The Best Tires For Bicycle Touring
We regularly get questions about the ‘best’ tire for bicycle touring.
In this article, we look at a few options but first it helps to define ‘best’. That very much depends on the trip you have in mind. The ‘best’ tire for a trip entirely on paved roads is very different from an expedition tire, which might be slower and heavier but tends to last longer and perform better on rough tracks.
You’ll also notice that we focus heavily on Schwalbe tires. We’ve had very good experiences on the whole with Schwalbe tires and are quite loyal to this brand, so that influences our recommendations here. Other tires might also be good but we’re not familiar enough with them to comment on their merits.
We’re currently using two types of tires:
#1. Schwalbe Marathon Extreme Tires
We’ve been using Marathon Extreme tires in the 26 x 2.0 size for the last couple of years on our Santos touring bikes. After a few thousand kilometers of touring and commuting, we’re happy with them.
We’ve had virtually no punctures between our two bikes and they’re in no need of replacement yet. Not everyone is so positive about Marathon Extreme tires. Some people complain of durability problems but that’s not something we’ve experienced.
#2. Schwalbe Marathon Plus
After using a thick, expedition tire on our world trip, we decided to put something a bit lighter on our steel-framed Robin Mather bikes for asphalt-road touring around Europe.
We went for the Marathon Plus tire in a 26 x 1.75 size and so far, so good. They feel surprisingly nippy and responsive – a beautiful feeling after you’ve been using expedition-grade tires for several years. At the same time, there’s more than enough grip for riding in messy weather, when the roads can be slippery.
#1. Schwalbe’s Marathon Mondial
If you’re planning a real expedition on rough tracks, then take a look at Schwalbe’s Marathon Mondial. It’s a replacement for the much loved Marathon XR tire (now out of production).
The Mondial comes in a wire bead and folding bead version. It costs about $45 U.S. in the normal version, or $65 U.S. for a folding tire (easier to take with you on the road as a spare).
#2. Schwalbe’s Dureme (versus the Extreme)
Schwalbe told us that both the Dureme and the Extreme were viable alternatives to the XR, offering a “…softer compound and provide much better grip in all conditions as well as a smoother, more comfortable ride than the old Marathon XRs.”
How to distinguish between the Dureme and the Extreme?
The Dureme’s tread is fairly similar to the XR as far as grip offered and rolling on smooth surfaces. The outer blocks on the Dureme really help to provide grip on the looser gravel, dirt, off road paths, etc. The Extreme will obviously be the more off-road tire offering superior grip but still rolls well on paved and smooth surfaces.
What Bicycle Shops Say
We’ve also surveyed bike shops to ask about their alternative choices, and their replies are below. Most recommend either a Schwalbe or Continental tire, with a few alternative ideas thrown in for fun.
Now for our bike store experts:
Mike Beck, Gregg’s Cycles (Seattle, Washington)
Verdict: There’s lots of choice.
Touring tires face very challenging conditions on the road. These tires need to possess a balance of flat resistance, rolling resistance and robustness and designing for one of these generally diminishes the others. Flat protection, can be accomplished with plastic belts, woven flatbreakers or thick rubber 3D flat guards. Additionally, some tires also possess sidewall protection as well as anti-chafing strips near the beads and anti-pinch flat technology.
Tourers in remote areas may prefer the extreme flat protection of the 3D belted tires. Some good options in this category are the Continental Touring Plus, the Schwalbe Marathon Plus and the Vittoria Randonneur Touring. Tires with better handling characteristics while still remaining tough under touring loads are tires with woven or polymer flat breakers and tough sidewall protection like the Continental Travel Contact or the Schwalbe Marathon HS 368. More supple still, and the cyclotourist’s first choice for tough touring tires that still ride well and protect on or off road, are the Panaracer T-Serv TG or Pasela TG tires.
Ed Wagar, Touring Gear Bicycles (Harbor Springs, Michigan)
Verdict: Schwalbe’s Marathon and the Continental Contact are both good but for longer tours Continental’s Travel Contact is the best choice.
It’s too bad Schwalbe is not making the Marathon XR but there are some other great tires out there and let’s not forget the Marathon. It still has the kevlar-mb belt for puncture resistance. Continental Travel Contact with Duraskin is very nice also. Duraskin provides sidewall protection, while a puncture resistant strip has been molded into the tread. It comes in a 37mm size. I have toured using the standard contact from Continental, which worked great and it comes in sizes from 28mm to 42mm. If I were headed out on a tour now I would go for the more durable tire but the standard did work well for me.
I normally recommend the Schwalbe Marathon Plus for touring, or I run the Continental Contact on my touring/commuter these days as my shop stocks them. Schwalbe has a great name in the touring field as it is a very durable line of tires with excellent handling. The Contact works well in light gravel or hard pack dirt and then rolls super fast on the road if properly inflated.