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An overview of the best bicycle tire puncture protection available

In this article I’m going to provide a comprehensive overview of the best bicycle tire puncture protection on the market today.

I’ve written dozens of articles covering every bicycle tire type imaginable, and puncture protection is a key factor of a high quality. Besides tire compounds, it’s where all of the technology of a tire resides.

That being said, information on exactly what makes or breaks high-quality bicycle tire puncture protection is virtually nowhere to be found. And all the shorthand notation of tech-stuff can be incredibly confusing.

Since I denote puncture protection information for each tire in my blogs, I thought it would be a great idea to further delve into the wondrous world of bicycle tire puncture protection.

I’m going to cover bicycle tire puncture protection that’s actually part of the tire itself. You can also buy tire inserts that add an extra layer of protection besides the one you can find in the tire itself. But although they add protection, they also add a significant amount of weight. And they don’t protect the actual tire from being punctured, they help you not running a flat.

So here goes.

What is bicycle tire puncture protection?

Bicycle tire puncture protection is everything a tire manufacturer adds to their tire lineup to aid in preventing you running a flat. There are a couple of categories of puncture protection:

Bicycle tire puncture protection types

  • Breaker: an additional reinforced layer behind the center tread of the tire that serves as a barrier between the road and the tire chamber or tube.
  • Belt: an additional reinforced strip made from rubber and much thicker than a breaker, running behind the center tread of the tire. In can be used in combination with a breaker for maximum puncture protection. The main difference between a belt and a breaker is that a breaker focuses on preventing a puncture with a tightly woven fabric, while a belt prevents an object from reaching the air chamber even when being penetrated with its thickness.
  • Sidewall protection: A tire ply besides the tread pattern on either side of the tire to protect this more delicate area of the tire from abrasions and tears.
  • Bead-to-bead protection: a tire ply running the entire width of the tire. It’s basically a breaker and sidewall protection wrapped in one.
  • Chafer: a protective layer surrounding the bead of a tire, to aid in tubeless sealing.

Additional puncture protection: compounds, and casings

There are two other elements which factor into the puncture-resistance of the tire: compounds, and casings:

  • Compound: The combination of rubber and TPI (threads per inch) offers different levels of puncture resistance based on its durometer (hardness) and thread count (with a higher number being more puncture-resistant). Tire manufacturers usually have a soft, medium, and hard casings, to simplify things.
  • Casing: A tire casing is the entire package containing the puncture resistant technologies and a certain tire compound.

Tire compounds and puncture protection

A lot of tire manufacturer’s offer premium compounds as well. These compounds offer the same or better tire characteristics with respect to durability, durability, and puncture protection, without the additional weight.

In fact the main characteristic of premium compounds is that they drastically reduce weight, but increase the overall quality of the tire.

The top-of-the-line Continental CrossKing ProTection made with BlackChili compound and offer their proprietary ProTection puncture protection weighs 755 grams for a 29 X 2.30 inch version.

The CrossKing Wired weighs more at 830 grams for the same size, while offering no added puncture protection and has a nondescript basic compound. It also costs half the amount of money you’d pay for the premium version.

TPI (threads per inch) and puncture protection

120 TPI (left) vs. 170 TPI (right), image courtesy of BikeRumor

A tire compound isn’t just a piece of rubber stamped into a certain tread pattern. It’s rubber moulded onto a woven canvas, made up of a certain number of threads and a certain material.

The tread count is measured as TPI or threads per inch and usually lies between 30 and 180. A number higher than 180 means the tire consists of multiple plies with a certain TPI count. So a 360 TPI means two plies or layers of 180 TPI.

A higher TPI means the canvas is more densely woven and less prone to punctures, not taking into account the durometer of the compound. It also means the tire is more supple and more easily adjusts to the terrain or tarmac. That’s why higher TPI counts are found in more premium tires; e.g. the top-of-the-line MTB tires and road bike tires.

What type of bicycle tire puncture protection do brands offer?

It is possible that your tire doesn’t have any additional puncture protection besides the thickness of the rubber itself. That’s reflected in the price as well.

But almost every premium tire offers additional protection, and some tires have a singular focus on basically never running a flat.

