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The Best Tires For Bicycle Touring


We regularly get questions about the ‘best’ tire for bicycle touring.

150-Song Kol through bike wheels.jpg

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

marathonextremeWe’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.

Other Options

#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).

Marathon MondialThe 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.”

marathondureme

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.

contitravelcontact

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.

scmar-1Ed 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.

Arleigh, Commute By Bike and manager of Cool Breeze Cyclery (Mooresville, North Carolina)
Verdict: Either Schwalbe’s Marathon Plus or Continental’s Contact

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.

What Next?
Related Pages
 

47 Responses to “The Best Tires For Bicycle Touring”

  1. Ali says:

    no Schwalbe of course! CST (Cheng Shin Tyres) 4 us. 1/10 of the price, half the distance, double the punctures…

    • Raditya says:

      i agree with you.. CST for my front tire and Deli (local in Indonesia) for rear tire of my bike..

      • Alan Tan says:

        not to forget Thai made VeeRubber Citywolf too. Have been using CST, Deli and Veerubber for my daily commute and bike tours. They are good and cheaper alternatives.

    • Sorry, in my everyday life in the city, I wouldn’t trade any amount of money for double the punctures. I just cannot afford to sweat in the ditch and fix punctures when I run on a schedule, wear clean clothes and have a complaining kid in the trialer.

      • friedel says:

        I’m waiting to see how the new Schwalbe Extremes hold up. Being a bit conservative (or spoiled), I picked up 2 more XRs at a bike shop here recently. Stockpiling my favourite tires so far!

  2. Sonya says:

    think global, buy local!

  3. Tom Allen says:

    Not sure about this – I haven’t heard particularly encouraging things about the Extreme’s longevity. And the Dureme doesn’t look like much of a dirt-track tyre. I’d rather have the XR back!

    Luckily I have a new set of XRs waiting to hit the road, so they should last a good 15,000km, and after that I guess it’ll be time to choose a new tyre.

  4. Lindsay says:

    Yeah, it´s interesting the XRs are going. My Extremes are doing OK
    on the ripio, but we’ll see how they last.

    Can’t agree with the above comments about Panaracer. I know that
    shops recommend them, but whenever I’ve tried them, I’ve always had
    sidewall failures after a few thousand km.

    People talk about puncture protection, and it is important, but for
    me the most important thing with touring tyres is strong sidewalls.

    • I have had Panaracer’s Hi Road for 3k miles an have not had a single puncture or flat so far. I ride mostly road with a dirt road every now an then with a medium loaded bike. Curiously, I did not think much of this tires when I first put them on my bike. That said, I agree with you! A flat can be fixed but a sidewall failure in a remote location is unacceptable!

  5. Steve says:

    Let’s see, Schwalbe discontinued the global go-to tire because people complained about the “harsh ride”? That’s nonsense.

    What happened is that the engineers in Germany came up with this wizz bang triple nano compound and like the geniuses at Coca Cola foisted it on the public as an improvement. Yes, the ride of the latter is better, but the tires wear out in half the time and puncture far more readily.

    I have also stockpiled XR’s and won’t be needing replacements for some years. Hopefully, the Schwalbe marketing people will wrest control from the scientists in the lab and bring the XR back.

  6. Pete says:

    12000 kms with zero punctures tells me that Vittoria Randonneur Cross (or the Randonneurs in 700C) are THE BEST tyres for durability and pouncture resistance. I’ve even pulled out 11 cat-head thorns from these – no loss of air.

  7. More anecdotal reporting:
    We ran Continental Travel Contacts (1.75″) for the first 6000km of our tour and had more flats than I can count. Contrast that with our Marathon XRs (2″) which have had zero flats related to road punctures (but a few related to not installing rim tape correctly!) in about 4000km.

    I wasn’t aware that the XR was discontinued but I’m tempted to start stockpiling them now!

  8. Bob Alessio says:

    I rode across America San Diego to Boston in 2005. 3,446 miles in 54 days. I started with Continetal Gatorskins from San Diego to Las Cruces and had seven flats mostly due to wire shard from blown out truck tires. In Las Cruces a bike shop recommended Specialized Armadillo All Condition tires. I did not have another flat for the rest of the trip (over 3,000 miles) plus another 600 miles of riding after the trip. I’m not sure what is the best puncture resistant tire these days, but I keep buying the Armadillos.

    I’d appreciate some test data between Armadillos, Vittorias, and Continental Travel Contacts.

    Bob Alessio

    • peter irono says:

      What was the size Specialized Armadillo All Condition tires that you used for your journey. I want to buy these tires but still on undecided as the choices out there are numerous. Regards Peter

      • Hi Peter.

