Just Ask Jack — Good 26″ Commuter Tires?

A question I get a lot around here is “what is an appropriate and good tire choice to convert my mountain bike into a commuter?”

Back in the early 90s, there was a tremendous mountain bike boom — everyone wanted one , and now it seems that nearly everyone still has one hanging around in their garage. I’ve long believed that a mountain bike makes an ideal platform for a commuter bike in many respects, and I’ve written about that before. The frames are tough, the 26″ wheels are inherently strong and there are often good mounting points for racks, fenders and other crucial commuter accessories.

But, those knobby offroad tires have GOT to go — nothing soaks up your energy faster than wrestling against tires designed to grab hold of mud and loose sand and not lose traction. A simple swap to a more “road friendly” tire is a quick and relatively painless way to get things rolling faster!

Where do we begin, though? There is a bewildering array of tires on the market, and I’ve been unable to test the vast majority. I tend to buy whatever’s on sale that meets my criteria for a decent commuter tire: puncture resistance, minimal tread and a total width less than 1.5″. So, think of the following as a “roundup” of available tires from several major brands. These are not meant to be endorsements or recommendations; this article is merely intended to guide our readers toward appropriate types of tires for the road.

Strangely enough, there was an article in yesterday’s New York Times about good commuter tires. Check it out by clicking here.

Panaracer
panaracer

Panaracer’s Pasela, Pasela Tour Guard and T-Serv tires are perennial favorites — they feature good durability and great puncture resistance in a variety of diameters and widths. Visit their Urban tires webpage for more details.

Schwalbe
schwalbe

Schwalbe tires get a lot of good press — they were one of the first brands to offer a reflective sidewall, and their tires are legendary for style, durability and flat protection. Heck, they even make carbide-studded snow tires for winter commuting! Check out their complete line of tires on their road tire webpage…lots of styles, diameters and widths to choose from.

Specialized
Specialized

A heavy hitter in bicycling circles, Specialized has a pretty amazing assortment of tires to choose from. Their “Armadillo” and “Flak Jacket” puncture protection systems get rave reviews from riders. I seem to recall that the Armadillo models in 700c are quite popular with fixed-gear riders, as they offer a lot of durability for skid- and skip-stops. Check out their “widebody” and thinner 26″ tires on this page, and their road offerings on this page.

SweetskinZ
sweetskinz

Let’s not forget our friends at SweetskinZ, the innovators in printing a full-coverage pattern on tires, complete with reflective elements. These tend to be a “love ’em or hate ’em” choice for most riders. You either love the way they look or think they’re ghastly. I fall into the former camp, but then again, I’m not known for my fashion sense! SweetskinZ offers only one tread pattern for commuters. It is somewhat of a hybrid tread pattern with a center “file tread” section and short knobs on the outer perimeter of the contact patch. These tires excel on rough roads and offroad hardpack. They’re not particularly puncture-resistant, but I’ve not had any problems with flats. Check out their dizzying collection of colors at their website.

I think of my commuter bike as a “mission critical” device. Because of this, I insist on puncture-resistance in the form of a Kevlar or similar aramid belt, and I’m not averse to additional forms of flat protection. In fact, on my main rig (my Xtracycle), I’ve got Panaracer Hi-Road V tires with built-in puncture resistance, Mr. Tuffy tire liners AND pre-Slimed tubes. I am GETTING TO WORK ON TIME, DANG IT! Who cares that this combination is heavy, dead-feeling and probably overkill? As Moe said in an earlier article, once you’re pushing around 50+ lb. of bicycle weight, what’s a few more accessories?

Most of the big tire manufacturers, both the ones covered above and other companies like Continental and Kenda, offer plenty of choices in just about every size a bicyclist would need: 26″, 29″, 700c, 27″, etc. Good tires are a cheap investment that pays off in “peace of mind”. If any of you have particular recommendations for tires, please feel free to comment below.

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.


28 Comments

  1. Mike Myers August 7, 2008 8:50 pm 

    Call me cheap, but I’ve been pleased with my $9 “Fast City” tires from Performance…

  2. Ghost Rider August 7, 2008 9:06 pm 

    Yep, there are good deals to be had at the online bike stores. I haven’t tried any Performance road tires, but I had a pair of “Farmer John” ripoffs made by Performance back in my MTB days that were “to die for” — grippy as hell in the sandy, clayey soup of coastal Alabama.

  3. Moe August 7, 2008 10:04 pm 

    My Xtracycle has Maxxis Overdrive tires. One time I pulled 6 thorns out of the front tire and no flat tire. I also had good luck with the Sweetskinz that I roll with my Ibex X-Ray, they are heavy but very tough to puncture.

  4. BSR August 7, 2008 10:17 pm 

    I have Schwalbe Big Apple 2.0 tires on my commuter — big, cushy, and they roll fast.

    They are heavy, but my commute isn’t long enough (18 miles r/t) to make that a problem. In the winter I switch to Schwalbe Marathon Winters — very confidence-inspiring in most snow/ice conditions.

  5. Dominic Dougherty August 7, 2008 10:49 pm 

    My favorite 26″ slicks are the Michelin City 26×1.4 Reflective tires.
    The not-too-fat-but-not-too-skinny size makes them a great choice for commuting around urban environments which are often plagued by potholes and debris. They also come in a 1.85″ which makes them pretty spectacular for fire roads!

