A Few Good Tires
by Richard Risemberg (except as noted) (October 1997/December 2006/September 2010)

From sometime in 2007 to sometime in 2009, we ran a Street Tire Survey on Bicycle Fixation. It has taken us nearly a year, but we have finally collated the results, which we present in the graph below.

These are impressions of several tires submitted by users thereof; they are not technical evaluations. We asked riders to rate their tires on a five-point scale for several characteristics, then averaged the results for each characteristic, and averaged the averages to determine an overall rating for each tire. The survey was intended to gather users' impressons of tires in utility service--commuting, touring, shopping, and general travel--not sport riding. We asked how long each tires lasted, how well it gripped on wet and dry pavement and on dirt roads, how well it resisted punctures, how comfortable it felt, and whether it was worth the money. We averaged those factors together for the overall rating, and also averaged the responses on road quality. Five points is the highest rating, one point the lowest.

A high price can pull down a good tire's rating, while extreme flat resistance can raise a sluggish tire's score. We did not ask whether tires felt fast: to repeat, we were interested in a tire's suitability for utility riding.

We did not include any tires that received fewer than three responses, and most received much more. Panaracer Paselas and Schwalbe Marathons received the most responses, so their ratings will be the most accurate.

Make/ModelWearDry GripWet GripDirt GripFlat ResistanceComfortValueOverall RatingRoad Quality
Continental Contact4.804.604.403.804.404.604.404.433.60
Continental Gatorskin4.254.633.882.714.384.003.383.893.38
Continental Grand Prix4.673.673.001.674.003.673.333.433.00
Continental Town & Country5.005.004.674.004.335.004.674.672.67
Continental Ultra Gatorskin4.834.173.332.504.834.173.503.902.50
Geax Street Runner4.504.253.502.504.
Grand Bois Cypres3.004.504.252.752.005.002.753.462.25
Michelin Dynamic3.504.504.753.253.504.254.504.042.5
Michelin Pro Race
Michelin Transworld City5.005.004.333.334.334.674.334.432.67
Col de la Vie4.804.404.
Panaracer Pasela4.084.424.
Panaracer Pasela Tourguard4.304.233.923.084.624.
Panaracer T-Serv4.334.784.563.784.784.333.564.302.89
Ritchey Speedmax3.504.
Schwalbe Big Apple4.604.804.503.
Schwalbe Marathon4.804.734.363.554.914.093.824.323.55
Schwalbe Marathon Plus4.904.784.383.674.894.223.564.342.22
Schwalbe Marathon Supreme5.004.604.003.805.004.402.64.203.40
Soma Everwear4.504.253.503.754.754.504.254.213.25
Specialized Armadillo4.834.083.753.274.804.083.834.093.17
WTB Allterrainasaurus4.675.004.674.333.674.334.334.432.67
WTB Slickasaurus5.

We also asked for comments from respondents. A sampling of those comments follows.

Continental Contact: I ride a Trek 520 I've seen this tire on sale @Nashbar for $25 what a steal! Not one flat in over 2 years! Average commute 10 miles a day 5x a week.

continental Gatorskin: Despite the glass, thorns, and other sharp debris that litters these small streets, Gatorskins prove to be nigh impenetrable.

Conitental Ultra Gatorskin Great commuter tire, as long as it's not wet and there's no sand or dirt. I don't run on on the front right now during the winter because of this, but the only flat I've had was from a poorly patched tube that I'd used instead of a new one.

Geax Street Runner This is a hidden gem in the tire world. Great value choice for a 26 wheeled commuter. I have a little over 2000 miles on my current set. They seem to wear very well. Rolling resistance (lack of) is impressive.

Gran Bois Cypres Insanely fast, comfortable tire but I can't justify the cost when the (non-Tourguard) Pasela gives 80% of the performance (just a guesstimate) at a fraction of the price. I got funky handling out of mine in hard cornering when they were mounted on narrow rims. I chalk this up to the very flexible sidewalls deforming and I couldn't get it to happen when the tires were mounted on 22mm rims. The tires are very thin. I'm glad to have experienced them as they are really the fastest, most comfortable tires I've ridden.

