Rubber Side Down: How to Buy Road Cycling Tires


Road Tire Options are Endless

I have been through a lot of road tires. They’ve been worn down to their threads, blown off rims, gashed by road debris, and flatted by nails and staples and rocks. Oh my! In my youth I even managed to lock up and skid a rear tire so badly that I swear I could see the tube. Every cyclist has to replace their tires eventually, it just comes with the territory. You can either see it as a chore or you can see it as an opportunity to improve ride quality and give yourself a little more protection in the future. Your tires are your connection to the road, they are on the front lines working to improve your ride. No one piece of your bike is more important and no one piece receives more abuse than your tires, so don’t just slap the deal of the week on there and call it good. I know picking out a new set of road tires can be daunting and that is why I’m going to try to cut through some of the marketing jargon and help you pick out the right road tire to fit your needs.

Road Tires

Different tires are better or worse for certain applications depending on the specific qualities of the tire and the concerns of the rider. First we’re going to go over some of the most popular qualities that cyclists want to see in a tire and how you can find the qualities that are most important to you when looking for a tire online or in a shop.


  • Look for extra protection under the tread beyond just the standard casing. Words in the description like “breaker,” “puncture protector” and “puncture belt” are great indicators. 
  • Sidewall protection is also a signal that the manufacturer has gone through extra effort to ensure against flats.
  • Look at the tread compound of the tire for a mention of longevity (the amount of time it takes for your tire to wear out).
  • Durability is very important for training tires that take on the bulk of your mileage.


  • Look for TPI (or threads per inch) over 100. A higher tpi means that the actual threads used to make up the tire can be smaller and therefore lighter. This is not true in all cases but is a good place to start. 
  • The term “racing” is usually a dead give away or “pro” or “pro level.”
  • Look for an “actual weight” measurement, if available. Under 210g is a fantastic weight per tire. 
  • Weight is an important factor to consider if you’re looking for a set of race tires.


  • Look closely at the rubber compounds used to make the tire. 
  • Words like “dual compound,” “double compound” or “triple compound” usually indicate that the manufacturer has used grippier rubber on the shoulders of the tire while using a low rolling resistance rubber in the center. 
  • Look at the tread patterns: 
    • If you are riding purely on the road, smooth tread patterns offer the best grip.
    • If you ride on uneven surfaces and bike paths or do a bit of adventure riding every once in awhile, raised and hatched tread patterns are best.  

 Ride Quality

  • Look for a high TPI (Threads Per Inch) count. This will determine how supple the tire will feel.  
  • When a tire has more threads per inch, such as a tire with a cotton casing, the casing is more flexible.
  • Flexibility allows the tire to better absorb road debris and unevenness instead of transferring that shock directly to the rider. 

 Now lets look at some popular tires and how these qualities come into play.

Grand Prix 4000S II Tire Continental Grand Prix 4000 S II Tire

  • Best trait = Grip
    • Continental’s Black Chili compound offers great grip and the new Grand Prix 4000 S II features less colored rubber and more black chili compound.
  • The medium 110 TPI thread count offers middle of the road ride quality.
  • The 217g weight is fairly low.
  • This is the quintessential all-arounder tire. It is grippy and performs reasonably well in all categories.
  • Keep looking if ride quality is a top priority.

Vittoria Open Corsa SC II TireVittoria Open Corsa SC II Tire

  • Best traits = Ride quality and Grip
    • The Vittoria Open Corsa SC II Tire has an incredibly high 320 TPI thread count which creates a very supple tire.
    • The ISOgrip SC rubber compound creates traction in both wet and dry conditions.
  • The tire has a decent weight of 222g .
  • The Vittoria Open Corsa SC II is the tire to choose if you want professional performance and comfort. That being said, it is a race tire so longevity will suffer.
  • Keep looking if durability is top priority.

Continental Gatorskin Hardshell TireContinental Gatorskin Hardshell Tire

  • Best trait = Durability
    • The large puncture belt (full tread-width PolyX breaker belt) and Duraskin sidewall give you incredible puncture protection even while cornering.
  • The tire has a medium to high weight at 255g.
  • The tire has a low 60 TPI thread count which increases that longevity but decreases the suppleness and comfort of the tire.
  • If you want a tire that offers the ultimate flat protection, and the other traits are secondary, the Gatorskin Hardshell is the one for you.
  • Keep looking if low weight and ride quality are top priorities.

Michelin Pro 4 TireMichelin Pro4 Service Course Tire 

  • Best trait = Lightweight.
    • At 201 grams, this is a great tire for minimizing race day weight. 
  • The dual compound tread offers cornering grip.
  • A Nylon puncture barrier under the entire tread offers some flat protection.
  • The medium 110 TPI thread count offers middle of the road ride quality.
  • The Michelin Pro4 Service Course Tire is another great all around tire with a bit lower weight than the 4000 S II. It is a great option for a race day tire with added protection.
  • Keep looking if ride quality is a top priority.

Tubeless tires are also growing in popularity for road cycling. Making the switch can offer you flat protection, increased traction and the ability to run lower pressures. If you do any sort of gravel or adventure riding, tubeless is worth a look. Check out our selection of Tubeless Road Tires. 

If you like to spend some of your saddle time on knobby tires, be sure to check out our Mountain Bike Tire Guide as well.

Rubber Side Down is a weekly column dedicated to the fledgling cyclist in all of us. Art’s Cyclery Web Content Editor Jerald Westendorf is not a professional cyclist, and doesn’t try to masquerade as one either, but he does love to ride bikes. Whether you are clipping in for the first time or counting down the days until your first race, read on, learn from his mistakes, and keep the rubber side down.