We took nine cheap road tyres to a rolling resistance testing facility and this is how they stacked up

Here nine budget tyres are through their paces - including a trip to Silverstone Sports Engineering Hub to test their rolling resistance

Image shows a rider cornering.
(Image credit: Future)

Given that your tyres are your only contact with the road, their importance can’t be overstated. Their impact on the overall ride quality of your bike is pronounced; a good set, with a tread pattern well-suited to your chosen terrain, will deliver additional comfort and confidence; a bad set will take both away just as fast. Equally, knowing that underneath you is a set of tyres that’s resistant to punctures is both comforting and confidence inspiring, too.

But does this mean they need to be expensive? Not necessarily. While the best summer tyres with a high price tag are often great at delivering a suppleness that cheaper rubber finds hard to match, this can sometimes translate to a tyre that wears quickly and cuts easily. 

If you’re riding year round, you’ll want a tyre that can handle the miles and the varying conditions. This is where budget tyres come into their own. As an alternative to the very best winter tyres, these can be both an ideal match for your winter bike or your summer workhorse (depending on make and model), where a little extra rolling resistance is an acceptable trade off for a reduction in punctures and a tyre that lasts. They're also ideal for anyone on a budget or those making their first forays into road cycling.

Sam at Silverstone rolling resistance testing facility

(Image credit: Future)
Sam Gupta
Sam Gupta

Sam has been Cycling Weekly's video manager since January 2022. You'll find him on our YouTube channel where he brings you the latest cycling tech news, rides and reviews all of the most important new launches and takes in some incredible cycling adventures too. Having spent over five years working in a couple of local bike shops, it's fair to say he enjoys getting hands on with all things tech.

We’ve chosen nine budget tyres and put them through their paces at the Silverstone Sports Engineering Hub. We’ll go into greater detail on what the test consisted of, but in brief, we inflated all of the 25mm tyres to 90psi - using a digital gauge for accuracy - and then set each of them up on the test rig.

Then, after an initial 10-minute warm up, each of the tyres were tested twice at two separate speeds: 24kph and 40kph, with the rolling resistance measured in watts. Alongside this and our other 'lab' tests, we also took the tyres out for some 'real-world' riding, to get a sense of their ride feel and grip. 

But as we mentioned, there is more detail on all of this further down the page. For now, let's get stuck into the tyres and how they performed in each of their respective categories: summer, winter and all-round application.

Best budget road bike tyres for the summer

Best Cheap Road Tyres: Continental Ultra Sport III

(Image credit: Future)

1. Continental Ultra Sport III Folding Road tyre

Best in category

Specifications

Claimed size (width): 25c
Size measured on rim (width): 26mm
TPI (threads per inch): 180
Bead: Folding
Weight (actual): 275g
Rolling resistance @ 24kph (watts): 10.7
Roling resistance @ 40kph (watts): 20.5

Reasons to buy

+
High TPI count aids ride quality
+
Performed well in wet conditions

Reasons to avoid

-
Lacks dedicated puncture protection layer

The only tyre on test from arguably one of the most popular tyre manufacturers is Continental's Ultra Sport III. It’s the tyre with the highest Thread Per Inch (TPI) count on our list at 180. 

The Ultrasport III doesn’t have a dedicated puncture protection layer built in, however it does mean that it rides very well compared to others on the list. Interestingly, the new Ultra Sport III is also now rated to be used on E-bikes up to 16mph. 

We think this tyre is better suited to summer riding compared to others tested purely down to the lack of puncture protection. That said, we can report that wet weather performance on these tyres is rather good. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the high TPI count and general suppleness,  it was the fastest rolling of the bunch, with a great ride feel and grip - which really is what you want from a summer tyre. 

Best Cheap Road Tyres: Goodyear Eagle Sport

(Image credit: Future)

2. Goodyear Eagle Sport Road tyre

An all-rounder runner up

Specifications

Claimed size (width): 25c
Size measured on rim (width): 26mm
TPI (threads per inch): 60
Bead: Folding
Weight: 250g
Rolling resistance @ 24kph (watts): 11.55
Rolling resistance @ 40kph (watts): 21.28

Reasons to buy

+
Sensible tread pattern
+
Robust tyre with puncture protection strip 

Reasons to avoid

-
Low TPI means they aren't as supple as some of the other tyres on test

There's lots to like about the Eagle Sport tyres. They performed well in both wet and dry and also sit fairly wide on the rim - we measured them at 26mm - which can aid comfort and traction.

