Best Tubeless Road Tires
Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite TLR
This latest iteration of the Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite TLR was introduced at about the same time the latest ETRTO and ISO standards came out in 2020. It’s not unsurprising then that the 25c and 28c R3 tires I measured run truer to size than others once mounted and inflated on the range of wheels in our tests.
The result is that the R3s pass the Rule of 105 and 108 in combination with a range of 19C through 25C rims more often than any other tires we’ve tested. This should give you an aerodynamic benefit when riding on 40mm or deeper wheels at speeds greater than 18mph/29kph for the life of your tires.
Add to that a superior road feel on par with the Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL and Specialized S-Works Turbo RapidAir. Despite the “Hard-Case Lite” name that might suggest otherwise, the Bontrager R3 is actually quite comfortable, feels quite supple, and handles well when cornering at high speeds.
As a bonus, they install far easier than the Conti and Spech. And by “install” I’m referring to how easily they go on, inflate, seal, and can be removed. While I nor my fellow testers have flatted on the R3s over many miles and independent tests show better than average puncture resistance, the knowledge of how easily you can take this tire off and put it back on can greatly reduce the anxiety some have about wrestling with a tire that will need a tube if you get a nasty flat that sealant won’t plug while out on a ride.
The 25mm and 28mm tires we’ve been riding have shown little wear and are compatible with both hooked and hookless rims. And their $60/tire price is similar to or lower than most of the tires in this review.
Much worse than average rolling resistance is the major negative with the R3 tires. This mars an otherwise stellar report. It also adds to the complications involved in buying tubeless tires these days.
But if you prioritize aero performance, road feel, and ease of installation and have a relatively narrow rim (19mm inside and 28mm outside or less, or 21mm inside and 28.5mmm outside or less), or insist on riding 28mm tires or have hookless rims, the Bontrager R3 tire is going to be your best performing option.
If you aren’t riding fast enough to get serious aero gains (20-25mph/32-40kph), prefer 28mm or wider tires, have rims with bead hooks, or have a shop or friend install your tires, the R3 isn’t going to be as fast the Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL.
If you are unsure, I encourage you to review the above discussion and charts in the What Matters Most section.
Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL
The Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL had previously been my top pick for this category. No longer. After revising my evaluation criteria and installing them (or attempting to) on a wider range of wheels, some warts have emerged.
These tires still provide a great combination of comfort and handling at the right pressures. And their low rolling resistance numbers still lead all other everyday tubeless tires that have a puncture belt and a lot of tubeless race tires without one.
Using the rule of 105 and 108 as a surrogate, the 25c Conti GP5K TL’s aero performance is also good on the range of 19mm and 21mm hooked rims with varying outside widths that I mounted them on.
But they don’t mount or come off easily on those rims. The tire beads are very stiff and when new, the tires seem to have a bit smaller diameter than most. That combination is just enough to make them quite tough to get on unless your rim has a deeper center channel than most. Getting them off can be even tougher if your rims have a bead lock. It’s taken me marginally less effort as some I’ve been using tires have aged and stretched a bit but it’s still never easy to get these on and off.
You don’t want to force tires on at home and then have to deal with remounting them on the road if you aren’t skilled with tubeless. Yes, I ride them and have fortunately never flatted. But, I know what I’ll be up against if I ever do and the sealant doesn’t fill. That’s probably why I try to stay on well-paved roads when I’m riding my Contis.
As we come out of the relatively standard-free decade of tubeless wheels and tires, I can’t blame these issues exclusively on Continental. They were late to the tubeless party (2019) and appear to have chosen a conservative path judging from the tight fit they get on rims likely as a result of the tire’s stiff bead and its smaller diameter.
Continental has also clearly stated that the Grand Prix 5000 TL is not compatible with hookless rims. That means you can’t use them on some of the newer and less expensive wheels from the likes of ENVE and Zipp.
That said, if you’ve got a rim that these go on and come off relatively easily or are skilled with tubeless tires, these are fun, fast, low rolling resistance tires.
For the rest of us, I expect or at least hope that Continental will introduce an updated version (Grand Prix 5000S II TL?) that is totally consistent with the new ETRTO tolerances for wheel and tire diameter and that has a bead that is easier to install on both hooked and hookless rims. Time will tell.
Specialized S-Works Turbo RapidAir
The Specialized S-Works Turbo RapidAir tubeless tires are excellent performers at the right pressures on the right wheels.
They have a great road feel, both supremely comfortable and grippy on straights and in corners. Riding the S-Works Turbo RapidAir gives me great confidence in any road handling situation.
Specialized makes a 26c version of the Turbo RapidAir rather than the 25c size that most tubeless tire brands come in. But as most 25c tires measure 1-2mm wider than their implied 25mm width and the Turbo RapidAir 26c measures pretty close to 26mm, the size designation difference seems irrelevant
What is relevant is that the 26c Turbo RapidAir clears the Rule of 105 and 108 for good aero performance in combination with as many 19mm and 21mm rims as any other tire I tested.
