In this article I’m going to focus on providing you with a list of the fastest 26 inch bike tires.
A lot of people think that speed equals weight. Meaning that the lower the weight, the faster the tire. A low weight is certainly beneficial to speed, especially getting up to speed. But there’s much more to it.
First off, what are your riding conditions? Skinny, low-weight tires might seem fine going in a straight line on dry tarmac, but won’t do you any good when conditions are less optimal. You might want to pick tires that inspire a bit more cornering confidence and are more durable.
The next thing is rolling-resistance: how much energy is absorbed simply by rolling over a certain road. Getting up to speed is one thing, being able to maintain that speed is another. Here’s where the tread pattern and tire compound comes into play. With smooth tires with an unbroken center tread line and fast compound performing great in various conditions.
Those are the tire characteristics I had in mind when creating this overview of the fastest 26 inch bike tires. I’ve focused on tires with a high level of versatility, used for commuting, touring or bikepacking, gravel riding, and cross country. Depending on what conditions you feel you’ll be using the tire the most you can pick the one you like.
You can find an overview of all the tires at the end of the article.
Continental Race King ProTection
The Continental Race King ProTection is an extremely light tire. In the weight department it means it outshines every comparable tire from every other brand by far. And it’s also the best XC tire in the rolling-resistance department.
I cannot stress enough that with respect to speed and acceleration, a light tire makes all the difference. And tires are also the most cost-effective way to reduce the overall weight of the bike.
Try reducing a couple of hundred grams of any other bike component and be ready to spend in the hundreds of dollars. Not so the case with tires. And on top of that the tire has the advanced ProTection puncture protection, with a composite breaker and a bead to bead sidewall protection polyamide fabric.
All that speed comes at a price, because traction is not this tire’s strength when compared to other mountain bike tires. And it’s the reason this tire performs best in dry conditions.
But when riding in those conditions getting up to speed and keeping it is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. It rightly deserves its name.
James | Site owner – May 30, 2023
The Race King ProTection is absolutely blisteringly fast! Doing some airstrip rides alongside my friend on his fixie with road tires really showed that even ‘large’ tires can be fast now! Heck, the amount of roadies I’ve passed while coasting downhill is downright satisfying. Seriously, it felt like a whole new bike in the speed department – at least concerning regular daily riding conditions (pavement, gravel, tarmac, cobble, etc).
Continental CONTACT Speed
Meant for the road the Continental Contact Speed is a slick tire in the true sense of the word. A minimalistic profile will turn your bike into a city slicker.
In the commuting and touring range from this German brand, it sits in the fastest category and is one of the most affordable options to obtain a fast-rolling tire.
It also has excellent puncture protection with Continental’s more than adequate SafetySystem breaker technology. Chances of flats are minimized.
Shaun Audane | Technical writer – June 30, 2020
For me at least, the Contact Speeds strike an excellent balance between speed, comfort and puncture resistance – in that order. The wide range of sizes is another big draw and I’d even do a bit of weekend/lightweight touring with them. If these are your priorities, there’s little to touch them. However, if you put reliability and durability over everything else, there are plenty of options for similar money and, indeed, less.
The Maxxis DTH is by far the tire I most often see on (retro) MTB builds, and for good reason. It’s a gorgeous-looking semi-slick tire that’s exceptionally fast because it’s meant for BMX, dirt-jumping, and pump tracks.
That means the tire has a racing pedigree, which brings both fast-rolling characteristics, and grip with it. It’s wrapped in a very lightweight package. And because of its intended usage on the race track, it also means the tire is great for gaining momentum quickly.
Maxxis is known for providing a wide range of high-quality tires, and with the added benefit of providing both a standard black and tan version, it’s no wonder many older mountain bikes get outfitted with a pair of these.
Sizes range from 2.15 up to 2.3 inches, which will make for a great-looking setup with a very plush road feel.
Of all the tires I’ve come across, none is as true to its name as the WTB ThickSlick.
The high-contrast white letters on the smooth carcass is one of the most distinctive designs for a black tire you can find. A tire with a non-existent tread pattern such as this one is obviously meant for riding on pavement and tarmac. And it does so admirably, with a reasonable enough weight and rolling-resistance.
It’s a very niche-oriented tire to turn your bike into something more. And one of the best-looking slick mountain bike tires ever to hit the market.
Dave Henly | Site Owner – March 6, 2017
For urban riding and as a road training tire, the ThinSlicks are perfect. If you want to ride gravel on a road bike, these might work ok, but you’ll be pushing them to their limit. And if you want to do a lot of touring, you can either go with these bad boys or the Gatorskins. The Gatorskins might be more comfortable over long straight stretches.
I also decided to include the Schwalbe Hurricane in this list. It’s a shame they don’t sell them in skinwall versions as well. But the tire packs a solid combination of a flat centerline and side knobs.
The side knobs means the tire is more versatile than the average slick, opening up the possibility to take your bike offroad and away from the beaten path.
If you want to keep a MTB look for your tires without sacrificing too much speed on the road, this is the perfect tire for you. Especially if you like the occasional trail as well because of the added grip.
Alaskan | Contributor – December 2017, 2019
This tire is whisper quiet on paved surfaces and rolls very easily. It is a very fast tire, almost as fast as Marathon Supremes. The traction on road and trail is very good, verging on excellent. It is sure footed on wet pavement as well.
For me the new Hurricane fits with my riding better than any tire I have ridden on. This tire comes across as the best all purpose tire I have ridden to date.
Panaracer GravelKing SK (TLC)
The Panaracer Gravel King SK has become my favorite gravel tire on the market. In my mind there are two brands that stand out from the crowd, and those are american-made WTB and their Japanese counterpart Panaracer.
I’ve been a longtime fan of Panaracer. When the gravel-craze took hold of the bicycle industry, they created the tire that would serve as the de facto standard for gravel tires with the GravelKing SK. It has just the right weight, just the right tread pattern, just the right puncture protection, and all wrapped up in a beautiful package, both in black and tan-wall options.
Deservedly so, the Panaracer Gravel King SK is in my mind the true fit-and-forget, all-weather, all-season option for gravel aficionados. But will serve those bikepackers and hard-riding daily commuters just as well.
Katherine Moore | Contributor – November 17, 2021
As a ‘road plus’ or gravel tyre for riders who tend to stick to well-surfaced fire roads and tarmac, the GravelKing SK TLC could be a good-value option.
However, for those who like to stray further afield and come across more variable conditions, these are limited by both grip and puncture protection.
Specifications fastest 26 inch bike tires
Continental CONTACT Speed
Continental Race King ProTection
Johan van Seijen is the founder of restoration.bike. His cycling career has seen him at the starting line of classics such as the Amstel Gold Race and Liege Bastogne Liege. Realizing his racing capacity would fall short of what was needed he obtained a MS from the University of Amsterdam in engineering. His love for cycling changed into riding in an amateur capacity with his local cycling club TFC Weesp as a roadie and supporting MTB Noordwest as a mountain biker. He repairs, restores, and builds bicycles and shares his knowledge on YouTube, Facebook and this website.