        The tires and sizes:
        Specialized All Condition “Armadillo” Technology; Rear =
        Rear: 700x25c (25-622), Front: 700x23c (23-622)

        I felt I needed a larger tire (25c) in the rear
        because of the extra weight of my gear
        and paniers.

        Btw, I rode over 2,000 miles this past year on these tires and, I still have not had a flat!!

        Bob

    • bill b says:

      Hello Bob,
      Thanks for sharing your experiences…don’t know if you check this blog anymore, but I would be really interested in talking with you about your 2005 trip. I’m planning a similar route for this April. Thanks. Bill B.

  9. Walter says:

    Often forgotten in this discussion, is the question: “Where do you want to ride?” There is simply not one best tyre, it’s horses for courses.

    If your tour will lead you over many unpaved roads or snow, then you will need a treaded tyre, like the models mentioned above.

    However, if you will be riding on roads with reasonable to good paving, e.g. anything from a moderate gravel road to nice asphalt, slick tyres are much better. They offer less rolling resistance, less weight, more (yes, more!) grip and are less prone to punctures as they hold less dirt.

    I often see people touring on heavy, treaded tyres on trips with only moderate to good roads. I think that’s a bad choice. If you tour in Europe or so, use slicks.

    As far as I know, the best touring slick at the moment is the Schwalbe Kojak. I used it in Scandinavia. It is almost as fast as a racing tyre, is very tough and offers excellent grip on wet roads. Get the folding version to save a lot of weight for a slightly higher price.

    • donald ostertag says:

      Walter,
      Very good point. I toured across the US in 1982 (what’s a Schwalbe?) on 28c specialized touring turbos -no longer
      made- no tread, and on a bike with front and rear panniers
      that was so heavy I could hardly lift. I could ride 145
      miles in a day and did a couple of times. I don’t see myself using those big heavy so-called touring tires unless I am going to tour off the blacktop. Who needs all that extra rolling resistance?

    • Andy says:

      After reading your post swapped my Marathon Plus for 700×35 Kojaks. What a difference! Never again will I drag the road along with me. I have had them on for a couple of months and have undertaken my broken glass and dog crap infested city commute along with some spectacular loaded touring of the Scottish Highlands. Approx 1300 miles so far with better grip, faster rolling and no punctures.

      • David says:

        Presume there was not much or at all off road? I just imagine myself trying to ride them on muddy or wet roads (my motorbike goes skating on semi-race slicks).

      • Andy says:

        Hi David
        None of my riding has been ‘off-road’, but I have had had no issues with loose gravel on cycle/forest/canal type paths. I have also found good grip in the wet (and I do mean proper rain). I agree that anything to do with mud would be an absolute disaster though! Up to around 1900 miles and no punctures yet. I am going to run them on my summer trip from Amsterdam to Budapest, so I should get a good idea of their longevity (I just bought a spare to carry – a mere 330g). The Marathon Pluses will remain in storage until further notice.

  10. I recently swapped my Marathon Plus for Marathon Duremes after abt 5,000 kms. Obviously I cannot say how they’ll perform in the long run, but as a first analysis they make for a verrry smooth ride. We do some 3 week tours in summer, otherwise ride in the city every day, so we talk mostly ordinary paved roads, but I ride on broken glas like a fakir all the time. I may replace my tyres earlier than some of the other posters, but I enjoy it that with Schwalbes tyres fixing punctures is almost never happening!

  11. Larry says:

    My experience with 26 x 1.75 Conti Travel Contacts was pretty good. I rode 4,700 miles with 2 punctures… 1 from a wire and 1 from a piece of glass. About 500 miles were on gravel, the rest on panement

  12. Larry says:

    My experience with 26 x 1.75 Conti Travel Contacts was pretty good. I rode 4,700 miles with 2 punctures… 1 from a wire and 1 from a piece of glass. About 500 miles were on gravel, the rest on pavement

  13. Alan says:

    I love Schwalbes but have had terrible luck with them recently: 2 of my last 4 have been defective, in ways that I didn’t discover until I rode them.

    Is this just my terrible luck or have others observed similar problems?

    • Stephen says:

      My wife and I have traveled over 17000km over the last two years, 95% on road. We started on Marathon XR 2.1″ as we thought we would be doing more off road. They ran well to about 10000km, but then started to suffer problems from glass and tyre wire shards. We changed them for the newer Extremes. These didn’t last as long only about 6000km and in three out of four tyres they suffered from glass attack. Once there is a short slit (just a few mm) the inner webbing becomes detached and the tyre starts to bulge.

