Everything you Need to Know to Choose the
Best Bike Tires for Commuting
Reviewed & Compared
by Daniel Atlas
Having the right tires on your bike can make a huge difference in whether you make it work on time or find yourself stuck on the side of the road with a flat.
In addition, having the best bicycle tires for commuting can improve your bike’s handling and keep you safer on the road during your daily ride to work.
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Understanding Bike Tires
What makes up a bike tire?
There are several different parts and tire styles that are important to know and recognize in order to make an informed decision when choosing the best tires for your commuter bike.
The most important split in bike tires to look for is that between clincher tires and tubeless tires. Most people are familiar with clincher tires – they use a steel or Kevlar bead in the tire that fits tightly against the rim of the tire and holds an inflatable tube in place between the rim and the tire.
Tubeless tires, on the other hand, inflate themselves without a tube and are glued into place on tires. Nearly all commuter bicycle wheels are designed to accept clincher tires as these make it significantly easier to repair a flat on the road and are less expensive than tubeless wheels and tires.
The bead of clincher tires can be made of either steel or Kevlar. Steel beads are more common on commuter tires because they are less expensive, although Kevlar beads are typically lighter and use a higher quality rubber that can be more durable.
The sidewall is another important part of tires to know – this is the area of the tire between the rim and the outside surface of the tire. The sidewall is important because any damage to this area of the tire is nearly impossible to repair.
Most tires do not provide extra reinforcement to the sidewall because doing so would increase the weight of the tire and damage to the sidewall is unlikely, but if you ride on heavily potholed roads or gravel, then it may be worth investing in a tire with sidewall protection.
No one wants to be stuck on the side of the road fixing a flat tire on their way into work. Finding a tire with puncture protection, such as a reinforced tire surface, can drastically reduce the frequency with which you’ll experience flats.
This may be especially important for riding on rough, gravelly inner city roads or for preventing flats after hitting a pothole. On the other hand, added material to resist punctures adds weight to the tire, which can slow it down and require more effort to pedal into work.
The amount of traction that a tire provides is a major consideration in choosing the right tire for your commuter bike. Tires that provide studded rubber welts, such as those found on mountain bike tires, offer grip on uneven road surfaces, in wet, slippery conditions, and in areas where road debris is common.
On the other hand, these high-traction tires achieve this by gripping the road, which means they also suffer from increased rolling resistance. Thus, every tire is a trade-off between traction and speed, and you’ll need to decide how to balance these based on the area in which you typically ride and the weather.
Tire width can play a large role in how your bike will handle and respond to hazards like road debris and potholes. In general, a wider tire will distribute the weight of you and the bike over a greater area, so it will be better able to stand up to rocks and potholes without flatting.
In addition, the larger surface area of contact with the road allows wider tires to provide better bike handling on turns and descents. The downside to wide tires is that they have more material, which makes them heavier, and the increased contact area generates more rolling resistance against the road.
choosing a tire width also depends on the width of your wheels - most wheels can accept only a limited range of tire widths.
When choosing a tire, you also need to consider the diameter of your wheels – the diameter of your tire should exactly match the diameter of your wheel.
Wheels and tires typically come in standard diameters, such as 700c or 26”, and many tire styles are available in multiple diameters to accommodate different wheel diameters.
Best Commuter Bike Tire
Continental GatorSkin DuraSkin Tire
The GatorSkin line of tires from Continental is known universally by cyclists as the tire you turn to when you want a slick road tire that won’t flat on rough roads and over many miles. The durability of the tire comes from the tightly woven PolyX Breaker polyester fiber, which sits just under the outer layer of rubber to prevent any punctures from breaking through to the tube.
The DuraSkin tire is particularly good for commuters riding on roads with numerous potholes or over gravel because the tire sidewall features a DuraSkin reinforced protection layer. The surface of the tire is similar to a road slick, although it does have some grooves to provide additional traction when there is water on the road. Also, note that the extra protection throughout this tire increases its weight compared to standard road tires.
The tire uses a steel bead but is designed as a foldable tire that makes it easier to take on and off the bike compared to non-foldable tires. Also, the foldable tires can be taken along on the bike as a spare or stored in a desk drawer at work.
Budget Commuter Tire
Kenda K838 Commuter Bicycle Tire
This inexpensive tire from Kenda Tires is designed to work with road, hybrid, and mountain bike wheels to provide a solution no matter what style of commuter you are riding. The tire is somewhat heavy, with a steel wire bead that provides a highly durable structure to the tire. Note that the tire is only available in a 26-inch diameter.