Michelin Transworld Pretty good tire with a thick tread and plenty of water channels. Rides very smoothly, and sticks to the road really well during cornering maneuvers. Low rolling resistance for such a fat, relatively low pressure (58psi max) tire. Flat protection could use a tweak or two, but this is an all around good tire for a good price.

Panaracer Col de la Vie Wear is great, I've had one flat in over 12,000 miles using these tires, and they are Comfort Kings. Simply fabulous on dirt, chipseal, cracked and broken pavement. The worse the road, the more they shine.

Panaracer Pasela Not as fun to ride as the Grand Bois, but still a nice riding tire and not too expensive. They aren't very good on narrow rims (like the MA2). They tend to be bouncy or squirmy depending on pressure, there is no sweet spot. On wider rims (CR18) they are great.

Panaracer Pasela Tourguard Love these tires! They measure 37mm on Sun CR-18 rims and give me more float as Col de la Vie 650B tires. Run them 65lbs front/50lbs rear. Slip a bit in the dirt, but are perfect on broken asphalt. Goathead punctures, but that's all. Wear very well. Picked them up at a Nashbar sale.

Panarascer T-Serv Pretty durable tires - I'm putting in between 80 and 100 miles a week, and these have yet to show any significant wear. They also grip much better than the Armadillos I was running for a while.

Schwalbe Big Apple This is the best Urban Assault tire I have used, this makes me feel like I am riding on the beach, no matter where I go, without the slowness associated with sand. I'm in no hurry with this tire, and the ride is like a Porsche with a comfort setting.

Schwalbe Marathon Great commuter tire. Flat resistant. Nice and round tread for good grips. Comfortable. A little heavy though.

Schwalbe Marathon Plus These tires are very heavy, but also indestructible. They laugh off glass shards, wire, metal, stones, etc. For commuting and touring, they're a great choice. The only flat I've had in over 2 years of daily commuting was from a large nail that went straight in. Highly recommended.

Schwalbe Marathon Supreme I have just 1100 miles on them so for and I am very pleased. I find them to be comfortable and I have had no flats to this point. They are not cheap but the quality appears to be excellent. Another point is that I purchased the folding model & I think it is fairly light weight for a tire of this size with good flat protection.

Specialized Armadillo Actually measured a true 28mm, with a very round profile. Gives a nice ride at 80psi, but you can tell it's definitely heavier than others. Worked great for mixed terrain rides on dirt/gravel/paved routes. Puts lots of miles on it, and it barely shows any wear. Good city tire when flat protection is needed, but on strictly clean, well paved streets, something with a more supple sidewall would be better.

WTB Allterrainasaurus A great rural tire. Heavy but tough and grippy.

You can download the entire set of responses in an Excel spreadsheet here. This of course excludes respondents' names and emails but includes their city or region, all comments, and all tires, even those that received only one response.

Original article follows:
When you're on the bike every day, you get the chance to wear through a lot of tires, and you find out pretty soon which ones do a good job of keeping you attached to the road, and which ones aren't so good. Here's a quick review of several I've used over the last twenty years and found to stand up well to the demands of hardcore urban commuting. I have used each tire for at least 500 miles, and usually for several thousand, before reporting on it.

My present favorite tire (as of late 2010) is the Schwalbe Marathon, the "plain" Marathon, HS368. Comfortable, highly flat-resistant, not too slow, and extremely grippy on dry or wet roads and most unpaved road surfances. Not even very expensive. I'm also riding, on another bike, the vittoria Randonneur Pro, which si very comfortable over bumpy roads but is so sluggish that I can't wait for the present pair to wear out. I will replace them with Marathons.

The Avocet tires listed below are no longer available. But I wish they were!

