Do the tires that come with the bike meet your needs? We thought they did with our Surlys and regretted the day.

If you know you want something different right away, the shop may credit you for the tires that came with the bike. If the stock tires are OK for now, but you’re considering wider tires at a later date for an extended tour, make sure that the rims are wide enough to safely put on the width you’re likely to want. If you also want fenders, check that there’s enough clearance in the frame for both the wider tires and fenders.


The advice on allowable tire width for a given rim width, from European Tire and Rim Technical Organization (ETRTO) for example, has changed in recent years. Be careful of old information on the web including Sheldon Brown’s site. We use the ETRTO’s tire sizing chart (shown here) which shows the widest tire that can safely be mounted on a given width rim.  For instance, a tire size 37-622 fits on a 622 x 19C rim.

There have been recent advances in tire technology so tires can be made much more puncture resistant. These are more expensive, but in our experience the extra initial cost is well worthwhile.

Many suggest 32 mm tires for general touring on good roads. We suggest even wider for cushioning on broken pavement and flotation on loose surfaces. We swapped the 32 mm wide tires on our Devincis for 35 mm Schwalbe tires because we were going to Cuba, notorious for potholes. We rode on loose railway ballast with the same tires later that year, and they were adequate (but not ideal) for that purpose.

For our 2009 journey from Bangkok to Paris, we used Schwalbe Marathon XR tires, 26″ x 1.6″, which were the world travellers’ gold standard at that time.  We had a total of a dozen or so flats on two bikes during the 17,000 km ride. The tires still had life in them at the end, confirming the wisdom of the road that “they last about 20,000 kilometres.”

Schwalbe has stopped making the Marathon XR, to the disappointment of many world travellers. At first there was no equivalent, but then they began to produce a similar tire called Marathon Mondial. However I  note the 26″ size is not available in anything narrower than 2.00″. See Cass Gilbert’s comparison of Schwalbe’s post XR  choices.

Annoyed at Schwalbe for discontinuing the XR and before the Mondial became available, we purchased Continental Travel Contacts, 26″ x 1.75″ (now called contact-travel) for our four month trip in South America, a month in Newfoundland, and five months in Northern Europe.  They performed at least as well as the Schwalbe Marathon XRs; three flats on two bikes in 10,000km. Excellent value for similar performance at half the cost. We’ll watch what becomes available, but would be happy to stick with these as a sensible choice at great value.

Addendum: The Continental Travel Contacts have reached the end of their useful lives at only 15,000 km.  

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