There’s a huge difference between the various cycling disciplines; from commuting, to touring and bikepacking, road cycling, cross-country, and enduro and downhill.

Schwalbe’s mountain bike tire puncture protection

You always want puncture protection, yet especially for racing purposes you might op for a lighter tire instead. So tires within the same discipline, and tires between disciplines always show the tradeoff between protection vs. weight.

So let’s see what brands came up with in their fight against flats.

Maxxis

Maxxis offers the following puncture protection technology:

Silkworm

Silkworm is an exclusive material incorporated into the casing of select models, increasing puncture and tear resistance. Silkworm is featured under the tread as a breaker.

Silkshield

SilkShield offers protection from bead to bead whereas Silkworm is found under the tread only. SilkShield provides an additional level of protection for sidewalls as well as under the tread.

ZK

ZK is Maxxis’ next generation puncture protection material that is lighter, more flexible, and stronger than previous materials such as K2. Maxxis typically uses ZK as a breaker layer, situated underneath the tread in the middle of the tire.

EXO

EXO is a cut- and abrasion-resistant material added to the sidewalls of many Maxxis mountain bike and gravel tires. This densely woven fabric is lightweight and highly flexible, ensuring that the performance of the tire remains unaffected. Choose EXO Protection for enhanced durability for gravel, XC, and light-duty trail riding.

EXO+

EXO+ is Maxxis’ medium-duty puncture protection option suitable for all-around trail riding and light weight e-bikes. A durable 60 TPI casing, with EXO puncture protection layer in the sidewalls, and top it off with a small butyl insert around the bead. The tough casing and EXO material ward off damage from rocks and roots, while the butyl insert protects the tire from pinch flats and helps prevent rim damage.

DD (Double Down) casing

DoubleDown (DD) is a casing solution for enduro racing and e-bike use. Two layers of lightweight 120 TPI casing material are combined with a butyl sidewall insert to create a highly durable tire with more trail feedback than a Downhill casing tire. DoubleDown tires are marginally lighter than their Downhill counterparts, but it’s really the difference in “trail feel” that sets the two apart. Some riders may prefer the highly damped ride provided by a Downhill casing tire.

DH (Downhill) casing

As the name implies, Maxxis’ Downhill casing tires are designed for extreme use in all gravity applications from downhill racing to bike park riding to free riding to long travel e-bikes. A Maxxis Downhill tire is made with two layers of our durable 60 TPI casing material along with a large butyl rubber insert that extends from each bead into the sidewall. The butyl insert helps prevent pinch flats, protects the rim from impacts, and provides additional sidewall stability.

Schwalbe

Schwalbe has a puncture protection scale from 1 to 7, with 7 offering the highest protection available. Schwalbe offers the following puncture protection technology:

Smartguard / Flat-less (level 7)

The thickest breaker available for Schwalbe tires at 5mm flexible, special India rubber

Tubeless Easy (level 6)

Special monofilament fabric (SnakeSkin or MicroSkin) avoid air loss and guarantee highest puncture protection in combination with sealant liquid.

Dualguard (level 6)

The combination of two protection layer principles (special India rubber + nylon fabric) under the tread 2 layers of nylon carcass, 2.5mm flexible, special India rubber.

Double Defense (level 6)

The combined protection is available in three executions. In the Race-version (A) a tire is protected by all around SnakeSkin and RaceGuard (under the tread). Touring tires (B) are protected by SnakeSkin on the sidewalls and high density V-Guard is beneath the tread. “Plus”-tires (C) combine a layer of GreenGuard under the tread and SnakeSkin on the sidewalls.

V-Guard (level 5)

Extremely lightweight and cut resistant high-tech fabric. This high-tech fabric ensures a high level of puncture protection for Race- and Tour- tires.

GreenGuard (level 5)

3mm flexible, special India rubber. Partly from  recycling. The flexible rubber on a 67 EPI carcass is used for the classic Marathon, the Energizer-models and several other high-quality touring tires.

PunctureGuard (level 5)

3mm strong rubber layer offers excellent puncture protection in the entry level.

RaceGuard (level 4)

Double layer of Nylon fabric under the tread. Excellent puncture protection for a tire that should be fast and lightweight. 2 layers of crosswise Nylon fabric, 67 EPI carcass.

