When it comes to the fastest road bike tires, 2 brands clearly lead the pack

When it comes to the fastest road bike tires, 2 brands clearly lead the pack

Bike tire choice is an obvious and relatively simple equipment choice to make you go faster in any condition. When it comes to the fastest road bike tires, the premium models of two companies clearly lead the pack: Continental GP5000 S TR and the Vittoria Corsa Pro. These top-of-the-range tires can save you around 10 watts compared to more standard road bike tires. If you are looking for more puncture protection, you may want to check the article on rolling resistance.

What makes a bike tire fast?

In order for a tire to be considered fast, it must have minimal energy loss while moving forward, which is mainly determined by rolling resistance. Pneumatic (air-filled) tires are generally efficient, but the choice of material, construction, profile and air pressure can greatly affect the level of efficiency from one tire model to another.

To understand rolling resistance, we need to look at what happens to a tire while rolling on a bicycle. GCN has prepared some nice graphics; see the screenshot on the right side to illustrate. As expected, the tire undergoes constant compression and de-compression at the bottom part of the tire, squeezed between the weight of the bike and the rider from above and the underground from below. Energy is lost compressing the tire and gained again, as the tire gives energy back while decompressing again. However, the gain is always a little less and precisely, that difference of both is commonly referred to as rolling resistance.

As the bike tire is squeezed between a bike and the ground, it experiences compression and decompression, resulting in energy loss as heat. Known as rolling resistance. The fastest tires employ materials to minimize the loss. Make a friend faster

The key to the fastest bike tire is tire pressure, material and construction

A method to reduce loss is by inflating the tire with high pressure, which reduces compression. Although, this method is effective only on smooth surfaces. In the real world, various other factors come into play, which are covered in another article on rolling resistance.

Looking at tire construction, minimizing loss can be achieved by using high-quality materials and efficient construction methods. If you want to explore the physics of the concept of “hysteresis” in further detail, check out this video by Josh Poertner from Silca.

Josh Poertner from Silca doing an excellent video to explain rolling resistance of bike tires (23 min)

As such, manufacturers are challenged to strike a balance to make the tire still stable and robust enough against punctures (we wouldn’t want just to roll on a latex tube) and likely have some limitations concerning costs. As consumers, our goals are similar. The goal should always be to have the fastest tire with the necessary puncture protection.

Where can I inform myself about the fastest bike tires?

The most known resource is Bicycle Rolling Resistance, run by Jarno Biermann since 2014. There you can find many bike tires tested for rolling resistance, puncture resistance, weight and various other parameters. Of note, the watt numbers provided there do not translate precisely into the real world because they are tested on a rolling drum. However, relative comparisons are still valid. If tire A has less rolling resistance than tire B, it will also be faster out on the road.

For this article, the database was filtered for the most common scenario of a fast, all-round race bike tire: 25 mm or 28 mm width, tubeless (yes, of course!) and reasonable puncture resistance (which excluded pure time trial (TT) tires) and sorted by the rolling resistance at medium pressure (4.1 bar), which is likely the most appropriate to be used by most riders. The Michelin Power Cup TLR 25 was removed. While an excellent tire, its threat pattern appeared unsuitable for wider rims, which are more common these days.

The results:

  • Clear Winner: Continently GP5000 S TR in 28mm or 25mm with black side-walls (see below)
  • Runner up: Vittoria Corsa Pro TLR 28 mm if you prefer tan walls

What makes Continental GP5000 S TR and Vittoria Corsa Pro outstanding?

Both tires offer what most road riders are looking for: the fastest possible bike tire combined with reasonable puncture protection. Not surprisingly, one can see both options almost everywhere around on local group rides and races as well as in the pro peloton.

The graphs below show that the Continental GP 5000 appears to be a little faster, both in 25 mm and 28 mm width. On the other hand, there seems to be slightly less puncture protection, which may be attributed to a thinner tire. The weight and wet grip are relatively similar.

These results have also been backed up by another study from AeroCoach, a UK-based company specializing in aero testing and aero equipment, whose products you may have already seen in the pro peloton. Looking at the results below, both Continental GP5000 S TR and Vittoria Corsa Pro come in fastest (smallest bar, least rolling resistance), following the paper-thin TT bike tires.

Aerocoach used a rider on rollers for their data and corrected for riders weight, height and atmospheric conditions on multiple days of testing. The actual watt savings for a pair of wheels were calculated based on these realistic conditions. The Continental GP 5000 S TR comes in under 30 watts, whereas others are more over 40 watts. This means just by choosing the right bike tires, you may be looking into savings of about 10 watts!

Results of a rolling resistance testing by AeroCoach
Looking for the fastest road bike tires? Look no further than Continental GP5000 S TR and Vittoria Corsa Pro. These tires offer reduced rolling resistance and dependable puncture protection, potentially saving you 10 watts of energy. Make a Friend Faster

Looking at the publicly available data, choosing the fastest road bike tires seems relatively straightforward. Just one question remains, should you buy them with black or tan side walls? The answer may surprise you.

For tan walls, look at the Vittoria Corsa Pro

It is surprising, but this knowledge came from two independent resources, and the data can also be found on Bicycle Rolling resistance. The tan-walled version of the Continental GP5000 S TR performs indeed slower than the black-wall version.

It amounts to 2 watts per tire at medium pressure, which is 4.1 bars. This is about the same difference between running a light butyl tube and going tubeless, as the analysis in another article revealed! On Bicycle Rolling Resistance it was speculated this may be due to a different construction or material used. Indeed every manufacturer uses various methods to create fashionable tan walls. The Vittoria Corsa Pro is only available with tan walls, so maybe that’s your option if you prefer them. Especially since Mathieu van der Poel won the 2023 world championships on it.

Please align the logo to the valve and set the right pressure

Once you have that best rubber on your machine, don’t forget to set the correct pressure, as this is arguably even more relevant. Next, you may be interested to learn about aerodynamics basics and testing in wind tunnels.

And…please, please and thank you: align the logo on the bike tire with the valve. Particularly if you are running a bike shop! No performance gain there. It just looks so much cleaner and better. These things do a fantastic job of getting us fast, so let’s make them look good.

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