      My feeling is the XR is a more durable tyre.

      I have also run Continental + and had no problems with them but we only used them for a short time.

      • peter i says:

        Continental contact (700 X 32) safety system is great. I have done over 3000 miles in mine and still no punctures.
        What size and type of continental tyres did you use – many thanks ?

      • Stephen says:

        We used 26″ 1.75

  14. carl myhill says:

    I commute 25 miles a day, mostly on tarmac across west london in to the city. I’ve started with Continental Gatorskin Hard Shells. They rode nice but puncture loads in the wet. I’m constantly finding the tyres pick up little sharp stones and if I get unlucky one gets through. I put probably 1000 miles on them before they started giving regular flats.

    One night I switched to the armadillo. Two weeks later the first flat, and then another 3 weeks and another one.

    So I’ve just switched to Marathon Plus 700×25 and they do seem more bomb proof. Much harder to put on that the other tyres and considerably heavier to ride with.

    I’m not sure I’m going to be happy with the tradeoff of much less fun all the time through slow tyres; versus the occasional puncture.

    I’m now wondering whether the durano is tougher than the gatorskin.

  15. Alex says:

    I’ve done about 3,000 miles on Schwalbe Marathon Plus (including touring the length of Britain and commuting across London’s broken-glass-filled streets every day) without even a hint of a puncture.

    It’s even got to the point where I deliberately ride through patches of broken glass just because I know I can get away with it…

  16. Raditya says:

    Since I have a bicycle computer attached to my bicycle in October 2010, now it shows about 8000 km in total distance that I have reached, for everyday use and sometimes a daytrip (more than 100 km in a day). I have used CST Traveller 26 x 1.50 since January 2010, and it still good until now. It means that over this last year, it runs more than 10000 km and can do more again.

  17. sz says:

    A couple of days ago Schwalbe announced the new Marathon Mondial tires, the real successor of the good old XRs.

    http://www.schwalbe.de/gbl/en/startseite/?gesamt=260&ID_Land=1&ID_Sprache=1&ID_Seite=24

  18. Jeff says:

    I love the Marathon Plus. That’s ıt.

    I never had the chance to try the XR, but ı thınk these Marathon Plus are golden. Alrıght they are heavy, prıcey and mıght be a bıt harder to put on the rıms, but ıt’s all worth ıt ın my opınıon.

    I’ve rıdden 16000km on the front one wıthout any sıngle puncture or problem and the rear one was changed at 7000km by precautıon, unpuctured too though. 5000km later (@12000) my fırst glass puncture occured on the rear one and wıth a lıttle patch on the ınsıde has been rıdıng strong sınce.

    I’m about to change the set by precautıon agaın, and ı aın’t buyıng anythıng else for sure!

    ps. In fact the mondıal has quıte a sımılar thread as the Plus ı thınk.

    • peter irono says:

      What sizes of marathon plus tyres do you currently ride ?
      What pressure ranges do you normally pump the tyres ie upper range or lower range ?
      Many thanks

      • Jeff says:

        I run the 700x35C. It’s the biggest size that will normally fit inside my fenders. (Actually, I ended up changing just the back tire to 38C recently because I couldn’t get 35C. After putting the grinder to the fender I managed to fit it, but it would not up front. I’ll see how much it changes the ride)

        I always ride them at 80psi. Don’t know why exactly, but by now I’m quite supertitious about it.

  19. Aushiker says:

    For those looking for the Mondials http://www.bike24.net/ have them for EUR$31.85 (+ VAT if you pay it). So for Australians and Americans that is about $43 a tyre plus postage. Not too bad a price.

    Anyone have experience with them, particular off road?

    Thanks
    Andrew

  20. Raditya says:

    Has anyone ever tried this brand?
    Deli Tire
    http://www.delitire.com/main.htm

  21. Andrea says:

    I’m still confused. What’s the difference in terms of results between the mondial (non folding) and the dureme for use on a all terrains, long tours, including lots of varied surfaces on a major trail (eg 4000km and a tour of france for 3 months, mostly on tarred surfaces.

    Which one is the best for me? Which one is tougher? which one is faster? which one handles better in bad conditions?

    I’m already a slow rider, so i don’t need to go any more slowly when i’m on a highway. But i do a lot of off road in australia and conditions can be very tough on tires.