K-Guard (level 3)

Layer from natural rubber, reinforced with Kevlar® fibres. The protection standard for every tire from the Active Line.

Liteskin and Performance (level 2)

Tires, made from high-quality carcass fabric without a separate protection belt. Minimum standard for all Schwalbe-tires: 50 EPI carcass.

Kenda

Kenda offers the following puncture protection technology:

AGC (Advanced Gravity Casing)

The Advanced Gravity Casing (AGC) is Kenda‘s latest innovation for gravity orientated riders. A strip of Kenda Vector Shield (KVS), a lightweight woven aramid material, is built in under the tread area and along the sidewalls to protect the tire from cuts and punctures. A 20 mm apex along the bead prevents pinch flats and burping.

AEC (Advanced Enduro Casing)

The Advanced Enduro Casing fills the gap between the Advanced Gravity Casing (AGC) and the weight-optimized Advanced Trail Casing (ATC). Using the same 3-piece aramid inserts as the AGC casing, AEC omits the apex at the bead: for the same high level of puncture and cut resistance but without the added weight. A dual layer compound provides the same reliable grip found on the AGC casing.

ATC (Advanced Trail Casing)

Optimized for trail riding, the Advanced Trail Casing (ATC) is lighter and more supple than the gravity solutions. It uses a layer of SCT on the sidewalls and a K-Armor belt under the tread area. K-Armor allows for a tighter weave and the use of less rubber, resulting in a lighter tire and a casing that is supple enough to allow the knobs to flex and form under load, yet still protects from pinch flats, punctures and cuts.

SCT (Sidewall Casing Technology)

Kenda sidewall casing technology is the optimization of existing Kenda tire construction technologies. Allowing for a tire to maximize the benefits of fluid based sealants while also increasing the strength of sidewalls for resistance to slices and abrasion.

TR (Tubeless Race Casing)

Tubeless Race is the lightest tubeless ready version tire Kenda offers. Utilizing a modified bead shape for better tubeless sealing and performance while offering the lightest sidewall available.

EMC (E-mountain Casing)

EMC is designed to meet the requirements of e-mountain bikes. Thanks to a reinforced ply of woven fabric and additional layer of puncture protection, every tire with EMC casing is more durable and provides more control and grip than a standard MTB standard tire. ECE-R75 certified and approved for usage on e-bikes up to 50 km/h.

GCT (Gravel Casing Technology)

A versatile casing with great all-round puncture and slash protection. Weighing up to 50% lighter than traditional trail puncture breakers, the GCT casing is ideal for gravel cyclists and cyclocross riders. Tires using the GCT casing are all optimized for tubeless use and easy set up.

KA (K-Armor)

K-Armor is a proprietary casing material technology developed by Kenda for superior puncture protection and rolling resistance. The super light-weight material features a tighter weave than traditional puncture breakers while being lighter overall.

TLR (Tubeless Ready Casing)

The same material used in SCT casing is layered all around the tire for extra puncture protection instead of along the sidewalls only. Additionally, the  bead is modified to create a tight air seal and ensure easy tubeless installation.

E1 (Endurance 1)

The Endurance 1 is Kenda’s highest protection level, taking the bead to bead protection of K-Armor on a 120tpi casing and then topping it off with another layer of K-Armor at the tread area.

E2 (Endurance 2)

Featuring the K-Armor bead to bead protection and 120tpi casing offered in the E1 level tires alongside the K-Shield flat protection under tread to offer additional puncture resistance.

E3 (Endurance 3)

The performance level dual layer flat protection for city, urban, and trekking tires. An Iron Cap puncture belt across the 60tpi casing for full tire protection sits alongside the same K-Shield from the Endurance 2 level tire for additional tread life and flat resistance.

ICP (Iron Cap Belt)

Utilizing the same protective material that is in the full Iron Cap protection but limited to just under the tread surface, offering added puncture protection at minimal cost and weight addition.

KS (K-Shield)

A layer of light, flexible rubber containing aramid and ceramic particles inside the tire under the tread area only. Designed to prevent punctures and increase tire life.