Avocet Slick
The king of tires! Round, sticky, fast, smooth-riding, great in corners, excellent in rain, and the belted version is impressively resistant to flatting. Lasts a good long while too. If you ride mostly pavement, there is no better tire, I think. Great on rough or even shattered roads as well as smooth paths. Available in 26" and 700C in skinny to fat sizes. Like all Avocet products, a little hard to find, but well worth the search. Comes in belted and unbelted versions. Note: No longer available!

Avocet Cross Kevlar
An excellent all-around tire: strong, heavy, belted, with a deeply-incised zigzag tread that works very well on any sort of pavement, and acceptably on dirt roads too. Soft, possibly natural, rubber gives you confident cornering, strong construction lets you carry heavy loads over potholes and spilled bricks, and the handsome tread grips through rain, on hardpack, and even in mud if it's not too soft. (The same tread acts as little paddlewheels that scoop rain up to your face, so you'd better have fenders for wet weather rides.) I got about five thousand miles (or about one year) out of a rear tire; the rubber seems to degenerate from smog after that long, and the tire then starts flatting. I typically would have no more than one flat in the first 5,000 miles, and then two or three within a few weeks, when I would regretfully replace the tire even though it was not yet worn out. I say "regretfully" because they cost approximately $35.00 each. Available in three widths for 26" wheels, and three for 700c. There is an unbelted version, which I would not recommend if you live in places like Los Angeles, where the streets are paved with broken beer bottles. The current version is made of an even sticker rubber. I recommend this tire if you ride dirt roads a lot but are still mainly a pavement rider. Note: No longer available!

Bontrager Race Lite
A high-pressure nearly slick road tire that is fast and sticky and resists flats fairly well. Ride is a bit harsh, but it's a pretty good tire that's easy to find and not too expensive. Bontrager seems to give its tires similar names, so make sure you get the belted one if you ride on iffy roads.

Panaracer Pasela
Much beloved of touring riders and inexpensive as well, I'd call this a decent but unexciting tire. Feels a bit slow and "squishy," and doesn't climb out of longitudinal pavement cracks very well. Has a pretty but useless siped tread pattern. If the budget were better I'd replace the ones I got for free, but they aren't bad, just not as good as the Avocets. There is a belted version (the "Tourguard") that I have not tried.

Ritchey Tom Slick:
An almost-slick with deep edge grooves, now available only in 26" and 700C. I ran the 26" x 1.4" for years on a Bridgestone XO-2, but never liked them. While they are comfortable and stick well in wet or dry, they always felt slow to me, and on dirt roads they just slip and slide around. Some people love them, but they always made my rides a little weary.

Schwalbe Marathon Plus:
Todd Edelman, of the Green Idea Factory in Prague, tested a pair of Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires in 26x1.5 (559x37). Here is his report:
Cornering is fantastic, even when they are pumped up above the recommended limit. I feel like I can lean over really far. However, they are a little slow, and of course heavy, but keep in mind that I needed an all-year tire for city streets (and it snows here). I thought about getting the 1.25 model but we have cobblestones.

It is incredibly reassuring to know that it is highly unlikely I will get a puncture from most urban threats: glass, tacks, bits of wire. I think they are probably very long lasting, but cannot guess how long. The reflectorized sidewalls are good as they eliminate the need for fragile reflectors, and they also look less dorky. These seem to be the most popular higher-end tyre with bike messengers here.

Specialized Armadillo:
I rode this tire on my old Centurion when I returned to commuting a few years ago; it was the first belted (armored) tire I used, and it worked well, though it didn't last very well. I don't believe the version I used is still made, but Specialized markets a number of tires under the same name, and if they are indeed advancements over the old rubber I was using all those years ago, they would be worth trying.

Of course, there are other good tires around, but these are the ones we've used out there in day-to-day urban traffic. I haven't put prices because prices change week to week and store to store. As we try more tires, I'll add them to this article.

Richard Risemberg