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Whatever happened to coloured road bike tyres? Find out why we rarely see them now

Coloured tyres were a road bike fashion for a while... but not anymore. We asked the tyre brands where they've gone and whether they're likely to make a comeback

Do you remember when coloured tyres were a fashion in road cycling? We’re going back a bit, admittedly. Whatever happened to them? We decided to ask the tyre companies. 

2000 Tour de France Marco Pantani Lance Armstrong Col d' Izzard Pic- Simon Wilkinson-SWPIX - 1

 Marco Pantani used yellow tyres back in the 2000 Tour de France (pic Simon Wilkinson/SWPIX)

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Marco Pantani rode for Mercatone Uno on a Bianchi fitted with yellow Vittoria Corsa CX TT tubular tyres, and through the early years of the 21st century coloured tyres were a bit of thing. Of course, black has always predominated, but there were certainly more coloured tyres around for a while back there.

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2021 Jumbo Visma Cervelo blue tyre - 1

We rarely see coloured tyres on the road these days although Jumbo-Visma used blue Vittoria front tyres at the 2021 Tour de France to promote the Swapfiets bike rental service in the 2021 Tour de France. Swapfiets bikes are fitted with blue front tyres.

Panaracer GravelKing Slick Tread 700x32c

Panaracer offers some of its gravel tyres in cool colours but it’s rare to see anything other than black on the road, occasionally with a tan sidewall, so what’s going on?

According to the tyre industry, the lack of coloured tyres out there at the moment is down to two things: technical performance and fashion.

Ken Avery, senior vice president in product development at Vittoria Industries North America, says, “There are a few hurdles which make the production of coloured tyres for high-performance applications a bit of a challenge.
“To increase abrasion resistance and to add strength, carbon black is often used in tyre compounds. In the case of Vittoria, graphene is also added, which further increases speed, grip, and durability. As these benefits are the key measures of a performance tyre, this is where we have chosen to focus our line of products which are intended for race use.  

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2022 Vittoria Corsa Next tyres  - 1.jpeg

“As both of these materials are black, the production of coloured tyres would be quite difficult, since any colour would be lighter.   

“In a simple sense, it is essentially impossible to make a mixture lighter in colour after adding black ingredients.”

Schwalbe has a similar take.
“Having a coloured pigment in the rubber compound inevitably means having to reduce the amount of silica and carbon black added to the rubber compound,” says Schwalbe's Tim Ward.

“This has a detrimental impact on the performance of the rubber compound with reduced levels of grip and durability and increased rolling resistance.”

Michelin says that it could make coloured tyres, but that they add a level of difficulty to the production process. 

“From an industrial standpoint, the production of a non-black compound means a dedicated production line,” says Nick Bull. 

2022 Michelin Power Cup Tube Type Tyre front.JPG

“Indeed, the carbon black – as raw material – gives the black colour to the compound… Even a very small amount of carbon black. Being able to get a coloured (non-black) compound means a workshop with absolutely no carbon black. If not, the aesthetic quality will be very poor. At the end of the day, that generally means a dedicated workshop.”

Beyond these technical challenges, there’s also the issue of fashion. Most people simply prefer their road bike tyres to be black.

“In recent years the fashion has been for road bikes to have a more sombre and conservative appearance with dark colours predominating,” says Schwalbe’s Tim Ward.

Schwalbe One tyre tan wall (1)

“Having brightly coloured tyres on bikes with these sorts of colourways tends to clash somewhat, hence plain black or tanwall being the current vogue in tyre colours.”

Black tyres also have the advantage of hiding grime.

“Coloured tyres are a very good way to match your tyre to your bike but the main issue in road cycling is that you are riding on asphalt which is very dirty,” says Nick Bull of Michelin. “A tyre is not really easy to clean. Michelin does not recommend using any detergent or cleaning product to clean them because it can damage tyres. It also results in a client experience that’s not 100% satisfying as the colour can change.

“Another point to mention is that the tyre’s colour [probably won’t match] your bike colour 100%. Getting a maximum alignment between the two can be very challenging.”

Panaracer’s Jeff Zell says that the brand’s compounds don’t suffer like some others where taking the carbon black out affects the tyre’s performance or longevity, but believes there’s simply not much demand for coloured tyres on the road.
“Panaracer has dabbled in coloured road tyres in the past, as long as 20 years ago and as recently as just a few years ago. The results were less than stellar as the road community was not receptive. 

“We’ve also tried offering coloured sidewalls with black tread over the years but that was not successful either – and these were not exotic colours but primary colours that, when researched, matched a large percentage of frame or accent colours on the market. 

“Even recently, the trend to tan or brown wall tyres has been slow to be adopted by the road community, although that trend certainly has more traction than the coloured tyre market.”

Coloured tyres are more readily accepted in other parts of the cycling world.

“The colours for the Limited Edition GravelKings have been immensely popular and highly anticipated each year,” says Jeff Zell. “This is in large part due to the gravel community. Acceptance of out-of-the-box thinking and wanting to be unique has helped fuel the interest in coloured tyres and other parts and accessories in this category.”

Panaracer GravelKing Slick Tread 700x38c

For the last five years, Panaracer has produced GravelKings in limited edition colours including Military Green, Purple, Pink, and Mustard Yellow. This year’s colours are Ginger and Astral Blue.