KS+ (K-Shield Plus)

The thickness of the K-Shield increased to 5 mm to create the best balance of flat proof and maintaining great ride quality.

Challenge

Challenge offers the following puncture protection technology:

PPS Ganzo (Puncture Protection System)

The Puncture Protection System is a special fabric placed between a tire’s tread and casing to increase resistance to punctures. Some tires designed for use on rough roads, cobbles and gravel receive PPS2, an additional layer of PPS between the casing and the inner tube.

PPS2

The Puncture Protection System is a special fabric placed between a tire’s tread and casing to increase resistance to punctures. Some tires designed for use on rough roads, cobbles and gravel receive PPS2, an additional layer of PPS between the casing and the inner tube.

Corazza Armor

The Puncture Protection System is a special fabric placed between a tire’s tread and casing to increase resistance to punctures. Some tires designed for use on rough roads, cobbles and gravel receive PPS2, an additional layer of PPS between the casing and the inner tube.

Vittoria

Vittoria offers the following puncture protection technology:

Protection Belt

Vittoria’s top-of-the-range road tyres use a protection belt placed in between the tyre tread and the tyre casing. The belt prevents foreign bodies to cut and puncture the casing. It is used even inside cotton tyres for its increased strength and protection. It covers the central part of the casing, as this is where the tread is used more often and where it is more likely to get punctures.

Bead Shield

An additional layer covering the tyre beads. This layer prevents tyre cuts at the bead level and enhances air retention in tubeless version.

Gravel Lite TLR casing

The Gravel Lite TLR provides the best performance for riders who look for speed and lightweight, even when facing off-road tracks. At the same time, the nylon casing and the puncture-resistant breaker guarantees high reliability.

Gravel Endurance TNT casing

The Gravel Endurance TNT (TLR Reinforced) has been developed with similar Lite characteristics but with an additional sidewall protection for better resistance to sidewall damage and more lateral stability, for the most aggressive gravel surfaces.

XC-Race [TLR]

XC-Race is the lightest casing option for Cross Country tires from Vittoria. XC-Race offers high performance and reliability wrapped in an extremely lightweight casing. It features Aramid tubeless-ready beads and a single Nylon 120 TPI layer: the ideal combination for a light and fast mtb casing.

XC-Trail [TNT] casing

XC Trail TNT (TLR reinforced) is the most robust Cross Country casing option from Vittoria. Designed for the most demanding XC courses, the XC Trail TNT casing use an additional 120 TPI Nylon layer on the tyre sidewall to prevent cuts and punctures. The tubeless-ready construction allows for resistance and strength without impacting too much on weight.

Trail TNT casing

The Trail TNT (TLR Reinforced) is an all-mountain casing for all riding conditions, preventing the tire from punctures and high descendent pressures. The anti-puncture belt below the tread and the sidewall protection provide stability, cut and puncture protection. In addition, the Anti-Pinch Flat insert prevents the bead from any kind of rinks, while improving sidewall support.

Enduro TLR casing

The Enduro TLR (2-ply Reinforced) version, equipped with a double-layer nylon casing, provides the toughness required to tackle downhills without compromise.

Enduro Race TLR casing

The Enduro Race TLR (1-ply Reinforced) version has been developed to provide the best combination of riding feeling and performance for technical trails at maximum speed. The insert below the tread provides additional puncture protection.

Continental

Continental offers the following bicycle tire puncture protection technology:

Trail casing

Enduro casing

Downhill casing

ProTection casing

The ProTection technology gives Continental tires a mix of fast rolling, grip and puncture protection. Four plies under the tread and three in the sidewalls make this possible. The whole tire attains greater resilience and becomes less vulnerable to damage.

ProTection Apex casing

The ProTection layer prevents cuts and punctures without any significant increase in weight. An extra Apex sidewall protects the tire from impact punctures even at low pressures. BlackChili Compound gives added grip.

Apex casing

A natural rubber profile, set between the carcass layers at the base of the tire stiffens the sidewalls, there by minimising the twisting of the tire by the high transverse loads. Stiffer sidewalls that in turn, reduce the risk of punctures and impede the tire from slipping off the rim.

