When it comes to tires, most cyclists want to know two things—the numerical specs to get the right tire that fits and performs well, and as much useful information as they can get about brands and which specific tires to buy.
Let’s address the numbers first. As veteran cyclists know, the 700x38C designation may look complicated, but it’s actually quite simple.
The 700 number refers to the diameter of the tire, and its expressed in millimeters. It’s an accepted standard for most bike tires, so you’ll probably be more interested in what 38C means. The 38C designation refers to the width of the tire if you’re looking at it from the front of the bike, and it’s also expressed in millimeters. The “C” designation is a little more arcane. It refers to an older French system of labeling wheels that was based on the Bead Seat Diameter.
There are a couple of other numbers that need to be mentioned. With some tires, the 38C part will be missing, and what you’ll see instead will be two other numbers that will be separated by a dash, i.e., 700 35- 42.
These last two numbers at the end refer to a range of tire sizes that will fit your wheel. And since 38C lands near the middle of that range, that means you’ll be fine if you’re looking to buy a specific tire that uses this numbering system.
There’s one last number that needs to be mentioned: the ISO number. Once again, it sounds arcane, and in this case it is to some extent. ISO stands for International It’s called the ISO number, which stands for the International Standardization Organization. A typical number for a 38C tire might be 38-625, with the 625 representing the inner diameter of the tire expressed in millimeters. If you also see the 700x38C number, though, the ISO number is relatively unimportant, so you can prioritize accordingly.
Now that we’ve covered the numbers you’ll find on the tire, let’s talk about some of the brands you’ll want to check out. There are too many choices to cover them all, so we’ll narrow it down to a manageable number.
Picking The Right Tires: Brands, Products and Riding Needs
There are two things you need to do before you start wading through specific brands and tires and making choices. The first is to analyze your riding patterns, habits and needs as specifically as possible.
To simplify this, you can break them down into several different categories, e.g., commuting, light off-road and heavy-duty off-road. If you’ll be doing a mix, assess your tire needs accordingly, but be aware there’s some flexibility in all this.
Once you’ve done that, you can match your needs to the three basic types of tires—slicks, hybrids and off- road tires. Slicks are exactly what they sound like, i.e., thin tires without much tread that are built for speed and performance. The basic trade off here is speed versus traction, so you’ll need to weigh your needs and determine which is more important to you.
Hybrids are a combination tire that combines some of the speed aspects of a slick tire with the grip provided by the knobs on an off-road tire.
In this kind of tire, those knobs are typically located on the edges of the tire, and they have a raised flat middle to give you as much speed as possible, depending on the design of the tire. Basically, you’re evaluating versatility here, so weigh that against your specific riding needs.
Most off-road tires, meanwhile, are designed to be rugged and handle several different kinds of terrain. The goal is to at least be able to deal with some kinds of gravel surfaces, and the tougher ones can manage mud, rocks and anything else you can reasonably throw at them.
Now that you’ve got the information you need, let’s take a deeper dive into some of the brands. We’ll mention some specific tires along the way, but the basic idea is to give you a sense of which ones you’ll likely see, what kinds of tires they specialize in and what some of their strengths and weaknesses of those tires are.
Bike Tire Brands:
This Japanese company is relatively new to the tire product party, but they’ve been universally lauded for their Gravel King tires that they introduced several years ago. The performance key here is their natural rubber compound, which provides high-quality traction but still offers a relatively seamless roll.
Panaracer recently upped its game, too, with expanded offerings in the Gravel King product line that feature a heavier tread pattern than previous tires.
The price point for these tires is relatively low as well, which makes it well worth your while to at least look at some Panaracer products.
When it comes to bike tires, this German company is trying to be all things to all riders, and to date they’ve done an excellent job. Their claim to fame is a unique tread product that makes these tires both flexible and sticky, which means you get a smooth ride and excellent grip when you lean into a hard turn.
You’ll also find plenty of low-profile knobs that are densely packed together, but these tires are also rounded to give you a smooth ride on pavement.
The larger size tires made by this company provide great cushioning, and Schwalbe has done a lot of work to make its tubeless tires easy to install.
Start with the G-One All Round and go from there when you evaluate this brand.
While you’re at it, check out the Pro One, especially if you’re interested in tubeless road tires. You can use this particular tire on hook-less rims, and the latest version of this tire will give you a combination of improved road feel and the kind of outstanding performance that may have you experiencing love at first ride.
