Tires: A Top Five

So I got a request to write about for my favorite half-dozen clinchers. “What a fun survey,” I thought. And I began making my list. A list is nothing without bias, and I began to consider my priorities.

The first priority when I choose a tire is ride quality. Life is short; I say, ride what you like, even if that means you’re on carbon fiber rims intended for PROs. Placing ride quality first meant this list would skew toward open tubulars and away from inexpensive 60 tpi clinchers.

Second is availability. There’s no point in loving something you can’t find. A prime example of this is Pariba. They make one of the single most supple open tubulars I ever rode. It featured a godawful lavender tread (nothing wrong with lavender as a color, but it won’t match a single component on the market) with a grip like chewing gum. But you can’t find it anywhere in the U.S. Or at least, the combination of me, Google and 15 minutes of wasted time were unsuccessful. Ergo, not on list.

Third is mountability. If the tire has a great ride quality but is insanely hard to mount, and ultimately, to change a flat, that will bump it on down the list.

Fourth is flat protection. You don’t buy an open tubular because it doesn’t flat. You buy it because it is the rubber equivalent of the kid glove. No other tire combines sensitivity, grip and reduced rolling resistance so effectively as a good open tubular.

I quickly realized I don’t currently have direct experience with six clinchers that I can recommend. Some tires that I liked in the past have been discontinued. Some that I previously gave good reviews to have been changed to increase flat protection marginally, while decreasing ride quality noticeably. And there are some, such as everything by Challenge, that I have not ridden at all, while still others, such as Schwalbe, where I seem to have ridden all the wrong ones.

The list:

1. Any Vittoria Open Corsa. No other open tubular combines ride quality and availability the way the Vittoria Open Corsas do. Carrying Open Corsas is kind of a barometer by which I measure shops. If they don’t have these, it can only mean one of two things: Either they like something else better, or they aren’t that concerned with ride quality. I like the CG for durability. I rode thousands of miles training and racing on its tubular brother; it got my through some nasty Battenkill-style courses and training rides. That said, the CX is a little more supple and is preferable for descending and cornering. Performance-wise, probably the best tire out there, but you can’t run it every day. Put another way, this isn’t a tire for most of New England, but it’s the perfect tire for Provence and Tuscany. I haven’t tried the Open Corsa Tech or Slick, but would run either without reservation.

2. Torelli Gavia. This is my tire of choice as I’ve previously mentioned. It features a handmade casing and comes in but one color: Henry Ford black. It is also one of the grippiest tires I’ve ridden. I know the guys at Torelli and they let me to purchase directly from them, giving me a 320 tpi ride at 127 tpi prices. The Torellis are a good deal harder to find than the Vittorias, though you can purchase them online, so if you don’t need them today, you can do well. They tend to run a bit more expensive online than the Vittorias do, but I prefer the ride quality of the Gavia over the CG.

3. Vredestein Fortezza Tri-Comp. Any open tubular is hard to mount the first time you put it on a rim. This is a feature inherited from its tubular fathers, which is why we were all taught to stretch our tubulars on a rim before gluing them on a wheel. The Fortezza Tri-Comp stretches more than your average tire and after the first week of riding or so, I can change flats without the need for a tire lever, which stops quick as a pee and helps keep me in the group’s good graces. The Tri-Comp is a great tire, but I do not remotely buy Vredestein’s contention that they need to be pumped up to 145 psi to work properly. That’s like suggesting your food won’t stay frozen unless you pack your freezer to capacity. Right. At that pressure mountain road asphalt feels like black ice. Back at sane pressures (7-8 bar), they offer cat-like cornering with driving glove sensitivity. When a shop doesn’t carry Vittoria Open Corsas, this is usually the tire I find in its place.

4. Specialized Mondo Pro II. The Mondo Pro II is the Def Con II of bicycle tires. It offers almost all the protection of the Armadillo’s conventional warfare while still engaging the road with supple diplomacy. This is the only bicycle tire that I’ve ever ridden that I can say has never flatted in more than 1000 miles of riding and I’m still willing to ride on mountain descents with the same gusto I reserve for open tubulars. To be clear: the ride quality of the Mondo Pro II suffers in the ride quality department when compared to the offerings from Vittoria, Vredestein and Torelli. However any other tire with as seemingly impervious a nature as the Mondo Pro II is inevitably bound to offer the sensitivity of a mosh pit, which is why this tire so surprised me.

