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 what we mean by the ‘best’ tire. It’s impossible to find one tire that does everything well. Rather, you need to search for the ‘best suited’ tire for the trip you’re planning.
The tire you’ll need for a tour along the paved roads and bike paths of Europe will be very different from an expedition tire, which might be slower and heavier but will be better able to tackle rough and changing terrain, and might last longer (relieving you of the burden of finding a replacement in out-of-the-way places).
You’ll notice that we only recommend Schwalbe-brand tires. Schwalbe has been the leader in touring tires for some time now and whenever we ask for recommendations, the answer is almost always Schwalbe. Our personal experience with these tires is also excellent.
#1. 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’re rather heavy at nearly 1kg per tire but feel nippy and responsive compared to the expedition-grade tires we used previously.
There’s more than enough grip for riding in messy weather and on slippery roads. Schwalbe also make a ‘tour’ version of the tire (Marathon Plus Tour), with a heavier tread — useful if you’re planning to ride on dirt roads.
They’re heavy, but we take our 700×38 tires on all surfaces, including occasional singletrack, and they grip well and offer pretty good flat protection. Between 2 bikes, we’ve only had 10 flats in 17,000 kilometers. – Doug Walsh, Two Far Gone
Marathon Supreme and Marathon Plus, mostly on paved roads. No flats in over 10,000km total. I’m happy! –Gunnstein Lye
We use Schwalbe Marathon Tour Plus. Always have and always will. 3,500+ miles and we can count number of punctures on 1 hand! -Matt & Casey Kohn, Before It’s Gone Journey
#2. Schwalbe Marathon Mondial
If you’re planning a long expedition where durability and the option to ride on any surface is important, take a look at Schwalbe’s Marathon Mondial. It’s a replacement for the much loved Marathon XR tire (now out of production). Schwalbe describe it as the ‘ultimate touring tire, made for roads, tracks and trails of all continents’.
The Mondial comes with either a wire or folding bead. It weighs 700-800g and costs approximately $50-90 U.S. per tire, depending on whether you choose the normal wire bead version or a folding bead (easier to take along as a spare).
Mondial are solid & problem free throughout all seasons on my Surly LHT. – Duncan Phipp-Macintyre
#3. Schwalbe Marathon Greenguard
Schwalbe’s Marathon Greenguard line of tires have a 3mm thick puncture protection belt, giving extra protection against flats.
We don’t yet have much experience with this tire but we should have a better idea of how they ride in a few months, as these tires have been fitted to our new Circe Morpheus touring bike.
I have used this very fine tire for a year now. It’s a new tire composed of recycled materials. Compared to Marathon Plus it’s cheaper, lighter and more convenient to cycle on, but doesn’t last as long as the Marathon Plus (around 5,000 km on the back wheel). But it’s nearly as puncture-resistant. I think it’s perfect for shorter/semi-long biketrips. – Kasper Kirkegaard
I too use the Schwalbe with GreenGuard. Zero flats in several years of all-weather-and-terrain use. While, of course, heavier in comparison to a road racing tire, they have (imho) surprisingly-low rolling resistance for their size. – Chuck Bahl
What Bicycle Shops Say
When this article was first published, we surveyed bike shops for their opinion. Although now a bit dated, the replies may still be of use. Most recommend either a Schwalbe or Continental tire, with a few alternative ideas thrown in for fun.
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.
There are some other great tires out there such as 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.