Tires I have loved, and a few I have hated.

Cypres 650b

The amazing array of wheel diameters, tire widths, tread patterns, sidewall construction, and the debate over fat vs. skinny widths, and high vs. low tire pressure inspired me to share my own experience with bicycle tires.

I am also a motorcyclist, so my knowledge of tire performance and traction is informed by my understanding of how tires function on motorcycles. A lot of the same science carries over to bicycles.

In my own personal collection of bikes I can count 9 different rim diameters:  700B, 27″, 700c, 650c, 650b, 26″ metric, 26″ English, 26″ MTB, and 24″.  From there, rim widths vary, spoke counts and lacing vary, and tire widths vary.  Wheel construction also has a very important impact on ride quality. In my opinion, more spokes on the rim are better than fewer, and wider rims are better than narrower ones, at least for all non-racing applications (that is to say, most of the entire cycling population).

The research on tire width and construction relative to speed and comfort is very limited.  So I give kudos to Jan Heine and his team for sounding the alarm about narrow high pressure tires and their negative effect on performance.  Not to mention their negative effect on comfort, and the limiting effect they have on a cyclist’s ability to safely explore her or his surroundings.  Since most cyclists don’t have hundreds to spend on tires, not to mention thousands to spend on custom built bicycles, it is important to consider real world, long-lived, and reasonably priced tire and rim options.  Cyclists who use their bikes regularly for transportation figured this out long ago.

For anyone struggling to understand the bizarre nomenclature surrounding tire sizing:  you are not alone.  There is no consistency in size labeling (although that is improving), and even among tires that are purportedly the same size, there can be perplexing variation which can make it hard to mount the right sized tire to your rim.  Sheldon Brown’s site has a sizing chart and discussion which help to explain the strangeness surrounding tire sizing nomenclature.  If you are confused, join the crowds!  When in doubt, always measure your effective rim diameter in order to determine the correct tire size for your bike.  If you are removing a tire, it’s quite easy just to look at the size indicated on the sidewall to make sure you replace the old tire with the correctly sized new tire.  If your rim doesn’t have a tire, it probably has a rim diameter stated somewhere on it, if it is a newer rim.  Many vintage rims have no diameter indicated.

700A tires from the Land of Oz

Original 1929 Dunlop Le Pneu tires

700B tires

When I was restoring a 1929 Griffon, I needed to replace the corroded Dunlop Le Pneu tires.  No diameter was indicated on the old tires, so I measured the rim diameter and ordered 700A (642 mm) tires, which had to be shipped from Australia, as they were not available anywhere else in the world that I could determine.  When they arrived and I tried mounting them, I realized that I should have ordered 700B (635 mm) tires.  I incorrectly measured the ERD on the 1929 Westwood rims.  In retrospect, since I had the original tires, I should have measured their diameter instead.  700A and 700B sizes are not listed on Sheldon Brown’s chart because they are considered obsolete.  However, I found the 700B tires on Amazon, but you may be able to find these sizes in Canada and France, in addition to Australia.

So, what are my favorite tires?  And what tires will I never willingly ride again?  Here is my list:

My top three preferred tires for comfort, speed, and reliability are:

Compass Loup Loup Pass 650b tires

Panasonic Compass Loup Loup Pass 650b 38 mm – I use these on my 1980 Meral.  They are comfortable, oh so comfortable. I haven’t had a flat yet after a few thousand miles of mostly urban riding.  I keep the pressures low at 46 psi rear and 42 psi front, which seems to provide the optimal compromise between comfort and handling.

Panaracer Pasela Tourguard – 559mm/ 32 mm

Panasonic Panaracer Pasela – in all its models and sizes – used on my Terry and on many other bikes I have ridden.  I have found these tires to be very long lasting, although I have gotten a few flats on the folding version I use with my Terry.  Whether or not they are easy to mount really depends on your rim and whether you are using the folding vs. clincher model.  I prefer the folders because they are easy to carry with me when I am touring. The 27 inch size has a different tread pattern.  These tires are affordable, reasonably comfortable, and fast enough.  They are a good choice for all-round riding which is why I generally use them for my restoration projects.


Compass McLure Pass 26″ tires – used on my Panasonic MC 7500 errand bike.  These tires replaced the frighteningly compromised Nimbus Armadillo 26 X 1.5 tires I had been riding.  The Armadillos, while never having a flat in over 6 years of use, were heavy and not very comfortable, not to mention the fact that they were splitting apart at the seams.  The McLure Pass tires have made the MC7500 faster, and much more comfortable to ride.  Tires really do make a difference!

My three second tier tires – good value and a decent ride:

Continental 700c Gatorskins

Kenda Raleigh 26″ tires

Panasonic Col de la Vie 650b tires

While I could mention many, many tires in this category, my top three mid-range choices reflect my own interests as well as the particular bikes I ride.  So, don’t take them to heart, too much.  The Continental Gatorskins are great tires for 700c road bikes.  I rode Gatorskins over many, many miles on my 1986 Centurion Ironman Expert.  They were comfortable for a narrow 700c tire, and I never had a flat in all those years.  The low-end Kenda tires on my 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist were a surprise.  I had expected these tires to be really horrible, and had purchased them as a placeholder until I could find “better” tires for this vintage Raleigh.  In fact, the Kenda’s proved comfortable as well as bullet proof.  I’ve had no flats in the eight years I have been using these tires, which show no signs of wear, and no sidewall cracks.  I have mixed feelings about the Panasonic Col de la Vie tires pictured above.  I tried these tires out on my 1980 Meral, and they were quite noisy, slow and ponderous.  However, these tires have worked well on the older 650b bicycles I have restored, so I list them here as a decent option for a 650b rim.  In this category I should mention a few other tires I have ridden:  Ritchey Tom Slick 26″ tires, Panaracer Ribmo, and Vee Rubber Micro knobbies.  All equally reliable and of good quality relative to price.