5. Specialized Mondo S-Works. Sensitive as a chick flick, as available as Chevy and me-too priced, the Mondo S-Works is a terrific alternative to any of the other open tubulars listed above. Just one problem: changing this tire is harder than calculus. If human flesh stretched so little, we’d all look like Heidi Montag. I dread changing flats with this tire the way I dread changing flats with a tubular, and that’s a level of fear that I reserve for Brian DePalma movies and phone calls from the IRS (not saying either are scary, just that I never know what I’m in for). It’s a terrifc-riding tire, but if you buy a pair, just make sure you carry two tire levers with you.

Again, this list is rather personal. There are hundreds of tires on the market. In the next year or two, I hope to try two or three more that might increase my vocabulary.

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48 comments

  1. bikecharlie

    I have to agree with all of your choices, very similar to my own, although a recent addition to my favs list has been the Conti GP4000S. Tacky and seems to last forever with solid flat protection.

  2. Michael

    I really, really like the Michelin Krylion clincher. Much has been made on various forums about it’s supposed affinity for flats, but i have ridden my current pair over 4000 km’s with not a single flat to be found. Exceptional performance on a variety of roads up to and including gravel.

    Perhaps I jsut got a run of good sets, but this is the 5th set of Krylion’s that I run over 3500 km’s with little to no flats.

    As for tubs, I second, third and 4th the Torelli’s. A pain to source but the sweetest tubular I have ever ridden other than Clement’s back in the day.

  3. Christopher

    for all the credentials needed to be a great tire, the Continental GP4000S meets all of them. durable, good grip, good fl@t protection, and always available. there are several clinchers that do things better than Conti’s but with consequences.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Everyone: Thanks for all the comments. I may need to try the Conti 4000s. I gave up after I last tried the 3000s. While they seemed pretty tough, I just really didn’t care for the ride quality.

      Josh: I haven’t had a chance to ride the CX with the puncture-resistant layer, but I’ve done some miles on both the tubular and open tubular versions of the CG. I liked the ride quality, but wasn’t on them long enough to find out if the puncture resistance was really improved.

  4. mrg

    how ’bout some love for the other 95% of the time you’re not racing? Training tires are a whole ‘nother class. Hope you share in your next post…:-)


    1. Author
      Padraig

      MRG: One of the most important ingredients in making a review relevant is for the reviewer to possess enough experience to have a frame of reference. I’ve got that with open tubulars, but honestly, I really don’t have that with the inexpensive training tires. The ones I have ridden are, by and large, pretty similar in performance, flat resistance and price. Kinda like buying a soft drink. Then there’s that whole thing that makes me think riding is more fun if you ride better tires.

  5. Jeff

    I ride only Veloflex tires. I ride in central Vermont and Northern New York, and with over 500 miles I have only had one flat. I find around 90-100 psi is a perfect combination with a traditional wheels to take the sting out of my aluminum frame.

  6. Alex Torres

    I´m with Padraig, the Vittoria and Vredestein are excellent tires and I love them. The Opens are wonderful, they roll like nothing else. I like the Torelli as well but they´re very difficult to find here, and I stopped bothering to wait and order them online. I have a deep carbon tubular wheelset for competition but I use them for occasional training just to feel the tubs, but I have to admit that clinchers and also tubes have evolved fast and are much, much easier and practical for everyday use.

    For training and general riding I use the GP4000S and Michelin ProRace 2 and 3, sometimes with Michelin latex tubes. Contis are german-tough, altough not italian-smooth they´re neither hard or uncomfortable, far from that. Good and balanced ride overall, and last forever. They´re excellent in cornering, very resistant to flats and cuts – roads here are more like in US than Europe so that counts a lot.

    The ProRaces are great tires as well. They grip like crazy even in the wet, I tend to take curves to the limit and I´m always amazed at how they handle high-speed cornering. Plus they´re very, very light and smooth. I´ve used Specializeds for a long time but I don´t dig them anymore, though I agree that they´re less prone to flats and roll fine. I like Specialized Turbo tubes though, always keep a few in stock.

    I agree with Padraig: tires make a big difference in riding quality, and I too believe that it´s worth to train and not just race in good tires and tubes. Thanks for the reviews Padraig.

  7. Souleur

    I am with Padraig on these, although I have never found the Torelli’s, I will give them a swing if I can find them. Do you just got to Torelli’s website or call their office??

    I go from Vredestiens to the Vittoria’s myself, prefering the Vittoria’s most often.

