Choosing the Right Road Tire

Clincher vs Tubeless vs Tubular


There are three main types of tires; Clincher, Tubeless, and Tubular.  Tubulars have long been the favorite among pros for their lightweight, ability to ride while flat, and performance.  They have a tube that is in a casing with rubber on top and base tape on the bottom.  The whole system is glued to a tubular specific rim.  We will leave Tubulars there as they have have seen a drastic decrease in popularity for every day riders over the last 10 years. 


Tubular vs clincher


Clinchers are likely the type of tire you are most familiar with.  They have a bead that is typically made of steel or Kevlar.  This bead is seated on the hook of the rim and held in place with an inner tube.  These have long been the choice of the average cyclist or training wheels for the pros.  They are easy to repair or replace punctured tubes, significantly cheaper than tubulars, and have great performance. 


The third type of tire here is a tubeless tire.  It works the same way as a clincher with the exception for the need of a inner tube.   They have an extremely rigid bead which is needed to hold the tire on the rim with the absence of an inner tube.  You can run these tubeless tires on a clincher rim, but to run a wheel without a tube, you do need these tires and a tubeless compatible wheel.  These tires have seen a lot of investment and technology advancement in recent years, making them some of the fastest options on the market.


Tire Use 

When picking a tire the first place to start is looking at what kind of performance you should optimize for.  If you are racing the local crit series, riding solo miles on Sunday afternoon, or building a lightweight hill climb machine, you have some very different requirements for your tires.  


Those long solo days might require a tire that has more puncture resistance and longevity and giving up a little rolling resistance or weight.  If you are looking to win the Time Trial of a stage race, you are probably going to be fine giving up puncture protection to get every last second.


Identifying if weight, rolling resistance, puncture protection, expected milage, etc. are the most important specs to you is certainly step number 1 in choosing the right tire.  Since you are on the SILCA blog, we can go out on a limb and assume you are looking for how to choose the fastest tire.


Rolling Resistance


You can read our many blogs on the topic of rolling resistance to go into detail.  Rolling resistance is the single largest factor that will determine the speed of a tire.  A great resource for testing is where they regularly test a wide range of available tires.  Something like a Continental Gatorskin will last many miles, but if marginal gains are important, you would be better off going with a tire that could save you 24w. 


24w might sound unbelievable, but this is a great insight as to how important choosing the right tire can impact your performance.  That is a larger gain than most aero wheels, an aero frame, and pounds of weight on a flat course. 


Rolling Resistance Test


The width of the tire you choose is often limited by the frame clearance of your bike.  Most modern road bikes have clearance for tires anywhere from 28-32mm.  Over the last 20 years we have gone from knowing the fastest tires were 17mm, then 19, then 21, 23, and so on.  Now we typically see 25mm tires stocked on bikes and 28 is the choice of many.  This choice is related to rolling resistance, grip and comfort. 


Which size to pick is a common question in the SILCA customer service inbox and typically around the Rule of 105.  We figured out years ago that the optimal aerodynamic relationship between tire and rim is that the rim should be 105% as wide as the tire.  If your tire is 25mm wide, you would want to have a rim that is at least 26.25mm wide.  This allows the system to keep airflow attached to the wheel as long as possible.  When the rim is too narrow and the tire too wide, air will hit the tire and immediately detach causing an aerodynamic penalty.  The newest Zipp 303 Firecrest now as an external width of 30mm which means you can run a 28mm tire with an optimal aerodynamic benefit.


Now running these wider tires like a 28mm makes the contact patch on the road much wider and shorter.  Ultimately this will put less rubber on the road at any given time which reduces rolling resistance while giving the rider more grip around corners.  The rider is also able to use a larger volume of air with a lower pressure giving more comfort and speed to the rider as well.


Keeping the rule of 105 in mind is really important in tire and wheel choice if speed is your ultimate goal.  Run the largest, fastest rolling tire you can while keeping the width at least less than the width of the rim.  The 3T Discus 45/40 wheels are now offering a 40mm external width which would allow you to run a 38mm tire while still adhering to the rule of 105!




Another important consideration in the tire selection process is how the air will actually stay in the tire!  Will you use an innertube, sealant, or maybe even a tire liner as a safety measure in case of a flat? 


If you decide to go the traditional tube route, one of the best upgrades you can make is switching from standard butyl tubes to latex tubes.  Latex offers a much faster rebounding effect and can save you 2-5w/wheel.  A 4-10w upgrade for just a couple dollars is the best bang for your buck you could possibly get in cycling!


If you go with the tubeless set up, sealant is a great option to seal small punctures and help set up the system.  One common mistake is to think adding more sealant is better.  Typically if the sealant manufacturer recommends 50ml, use 50ml.  Adding additional sealant doesn’t offer additional puncture protection, but it does increase the rolling resistance of the system. 


Orange Seal

One great option for a tubeless system is to use a tire liner.  This foam insert will shrink under pressure and expand when pressure is released in the case of a flat.  This gives you a run flat solution and keeps the tire on the rim for increased safety.  The most surprising solution is that the addition of quality inserts doesn’t add any significant amount of rolling resistance to the system. 




These are just a few things to keep in mind when choosing the right tire for you.  Let us know in the comments what questions you have, other factors we didn’t discuss, and what your tire of choice is right now.


  • Taylor Abrams

    My partner loves cars a lot, and he only recently started racing as a pastime. For a safer and more exhilarating racing experience, he seeks out Pirelli race tires to improve the performance and grip of his car on the track. I’ll let him know that using a tire liner is a fantastic choice for a tubeless setup. You clarified that in the event of a flat, this foam insert will contract when compressed and expand when compressed.

  • Gregg Fuhrman

    Real world question here: I have the Roval c38 wheelset that came stock on my Tarmac sl7, stock Specialized 26mm tires, measuring a little more than 26mm, with the external rim width being 26.6mm. My questions is, if I use a 28mm tire (measuring more towards 30mm) I am breaking the rule of 105, but would the reduced rolling resistance of the wider tire offset the aero loss of the tire vs rim width issue? I like the comfort of the 28mm tire, but for a race, am I better off using the 26mm tire size on this rim?

  • Stephen Lane

    I have just glued a race tub onto my TT bike disc wheel. I got a 25mm out of habit, but have realised that the older FFWD disc is rather thin in terms of width.The TT race my club does is 11.4km on horriffic roads.. Very rough, so low low tyre pressure has seen better results over time for me. I seem to go lower every year with faster speed average resulting. So my 25mm tyre is really good for that part, but I am concerned that I will lose way too much by-way of aero benefits by having a Tubular tyre that is effectively bulging.. Can you tell me if I should go to a 23mm tyre? to get a better aero result? or am I all good to roll the 25mm ? Where will I see better aero benefits?

  • Travis Verhoff

    @Brad, Stiffness is extremely inconsequential in the speed equation. While “It Depends” is a favorite of ours here at SILCA, without having more information I would land on the side of the wider rim that is 100g heavier. It is likely going to be a faster option on both the aero and rolling resistance portions of the equation. The only place you are going to see the 100g make a difference is the absolute steepest of gradients and since you mentioned amateur speeds, I would rather optimize the other 99% of the ride.

  • Brad Rogers

    I’m looking at two wheelsets say 1 is the same width as the my tire (so not the 105% rule) but it’s very stiff. the other wheel is wider so 105% rule compliant, but it’s not as stiff, and is 100g heavier than the narrower wheel.

    I’m sure the lighter, stiffer wheel will accelerate and climb faster, but which would be the faster wheel overall for general road riding at amateur speeds (~18mph)

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