    • Andrea, I am not sure which one is the best for you but I can tell you how they compare according to Schwalbe (the Mondial is too recent to have feedback from users). The Mondial is a tougher tire thanks to the TravelStar compound (folding bead only). It was really designed for long distance touring and designed to be perhaps the most durable Schwalbe touring tire – certainly more durable than the Dureme. Another durable option is the new Dureme Tandem that some people are starting to use on non-tandem bikes for long distance touring. Due to its more agressive thread, the Mondial will perform better off-road and on winter roads than the Dureme. That toughness comes with a “price”: the weight. The Mondial is heavier than the Dureme (again due to the TravelStar compound). For example the Dureme in 26×2.00 weighs 590 gr. while the Mondial in the same size weighs 740 gr; which is pretty significant. For that reason, I would say that the Mondial is slower than the Dureme – even though Schwalbe rates both tire with the same speed performance. As far as punctures and sidewall protection, Schwalbe rates both tire equally, but again, thanks to the TravelStar compound, I would not be surprised if the Mondial would outperform the Dureme in that aspect. To make it simple, if speed is really an issue for you, go for the Dureme. If you want the most durable tire, go for the Mondial. Either way you can’t go wrong as both of them are excellent tires! Good luck and happy travel.

      • Andrea says:

        Gee. I’ve gone and ordered them already but i hadn’t realised how much they weighted. eg 740g. That’s a lot. I shall have to get a small computer and camera to compensate. Or more lighweight something else anyway. Thanks for your analysis.

      • Aushiker says:

        @Andrea I have a brand new Schwalbe Marathon Mondial 42-622 700 x 40c which weighed in at 650 grams each on my digital scales so maybe a few grams saving there after all :)

      • Yes, the 700×40 is a lighter model than the 26×2.00. The Dureme in 700×40 weighs only 550 gr.

  22. Alan says:

    Between the dureme and the mondial, I understand that the dureme is lighter and has better grip, esp in the wet. The mondial is more durable and appears to have a more aggressive side tread. I find that a risk situation on the road is climbing small ridges — e.g. the shoulder to pavement edge or a streetcar track — lengthwise. Is there a preference between these two tires in that scenario? Is one likely to be a better climber?
    Also, what’s the thinking on mixing things up — e.g. dureme on the front for grip and ride combined with mondial on the rear for durability?

  23. NickG says:

    I think I agree with Walter.

    Just planning my trip which will be both on road and off road (e.g. will include tour divide and also long stretches of asphalt). I’m thinking of taking 2 sets of tyres,
    - on road: a set of slicks (e.g. Kojak or Supreme)
    - off road: a combination of Mondial(rear) and/or Extreme (front) (2.25). I do have a Surly Troll MTB that can take this type of tyre width.

    Hypothesising, surely it’s better to have slicks on road (e.g. Kojak, Supreme); aren’t these up to 20% (guess) more efficient than for example the Mondial or Dureme? (Due to their high PSI, narrower tyre width and reduction in tread.) Over seriously long distances the time you can make up in speed must overcome any puncture disadvantage (which, let’s face it, are reasonably easy to fix); over a year this could be an enormous saving of a couple of months/ 2000km (guess /depending on your trip). Not that you necessarily want to rush but if the speed is there, I’d take it. OK so they’re less durable, but you can take multiple spares. For a start the slicks are MUCH lighter (Kojak 26×1.35/ 95 psi/ 295g; Mondial (26×2.0/740g)) so carrying spares isn’t so bad but also any potential weight disadvantage from spares ( which there probably wouldn’t be) would be made up in the efficiency of the bike.

    My only reservation for taking the slicks instead would be grip on wet roads; not sure how much of a factor this would be.

    I am speculating, however, and not really talking from experience; would be interested to hear other people’s thoughts.

  24. asevern says:

    Tour (26″) on road and tracks in UK. Schwalbe Marathon plus used as give least problems but noticeable rolling resistance and more twitchy on tarmac than Panaracer. Panaracer Pasela TG recommended to me and previously used,deteriorate quick and puncture very easily thorns and road grit) but roll really well. Also used Continentals on 28″ wheels, again poor puncture resistance and wear quick.
    If there was a choice it would be Schwalbe puncture resistance and wearability with Panaracer Pasela TG low rolling resistance. At the price bicycle tyres are this spec. should be available.
    Oh! Noticed that Continental tyres and especially inner tubes are not the spec/quality they were or should be; very disappointed – Happy touring

  25. WW says:

    If you look under the right (online) rocks, you might even find the out-of-production Expeditions up for sale: http://www.spacycles.co.uk/products.php?plid=m2b0s206p2884 . A steal!! The 2 inch variety are also available here and there in small quantities.

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