The ‘best’ touring bike tyres – now it’s personal

Bike tyres, eh? It’s a subject guaranteed to get cycling friends’ nostrils flaring and prompt much arm waving over pub pints. Only the great Shimano v Campagnolo v Sram component debate has wasted as much breath as cyclists’ favoured rubber.

Tyres of cycle touringSo, it’s an emotive one and this is not altogether surprising as the tyre is such an important part of the bicycle.

As you might expect, bike tyres have a profound impact the ride. If they puncture regularly, then the impact can be quite pointed and darn frustrating. Change from a familiar set to something new, though, and you can notice the difference in comfort and rolling resistance immediately. A change can revolutionise the riding experience… even a rusty unloved old hack.

Cyclists generally find their favourites after a few years assessing the options and then stick with them. I have three.

Which tyre for touring?

Tyre technology has progressed since John Boyd Dunlop pioneered the pneumatic tyre in 1888. While the basic construction of a bike tyre persists – a nylon carcass a natural rubber case – numerous innovations in materials and design have improved durability and puncture resistance.

Like bike and wheel choice, tyre choice for touring depends on the trip envisaged. If you are cycling across mountain ranges and deserts, then a tough, folding multi-terrain ‘boot’ is essential.
If your journey is mostly on road, you may wish to sacrifice off road capability and in favour of a lighter tyre offering less rolling resistance and more comfort on the macadam. But these requirements may change if you are carrying a very heavy load where a tyre that can run at higher pressures may help avoid pinch punctures and, even, rim damage.

Plenty of factors to consider, then.

My favourite tyres for touring

So here are my favoured three for long distance cycling. Friends harrumph at two on this list, but the choices are based on miles travelled, not always on tarmac.

Panaracer Pasela Tourguard

Sizes used: 700c 25mm (320g). 700c 35mm (490g).

I tried this tyre, from Panasonic no less, by accident when I purchased my Thorn Audax. The Pasela Tourguard is one of the Bridgewater company’s favoured tyres and thought I’d give them a try, with every intention of changing them at the earliest opportunity.

I was very pleasantly surprised.

The Tourguard features a Kevlar (Amarid) belt to fend off punctures and a chevron tread pattern, which gives it some ability on compacted tracks and trails.

I have used a set of 25mm Tourguards on my Audax for the last three years. They have just worn through on the rear. That equates to about 7-8,000 miles on mainly road but with some tracks and trails thrown in too. This mileage is relatively low for some riders, but I’m happy with that kind of performance given my heft and that fact that they only cost £20 each.

The sidewalls on the Tourguard are supple which, in part, makes them extremely comfortable even at 25mm. At 35mm on my touring rig, they are super plush with 20kg of luggage. And even though the tread is quite pronounced, the tyres roll very well indeed.

Some users have found the Tourguards a little vulnerable, though, reporting problems with lacerations in the tyre sidewall and splitting. I’ve had one puncture in three years’ use, a ‘pinch’ when I took my eyes off the road and hit an awful pothole.

Schwalbe Marathon

Sizes used: 700c 32mm (640g). 20 inch (406) 1.5 inch (530g)
The Schwalbe Marathon was the first touring tyre I used. It was fitted to my old Dawes Galaxy and I didn’t have a puncture in five years’ use (albeit relatively light).

Like the Tourguard, the Marathon has additional puncture protection; the newest version featuring ‘Greenguard’ using recycled latex products.

The tread and sidewalls of this tyre are exceptionally tough, the latter having anti-aging treatment to prevent cracking. As a result, it does not provide as plush a ride or roll as well at the Tourguard. If you’re a weight weenie, the Marathon is also heavier.
I also fitted these tyres to my commuter bike, a Bike Friday Pocket Llama. I rode across London twice a day for five years, covering some 13,000 miles. In that time, I used two sets and had one puncture, a freak 2-inch nail from a building site. These were in a 20inch 406 size and I found that the rear tyre would wear more quickly that on a larger-wheeled bicycle.

For commuting, the compromise is right for me and I wouldn’t look anywhere else.

Continental Gatorskin

700c 28mm (320g)

This was my first ‘change up’ tyre from the Marathon on my Galaxy on the recommendation of a friend. Towards the end of my five-year spell on the Marathons, I was finding them too harsh on increasingly longer rides and a quick test ride on the Gatorskins convinced me that I should give some a try.

After the bombproof Schwalbes, the Gatorskins felt quite fragile. However, touch wood (!), I’m yet to have a puncture using them and I’ve covered around 2,500 miles or so.

The Gatorskins are light, have very little tread and a Duraskin mesh to help counter punctures and cuts. They are exceptionally fast running in my experience, the best out of my limited tyre repertoire, and work very well on the turbo trainer with little sign of the damage this can have on some tyres.

I’ve been running my original 28mm set on the Audax over this winter and am considering sticking with them.

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12 thoughts on “The ‘best’ touring bike tyres – now it’s personal

  1. Hi Jamie… Yes, I sometimes wonder about the club riders I see riding 23mm. The roads I ride in Saddleworth – while wonderfully quiet on the back lanes – are notoriously patchy and rough. You have to keep one eye on the macadam (or cobbles) and one on the lovely scenery. I’m sure I would have more problems with punctures (not to mention the wheels) if I were running high-pressure narrow tyres in these conditions.

  2. Great article! I run the Panaracer on my Thorn Nomad and they are supreme on the tarmac, however once you hit the lose stuff, such as gravel or unmade tracks things get a little hairy…. I am looking for something with all the ability of the Panaracer has on the road but will also let me stray off the beaten path occasionally, any ideas?

  3. Hi Kenneth,

    You are right about the Panaracer. They are OK up to compacted tracks and then struggle. A model from the Schwalble range may work for you. However, these do tend to be heavier and will not roll as well as the Tourguards. I am currently using Marathon Extremes on my Surly Troll. I have to say that I’m pleasantly surprised so far. They roll pretty well on tarmac and are very good on loose surfaces. Might be worth checking them out.

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