The 28c Turbo RapidAir needs to be mounted on a rim with an outside width of about 31mm or wider to follow the rule. This tire may have been designed for Specialized’s Roval division aero CLX64 wheelset as its one of the few that lives by the rule.
Rolling resistance is in the group of chasers just a couple of watts off of the Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL. Unless you’re time trialing, this amount of rolling resistance difference is less important than the Turbo RapidAir’s aero performance and road feel.
Putting these tires on the right wheels is key to removing them when you need to. Either the Turbo RapidAir’s bead diameter is larger than in most tubeless tires or the diameter of the bead lock on rims made by others is smaller than those on Rovals. The net result is that I found it next to impossible to remove these from non-Roval wheels by myself.
This is not a situation you want to find yourself in if you have a puncture that sealant won’t fill on the side of a road. It was also a little embarrassing when I showed up at my LBS asking for one of the stronger techs with bigger hands than mine to remove them from my rims when I couldn’t.
Fortunately, most of them are bigger, stronger, faster, and don’t make fun of me when I drop in for something like this. Bringing a dozen donuts along with my stuck tire also helps.
The RapidAir tires are a bit pricey, $20/tire more than the average model in this category and $40/tire more than the lowest-priced ones. That said, compared to all the other stuff we spend money on to feed our cycling habit, I’d happily pay this extra amount for the speed and road feel the RapidAirs offer on the right set of wheels.
Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance 11Storm Road Tubeless
While I’d never buy a pair of tires to save $30 or 50 grams without also considering more important performance criteria, the Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance 11Storm’s lowest price and weight among the “what matters less” criteria certainly piqued my curiosity.
Among the more important criteria, these tires ride comfortably and grip confidently though not to the level of the Bontrager, Continental, or Specialized. The 25c tire is also amongst the easiest ones to install and passes the aerodynamic surrogate Rule of 105 and 108 measurements for a great number of 19mm and 21mm inside width rims.
While I’ve not seen independent tests of their rolling resistance, results of a Hutchinson tubeless tire using the same 11Storm compound without a puncture belt landed it in the third tier of tires in this comparative review, about 5 watts below the benchmark Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL and 3 watts below the second tier. They’ve also not been tested for compatibility with hookless rims.
But if you’re a budget-weenie and don’t need the best road feel, handling, and rolling resistance, it’s hard to deny the value you get from these tubeless tires.
Schwalbe Pro One TLE
Schwalbe introduced the successor to the popular Pro One tubeless tire around the same time the ETRTO standards body had made clear their intention for tire labeled sizes to measure closer to installed sizes on wider, modern wheels.
The updated Pro One with the orange 1 graphic is rumored to be made in the same molds as the original ones but now carries more accurate size labels (the new 25c is the old 23c, the new 28c is the old 25c, etc.). My measurements suggest that regardless of what molds they are using, they have effectively gotten their stated tire sizes closer than most others to actual tire widths after mounting and inflation on 19mm through and 25C rims.
The result is good aero performance for rim-tire combinations with the 25c tire but not for the 28c on all but rims whose outside width is around 31mm or more. As I’ve described in the What Matters Most section above, this is based on using the Rule of 105 and 108 rim to measured tire width ratio as a surrogate for expensive wind tunnel testing.
The Pro One is also compatible with hookless rims on wheels used by Zipp and ENVE among others.
Out on the road, these Schwalbe provide only average comfort, a characteristic that was never a strength of the original Pro One. But because these tires provide good grip and handling, the overall road feel falls in the middle of the pack. After reviewing independent rolling resistance tests, I also rate them at the average of the tires tested for this review, just a couple of watts off the pace of the Continental.
Depending on the retailer, the Pro One carries several suffixes including EVO and TLE, the latter of which stands for “tubeless easy”. Ironically, getting these tires on and seated well enough to hold air with sealant can be a challenge for these tires in combination with some rims we tested. Not the worst but not always the easiest either.
That and their tendency, like their predecessors to cut and wear more easily than others during our testing period make the Schwalbe Pro One TLE feel more like a fast yet temperamental race day tire than one I would confidently pick for lots of training and competitive rides.
Michelin Power Road TLR
While an everyday tubeless tire, the Michelin Power Road TLR is the only one in this comparative review without a puncture belt. Instead, Michelin added a fourth 120TPI (thread per inch) layer to the casing in place of the belt and a bead-to-bead liner to improve its puncture resistance.
Bicycle Rolling Resistance’s puncture (and rolling) resistance tests of this tire came in very similar and in some cases better than other tires in this comparative review. That, along with the Power Road TLR being the first tubeless road tire offered by this brand with a long history of making good road tires convinced me to give them a try.
Remember what I wrote above about puncture resistance is one of the things that “matter less” and rolling resistance is less important than some of the other things “matter more?”
Well, I found both to be true in this test of these Michelin tires.
On all but the 19mm rims with a nearly 29mm outside width and 21mm rims with a 31mm outside width, the Power Road failed the Rule of 108 for new tires that ensure it will pass the original Rule of 105 for the life of the tire after it stretches. While a relatively new tire, this Michelin already measured 2-3mm wider than the 25mm width suggested by its 25c designation.