WTB is considered a leader when it comes to off-road and gravel tires, and the affordable price point is an extra bonus, too.
The latest and greatest from WTB is called the Resolute. It’s actually a fairly unique tire—there are three separate sections, with a center row of knobs that have a square shape to smooth out the ride, even though it’s not really a performance street tire.
The sides of the tire have a wider, thicker set of knobs that are built to provide traction and handle mud when you do go off-road. There are also square knobs to help you get extra bite and traction when you rise out of the seat to climb a steep hill.
Another WTB tire that’s getting attention is the Byway, which is a hybrid tire that’s designed to handle a variety of gravel conditions. The ratio is 60/40 when it comes to dirt vs pavement, and the tread design reflects this with a slick center and knobs on the sides.
Versatility is also a key element of this tire. The Byway comes in three different sizes, so you can go with a narrower tire if you’re looking for speed, or switch to a wider tire when you want a more comfortable ride with a little extra cushion.
Like WTB, Donnelly has earnest reputation in gravel tires. They also build cyclo-cross bikes, so they’ve got their fingers in a lot of design pies. The combination tire they offer for both street riding and off-road excursions is the M’plod MSO tire. Once again the key is the unique tread design, which also varies widely depending on which part of the tire you’re talking about.
The center section of this tire is also full of densely packed, but the side design features large and small knobs. This gives the tire more bite, which helps on turns and loose surfaces.
An extra bonus here is the extra puncture resistance provided by the multi-layer design. This does add weight and bulk, so be forewarned that you can expect a stiffer ride with this choice.
This company has been an established name in the cyclo-cross community for some time, and now they’re expanding their offerings to include gravel tires that have some impressive qualities.
The tire is called the Gravel Grinder, and it’s a hybrid. The center is smooth, while the sides have raised side knobs that are great for cornering.
The Gravel Grinder is a clincher tire, though, with vulcanized rubber that adds flexibility. Don’t be fooled by
the fact that it’s a clincher, however—the company has pioneered a double protection system that will keep you on the road regardless of the conditions you encounter.
Another advantage of this particular tire is the weight—it’s among the lightest mentioned here, so if that’s important to you be sure to put it high on your list of possibilities.
If you’re looking to buy from an established company, Hutchinson is among the safest bet you’ll find. This French company has been around for 160 years, and they do all tires for all riders, from road and recreational to mountain bike tires and tires that are specialized for cyclo-cross.
They’re good at clever names, too. The Override has all the standard features you’ll need in a hybrid—a slick center for speed, diamond knobs on each side to get you through the corners safely, and a unique bead- to-bead surface structure that will give you plenty of puncture resistance.
The Override tread also has a low profile, so it can handle hard-packed surfaces as long as the conditions are dry.
Vittoria is another established company that’s been around for a long time, and they’ve finally decided to enter the gravel market.
Gravel riders will be glad they did. The Terreno Zero puts together two different tread designs to get a smooth ride with traction, and the center tread has been adapted from the company’s popular Corsa road tires. It also includes heavier knobs on the side for braking and traction.
The bigger news is that these tires feature the company’s much-loved compound, the 3C Graphene 2.0. The graphene addition increases the speed of the tire, and Vittoria’s patented casing helps make it easier to install and set up a tubeless tire.
Bonrager has been playing around with different treads, compounds and puncture protection for some time now, and they definitely got it right with their latest, the R3.
This tire is light and fast, so it performs well on the road. It’s one of the easiest tubeless tires you’ll find when it comes to setup, so the biggest question is whether it’ll fit your bike frame.
Don’t despair if it doesn’t, though. The promise offered by this tire will likely translate to other offerings, so make sure you consider Bonager in your search if you like this basic description.
Like several other companies listed here, its taken a long time for Continental to start offering tubeless tires, but they definitely nailed it when it comes to tubeless protection in their latest offering in the GP series.
The tire features a tubeless sealant that does make it a little less flexible than the company’s clinchers, but it doesn’t seem to affect performance at all on the road. It’s so good that some evaluators think it could be the new gold standard for tubeless road tires if you’re thinking about racing.
The price point is a little higher than most, and you should know that this tire isn’t compatible with road rims that are hook-less.
Given the potential of this tire, though, its another company that’s worth watching as you continue to shop for tires and become more familiar with the specifics.