizes: All road tire sizes
Weight: 0.86 Pounds
Price: $38.06 – $87.73
Pros: Excellent puncture resist which provides peace of mind on those long rides
Cons: Heavier than race specific tires
If you really don’t fancy repairing a tire by the roadside, then this tire is for you! The Continental Gatorskin is the ultimate training & racing tire where puncture protection is your priority. Using the latest proprietary technology against flats the Gatorskin range uses PolyX Breaker and DuraSkin sidewall protection.
The Gatorskin tire is made for the long puncture free rides. The PolyX Breaker, a tried and trusted puncture protections system and the DuraSkin anti-cut fabric makes the Gatorskin into a true long distance runner.
5. Best Indoor Trainer Tire – Vittoria Zaffiro Pro Home Trainer Fold Tire
Use: Road Tire for use on an indoor trainer
Weight: 270 Grams / 0.595 pounds
Pros: They can take the heat of indoor training plus run quieter and smoother than standard tires.
Cons: They can be a bit tricky to put on the rims of your wheel as the rubber is quite hard. It’s worth getting them warm before fitting to manipulate them on to the rim.
You may have noticed that your standard road tires wear down extremely fast on your indoor trainer? These tires from Vittoria could save you a lot of money in the long run and last for many years. They are designed to take the heat (have you ever felt you tires after a long ride on inside? It’s not advisable – they get really hot!! They are also designed to run quietly so less distraction when you are listening to your favourite podcast or catching up on Netflix.
As you can see there are many tires on the market for all use cases from fast and lightweight for racing to robust compounds for hot indoor cycling. If you are planning to do a long-distance triathlon like an Iron distance event, then you should consider a tire with puncture resist like the Continental Grand Prix 5000 as there is nothing worse than getting a puncture between aid stations! For the shorter events like Sprint and Olympic distance Age Group qualifier events you may want to go for race tires that are lighter weight and less rolling resistance like the Vittoria Corsa Graphene 2.0.
If funds are tight, then you could consider getting a great all-round tire like the Pirelli PZero Velo 4S which you can use for training and racing all year round. They may on the face of it seem quite expensive but when it comes to safety it’s worth it plus, they will give you many miles of good service.