Avoiding punctures is often down to running at the correct pressures and a healthy supply of good luck, but tyre choice has a lot to do with it too.
At the time of writing, there is no such thing as a tyre that is both light, fast rolling and puncture resistant. You can have a puncture resistant tyre, but it may be heavy or slow. You can also have a fast tyre that is light, but it may let any ol’ thing through its walls and into your inner tube.
You are going to need to pick the two traits you want most and just go with that.
Different tyre manufacturers have different names for what is essentially a protective band, or bands that sit between the outer and inner surfaces. Continental tyres like the Grand Prix 4-Seasons has a “Duraskin” mesh to prevent tearing and a “Vectran” anti-puncture layer to prevent things from poking through.
Schwalbe has “Smartguard” in some of its tyres, such as the Marathon Plus, which it claims is puncture-proof, thanks to a thick layer of “stuff” that sits under the top layer of rubber. Schwalbe say it’ll stop things like thumb tacks, so that’s encouraging.
However, whatever name they decide to give these layers, they all perform the same function –stop sharp things getting through, but they all add weight to the tyre.
Without getting into a physics lesson, different tyres offer different levels of rolling resistance. This usually depends on tyre width, pressure, tread pattern and the density or “threads per inch” of the rubber.
A high rolling resistance will require more effort to maintain the same speed than a tyre with low rolling resistance. It’ll probably also produce a fair amount of noise as a by-product. Resistance from both air and from contact with the ground is what stops us from rolling perpetually. Arguably, cycling would be less addictive if we were blessed with perpetual motion…
You can have low rolling resistance in a heavy, puncture-resistant tyre, but they’ll be less fun on those occasions where you are arguing with gravity, such as climbing hills.
As hinted above, weight isn’t really a problem until you start climbing hills. Gravity wants to you roll to the lowest point –the bottom of the hill, but sometimes you want to be at the top. Weight is definitely not your friend here!
Puncture proof tyres are often heavy, light tyres are usually light for a reason. The lightest, fastest tyres are probably best reserved for those people whom benefit from a support vehicle, carrying a stash of wheels & tyres that are already pumped up & ready to go. The rest of us will make do with slightly less speed & hopefully spend less time changing inner tubes at the side of the road or trail.
Besides, if you spend a lot of time climbing Rhiwbina Hill with a set of Schwalbe Marathon Plus‘ on your rims, you’ll lose the extra 500g off your own body within months.
A tyre for your needs
Before picking a tyre for your bike, it is worth taking some time to think about what your needs are going to be. Will you be mainly commuting? Will you be using the bike for weekend club rides or the odd sportive?
If you are commuting, which many of us are, it’s probably worth prioritising durability & puncture resistance over weight & speed. The Schwalbe Marathon Plus is a good option here as it rolls surprisingly well, yet is virtually impregnable. The only downside is that they are really heavy. They also come in sizes to fit most bikes –road, folding or mountain.
If you are looking for a Jack-of-all-trades tyre that does most things reasonably well but doesn’t excel at any one thing, Continental’s Grand Prix 4-Seasons or their Gator Hardshell have come highly recommended. However, with these two, correct tyre pressures are a must if you are going to get see the benefit of the protection on offer.
If you are looking for something light, speedy but you don’t mind having to stop to fix punctures, the Continental GP4000 is an option.
There’s another way if puncture protection is your priority. If your wheel rims support it, you can go “tubeless”. Instead of an inner tube, you use a latex or synthetic sealant to keep the tyre adhered to the rim. The benefit of this, aside from not needing an inner tube, is that should something small get through your tyre, air pressure will force sealant into the hole and form a plug –therefore, no more puncture. You can also run them at lower pressures for better traction in muddy & wet conditions.
However, tubeless-ready tyres can be a pain to not just fit onto the rim, but to seal up. A burst of air from something like a track pump or CO2 canister is often required to get the tyre bead to pop into place and for the air to stay in. Schwalbe’s Pro One tubeless tyres are well regarded, not just for their rolling characteristics but for their easy of fitting.
It also means that if you do get a major puncture –one that the sealant cannot plug by itself, you may need to carry a spare inner tube with you anyway.