    I use the Conti’s in the winter due to their ruggedness and the pea gravel that they spread all over the roads here in the midwest in winter, thus I don’t trash a good set.

    Great piece Padraig!

  8. rich_mutt

    i’m surprised that there’s only one mention of michelin pro2 or 3 thus far. i’ve not tried the vittoria’s yet, i wanted to give them a try last year, but i stocked up on the pro 3’s and am only now on my last set.

    padraig, life is too short not to run 320 TPI, but then again, in the NE, my teammate’s patience is even shorter on cold training rides. for those winter rides, it’s all about the conti 4 season.

  9. jiblogs

    This winter I’ve been riding the Gommitalia Calypso-K clincher and have been very impressed. The ride feels really good at least as good as my usual tire the Conti GP4000 and I have ridden the calypso on lots of gravel and dirt climbs this winter. They are cheap, something like 2 tires for $70, worth checking out for a winter tire.

    I’m looking forward to mounting up some Challenge Criterium Open Tubulars once the racing starts up.

  10. Jim

    +1 on the Vittoria Open Corsas and the Tri-Comps. You get ~290 TPI on the Vittorias at maybe 100 PSI, they ride almost as nice as cheap tubular training tires. Whoops, did I say that? Yep.

    My daily rider is the Conti Gatorskin folding. Low pressure cures road feel worries (I’m usually >250 lbs, so I run no more than 105 PSI rear and 95-100 front) and the rounded profile makes them pretty grippy so long as it’s dry. They’re good crit tires too though I like the open tubies for TT’s.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Everyone: Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s little wonder there’s so much love for the Michelins; they do good work.

      Souleur: Just Google “Torelli Gavia” and you’ll find some retailers selling them. The price can vary a bit, through not hugely.

      Rich: It is precisely your sort of experience (and my previous experience) that occasioned the Mondo Pro II’s appearance on the list. Sometimes a tire needs to be as reliable as the sunrise.

      What surprises me is that with some of the incredibly flat resistant tires out there that things like Mr. Tuffy strips still show up in bike shops. A Mr. Tuffy might prevent a flat, but it does nothing to prevent a nasty gash that kills the tire, flat or no.

  11. Carl Johnson

    I love the clincher versions of the Vredesteins and the Fortezzas, and I also loved the Specialized that my bike came with but couldn’t find it in stock when I needed to replace it. I ran the Michelin Krylion clinchers mentioned above for a couple of years, and I have to say that compared to my new Vredesteins, they were flat magnets. I didn’t think it was too bad, 6 or 8 flats a season, but with the Vredesteins I had NONE (except a blown valve stem), so I’ve gotta think it was the tires, ’cause I’m riding the same roads.

  12. Gary

    I second Jiblogs – the Gommitalia Calypso-K is a great tire. I’ve got a season on them and they will likely get me through the spring as well. Seem to be fairly long lasting, haven’t had any punctures (knock on a Silca) and they corner well. Also, not too tough on the thumbs when it comes to mounting. And, best of all for the budget minded, you can get a PAIR for $70 – $80.

  13. MM

    I ride the Vitt OC CX 290 and 320 tpi tires…everyday. Sure, they cost more, but the choice also begs a question. Why, on God’s big green Earth, do people spend piles of money on nice wheels and then put $25, low tpi, crap-riding tires on them? A guy I ride with regularly rides Ksyrium ES wheels with crappy $25 Michelins. I don’t get it…
    Here’s my list of what I’ve ridden:
    1)Vitt OC CX 320tpi
    2)Deda Open Corsa RS 300tpi
    3)Vitt OC CX 290tpi / Veloflex Open Pave 300tpi (tie)
    4)Conti GP4000s

    All are ridden with latex tubes as well. Talk about improving ride quality!

  14. Touriste-Routier

    For performance tires I like the the Deda Giro d’Italia, which ride as nice as the Vittora Open Corsa CX. This tire is hard to come by under the Deda name, but I have read that it is made by Challenge (their Triathlon model). These are true race/special event tires); I don’t expect them to last much longer than 1000 miles. For training tires I use the old-school method and resort to beasts (on heavier wheels), that way the light responsive stuff feels all the better yet.

    I’ve heard really nice things about Vittoria’s Open Pave CG; need to give them a try one day.

  15. Jim

    @MM Because for some it’s all about getting fit, feeling be damned. Hincapie is running Krylions as training tires–do you think given his mileage that open tubulars are a good idea?

