We talked about the benefits of tubeless tires and wide rims, and I cannot help but find myself being an evangelist for both! I was just reading through a copy of Bike Mechanic: Tales from the Road and the Workshop by Guy Andrews and Rohan Dubash. In it, they recount a discussion with a renowned bicycle maker who suggested that “tire choice and pressure could have an equal or greater influence on a bicycle’s overall ride quality as the material from which it is made.”
A tire is made up of three parts: the bead, the sidewall, and the center strip/tread. The bead locks the tire securely into the wheel rim, and clincher tires and tubeless tires differ a lot here. Unlike clincher tires that hold air via the inner tube, tubeless beads need to lock in and allow no air to escape once the sealant is added. This sometimes makes them harder to mount.
The sidewall stiffness affects the overall suppleness of the tire. Fast race tires often have supple high thread count sidewalls/casing which allows the tire to more easily shift and confirm to the road in a way that lowers rolling resistance and makes the tire faster. However, supple casings are more prone to punctures. I remember the first great set of tires that I put on my bike, Vittoria Corsa CXs. They were so supple and so fast. And they punctured when you looked at them. Ugh!
The center strip/tread is also critical to the tire’s performance as the rubber that makes it up greatly affects rolling resistance and susceptibility to punctures. Some compounds like that on the Vittoria Corsa Speed are superfast but not very puncture resistant. Some others, like those on Continental Gatorskins are almost puncture proof, but they ride like you have garden hoses glued to your wheels. *
(I don’t know if that makes sense, but if you try them it will!).
Contrary to some people’s beliefs, the tread on a road tire has a negligible effect on grip and cornering. The volume, pressure, and the rubber compound used have a much greater effect. Tread thickness makes a difference on puncture resistance, but file treads aren't much better grip-wise even though they look like they would make a difference.
So why do tires make such a difference to a bike's ride feel? They are the only real shock absorption that a bike has, and the pressure, shape, and compound all affect cornering and rolling resistance.
The best tires are matched to the roads we ride on, and at best they are always a compromise. The bead, sidewall, and tread all interact to make tires more durable or faster. You cannot really have both, but here are some tires that I find worthwhile.
Hutchinson Sector 28s, 28mm
I was out for over 80 miles this weekend, and even though I had just mounted new that I want to review here soon (Panaracer Competition SX in 28mm clinchers) on my Aeolus Pro 3s, I went with my trusty Hutchinson Sector 28s in tubeless configuration. If you watched any of the cobbled classics this weekend, you know that big tires are the norm, not the exception. The roads were a little wet from the night before, and usually wetness means debris gets washed onto the shoulder of the road where we often find ourselves. It was a little chilly, but more than anything I did not want to get a flat and hold up either of the groups I was riding with this weekend.
Named after the famous Paris Roubaix section of gnarly pave, the Hutchinson Sector 28s are tubeless ready and a great balance of flat protection and performance. Despite the sealant inside, there have been very rare occasions when I have even punctured. And yet, they roll very well on all sorts of road conditions and on wide rims, and they blow up to almost 30mm which allow for a really supple ride. They are easy to mount on my Aeolus rims, with virtually none of the struggle that I have encountered with other tubeless tires. I have tried them at various pressures, and recently I have been riding them at about 75psi rear and 65psi front. Last year, in a local crit, I tried them at 85psi on the advice of a fellow 28mm tire lover, and I had great good results.
Hutchinson Sector 28s are listed at 284g, but for the peace of mind and performance, they are the perfect balance of speed, handling, ride feel, and durability. I have used the for training, racing, and commuting over the last year, and they are my favorite tires by far. I got around 3,000 miles out of the rear tire from last year before replacing after a big slash to the sidewall. The front tire is still going strong at over 4,000 miles. Price is often under $50, so they are also among the most economical performance tires I have tried.
They only thing that should be keeping you from trying these out is if you have a frame that limits how big a tire you can use. I just bought a Gaulzetti Corsa this week, and the first question I asked was how big a tire can I fit? The seller said he used 28s regularly. I hope he was telling the truth. Racing, training, whatever you throw at them, these tires are my top pick. You can even run them with tubes if you want to try them out on non-tubeless regular ole’ rims.
You can read MORE on them in my previous post and HERE in my follow up.
Schwalbe Pro One, 23mm, 25mm, 28mm
The Schwalbe Pro One tubeless is another excellent tire that is a little different than the Sector 28s. I have used it in the 25mm configuration. The Schwalbe Pro One list at 264g at 25mm and 302g in 28mm. Despite the reported heavier weight compared to the Hutchinson at 28mm, they feel like a light and fast race tire to me. I first started to use these when I converted over to tubeless, and I had been using the Schwalbe Ones with tubes and having good success.
The Pro Ones were a little tougher to set up. Not necessarily harder to mount, but they were harder to inflate and seat in my Aeolus 5s. They are the reason I bought a compressor, but I am not complaining. The Pro Ones give you the impression that they are a fast tire, and they certainly inspire you with their feel and cornering stability. If you like a 25mm size or are limited in your choices by your frame, these are worth a look.