The handling on this tire is excellent thanks to the nearly two-inch width. The surface of the tire takes its inspiration from motorcycle tires and features lengthwise grooves that allow the tire to shed water quickly and to maintain a grip on the road even when there is sitting water present. Also, the tire has rubber whiskers that increase traction when turning or riding on the edge of the tire. While the wide design of the tire adds rolling resistance, the grooved design has relatively little effect on the tire’s speed.
The downside to this tire for commuters is that there is no additional reinforcement given to the surface or sidewall of the tire, so anything that can cause a puncture – like metal or sharp rocks is likely to reach through to the inner tube and cause a flat.
Slick Commuter Tire
WTB Slick Comp Bicycle Tire
This road slick tire from WTB is perfect for commuters who have long commutes on relatively smooth roads. The tire weighs in at just 580 grams, making it one of the lightest affordable tires for commuters. The tire is not a true road slick, as it does feature small groves on the sides of the tire to allow water to flow away from the center of the tire surface, a helpful adaptation for daily riding. Also, the steel bead and rugged casing design allow this tire to hold up to abuse on short sections of rough road.
That said, these tires are quite wide at 2.2 inches. That extra width gives them significantly more rolling resistance than comparable skinny road tires but can be a major advantage when riding downhill or around tight turns. The maximum pressure of 60 PSI also gives them a slight compression that further improves handles around turns. The tire is available in both 26-inch and 29-inch diameters, but not in the standard 700cc diameter found on many road bikes.
Heavy-duty Commuter Tire
Continental Traffic Bicycle Tire
This heavy-duty, rugged tire from Continental is designed for commuters who plan to encounter dirt, gravel, or trail on their commute into work. The tire features many of the hallmarks of a classic mountain bike tire, including a pattern of hard rubber studs that covers the entire surface of the bike as well as the top of the sidewall to improve grip on any road or ground surface. While this tire can be used on the flat road, all of this grip and material makes this tire rather slow as it is both heavy and has a lot of rolling resistance.
The tire is two inches wide to provide plenty of handling and pressure distribution regardless of the type of surface you are riding on. The width is particularly useful for riding on gravel, where it is easy for skinny tires to slip between rocks, and for riding over small potholes. Note that the tire is only available in a 26-inch width, which limits its range of use for mountain bike commuters.
700cc Commuter Tire
Continental Supersport Plus Bicycle Tire
For commuters riding a road bike, this 700cc skinny tire from Continental represents a perfect pairing. The tire is available in both 23mm and 28mm widths depending on the width of your tires and your preference for additional tire width, as well as in 27-inch tire size to accommodate older, larger-diameter road wheels. The tire is rated for tube pressures up to 110 PSI, so be aware that you will need a pump that can reach these high pressures.
Compared to Continental’s vaunted road slick line of tires, this tire is designed for commuting by adding in a PlusBreaker technology layer below the outer layer of rubber that works to prevent punctures from breaking through to the tube and causing a flat. The casing is also slightly thicker to protect the sidewall and support the tire when riding over rough roads with debris or potholes. However, the treads on the tire surface are the same as on Continental’s racing tires, meaning that this tire won’t slow you down with unnecessary rolling resistance.
Frequently Asked Questions
How wide should my tires be?
The width of your tires depends foremost on the width of your wheels, as you need to match your tire width within millimeters for road wheels or within roughly half an inch for mountain bike wheels. In general, wider tires will offer greater handling on turns and descents, but will also increase the rolling resistance of your tires.
Can I ride my tires through water?
Yes. Different tires will handle better or worse in water depending on their traction pattern. Many tires, especially slick road tires, have grooves that are designed to channel water away from the center of the tire to prevent hydroplaning.
How do I choose a tire diameter?
The diameter of your tire depends on the diameter of your wheel – there is no wiggle room in matching a tire to a wheel of a different diameter.
Finding the right set of tires to match to your commuter bike is extremely important for ensuring you have the traction and handling you need to ride the roads between your home and work and for avoiding flats.
We feel that the Continental GatorSkin DuraSkin tires are the overall best commuter bike tires because of their unique combination of speed and puncture protection.
Unlike many other commuter bike tires, the DuraSkin layer reinforces the sidewall of these tires to prevent damage that can permanently destroy the tire.
Also, the PolyX Breaker layer prevents any puncturing debris from reaching the inner tube and causing a flat.
The narrow width of the tire also allows it to be extremely fast despite the added weight of the reinforcement.