  6. john August 8, 2008 1:08 am 

    I got one word for my fellow commuters: Kevlar.
    Before I put on Metro Dura Kevlar tires, I was getting about one flat per month. Now I get maybe one or two per year, riding 2500 on roads with a lot of broken glass.

  7. john August 8, 2008 1:10 am 

    (shoulda said, 2500 miles per year)

  8. 2whls3spds August 8, 2008 2:22 am 

    I will second the Performance tires. I use the Forte Gotham City tires on a couple of my bikes…including the tandem. I also have a set of the Michelin Transworld City tires and have good service out of them also.

    Aaron

  9. The Punisher August 8, 2008 2:57 am 

    Do they make comic book hero tires?

  10. The Punisher August 8, 2008 4:57 am 

    Little too patriot-act for my tastes ;^p

  11. tadster August 8, 2008 5:00 am 

    there’s something not right with riding the flag through broken glass, mud, and pot holes… πŸ˜‰

  12. Michael B. August 8, 2008 5:47 am 

    I second Moe on the Maxxis Overdrives. Those tires roll through anything.

  13. cafn8 August 8, 2008 6:19 am 

    I have a set of Kenda Kwest 1.5″ slicks that I usually put on my mountain bike when it’s getting commuter duty. They roll and corner a lot better than my full knobs that I use for off-road (love my Panaracer Fire XC Pro 2.1’s on dirt), but my issue is that I run out of high gears with the smaller rolling diameter of the 1.5’s.

    If I wanted to use this as a full time commuter, I’d switch to bigger chainrings but I don’t want to do that. Can anyone comment on how well some fatter but smooth tires roll and corner on pavement, compared to skinny slicks?

  14. Ghost Rider August 8, 2008 6:43 am 

    Well, my wife’s got a vintage pair of Tioga “City Slickers” (2.2″ wide) on her bike. When those tires were on my bike way back when, they cornered and rolled like a dream — like being on a rubbery cloud. Even on wet pavement, they gripped very well, and they are nearly devoid of any tread or water channels.

  15. db August 8, 2008 6:47 am 

    I have Panaracer Crosstowns (26×1.5) on my converted MTB. Good flat protection so far — the only thing that punctured them was a wood screw. And I found a pair with reflective sidewalls, which should be required on any “city” or “urban” tire.

  16. Quinn August 8, 2008 8:21 am 

    I put 1,700 miles on a pair of 26″ Serfas Drifter tires, without a flat, and I have a pair of 29″ Drifters on the way now.

  17. sometimesangry August 10, 2008 12:18 pm 

    My bike came with Tioga City Slickers as standard but after 6 punctures in as many weeks, I bought myself a pair of Schwalbe Marathon Plus. Haven’t had a single puncture since, these tyres are amazing in comparison, I can recommend them 100%.

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  19. Smitty March 22, 2009 10:15 am 

    I started shopping for a new tire for my commuter bike yesterday. I wanted to buy an American made tire. I found out America hasn’t made a bicycle tire since 1987. It’s a shame, America doesn’t make anything anymore. Anyone have any recommendation on which country to by a Bicycle tire from? I’m looking for the most labor and environmently friendly country to send my money to.

    Thanks,
    Smitty

  20. Ghost Rider March 22, 2009 11:59 am 

    Smitty,

    Manufacturing tires can be an ugly, dirty mess –and there’s no way to effectively make them in an eco-friendly manner.

    That being said, Taiwan is probably the most labor-friendly of the countries that make tires. They’ve made good strides in workers’ rights, clean and modern factories, etc. Thailand is also a major tire producer, but I don’t know anything about their labor practices or environmental record.

  21. Tom Trottier April 21, 2009 8:10 pm 

    I have thought and thought about this. What happened was the chicken legged bikers that didn’t hane any power in their legs whined about the weight of the thicker tires ie. Farmer Johns. The manfactures couldn’t stand the whining, so they produced thin tires to pacify these dweebs, the result: a tire that can’t hold up to any sticker. Case in point: I have a dirt bike, the tires are substantially thicker, thorns do not penetrate, glass does not cut, and even nails do not penetrate. I have not had a flat in 5 years. On the other hand I ride slime and have flats every time I ride. I have tried liners too the only thing that works is to cut the bead off a slick and cot it to length and put it in the tire as you would a liner. albeit bumpy on the asphalt, but it works on the dirt and it doubles as leg weights to a runner, take them out and it seems like you have wings!!

  22. Nate July 22, 2011 11:15 am 

    I have 1000 miles on a pair of Nashbar Urban 26×1.5″ with no flats and they roll fast. Excellent bargain often on sale for as low as $10

  23. MyManFred August 26, 2011 4:39 pm 

    I’ve been using Mr. Tuffy tire liners in my tires since 1993 and I haven’t had any flats in any of them since using them. I started using them when I was stationed in Hawaii due to Kiawe (Kee-yah-vee)tree thorns. I put those in and went over downed barbed wire fencing on base, under the Kiawe trees trying to get flats with “no” success. I run two in the front & one in the back. When I switch to my 1.5″, I use the same ones that’s used for my 2.3s- no issue. Heavy yes but, beats walking anyday

  24. Ken Sanders June 20, 2012 9:02 pm 

    Kenda Kross are crap 2 pair in one month broke the bead on the sidewalls

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