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The best tires for cycle touring: Schwalbe Marathon
HOW TO PREPARE: An 8 part series to get you ready for your first TDA tour. Click here to read more.
After ‘What bike should I Bring?’, the next most frequently asked question while our clients prepare for a tour is, ‘What tires should I use?’. For years, we have simply replied, “Easy, Schwalbe Marathon.” There is good reason for this, as you can read about here and here.
Why Schwalbe Marathon?
So what are these reasons? The biggest reason is that these are tires designed specifically for touring. They are not designed to be the lightest, fastest, or smoothest tires on the market. The other main reason is that the tires are made in a vast range of sizes and widths, so you are almost guaranteed to be able to find one in the right size for your bike. And lastly, the simple answer is that since 2003 the Marathon has been by far the most widely used tire across all of our tours, and riders using them have also had by far the best results.
Which Schwalbe Marathon?
Now, if you click over to the Schwalbe website, you will see that there are currently 13 variants of the Marathon lineup. Yikes! So which one do you choose? Out of this lineup, there are three tires that I recommend to most people, depending on their individual circumstances. Read on to find out more.
Schwalbe Marathon Plus
The Marathon Plus was, for many years, the default choice for many touring cyclists. And today it is still very popular. This tire provides the highest possible level of puncture protection, which Schwalbe calls SmartGuard. This is a “substantial, 5 mm thick layer of flexible, special india rubber.” The tread of the tire also uses a harder compound which lasts longer than most other tires. Cycle tourists have been known to ride a set of Marathon Plus tires for 10, 15, or even 20,000km before replacing them. This tire is a good choice for riders who want to have as few flats as possible. This does come at a cost, however. The Marathon Plus tires are both heavy, and stiff. If you are the type of cyclist who doesn’t care much about gear and want your bike to ‘just work’, then this is a good choice. Others, however, may find the Marathon Plus to feel slow, and may notice the increased stiffness on bumpy roads. When I have used these in the past, I would tend to run about 25% less air pressure to compensate for the bumpier ride.
Schwalbe Marathon Mondial
The Marathon Mondial is a bit lighter than the Plus, but also has more knobby tread. They use a thinner protection layer than the Plus, but these are my default recommendation for any cycle tourists who expect to ride on a signficiant amount of dirt roads. The tread is designed with bigger knobs on the edges, and more closely spaced in the center of the tire. This closely spaced section, combined with the more reasonable weight, means that the Mondial rolls slightly faster than the Plus. It means they can also be used for tours on mostly paved roads, where they will provide the assurance that you are prepared for any rough pavement or dirt detours that may appear along the way. This tire is a good choice for the rider who wants a bit of a smoother ride, while also being prepared for any potentially varied road surfaces on their route.
Schwalbe Marathon Supreme
The Marathon Supreme is a much lighter tire than both the Plus and Mondial, and has almost completely slick tread. While the Supreme is again once step down in protection, it is still more puncture resistant than a regular tire. This tire is a good choice for riders who are used to a road bike with thin and light tires, but want just a bit more protection for their tour. This tire is definitely only recommended for tours on paved roads, and with pavement that is mostly in good condition.
Two more options
There are two more tires I would like to add. While these are not as popular as those mentioned above, they are still good choices for certain riders. If you like the serious protection of the Marathon Plus, but need more tread for riding on dirt, take a look at the Marathon Plus Tour. And if you are on a tighter budget, but still need a good all around touring tire, the regular Marathon HS 420 is a good choice.
So now that you have chosen a tire, what size should you get? Again, this will depend on your circumstances. For most cycle tourists, riding on mostly paved roads, 35c is a good width. Those looking to go faster at the expense of comfort can go down to 32c, but I don’t recommend any sizes smaller than that. For tours on a mix of dirt and pavement, 40c is a good choice. And for those riding on very rough dirt roads or trails, the bigger the better! Just be sure to check what size will fit within your bike frame.
I hope that this guide has been helpful. If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment below.
How to Prepare
An 8 part series to get you ready for your first TDA tour. Click here to read more.
21 Comments for "The best tires for cycle touring: Schwalbe Marathon"
Good recommendations! The 5mm marathon plus’s are a bit like riding on wooden cart wheels. You will get no flats – but might break the odd spoke. Certainly they detrue wheels faster. Lowering the pressure helps a bit, my personal preference though is the 3mm GreenGuard. Balance in all things.
Yes, I agree!
Plus 1 for Marathon Greenguard tyres from me, too.
I’ve run Marathon Plus on my commuter bike for 10 years without a flat (I carry no spares or tools when commuting, and commute over roads strewn with broken glass). They are extraordinarily tough, but weigh 750g each…
Marathon Greenguards on my touring bike weigh under 500g (still heavy for a road tyre!) but are tough enough for touring & commuting. I love their reflective sides, too.
Marathon Mondials lasted 12,000 km across Canada from Inuvik down the Great Divide to Waterton Park on the Montana border then across to Sydney NS. 5% trail 15% gravel and the rest tarmac. 180kgs load on bike and trailer at times (including rider). I used the 50’s for better holding on trail. Only 2 punctures across the continent.
Sounds like a great trip!
I have toured on both the Marathon Plus and Marathon Original, also known as the “Greenguard” and now called the Marathon HS 420.
I hated the M Plus, they felt like wooden cart wheels, whereas the Original has a very low rolling resistance and high durability and puncture resistance. I rode around 4500km south to north across Australia, including over 800km of gravel, fully loaded, and did not have one flat and tires had lots of tread to do another continent.
Do you research on rolling resistance the Greenguards are quite exceptional!
