You may be all-consumed by carbon-fibre triathlon bikes and the latest drag-cutting aero road helmets, but if you’re not using some of the industry’s best triathlon tires, you’re neglecting a vital area.
Tires are the only contact points between you and the ground, so they significantly impact your performance. How good is their grip? How fast do they roll? How susceptible – or not – are they to punctures? How easy are they to remove and replace when you do experience a puncture?!
Types of tires
Let’s start with tire choice. When you’re looking for the best triathlon tires, you have three options: clincher, tubeless and tubular. Clincher tires are arguably what embraces your wheel at this moment as they’re the most common. They comprise what’s termed an ‘open casing’ and an inner tube, and mount onto standard-hooked wheel rims. The main benefit of these is their practicality. In other words, they’re (sometimes!) easy to change. On the downside, this is generally a heavier set-up than the other two.
Then you have tubeless tires. While they’re once again an open casing, they can be used without inner tubes. Instead, they can be attached to specially designed, tubeless-compatible wheels where the tires are attached by sealant. The benefits of this are you can run the tires at slightly lower air pressure, which maintains good speed but also aids grip and comfort. On the downside, the sealant’s rather messy when fitting.
Finally, you have tubulars. These comprise a tubular casing that’s sewn shut around an inner tube. This is then glued or taped to the rim. Because of this construction, you can reach higher air pressures, which in theory means potentially higher speeds. The downside is they’re a right faff to change, which is why they’re more commonly used by professionals and their support teams rather than recreational, go-alone age-groupers.
Nearly all of you will roll on 700c tires. This is the stated diameter of your tire – and wheel – in millimetres. Your tire will also have written on it its width, which is often 700 x 25mm. This used to be more commonly 700 x 23mm, as narrower was intuitively thought to be faster, the theory being that the contact point was less and so less rolling resistance.
However, subsequent studies have shown this isn’t necessarily the case. Slightly wider tires roll equally as quick but are more comfortable. So 25mm is de rigueur for racing, though erratic terrain – like the cobbles seen at a cycling road race like Paris-Roubaix – often sees riders pitch for 28mm for their dampening qualities. But for general triathlon racing, you can’t go wrong with 700 x 25mm.
The best triathlon tires for race day
Vittoria Corsa Control
Super material graphene is 200 times stronger than steel and three times more flexible. Vittoria’s Corsa Control tires claim to utilise four different Graphene compounds to create tires that are suitable for all conditions. The tires are equipped with kevlar-reinforced casing for increased sidewall protection, while the graphene-infused rubber – with its chevron tread – is claimed to create a fast, supple and durable tire.
The first installation requires some patience, and the 25c wide tires to follow the current trend for wider is better/faster. On the road they provide a comfortable and assured ride, and cope well with rough surfaces. While everyone knows tanned sidewalls look better, they don’t stay clean for long.
Verdict: quality all-rounder, but it’s innovation at a price. 91%
Maxxis Padrone TR
As the name suggests, the Padrone Tubeless Ready offers the option of a classic clincher or the popular tubeless set-up, which will be a bonus for converts. The 25c tires are supple and straightforward to install – each tire even comes with a pair of levers. The tires combine a 170 TPI casing with a carbon fiber bead, and the result is commendable.
The Padrone are Maxxis’ lightest road tubeless road tires and they excel on technical courses.They feel fairly quick when riding hard on the flat and grippy when we needed it most – when cornering you could almost hear the rubber clinging to the tarmac. But, as you might expect, the impressive grip comes at the cost of long-term durability.
Verdict: impressive cornering, but durability concerns. 84%
Panaracer Race A EVO3
Panaracer has over 50 years of experience producing high performance cycling tires and the Race A Evo3 is its all-rounder offering. The tires are said to incorporate ZSG dual compounds to provide high grip in all weather conditions, while the fight against punctures is led by Protite Shield technology. Unlike some ‘all-rounder’ tires, which struggle to maintain performance when seeking to improve durability, the Race A Evo 3 rolled well and had good grip.
The 23mm test-tyres mounted easily to several different wheelsets and, although many riders now opt for wider tires, there’s no noticeable performance negative. In short, the Evo 3s are unquestionably reliable and versatile tires.
Verdict: a genuine all-rounder at a competitive price. 87%
Pirelli P Zero Velo TT Clinker
A pair of fast tires can rejuvenate a tired pair of wheels or they can add that little bit extra to a top-end pair of hoops. Coming from a company known for its work in the motorsport world, expectations are high for the P Zero. And they don’t disappoint. When hammering the pedals looking for straight-line speed, the tires rolled well with what felt like little rolling resistance. The tires’ SmartNET Silica compound is said to improve traction when cornering and we felt comfortable trying to maintain momentum through the turns.
The Pirelli P Zero Velo TT are not the most robust or durable tire, but they don’t profess to be. Rather, they’re designed to be light and fast, and they were.
Verdict: fast and supple race-focused tires. 81%
Other triathlon tires to consider
Goodyear Eagle F1
Goodyear’s better known for automobile tires but actually sold its first bicycle tire back in 1898. The Eagle F1 all-rounder range comes in 23-32mm clinchers and 25-32mm tubeless. One of the Eagle F1’s major sells is its graphene- and silica-containing compound that claims to boost both speed and grip. From our experience running in Inov-8’s range of graphene-infused off-road run shoes, we’d vouch for the latter, with graphene’s grip over slippery rocks and impressive loose terrain.
Goodyear suggest graphene lowers rolling resistance, too, as well as raising durability. In fact, according to Goodyear, the Eagle F1s generate 10% more rolling efficiency, 8% more traction and 7.2% less wear than a ‘standard’ compound. TPI (threads per inch) casing is 120 and weight is moderate. As an example, the 28mm tubeless come in at 303g.
Michelin Power Endurance Tire
This set of clinchers from a brand more synonymous with automobiles is designed to be hardwearing over the most difficult terrain – ideal for the UK’s pockmarked roads. Core to those durable claims is the company’s X-Miles compound, which provides a mooted 20% extra puncture protection over its Pro4 Endurance model.
A reinforced strip of rubber along the center of the tire offers further defences against wear and tear. Meanwhile, a final layer of reinforcement comes in the form of what’s called Aramid Protek +, which is a belt that sits beneath that reinforced strip. Despite its robustness, tire weight for the 700 x 23c version is 220g. That’s why Michelin is so confident in its speed claims, too.
Hutchinson Sector 28 TR
A glance at Hutchinson’s tubeless Sector 28’s back story shines a light on this tire’s comfort zone – the brand designed it for the professional teams they sponsor for cobbled classics such as the infamous Paris-Roubaix. That explains its 28mm width, which can be run at a lower pressure than thinner tires and so roll out more comfort.
Weight’s moderate for a tubeless coming in at 295g, albeit that’s cranked up once you add sealant. Then again, no inner tube balances things out somewhat. That sealant should seal any minor nicks, though Hutchinson hopes things won’t reach that stage thanks to its tough dual-compound carcass. For those that’d like the option to insert an inner tube, this is possible on standard rims.
Top image credit: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images for Ironman