Large-volume “road” tyres greater than 40c are starting to prove their worth. Over the last couple of years tyre manufacturers have been bringing out new and exciting big volume 700c/29er tyres that offer fantastic grip, low rolling resistance and great comfort. Big tyres are perfect for gravel racing and adventure biking, but also make for great commuting and long distance tyres despite their extra weight.
Finding these tyres can be tricky though, as big air is not yet mainstream. As chief mechanic of a London bike service shop, I often find them lurking hidden in the dark corners of online stores, often under ‘gravel tyres’, sometimes under ‘CX’, and sometimes they’re even a “slick” MTB tyre. In many ways, though, they are all of those and more because big air offers big versatility. But with sites looking to mush everything into its own distinct niche, these guys often get the short end of the labelling stick.
So to save you the hassle of digging them out yourself, we’ve rounded up the six best slick (and slick-ish) big air tyres:
#6 – Maxxis Re-Fuse 40c
Maxxis is already well known in the MTB and BMX scene for great hardcore tyres, but they haven’t had much luck with their ‘road’ editions so far. The Re-fuse is their attempt at doing a proper road version of what they do best…hardcore.
Good grip in wet and dry conditions
Good puncture resistance
Strong sidewalls for controlled handling
Bit on the skinny side – a 50c version would be awesome
Not as supple as could be, bit harsh
Rolling resistance could be better
#5 – WTB Thick Slick Flatguard “29” 52c
In many ways this tyre started it all. The WTB was designed to instantly turn any mountain/CX bike into a 1960’s rat-rod bike. This tyre is more about style and durability – when dry it runs fine but in wet or off-road conditions it suffers from its tough rubber. Hopefully one day WTB will update it to be dual compound or just add a tackier rubber for better cornering and grip.
Fast and very fun in the dry
Great puncture resistance and durability
The hard rubber means off-road and wet weather grip is not great
Stiff rubber also means that it is not as comfortable a ride as a 52c tyre should be
Surprisingly hard to get a hold of (come on WTB, what are you doing?)
#4 – Schwalbe G-one Speed 60c
Schwalbe is well known for their fantastic tyre engineering and great build quality. The G-one started out as a beach racing tire (hence it massive volume compared to the others) but is lately becoming a bit of a monstercross favorite.
Massive air volume
Surprisingly low rolling resistance
Lightweight for its size
Squirmish under braking
Will not fit most frames, would be good to see a 45c-50c version
#3 – Halo Twin Rail 2 “29″56c
Halo have been the purveyors of ‘good quality at a good price’ wheels and tyres for a very long time. The twin rail was originally developed as a Dirt Jump/4X/BMX tyre, but in its latest 29er incarnation it kinda became a ‘do anything’ adventure tyre. They also do a “700c” flavor that has a 38c, if 56 is a bit much for ya.
Really really good value
Low rolling resistance
Surprising off-road grip
Can drift when cornering hard on wet roads
Not the greatest puncture resistance
#2 – Compass Snoqualmie Pass 44c
These tyres were primarily designed for riding on the loose gravel of old rail trails for long distances, but they are very versatile. The supple casing gives good speed on pavement, and the 44c width provides a nice “float” on gravel.
Low rolling resistance
Perfect gravel tyre
Hard to find
Expensive when you do find it
Could be a little wider for when going over the rougher stuff
#1 – Soma Supple Vitesse EX 48c
If you want to go big – but still go fast – then this is simply the best option out there. Soma’s width and checkered tread pattern make for an awesome medley of on-road and off-road riding characteristics. And before you ask – yes, they are a little pricey and as with all good things it is very hard to find them in stock, but they are worth it!
Perfect combination of width and slick tread pattern
Rides like a forgiving road tyre on road, and a fast CX tyre off road
Great all weather grip
Hard to find without paying crazy money for shipping and import tax (don’t ask me how I know)
Not the greatest puncture protection available
#Bonus – Specialized Electrak Armadillo 45c
I was tempted to put Specialized’s “Fat Boy” tyre here but decided that it was simply too puncture-prone to be part of this list. I’m sorry Fat Boy (hope this doesn’t get pulled out of context). Thankfully, the new “Electrak Armadillo” is essentially a puncture-proof Fat Boy anyway! The Electrak is as slick as they come and great fun so long as it’s not wet outside. In many ways it is the same as the above Thick Slick, but comes in a sweet 45c flavour.
A true supermoto-looking tyre
Fast and fun in the dry, corners like a GP motorbike
Great puncture protection
Little to no cornering grip in the wet
All the puncture protection makes for a less forgiving ride
No real off-road performance unless you like drifting…a lot.
Compare prices and buy tyres from:
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