Wider tires are faster – as outlined in this recent post. That isn’t the whole story, though, as many wide tires actually are quite slow. The reason for this is simple: Tire width is only one factor determining a tire’s speed. More important is how the tire is made: Is the casing supple or sturdy and stiff? Is the tread thin or thick? Are there puncture-proof layers?
For Bicycle Quarterly, we’ve tested the performance of more than 30 tires, both in roll-down tests and with a power meter on the track. We found that in order to be fast, a tire really needs to be made like a high-performance racing tire. Only then can you enjoy the magic ride (speed and comfort) that is possible with wide tires. Here is a list of wide tires that offer truly exceptional performance:
- Vittoria Open Corsa CX: This tire comes only up to 25 mm wide, but it’s one of the fastest tires you can buy. The downside is that it seems to get more punctures than most other tires.
- Grand Bois (standard model): These tires were developed based on our testing, so they optimize speed and comfort. They come in a variety of widths up to 32 mm (700C) and 42 mm (650B). Especially the wider models rarely suffer from flats.
- Grand Bois Extra Léger: We haven’t run controlled tests of the new Grand Bois Extra Léger models yet, but we have logged thousands of miles on them. Our on-the-road experience indicates that they are another big step up in comfort and speed.
- Pacenti Pari-Moto: Available only in 650B, the Pari-Moto uses a similar casing as the standard Grand Bois tires. We haven’t tested its performance, but it should perform a little better than the standard Grand Bois tires due to its thinner tread. That thin tread also means it doesn’t last as long (~1200 miles), so it may be best used as an event tire.
- Challenge Parigi-Roubaix: At least the older models were as fast as the standard Grand Bois tires, albeit more fragile. Recently, Challenge added a thick puncture-proof layer to the inside of the tires, which seems to have spoiled some of the superb ride, and probably affects performance as well. (The puncture-proof layer is red and easily visible on the inside of the tire.)
- Michelin Pro Race: We tested the Pro2 Race, and we’ll assume that the following iterations like the Pro4 are as good. On real roads, this tire isn’t as fast as steel drum tests suggest, but it’s a decent choice that combines speed with puncture resistance. Available only up to 25 mm wide.
- Continental Ultra-Gator Skin: These tires now come up to 32 mm wide. They rolled relatively fast in our tests, but their relatively harsh and buzzy ride makes them less pleasant to ride.
- Compass 26″: These 26″ tires use the same casing as the Grand Bois tires. They have a slightly thicker tread so they last longer, but that makes them a tad slower – still leagues ahead of most 26″ slick tires due to the casing.
The complete results for all tires we have tested were published in Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 11, No. 3. It’s only when you choose among tires with similar construction, that a wider tire will offer more comfort and speed, as well as fewer flats. (That was the point of the previous post.)
Conclusion: To get the best performance, choose a high-performance tire. Then run that tire in the widest width you can fit on your bike to obtain the best comfort and puncture resistance.
Conflict of Interest? Some readers will have noticed that our company, Compass Bicycles Ltd., sells some of the tires listed above. Did that influence the test results? Actually, the opposite is the case: We sell tires that tested well. As a retailer of bicycle components, we can sell any tire that is available. We carry the tires that we find to offer the best all-round performance. (For example, we don’t sell the Vittoria because we find it too fragile for the riding most people do.)