The TPI count is fairly low, so they don't feel as supple as some of the tyres tested here with higher TPI counts. That said, they do offer plenty of puncture protection, which paired with the silica and special strengthening additives, makes for a pretty robust tyre. 

If you're looking for improved ride quality then you may want to size up the the 28mm and run them at a lower pressure. That said, the compound feels better than you might expect and they did perform as the second fast tyre tested, with an impressively low rolling resistance for a tyre such as this. In short, a solid tyre that well-suited for all round riding.

Best Cheap Road Tyres: Michelin Dynamic Sport Road

(Image credit: Future)

3. Michelin Dynamic Sport Road tyre

Lightweight - but not very supple

Specifications

Claimed size: 25c
Size measured on rim: 25.7
TPI (threads per inch): 30
Bead: Folding
Weight: 250g
Rolling resistance @ 24kph (watts): 12.59
Rolling resistance @ 40kph (watts): 22.99

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight

Reasons to avoid

-
Low TPI counts delivers a slightly wooden ride feel
-
Lack of puncture protection strip

With a low thread count of 30 TPI, the ride quality of the Dynamic Sport isn’t as good as some of the other tyres we had on test. It felt a little more wooden and was quite harsh over high frequency bumps. However, they aren’t very heavy, weighing just 250g per tyre. 

The grip is fair, although we did have to drop the pressure a little to increase our confidence in them as they are entirely slick. They broke traction more often than some of the other tyres on test, which could well be down to their harder feeling compound. If we were to choose to ride these tyres we definitely run the widest we possibly could. Luckily, they are available in a 28c. 

While the tread is fairly thick, there are no claims of any puncture protection so we'd suggest these are best reserved for summer use. While these didn’t perform badly in terms of rolling resistance, they do lack a little in overall ride feel, which is likely to be down to the low TPI count. 

Best budget road bike tyres for the winter

Best Cheap Road Tyres: Specialized Road Sport

(Image credit: Future)

4. Specialized RoadSport

Best in category

Specifications

Claimed size (width): 26c
Size measured on rim (width): 24mm
TPI (threads pre inch): 60
Bead: Wire
Weight: 370g
Rolling resistance @ 24kph (watts): 15.22
Rolling resistance @ 40kph (watts): 27.64

Reasons to buy

+
Bead-to-bead puncture protection
+
Grippy compound

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavy - 370g per tyre
-
Measures a little narrow on the rim

Specialized's entry level RoadSport, which is often found on the US brand's cheaper stock road bikes, has gone through some updates as of late. They now feature built in bead to bead protection in the form of an Endurant casing. Specialized has also improved the quality of the compound, making it even grippier. 

These tyres didn’t feel quite as nice when riding, compared to some of the other tyres we had on test , but they weren’t by any means the least supple either.

The level of rolling resistance was perhaps as expected; they were just over seven watts faster than the Lifeline Prime Armour tyres, but around four watts slower than the Vittorias. 

With a fairly average ride feel and a dedicated puncture protection layer, they represent a good balance especially when considering the type of riding you're likely to undertake during those winter months. The RoadSports did measure up on the narrow side once on the rim. If your bike has the clearance, then opting for the wider 28c tyres would expand your contact patch and allow you to run them at a lower pressure for extra comfort and grip.

Best Cheap Road Tyres: Vittoria Zaffiro

(Image credit: Future)

5. Vittoria Zaffiro Road tyre

Good puncture protection and rolling speed - but not super supple

Specifications

Claimed size (width): 25c
Size measured on rim (width): 24.9
TPI (threads per inch): 26
Bead: Wire
Weight: 380g
Rolling resistance @ 24kph (watts): 12.68
Rolling resistance @ 40kph (watts): 23.46

Reasons to buy

+
Durable with good puncture protection

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavy - 380g
-
Rather 'solid' ride feel due in part to low TPI count and thick casing

Given the Zaffiro is the entry point in Vittoria’s road range, the 'spec sheet' shouldn't be much of a surprise. The TPI count is just 26. This makes for a tyre that doesn’t ride all that well, but it does make up for that with durability and puncture protection. 