And while the Power Road tires mount and uninstall easily, they don’t hold air the way an internally lined tire should. They would lose 20-30 psi overnight and, worse, 10-20psi over a several-hour ride. Retaping the wheels didn’t do the trick but doubling the 1 oz of sealant I normally put in each tire did. To be sure it wasn’t the wheel or my tape jobs, I subsequently mounted another TLR tire on the same rims with 1 oz of sealant and have only had routine air loss.
It’s clearly not an issue as long as you remember to double your normal sealant volume. And while I’ve said weight is also something that matters relatively less, you essentially add 30g to the weight of each tire by doubling the amount of sealant based merely on tire construction. That’s kind of like an “own goal” though you’re the only one that will know you’ve scored on yourself.
On the road, they feel quite grippy – actually more like “tacky”. They ride quite comfortably perhaps because they are a bit wider than most 25c tires. Overall, the Power Road TLRs provide a good ride but not to the level of the best and more similar to the Schwalbe or Hutchinson tires.
These haven’t been tested yet by ENVE for hookless compatibility.
ENVE SES Road Tire
ENVE has earned a reputation for high-performance wheels. Looking to complement their road wheels better than they must have concluded tires made by others did, the ENVE SES Road Tire line was introduced in 2020 with black and tan walled tires in sizes 25c, 27c, 29c, and 31c.
The seemingly odd or at least unique combination of sizes are actually intentionally designed to signal the actual tire widths once mounted and inflated on ENVE wheels with 19mm internal width rims (25c=25mm, 27c=27mm) and 21mm internal width rims (29c=29mm, 31c=31mm)
After testing pre-release 25c and production versions of the SES 25c and 29c tires, I’ve concluded that those tires made by others – or at least many of those in this comparative review – do a better job than the ENVE tires on both ENVE wheels and hoops made by others.
Using the Rule of 105 or 108 to suggest the aerodynamic performance you would likely see in a wind tunnel, the SES 25 should have quite good aero performance on wheels like the ENVE 5.6 disc with its hooked, 19.6mm front rim, the hookless, 21mm ENVE 45 Foundation, and similar width wheels I measured from the likes of Zipp and Roval.
However, the SES 29 proved too wide to suggest good aero performance on wheels using rims with internal 21mm, 23mm, or 25mm widths, either hooked or hookless. The 27c ENVE tire would likely be more aero on their 25mm internal width ENVE 3.4 AR and 4.5 AR wheels and others in 23mm to 25mm width range.
On the road, I found the comfort and handling of the ENVE SES Road Tires to be adequate and provided confidence but not more than average in their comfort, grip, or handling. They didn’t make me want to go out and test the limits of my speed or endurance.
I actually found the tan walled SES 25 quite buzzy even after several hundred miles and the SES 29 to be only slightly less so. The tires were nearly as loud as the freewheeling sound that comes from ENVE’s hubs. I actually don’t mind the relatively low-frequency acoustics of ENVE’s rear hubs when coasting, I just don’t want to hear that volume of sound all the time coming from my tires.
Independent testing has shown that these ENVE tires are in the third rolling resistance tier (see chart above), certainly not where you’d expect an ENVE product to land.
Unfortunately, the only place where the ENVE Road Tire seemed to match established tires like the Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL and Specialized S-Works Turbo RapidAir was in the competition for how hard it is to install these tires. The ENVEs are darn near beastly with their beads the stiffest I’ve come across.
Yes, I could get them on but doing so took 3 or 4 tire levers worth of lifts to accomplish the tasks. They were no easier to get on the ENVE wheels (5.6 disc, 45 Foundation, and 3.4 AR) with their supposedly deep channels than on wheels from other brands that I tried.
Mercifully, once on the wheels, the beads lock out well and 1-1.5 ounces of sealant does the trick to hold the pressure as well as any tubeless tire does.
ENVE has been transparent about having these tires made by Tufo, an established Eastern European tire producer. As with other wheelset companies that took a few iterations to get improvements in their tire lines – Mavic and Bontrager being notable examples – I expect or at least hope that ENVE will keep working to raise the performance level of their SES Road Tires.
Vittoria Corsa G+2.0 TLR
With all the acclaim for the chart-topping, low rolling resistance of Vittoria’s Corsa Speed Graphene pure racing tires, I was looking forward to testing the Corsa G+2.0 TLR, an update of their Corsa G+ TLR tire.
Unfortunately, it was a big disappointment.
Aerodynamically, the tire is wide, seldom meeting the Rule of 105 or 108.
Worse, the very supple tire sidewalls made it difficult for the tire to inflate on a couple of the wider 21mm wheels I tried even with a compressor and the core valve removed. Without the rim walls to assist them, the Corsa G+2.0 TLR didn’t have enough strength to stand up on their own in rims wider than 29mm and just wouldn’t inflate.
This meant I could only inflate and test the tires on “narrower” wheels where the aerodynamics would be compromised.
The Corsa G+ 2.0 gripped and cornered well but wasn’t terribly comfortable at several inflation pressures I tried. And the independent rolling resistance data on this new tire is higher than most in this review.