The importance of careful tire selection can't be underestimated if you insist on a fantastic ride. Its also necessary for the competitive edge to put you on the podium. Making the right decision can be a little daunting these days because of the shear volume of choice, but it doesn't matter what type of cycling you do, there's definitely a great tire to satisfy you. In this overview I will stick to the more well known high quality tire manufacturers to hopefully make the selection process easier. I would encourage you to check out the companies websites for their entire offerings and details on each tire that interests you. I would also recommend that you explore some of the better cycling forums and blogs that discuss and evaluate various tires performance characteristics. There will be as many opinions as there are tires, but it should help you in narrowing down what tires are best for your purposes. I can also help you with tire selection if that's needed. Cognoscenti Cycles will in the near future be selling certain select tires that I feel are the best performing ones for your hard earned money.
The Tire Makers
To quote a well worn cliché , this is where the rubber meets the road. Below is a list of the companies that have proven to the world that they excel at making exceptional tires. Many of them have been around for quite some time and their reputation is well deserved. Again I recommend that you visit their websites to get an idea of what they have to offer, as it would be impossible for me to go into detail about every tire thats worth considering.
A. Dugast: This company is quite famous for their hand made top quality tubular tires. Their tires are seen on the bikes of top level riders around the world. Working in either silk or cotton, these tubulars are painstakingly made the old fashioned way. Various models are made for road, track, MTB and cyclocross. They exploit a variety of different tread patterns for the perfect connection with the road, track, or off road conditions.
Challenge: This Italian company has their tubulars hand made at their factory in Thailand. Using top quality materials such as latex tubes and natural rubber for the treads, Challenge tires have excelled in the art of fine tire making. Top racing talent have have gained victory on Challenge tires with podium places in road, time trial, cyclocross, criterium and triathlons.
Clement: The history of Clement tires is well over a 125 years old. Clement tires were the tire of choice for cycling legends like Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Felice Gimondi and countless other pro racers. Over the years the company has changed hands a few times and the current owners are working to maintain the reputation of such a legendary brand. Today several pro teams are riding Clement tires. Both cyclocross and road racing tires, some featuring tubeless construction are on offer.
CST Tires: Cheng Shin Tire claims to be the largest manufacturer of bicycle tires in the world with over 20, 000 employees. With an extensive selection of 15 different MTB tires and tires for cyclocross, BMX, road, hybrid and gravel bikes, there's no shortage of choice.
Compass: Catering to cyclists who insist on the marvellous ride quality that 650B tires can offer, Compass Bicycles offers 3 different tires with widths ranging from 38 to 48mm. I believe the creation of this line of 650B tires came at the behest of the editor of the journal "Bicycle Quarterly" Jan Heine, who himself is an avowed 650B enthusiast. These wonderful tires can be purchased directly from Cognoscenti Cycles.
Continental: This German firm has been making tires for a very long time and has a plethora of different models to choose from. Their hand made line are excellent in both design, workmanship, and are known for their longevity. Continental has an extensive line, offering tires for MTB, road racing, training, cyclocross, touring and city bikes. I can highly recommend Continental as I have used them myself for many years. Their reputation is confirmed by the many champions who have ridden to victory on their tires.
45NRTH: Primarily known for their cold weather cycling clothing, 45NRTH has several tires that would interest the Fat bike crowd and those seeking gravel laden forgotten roads. All their tires are for adventure seekers, especially those who have left smoothly paved roads behind. With a dozen different tires featuring aggressive tread patterns and even metal studded options that supply a much needed grip on icy roads, their selection is worthy of consideration for those choosing the path less travelled.
FMB: FMB specialize exclusively in hand making world class tubular tires. This small French company from the north of France has a handful of employees who painstakingly make some of the best tubular racing tires for elite riders in the pro peloton. With about 20 different models, there are plenty of choices for road, track, touring and cyclocross riders. Production is small, so put your order in early before the season starts to ensure that you are one of the fortunate ones to be riding FMB tubs. Cognoscenti Cycles hopes to have a small selection of these special tires on hand soon.
Grand Bois: Grand Bois came into existence because of an appreciation for the special ride quality of 650B tires. The 650B size was once quite popular on the European continent amongst Audax and touring cyclists. It gradually fell out of favour, but those who remembered its unique qualities insisted that those special tires be made available again. Grand Bois tires are made in Japan and offer several different models with widths from 32mm all the way up to 42mm.
Hutchinson: This French company started making bicycle tires in 1890. Today their tires are still made in France. Many Tour de France riders road to victory on Hutchinson tires and several teams were sponsored by Hutchinson over the years as well as elite athletes today. Hutchinson works closely with the cycling champions who ride their tires as well as their numerous in house engineers who help evolve their products. Hutchinson has a very large selection of tires for almost any cycling demand, and a visit to their extensive website will be necessary to explore their many offerings.
IRC Tire: IRC was founded in 1926 and that year began to manufacture bicycle tires. Today their proprietary technology incorporates many interesting innovations. A trip to their website would be necessary to appreciate just how many unique ideas originate with IRC. Many, if not all their tires are made in Japan to exacting standards. They offer a considerable number of MTB tires, many of them tubeless ready, as well as a few light weight tubeless cyclocross tires. Their full catalogue offers many different tires for pretty much every cycling need. On the professional road racing circuit IRC Tires sponsors Nippo Vini Fantini.