While the Zaffiro doesn’t claim to have any special liners, what it does have is an incredibly thick casing which includes the sidewalls. Surprisingly, when it came to the test, the Zaffiro was over ten watts faster than the Lifeline Prime Armours, another tyre of test with a pretty robust and unforgiving casing. 

While the ride quality is far from cushy, they're a robust, basic tyre that roll along a little better than might be expected.

Best Cheap Road Tyres: Lifeline Prime Armour

(Image credit: Future)

6. LifeLine Prime Armour Road Tyre

Very robust and cheap, but not so fast or supple

Specifications

Claimed size (width): 25c
Size measured on rim (width): 26.5mm
TPI (threads per inch): 120
Bead: Folding
Weight: 306g
Rolling resistance @ 24kph (watts): 19.68
Rolling resistance @ 40kph (watts): 34.85

Reasons to buy

+
High TPI count
+
Durable with a kevlar puncture proof belt 
+
Folding bead
+
Great spec for the money

Reasons to avoid

-
Durability comes at cost of ride feel

The Prime Armour tyres deliver a pretty impressive list of specs, which more closely matches those of tyre that are twice the price. The thread count is an impressive 120tpi, they boast a kevlar puncture proof belt and also have a folding bead - and were one of the very cheapest on test. 

Considering these tyres are designed for harsher conditions, they’re never going to feel like springy summer tyres, due in part to the layer of kevlar hidden in the tyre. 

It's worth mentioning that the tyres are a little difficult to mount. However, after 100 miles or so, they do start to ease up. So if you do get caught out by a roadside puncture, they shouldn’t put up too much of a fight.

Our test numbers show the Prime Armours to be the slowest of all the tyres, which was perhaps a little surprising given the higher TPI count. However, they were tough to fit, with sidewalls that are incredibly thick and a pretty wooden ride feel, all indicators of potentially high rolling resistance.

But if you’re commuting or riding in the city and getting a puncture is the last thing you want then these tyres will serve that purpose. They also measured as one of the widest tyres so your contact patch with the ground will be larger than most aiding in grip. In short, they feel incredibly robust but this is at the expense of ride feel and speed. 

Best budget road bike tyres for all round conditions

Best Cheap Road Tyres: Schwalbe Lugano II

(Image credit: Future)

7. Schwalbe Lugano II K-Guard Folding Tyre

Best in category

Specifications

Claimed size (width): 25c
Size measured on rim (width): 26.5mm
TPI (threads per inch): 50
Bead: Wire
Weight: 357
Rolling resistance @ 24kph (watts): 12.08
Rolling resistance @ 40kph (watts): 22.64

Reasons to buy

+
Grippy and durable
+
K-Guard lining for puncture protection
+
Low rolling resistance 

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavy - 357g per tyre

Schwalbe has prioritised grip and durability on its Lugano II tyre, which is why it's classed as a training/city/commuting tyre. These have been our video manager Sam Gupta’s go to choice for winter riding for a very long time. Whilst he admits they don’t provide the best ride feel, he’s never had a puncture. 

They feature Schwalbe's K-Guard lining, which is a layer of rubber reinforced with kevlar fibres. They come in at a 3/7 on Schwalbe’s own protection rating so while Sam may not have caught a puncture over many hundreds of winter miles, this may be down to luck rather than top tier tyre technology. That being said, they are grippy and are highly durable. 

In our test they were eight watts faster than both the 'all round' Lifeline tyres. Combine this decent level of rolling resistance, with superb levels of grip and puncture protection over the middle of the tread and you have a tyre that's likely to serve you well across a range of seasons and conditions.

Best Cheap Road Tyre: Lifeline Prime Race

(Image credit: Future)

8. LifeLine Prime Race Road Tyre

Very light for the price

Specifications

Claimed size (width): 25c
Size measured on rim (width): 26mm
TPI (threads per inch): 120
Bead: Folding
Weight: 256g
Rolling resistance @ 24kph (watts): 17.5
Rolling resistance @ 40kph (watts): 30.85

Reasons to buy

+
Good spec for the price - just £14 per tyre
+
Lightweight - 256g
+
Soft compound delivers good ride quality
+
Kevlar puncture protection belt

Reasons to avoid

-
One of the slower tyres on test

The Prime Race tyres were something of a surprise.  They have a respectable 120TPI casing, kevlar belt for puncture protection and and soft compound, allowing you to really lean on them in the corners. They rode incredibly well and not just for a cheap tyre. They're also pretty light at just 250 grams (actual) per tyre. 