Panaracer’s road tyres, though, are black, black, and more black, with the odd tanwall now and again. 

That’s that, then. Case closed. Coloured tyres for road use really aren’t going anywhere. 

Wait a minute, though. There’s some late news.

“Just recently we have started to do some testing again with coloured compounds and we have developed a technique to produce a coloured compound with very similar performance properties to that of a standard black rubber compound,” says Schwalbe’s Tim Ward.

Fabian Cancellara-7Our first product with this new compound is the limited edition Pro One Spartacus tyre we launched a few weeks back.”

Ah yes, those white ones we reported on. Bradley Wiggins had them specced on his Factor Ostro Butterfly Bike from Vires Velo. 

Check out Bradley Wiggins’ Factor Ostro Butterfly Bike from Vires Velo2022 Factor Ostro Vires Velo Karl Kopinski Bradley Wiggins  - 9.jpeg

“Will we produce more coloured tyres in the future now we have developed our new compound process? I guess that all depends on fashion and subsequent demand,” says Tim Ward.

What do you reckon: are coloured road tyres best consigned to history or are they due a comeback? Let us know in the comments below.

Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.

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Cugel | 2 months ago

Time to confess to having done a bike-bling thing on me non-e winter bike, which is white with blue bits on the frame & forks so has been tarted-up by moi to have all sorts of other bloo bits, with tyres (Panaracer  blue-walled tubeless gravel tyres) the latest decoration esential functional improvement.

Blue cable adjusters, stem, seat clamp, chainset pre-loader bolt, bottle bolts, cassette lockring, handlebar tape, mudguard go-faster stripes and so forth.  I'm looking for a believable excuse to put blue disc lock rings on - for purely functional reasons, of course.

A bike-frock, you accuse!  Oh no it's not! Blue stands out better in the, the, the .... snow.

The blue tyres are functional, I insist! Those gravel-grabbing treads are just the job on the mud and gravel-washed backroads of autumn & winter. They even deal with that liquidised cow-muck oozing from the farmyard gates and down the 1 in 5s. The brown soon washes off the blue sidewalls again.

PS Why does no one make bloo bike lights? I'm sure all my black and red ones are about to expire.

Cugel | 2 months ago

Duplicate post due to flakey website syndrome.

Zebra | 2 months ago

I have been wondering why there aren't more tyres with reflective sidewalls.  Surely it would not be too difficult to add a reflective strip without affecting performance much, but making the rider much safer in low light conditions.  I know there are some around, but mostly just in commuter bike sizes. 

Rendel Harris replied to Zebra | 2 months ago

Zebra wrote:

I have been wondering why there aren't more tyres with reflective sidewalls.  Surely it would not be too difficult to add a reflective strip without affecting performance much, but making the rider much safer in low light conditions.  I know there are some around, but mostly just in commuter bike sizes. 

My Schwalbe Durano Plus have reflective strips and are available in 700x28 and 700x25 mm sizes (they also make a 23 mm version but it doesn't seem to have the same strip). Very happy with them for both performance and puncture protection, only switched to them in spring so haven't done much night riding but it is reassuring to have the extra reflector there now the evenings are drawing in.

David9694 | 2 months ago

These are one day going to sell for £250, like one of those Ebay 50p pieces.

Rich, I tells y'a! 

Miller | 2 months ago

During the vogue for coloured tyres about 20 years ago I had a pair of ochre coloured tyres, possibly from vredestein... no, Pariba, that I was very pleased with. One evening was on a fast group ride. There was a short sharp shower of rain then sunshine. I came in hot to a well known left turn and was surprised to find myself sliding across the road. I took out the rider behind me too, who slid across the road into a wooden fence which broke with a loud crack. We were both ok and all rode on. I stopped using those tyres. The broken fence slat was visible for years afterwards and I felt a little flicker of pride every time I went past it.

tubasti | 2 months ago

A long time ago I glued on a pair of red Clement Criterium Setas, 230 grams, latex tubes, nest-of-bee tread pattern. They were fast and slippery and destroyed in a wink in a cat 3 crash.

davebrads | 1 year ago
1 like

I had yellow GP4000s on my Pantani replica Bianchi and I thought they looked the bees knees, I've retired the bike but I've still got a couple of tyres left over from some stock that I bought when Continental stopped doing the coloured tyres.

My current bike has Schwalbe One tyres with white pinstripes that match the white paintwork on the frame. Again I think it looks great, but Schwalbe have dropped the pinstripe on the latest version of the tyre.

lolol | 1 year ago
1 like

Takes me back to the nineties, bombing around London as a courier, 700x20 yellow Michelins on my Condor.

Pot00000000 | 1 year ago
1 like

People realised they look crap and companies were always heavily discounting them, so I assume not selling well. 
it's a thing that shouldn't exist, like tan walls 😜


ktache replied to Pot00000000 | 1 year ago

Tan walls look class.

PoorInRichfield | 1 year ago

"Form follows function" when it comes to tires for me.  I think dirty, colored tires look worse than simple black tires.  The only place where I'd consider colored tires is on a bike restoration where the bike will see little or no actual use.

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