  16. MM

    Hey Jim…that tire was on the wheel that came out of the follow car after GH got a flat on that ride. One of my teammates was on the ride in Greenville when it happened and when the pic was taken. Continental is the tire sponsor for BMC, not Michelin.
    If you can’t get fit and need to blame it on the tires you ride, it’s time to go by a tennis racquet! It’s like putting sh*t tires on your Porsche because they have a higher treadwear rating!

  17. bwebel

    Padraig,

    what is the definition of an “open tubular” vs. “clincher?” You use the former like it means something. I thought it was just marketing speak.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      bwebel: Fair question. The term comes from using the high thread-count casings of tubulars to make a clincher-type tire. The difference in casings, in my experience, is that the thread count more than doubles. While there are companies that don’t really do much to differentiate between open tubulars and clinchers, of those that do, the dividing point is usually somewhere around 200 tpi. The typical open tubular will have 290 or 320 tpi, and while there are some colossal arguments about how to count tpi, once you are north of 200 tpi, no one will argue that a tire is crap. Your typical clincher will have no more than 127 tpi, and 60 tpi is really common for a basic training clincher. Those 60 tpi tires are a great way to keep parts spec inexpensive on price-point bikes, but most of those tires offer all the sensitivity of a burlap condom.

      Jim & MM: Regarding the wheel change for Hincapie, neutral support programs are exceedingly expensive to maintain and the cost of consumables such as tires, tubes and rim strips can be daunting. They are, like most things in life, on fixed budgets. I can’t speak for the choices they make, but I’d be inclined to err on the side of value and durability for those tires. And given that Greenville is late in the season, it’s possible they downgraded the tires they used just to stretch the budget to the end of the season. It’s nothing to find fault with, just the reality of making sure an expensive marketing program stays on budget while ensuring that races are decided on legs, not flats.

  18. souleur

    MM makes a good point. Not all tubes are created equally. Latex w/a little powder is the best way to go, and closest to the tubular in clincher form. Good reminder!

  19. Pascal

    At the risk of not fitting in, I have had great riding with the Grand Bois Cerf 700X28. I find them extremely fast rolling yet they inspire so much confidence in corners and in rough stuff. They are very light and supple (248g ea) providing amazing grip and comfort. I can run them at 70 PSI and not forgo speed.

  20. Lachlan

    Ok I’ll throw a wild card: – Zipp Tangente.

    I ride the tub version currently on my 404s and have some clinchers to try out out of interest come spring rubber change…

    Its a vittoria made tire (so think cx) with their little dimples on them. If you ride zipp dimpley
    rims its kind of a match-must :o)

    Pricey compared to the cx, but hell my whole bike is totally irrational in money terms :=)

  21. Craig

    schwalbe ultremo
    vittoria corsa cx
    conti gp4000

    Only tyres you need, except for the following
    schwalbe marathon plus: 4 years and counting on the commuter – no flats.
    Vittoria Rubino: cheap, lasts forever, the go to tyre.

  22. JZ

    Padraig, just out of curiosity have you tried road tubeless? I would be interested on your take on it and what you think its future is. I have been pretty impressed with the ride quality it provides. I am 185 lbs and run around 85 psi, which provides a nice ride. I think it could only be better if some other manufacturers besides Hutchinson stepped up with some tubeless clinchers.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      JZ: I’ve had three different companies tell me they are going to send me wheels and tires. I’m just waiting for them to arrive. I’m very interested to try it.

  23. Dan

    Good list. For me, Vittoria’s Open CG Pave is my favorite, simply because of all the rainy rides I do here in the Pacific NW. I’ve been hooked on them ever since I read a review of them on BKW. I just bought my second set, with the updated casing. The old 290 tpi casing is just so-so with regards to puncture resistance, so I’m glad they’ve addressed that situation.

  24. Henry

    If you like fatter tires (28c) the Challenge PR are great but fragile. I’ve found the old Michelin Pro 2 25c is really a 27 on my rims and while not as nice as the Challenge they are very good and very flat resistant. I just ordered a set of Ultremo’s which are now available in 28c ! and am looking forward to the relaunched Clement.

  25. Scott G.

    Another vote for GranBois, 26,28,30 sizes.

    I use Michelin ProRace for everyday use, their side walls are tougher
    then than GranBois.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Bill McGann has an article on his web site, Bike Race Info, that discusses tire construction of bicycle tires and even gives some background history. My explanation was, at best, cursory; anyone who’d like to read more might want to stop by here.