Kenda: Kenda is a Taiwanese company that started in 1962 and now offers quite a vast selection of tires. With 9 different rubber compounds being used to attain different ride characteristics and as many different approaches to sidewall construction, Kenda is able to offer numerous combinations for its over 70 models.
Mavic: The engineers at Mavic have put much greater emphasis lately on designing specific tires that compliment their own rim/wheel combinations. Its part of their design philosophy for a seamless integration between tire and rim for a the perfect wheel. At the moment Mavic has their tires manufactured in Thailand. They currently sell both road and MTB tires that incorporate their own patented UST technology, which stands for "Universal System Tubeless". Of worthy mention are the aerodynamic improvements attained through Mavic's CX01 Technology. This integrated Wheel-Tire system has measured the lowest drag ever on a road wheel.
Maxxis: Founded in 1967, Maxxis has grown to employ 25,000 people worldwide and is owned by the Chen Shin Rubber Industry Co. Their commitment to excellent bicycle tires is evident by their current popularity. They have an overwhelmingly large selection of tires for both road and off road applications. A trip to their website is essential to get a grasp on the incredible number of options for everything from MTB, cyclocross, BMX, urban, road racing/training, downhill, Fat-tire, and gravel tires. They also boast a huge number of technical innovations that enable their tires to excel in both road and off road demands.
Michelin: Michelins history with bicycle tires stretches all the way back to 1891. Fast forward to today and Michelin is still in the game in a big way with numerous pro riders placing in some of the biggest cycling races in the world on their tires. Michelin has given us some innovation firsts and boasts an extensive line of tires to suit road, touring, cyclocross and MTB disciplines. Off road riders can indulge in almost 30 different tire and tread options.
Onza: Now based out of Switzerland, Onza has earned its reputation among serious MTB riders, and did claim victory at the 2012 4X World Championships with its top end tires. I believe their line of tires is made by CTS/Maxxis. Both the "Canis" and the "Ibex" seam to have a faithful following in MTB circles. They also sell there own sealant for tubeless tires.
Panaracer: Panaracer has been producing there own tires in Japan since 1953. Over the years they have continued to expand their line as well as incorporate many different technical innovations to advance tire durability and ride quality. Panaracer has a very good selection of tires for MTB, gravel, cyclocross, urban, touring and road racing. Collaboration with bike component designer Kirk Pacenti has resulted in a very nice 27.5 gravel/road tire that exploits the now more common wider rims that are becoming ever popular. Mention should be made of the touring tire options on offer. 8 different tires with exceptional puncture resistance and durability.
Schwalbe: Headquarted in Germany, Schwalbe's history began in 1901 but its current name wasn't acquired until 1973. Manufacturing is concentrated in their factory in Indonesia where a very large range of tires are made. Schwalbes commitment to produce an ideal tire for almost every cycling demand is evidenced by the incredible number of different tires that they presently offer. A visit to their extensive website will be necessary to get an idea of just how vast and diverse their tire options really are. They are exploring several new technical innovations and championing the tubeless revolution in both road and MTB tires. Special mention of their "Marathon" line of touring tires should be made, as these are legendary.
Specialized: Specialized began their entry into the bike world with their own brand of tires over 40 years ago. With a constant refinement over the years they now offer numerous tires for the road cyclist as well as the MTB crowd. Cyclocross riders can choose from 8 different models at a few price points. MTB and off road specialists are spoiled for choice with many tread patterns and different weights to keep them on the trail.
Teravail: Teravail's tire offerings are largely for those who choose the path less travelled, those who gravitate to gravel and rough roads over the smoothly paved. Several tread patterns are designed to keep you puncture free when the road is gnarly and unforgiving. A few mountain tires are currently in development. A two year limited warranty is offered on all tires. Teravail tires are made in Japan.
Veloflex: This Italian company specialises in high end hand made tubular and clincher tires. 8 different tubular models to choose from ranging in weights from a feather light 180 gram tire up to 300 grams. 7 clincher models are available as well. Veloflex says many of their clients are European pro racing teams.
Vittoria: Vittoria got going in 1953 and has grown its company in the present day to an annual production of over 7 million tires and almost a million tubular tires. A state of the art production facility in Bangkok Taiwan is where most of the manufacturing is currently done. Vittoria has an extensive line of tires that suits all levels of cycling including top racing cyclists riding the biggest events in the world. Their introduction of Graphene into their tires has extended their performance in several notable ways. Graphene extends the life of the tire and even responds uniquely when braking occurs. It also strengthens the tire and reduces the likelihood of punctures. Performance is enhanced in wet weather riding as well. Vittoria provide neutral racing support in such events as the Giro d'Italia, Milan-Sanremo, the Dubai Tour and the Langkawi Tour.
Vredestein: This Netherlands based company has plenty of different tires options on offer largely catering to MTB riders and touring and city cyclists. Their MTB tires are available in regular tube type or UST tubeless and tubeless ready. Vredestein has devoted energy into several different anti-puncture systems that are used on specific models.
WTB: WTB has concentrated its energies almost exclusively on the world of off road tires. With over 20 different tires to choose from, there are numerous tread patterns and tire widths to suit most every need.