RaceSport casing

The RaceSport casings combine lightweight construction and puncture protection at the highest level. A particularly fine and flexible nylon fabric with elaborately manufactured protecting rubber lining and universal base. Together with the BlackChili Compound, this is the ultimate combination for XC and Marathon Race.

ShieldWall System

The ShieldWall system combines the optimum combination of high puncture protection and the low rolling resistance with low weight. This is made possible by an additional, all-round puncture protection layer, which consists of a finely woven cross fabric. This gives the tire a high resistance to punctures and damage. Despite its additional ply, the tire has a very good damping property and a high degree of flexibility to adapt perfectly to the ground.

Puncture ProTection

This robust rubber breaker combines with the rubber-reinforced sidewalls of the tire to guarantee a high puncture and wear protection. No frills tires with a clear focus and durability.

EXTRA PunctureBelt

This rugged rubber breaker, combined with the rubber-reinforced sidewalls of the tire, ensures a high level of puncture protection and sidewall abrasion.

PlusBreaker

Between the tread and the carcass, a puncture protection of highly elastic special rubber is used. This practically impenetrable puncture protection successfully defies all types of foreign objects from getting to the inner tube below. Even a drawing pin cannot get through.

SafetyPlus

For E-bikes, Continental has combined the SafetySystem Breaker with a highly elastic material. The result is an extremely puncture and cut resistant casing which, thanks to its high elasticity, gives especially low rolling resistance, saving battery power and the environment. The breaker also meets the demands of the higher speed e-bikes, of up to 50 km/h. The breaker is also adapted for the higher acceleration torque of e-bikes as well as the faster cornering speeds.

PolyX Breaker

The extremely resistant polyester fibre is woven tightly crosswise. In this way, a very high fabric density is reached which not only makes the Breaker more resistant to foreign objects but is also especially resistant to punctures. The rolling resistance is also not negatively affected by the PolyX Breaker®.

NyTech Breaker

This nylon fabric breaker makes it resistant to punctures and cuts like Kevlar reinforced high strength fibres, but offers lower rolling resistance and reduced weight. The NyTech breaker sits between the SafetySystem and the PolyX Breaker® as a more effective puncture protection casing in the performance sector.

Vectran Breaker

Vectran™ is a synthetically manufactured high-tech fibre from a natural model. Like spider silk, Vectran™ is a liquid-crystalline polymer (LCP). Vectran™ is spun from the melted liquid polymer Vectra and processed further to a multi-strand thread. Spider silk like Vectran™ has an enormous tear resistance at a very low weight. A Vectran™ Breaker is lighter, more flexible and protects more effectively against cuts than the comparable nylon breaker. Vectran™ Breaker does not adversely affect the rolling resistance.

SafetySystem Breaker

The SafetySystem Breaker is made up of Kevlar-reinforced, high-strength nylon fabric. Puncture and cut-resistant but nevertheless light and flexible, the tire adjusts quickly to the surface below. Without raising the weight or rolling resistance noticeably, it protects the carcass against foreign objects and contributes to a longer lifespan of the tire. Tires with the SafetySystem Breaker also provide good comfort properties.

DuraSkin

Tires with DuraSkin® sidewall protection are used under the harshest conditions. The high-quality polyamide fabric protects the tire casing against the worst conditions. These tires stand out thanks to their brown sidewalls.

Hardshell

Puncture protection and mileage are the strengths of Hardshell-ProTection. A wider PolyX Breaker®, the specialist against punctures under the tread centre and shoulders provides for great reliability. The 3×60 TPI three-ply carcass covers the entire tire and makes it a real bastion against urban detritus. The outer sidewalls of the tire are reinforced with DuraSkin® fabric providing even more reliability due to the casing being so well protected.

Johan van Seijen

FoundeR Restoration.bike

Johan van Seijen is the founder of restoration.bike. His passion for cycling in general, and restoring older bikes turned into a website to share his knowledge with a broader audience. Starting out on his father’s road bike and riding classics as the Amstel Gold Race and Liege Bastogne Liege he has shifted his attention to trail, XC, and gravel riding since. No matter how much he loves writing about everything related to cycling, nothing beats actually using his ever-expanding bicycle collection.

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