Tires I Won’t Buy Again:

In this category I include the Specialized Armadillo tires, noted above, which literally split apart at the seams.  I also include WTB tires – namely any of their 700c touring tires, which are noisy, heavy and very uncomfortable. I also will not ride any Continental Touring tires.  Continental’s offering is not really a touring tire, but instead a heavy and inflexible tire which is not even okay as a commuter tire, as there are many other nicer options out there (see Panaracer, above).  However, Continental does offer other tires which I do like.  I won’t buy any Schwalbe tires, no matter what the model, as I have found them to be unbelievably uncomfortable and heavy.

I do like micro knobbies as an interesting option for multi-modal cycling.  I used these Thailand manufactured Vee Rubber tires on my ALAN with very positive results – they were fast on the road as well as sure-footed on gravel.  While tire choice is not only highly personal, it should also be based on the type of riding you do, as well as the type of bike you are riding. If you are not happy with your current tires, it doesn’t hurt to think about other options.  I have found that ride quality is significantly affected by tire choice.

10 thoughts on “Tires I have loved, and a few I have hated.

  1. It can be confusing – Australian coaster braked roadsters have 700A wheels ( 642mm or 28 x 1 & 3/8″ ), rod brake roadsters – including my Gazelle Toer Populair – are 700B ( 635mm or 28 x 1 & 1/2″ ) and I’ve even seen 700 x 35C ( 35 – 622mm ) described as 28″.

    It seems that 26″, 20″ and 16″ wheels have their own variations too…

    Thank goodness for ISO/ E.T.R.T.O. sizing !

  2. 700a and 700b what!? I did not know about those – +1 on the Pasela’s I think they are a great bang for the buck tire love the look (gum walls) and suppleness, Gatorskins -don’t do that kind of riding anymore but when I did I really liked the them, Kenda’s I use them on a lot of entry level 10 speed rebuilds, K35 and K40, and for a “cheap” tire they are great.



  5. I bought 27″ x 1 1/4″ Gator Skins for my Fuji with UKAI alloy 27″ x 1 1/8″ wheels. The fine print on the tire sidewall says something along the lines of “for mounting only on hooked rims.” I definitely want to use the Gator Skins, but I don’t want to have them flying off at speed, or prematurely having sidewall failure. Will they work on the older rims? They are fairly high priced tires, so I will exchange them if I can’t use them.

    • Hi Jason,

      Many older vintage rims do not have a hooked profile. That means that high pressure tires may not work on older rims. Gator Skins can be run at lower pressures (how low – I don’t know but I have run them at 70-75 psi with no problem). One way to test for the rim’s limits would be to inflate the tires until they blow off the rim. Whatever pressure causes the blow off is obviously too high, and then you can back down from there. Otherwise, consider using tires that are meant to be run at lower pressures.

  6. Hi, I’ve been enjoying your blog for a few months now. I have owned a beautiful 1974 Raleigh Sports for about 10 years and over time have slowly (and sometimes without any choice in the matter) learned through much research and trial to service every part of it. I really had no idea of the sheer depth of bicycle knowledge until embarrassingly recently. Though I’ve referenced Sheldon Brown for as long as I’ve owned my Sports. I rebuilt the S3C hub about 5 years ago, and found that it wasn’t a bad process and found it rewarding. It is still riding very smooth.

    However, I was running what I believe were original 1 3/8″ Schwinn Spitfire tires (I don’t know how I overlooked how dry they were), until about 2 months ago. I ordered a set of Panaracer Col de la Vie 650B, as they were listed as “1 3/8″ errantly I suppose, and the BSD matched according to Sheldon Brown’s tire size database. The tires are marked as 1 1/2” and so from what I “think” I have learned, because the BSD matches and the frame accommodates for a little more width, it is okay. It rides like a dream, to me, but I would just like some assurance or caution if I have made a mistake. I don’t mind setting these tires aside for another project one day in the name of safety.

    I have learned much in several months of buckling down and really honing my vision in on bicycle maintenance and so far, it’s paying off. I have two 10 speeds I’m overhauling, a Motobecane Mirage and a Raleigh Gran Sport. It’s rewarding when the pile of parts you’ve slowly cleaned, polished and lubricated start to take familiar shapes, and one by one join to the frame. I had a similar feeling doing professional guitar repair, and being very skilled at that, I know the pitfalls of overconfidence and the never ending height of knowledge to be gained.

    I appreciate and look forward to any insight you may be able to provide regarding the tires, and I would like to add that your blog is informative and inspiring to someone like me. I also greatly admire your taste and attention to detail.

    Have a great one,

    • Hi Stephen,
      It sounds like your rim really is a 584 and not a 590, as you had thought. Unless the 650b tires are seated in the trough and not along the bead seat. I would check the tire size you removed, and maybe also measure the BSD of your rim. It’s weird that the Col de La Vie’s were mislabeled as 1 3/8”. At any rate, I’d double check the rim size and tire seating before putting a lot of miles on the tire, just to be safe.
      Glad to hear you are enjoying your vintage finds and good luck with the resto projects.

  7. Thank you for the reply and advice. I was mistaken in my post, I had purchased 650A, I guess I became confused. So the BSD would be correct, then.

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