  26. MattS

    Nice to see others like the Grand Bois offerings too. I like both the 28s and 30s; my recently acquired first custom bike was built around the 30s. I rode about 4000k on the Challenge Parigi Roubaix’s in 2009, and also like them very much. In ’27c,’ they measure exactly the same as the 28 Grand Bois – 29c I believe. All these tires are light and FAST. I only like to use smaller tires on our local parkway loop, which is 40k long and pretty smooth. For that I’m not picky (there are no turns that require technique), I like the Vittoria’s like so many others, Pro Races, and Conti’s Grand Prix units. This year I’ll try one of the new open tubular offerings from Challenge for the smooth riding, the Forte, in 23 (more like 24-5 I think). At 300tpi it should be nice, and the tread looks good in the wet.

  27. Stanley

    Padraig: Any idea how many different tires and at what quantity a Pro Tour team runs through a season? How are wheels and tires managed, do they wear a bit or do they start with a fresh set every now and then?

  28. Jeremy

    Padraig, Love the list. I can understand how some people can’t justify spending $60+ per tire for training (plus $10+ each for nice tubes). That’s why I work in a shop for less than I could make elsewhere, I make up for it in employee purchases :-)

    I love the Fortezza TriComps for training, Vittoria Open CXs for racing (unless using my tubulars). A good alternative for people on a budget is the Vittoria Diamante Pro. 220 tpi, almost as nice as the Open CX but cheaper.

    And if you haven’t tried the Vittoria EVO 55g tubes you should. Very light (55 grams) and two can be folded and squeezed into the space needed for one normal tube. Great for the seat bag or jersey pocket.

    I wasn’t much of a fan of the Michelin Pro 3 Race though….

  29. CCH

    Padraig–

    I had 2 blowouts at the bead with the Specialized open tubulars, which makes me leary of them, because that seems like a manufacturing problem. I have been told by bike shop folk that they are made in the same factory in Asia as the Vittorias.

    I went tubeless 18 months ago and have never looked back. 90 psi (I weigh 180lbs) give great feel and handling, but still low rolling resistance, and very few flats. Of course, you have your choice of only 3 tires, all by Hutchinson. The Intensiv seems very durable, and at 25mm you can run even less pressure. I get lots of little holes on my Fusions, but the sealant deals with most of them without me ever noticing.

  30. Hampstar

    Good list here, Padraig. My favorite is currently the Vittoria Pave, now available in 320 tpi.

    And the cure for overly tight-fitting tires (or slightly larger rims) has been, in my experience, to use a thinner rim strip. We use Rox here and they seem to have cured most of those panicky christIcan’tgetthisdamntireon moments.

  31. The D

    At what point do “open tubulars” all the time become favorable to separate sets of training clinchers and racing/fast ride tubs? Or is this a critique of even the concept of training clinchers?

  32. Fred

    Jeesh, you must all have more money then brains. Most people/racers I know save what you call “training tires” for race day situations and only dream of wasting the kind of money you are all throwing around on the good stuff. I ride $25 Vittoria Randonneurs (28c) 95% of the time and flat once, sometimes twice a year riding ~7500 miles. I have raced on them as well when the conditions are crud. Nothing like dusting guys like you on training rides with my wire beaded-extra pound of rotational weight-antiflat tires. How many of you dropped a grand or two on an upgrade to 10speed (an now 11speed) instead of using your 9speed til it broke. Put your wallets and anything else you are comparing back in your pants. Stop wasting time changing your flats on the side of the road and just go drive your suv’s into town to drink your $5 espressos while looking at Euro-cycling magazines. Any of you guys actually bike to work for your training rides? Anyone log more miles on their bike than their auto? How far are you driving to meet up for your local training rides?

  33. Da Robot

    @Fred I ride everywhere, all the time, but even I enjoy espresso and cycling magazines. Ease up, dude. Next thing you’re going to tell me is that I should be looking at the goofy guy in tights on the podium rather than the lovely ladies on either side of him.

  34. Racing tires

    michelin tires are really good but mounting them on your own you might spoil it, so i can say that i prefer letting a professtional mount it for me rather spoiling a class brand of tire.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Racing Tires: Why would anyone purchase a tire they can’t mount themselves? I do all I can to minimize the possibility that a mechanical will prevent me from riding home.

      Also, given the link, I’m wondering, do you, by chance, work for Michelin?

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