The best tyres for cycle touring are durable and puncture resistant ones that can survive high milage. Fitting a good set tyres is one of the easiest ways to improve your bike. They will make you far less susceptible to punctures, will last a very long time, feel comfortable, have low roll resistance and they’re safer.
Many of the best tyres for cycle touring are produced by two main brands, Continental and Schwalbe. Each company produces top quality tyres some of which I’ve had a great deal of experience with.
Continental’s Best Tyres For Cycle Touring
Continental offer three exceptionally good tyres for long distance touring on mixed terrain. The cheapest of those is the Continental Touring Plus, followed by the Continental Travel Contact and finally the Continental Top Contact.
Continental Touring Plus
The Continental Touring Plus features a ‘rubber breaker’ which is a band concealed under the tread of the tyre which acts as a barrier against thorns or any derbies that could puncture the inner-tube.
Rubber breakers usually compromise ride comfort, although Continental claim this tyre is still comfortable in spite of the protective coating. The tyre is a fast design mainly for use on roads, the tread is subtle and the centre of the tyre features a flat band that grants minimal rolling resistance on flat surfaces.
Continental Travel Contact
The Continental Travel Contact is the tyre I’ve had the most experience with, I would definitely rate is as one of the very best tyres for cycle touring on mixed terrain.
See the full ‘Continental Travel Contact Review‘. I’m amazed at how much abuse these tyres can take. Despite my riding style being a little reckless; breaking hard, taking corners fast and all the things that significantly diminish the life expectancy of a set of tyres, the Continental Travel Contacts I have on my bike still look like they have thousands of miles of life left. In comparison, the very basic Continentals I had installed on my bike when I first bought it were worn to the threads after just 900 miles.
I’m certain that if you were to ride with care a set of Continental Travel Contacts they could endure 15,000 miles of light touring. As well as handling a little grit and gravel well the Continental Travel Contacts are one of the best tyres for cycle touring on roads due to the smooth band in the centre that decreases rolling resistance.
Instead of using a rubber breaker for puncture resistance this tyre uses a Kevlar reinforced anti-puncture belt under the tread and Duraskin (polyamide mesh) sidewall protection, which means the sidewalls of the tyres are reinforced with a kind of mesh that protects them from road debris that might cut into the tyre from the side.
Continental Top Contact
The Continental Top Contact is the most expensive of the three Continental touring tyres and the most technically advanced. The Top Contact uses the company’s most advanced puncture resistance technology called Vectran Breaker.
Vectran is a Liquid Crystal Polymer that’s five times stronger than steel and the Top Contact uses two layers of this material under the tread as puncture protection as well as the Kevlar layer found in all Continentals ‘Contact’ tyres.
Continental Top Contacts don’t feature the same knobbly edges found on the Travel Contacts and would struggle off road but they’re great tyres for general cycle touring and tough enough to handle bad roads and grit paths.
Continental Top Contacts also come in winter version (Top Contact Winter) which contains sharp granules in the rubber compound, aiding grip in wet and slightly-snowy conditions and is one of the best cycle touring tyres for winter cycle touring on good roads.
Schwalbe offer a very wide range of tyres, the three I’m about to mention are my personal favorites and cover a wide range of uses from the very fast road tyres to the ultra durable multi-terrain. Each of these tyres is designed with touring in mind and are amongst the best tyres for cycling touring for their respective terrain types.
Schwalbe Marathon Supreme
Schwalbe’s Marathon Supreme is a very fast, lightweight and round shouldered touring tyre complete with Vectran breaker puncture resistance similar to the top of line Continental Top Contact.
The Marathon Supreme retains traction well in wet conditions. Although highly puncture resistant it sacrifices a little durability for it’s speed and low weight. This tyre is ideal for fast road tours, especially if a little rain is expected, but will not fare well off road.
Marathon Plus Tour
The Marathon Plus Tour is a highly robust touring tyre that incorporates a five millimetre thick protection belt marketed as ‘Smartguard’, made from India Rubber, together with the robust design of the tyres tread there’s almost a full centimetre of material between the road surface and the inner-tube.
The Marathon Plus’s durability and puncture resistance comes at the cost of some speed, but for fully loaded touring that’s not likely to be an issue.
Schwalbe also have a rather unique tyre in their line up that fulfils a particular role for serious tourers. The Marathon Extreme lies somewhere between a touring tyre and a fully off road dirt tyre.
The durability of the Marathon Extreme is very good but it won’t last as long as The Marathon Plus Tour nor is it as fast as the Marathon Supreme, but it will be by far the best off road, giving exceptional grip in very tough conditions.
The Marathon Extreme comes in a folding version (a folding tyre is a tyre that uses a nylon bead around the rim rather than a wire one so that it can be folded into a smaller space for better storage), this makes it ideal for taking on a tour as a backup tyre for when the road gets tough.
You could, for example, take a pair of Marathon Plus Tours for the majority of a long trip and if you decide to go off road for a few days/weeks/months then you could mount two Marathon Extremes that are conveniently folded and stashed in your panniers and tackle the change of terrain with ease.
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I recommend taking a look at Chain Reaction Cycles. That’s where I go get most of my bicycle components from.