I’ve commuted 10,000ks plus on Greenguard 32s,,and use them on my Brompton folder. Never had a puncture.Anything heavier would be overkill.Anything more expensive, a waste of money. These days I use a Marathon GG on the rear,with an Ultrasport 32 up front. The Conti gets the occasional puncture,but slips along very nicely.Front flats are easy to fix.
Of all the tough tyres,the Greenguard is the best compromise,all things considered (IMHO)
I used Marathon Supremes – 35mm width with tubes on a cross-country (Southern Tier) tour. I had about a dozen flats. They were very comfortable riding on my fully loaded steel bike. I’ve noticed that Schwalbe has a version of Supremes for tubeless use (it has their “microskin” layer for tubeless). Going that route it increases the puncture resistance to a “6”. The ones I had with tubes would be rated a “5”. Their Marathon Plus are rated a “7”. Again – I really liked the comfortable ride of these tires. My question – is tubeless recommended for Bike Touring within the US? I’ve not used tubeless on any of my bikes and just wonder if its too risky for remote, multi-week riding. Thanks
Hi Peter. Depending on what the cause of your many flat tires was, tubeless may or not be a solution to that. That does seem like a high number of flat tires though! I have used the Supremes extensively, but not fully loaded, so maybe they don’t hold up well to the extra weight. As for tubeless, this is what we say to anyone considering them for a tour: “We don’t recommend tubeless tires unless you are very experienced with using them and making repairs in the field. Without an air compressor available, you will need to figure out how to get the tires mounted if you can’t do so with a regular pump. You would normally use CO2 cartridges for this – however, they are usually not allowed to be transported by plane, and may be hard to buy along your route. If you are using tubeless, you still need to carry the necessary tools and items to patch a tire on the road, such as tubes, a patch kit, sealant, and tire plugs.”
I have Marathon Plus in 26″ , 27″ HS420 on my TRek 620 Cirrus, Supremes on my most used for everyday casual in 700X35. The Supremes are my favorite overall but I know what to expect from them. I didn’t start out a “Fan Boy” but I am now 10 years later. I love them, and Schwalbe. (Their website aside) I smoked a piece of angle iron with the Supremes and knew in my mind they were toast, while on a group ride. Everyone was asking what tires they were. lol.
I’ve trudged them through nasty chunky gravel, and everything you shouldn’t waiting for the day I can say I killed one but no such luck yet. I love them.
It’s the one tire I know to add or remove 5-10psi. Some of the others feel stressed when they shouldn’t and underinflated when they aren’t, I don’t like that. These are a tool in my opinion, like a hammer or a screwdriver, it will do exactly what it’s intended to perfectly.
You could always run tubeless but carry tubes in case of a puncture.
I am riding on Marathon Plus Tour right now. I was using oder version of Green Guard for a couple of years, 3-4000km on my commuting bike, but decided to go for heavier protection after a couple of unlucky punctures. Do not regret that change in the slightest. Rolling resistanse difference is negligible on a properly inflated tire. Pulled a half inch nail piece out of the front wheel at one time. Fully embedded, but still no puncture. If you want reliability in commuting, go fo the max protection option. Unless you ride in a competitive environment, these “2% slower therefore trash” attitudes will cause you some major headache down the road.
I have ridden both the Southern Tier and the Pacific Coast ACA routes on Marathon Supremes with no flats. Did you get that? No, nada, zero flats on either tour. I attribute the quality of the tires and my care in dodging road litter with my success.
Happy Days. Thank for sharing.
Rim tape stops those punctures.
THREE TIMES ACROSS THE UNITED STATES,
ON MARATHON PLUS TOUR
USED A SLIME HEAVY DUTY TUBE 29X1.85
KEEPS THE TUBE FROM OVER STREACHING
RODE RAIL TRAILS, FOREST ROADS, AND PAVED ROADS.
HAD MAYBE 2 OR 3 FLATS, A BIG FISH HOOK, AND TWO LONG NAIL GOT ME.
Hi Craig, Yes, this sounds familiar. We have heard many stories of the success people have had with these tires. And if you are confident using sealant, that can in certain situations make them even more flat resistant.
thanks for sharing
I’ve toured both loaded and supported using Marathon Supreme 700x35mm and 26 x 2 inch. They are a fine tires though I’ve had the occational flat.
I’m scheduled for the Odyssey this May, 2023 and I’m considering a change. For the past year or so I’ve been running Rene Herse (Jan Heine and Bicycle Quarterly) 26″ x 1.8″ Naches Pass on my travel bike. These are the most comfortable and fast tires I’ve ever ridden and are considered “endurance”, meaning resistant to flats. So far, I’ve had none. I understand that the Odyssey has reasonably good road surfaces so I’m feeling it’s worth a try. On the HippyTrail and Bamboo Road we had some brutal road surfaces which I’ve been told will not be the case on the Odyssey. Any thoughts on this?
I haven’t used the Rene Herse tires myself, so can’t comment on those specifically. About the roads on The Odyssey – the average road quality is better than on Hippie Trail or Bamboo Road, but we do cycle on some unpaved paths (hard packed dirt or gravel), there is some corrugation at times, and there are roads where the edge of the road we’d be riding on is in rougher condition (some cracks, gravel along side of road etc.). So for this tour, choosing the right tire, as long as it is 35mm wide or greater, is more about having good durability. If you are unsure of the long term durability of your ties, you could always bring a more robust set as spares just in case.
Thanks for your reply, Micah! This is useful information. I think it’s good advice to bring a replacement set. These tires are 45mm so all set in that resect.
Schwalbe now have a Marathon Plus MTB with all the Smartguard protection in a good range of sizes.