We'd suggest opting for the 28mm model and dropping the pressure, if you have the clearance in your frame and have an internal width in your rims of around 20mm. You’ll enjoy even more grip and can push on them even further. 

Our tests show that the Prime Race is marginally slower than Lifeline's Essential tyre but with its more impressive spec sheet, they do feel much nicer to ride and only cost only slightly more.

Best Cheap Road Tyres: Lifeline Essential

(Image credit: Future)

9. LifeLine Essential Road Tyre

Extremely cheap; reasonable performance

Specifications

Claimed size (width): 25c
Size measured on rim (width): 25.5mm
TPI (threads per inch): 60
Bead: Folding
Weight: 287g
Rolling resistance @ 24kph (watts): 17.26
Rolling resistance @ 40kph (watts): 30.84

Reasons to buy

+
Cheapest on test - just £9.99 per tyre
+
Folding bead 
+
Robust  with puncture protection

Reasons to avoid

-
A little wooden ride feel

These are the cheapest tyres on the list, but is the price too good to be true? 

The list of specs suggests plenty of value for money; they have a folding bead, 60TPI and has a claimed weight of 280g. The surface of the tyre has a light amount of tread to aid with traction and during our rides they tyre never broke grip. The 60TPI doesn’t provide the greatest ride feel but can you really expect too much from a tyre that costs the same as a coffee and a couple of muffins? 

What the Essential tyre does have though is a high density nylon layer which sits under the surface of the rubber to aid in puncture protection. To improve the feel of these tyres we'd suggest sizing up; choose the 28mm model and drop the pressure even further. 

How we test

As well as riding all the tyres for many miles, as we do when testing any road or gravel tyre, we took our nine budget tyres along to Silverstone for the day. 

Based at its Sports Engineering Hub we used the Cycling Test Lab's Rolling Resistance Rig to help us assess which of the nine tyres were fastest. To ensure a level playing field, we mounted all the 25mm tyres to the same rim and inflated to 90psi, using a digital gauge for accuracy. We then measured the actual width of each tyre before setting them up on the rig.

Best Cheap Road Tyres: The results

(Image credit: Future)

We used a 40kg load per wheel, which then equates to an 80kg rider. Each tyre underwent a warm up - 10 minutes and 40kph - before being tested twice at two speeds, 24kph and 40kph. The rolling resistance was measured in watts. 

As you can see from the results below, there are significant differences between the tyres. It's worth mentioning here that while a lower rolling resistance is important if you're looking for a tyre to help you go faster, other attributes such as ride quality, puncture protection and durability may be as , or more important, depending on your requirements.

Best Cheap Road Tyres: the results

(Image credit: Future)

What to look for in a road tyre?

Sadly, there is no such thing as the 'ultimate' bike tyre: choosing a model is always an exercise in balancing trade offs - spending more simply reduces quite how large those trade offs are.

Robust puncture protection, high levels of grip, and a long wear life generally come at the expense of weight, rolling resistance and suppleness. 

The very best summer road tyres are typically geared towards those latter qualities, although grip is still a very important element - and a tyre that continually punctures will ultimately be slower than one with slightly higher rolling resistance and a more robust casing. 

Equally, winter and training tyres are designed to be more resistant to punctures and to be longer lasting. The trade off is that these tend to be heavier, slower and less comfortable than summer rubber. With that said, the very best winter tyres are the ones which manage to combine those more rugged qualities with a fair turn of speed - fast is fun and all that.

So, those are the qualities to look for in a tyre, just don't expect to see the pinnacle of all of them in one single model! 




How long should road bike tyres last?

Specialist touring tyres, such as Schwalbe's Marathon Plus model, can last for over 10,000km - although these more expensive than the models we put through their paces in our cheap road bike tyres grouptest.

Most road tyres will last between 2,000km and 5,000km, but the good news is that cheaper tyres tend to use harder wearing rubber than speedy summer tyres - so not only do they cost less, they'll likely last you longer too!


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