Riding in India: a question of tyres…

Tyres are always a tricky choice. There’s innevitably compromises, and no one tyre will do everything brilliantly. Bear in mind that we’re miles from anywhere up in the Indian Himalayas, so don’t bring anything skimpy – best to err on the side of caution. Here’s some tyres that have worked for us – please add some comments if you have any ideas so everyone can have a look.

In the past, we’ve recommended Schwalbe Marathon XRs for laden, mixed terrain, puncture-free, reliable riding. There’s simply nothing to match them for all round touring duties, and it’s why they crop up on 90% of bikes in the Himalayas. However, they’re very heavy (up to 900g or so). While they roll relatively well on tarmac and can easily handle rough terrain too, people do complain they lack ‘bite’ at the front and can slide out. Although they’re really designed for heavily laden riding, this would be a good, no-nonsense, hassle-free tyre for both Manali to Leh and Sach Pass jeep supported trips.

But if you want something a little lighter or were planning to try out some of those linking singletrack goat trails (this is more for Manali to Leh), then more grip would be better, at the expense of some rolling resistance – a tyre like the Schwalbe Smart Sam or Bontrager XR. Of course, this means you need to be a little more careful, or bring a folding spare tyre if you’re worried.

The Spiti trip has the most challenging trails and is more off road, so mtb tyres are best here. In the past, we’ve run a mix by using a faster rolling tyre at the back with a shallower tread, and something more agressive at the front, to handle those slidey switchbacks and loose corners. But as much of this ride is on jeep tracks with a few smooth tarmac sections, there’s no need for anything too agressive and slow. 1.95 to 2.2in tyres or so would be good.

Here’s what some of these tyres look like:


They don’t get tougher than the XR. But you pay for this in weight. Make sure you get the Marathon XR – not the Plus or the Supreme. The 2in one is fine. Although, theoretically, it doesn’t roll as well as the 2.25, it’s a fair amount lighter and is perfectly comfortable off road.


The Big Albert is a chunkier tyre that works well up front on the Spiti ride… The Panaracer Trailblaster has been popular in the past too. Anything that can dig in on the sides.


Mixed in with a fast rolling, Smart Sam at the back. Shallower central tread, with nobbles on the sides. Get the ‘Alpen’ variety, which are a touch heavier but have stronger sidewalls. Bontrager Jones XR looks like a really good all round option too – I’m getting some to try out so will report back, as it could be a good Manali-Leh tyre if you like blasting down the descents and taking sneaky singletrack shortcuts.


This is a Geax Sugino from my 29er. The tread is shallower. It’s a great, grippy yet fast rolling tyre that would be ideal at the back on any of the trips – you can get them in 26in flavours too.

If anyone has any ideas, please blog away on this post, as it’s always good to get as much feedback as possible. Lastly, be sure to check the rim tape on your wheels. If it’s looking ropey, change it, as this can be the source of a lot of punctures. Plastic ones can slide around – cloth is best.


7 Responses to “Riding in India: a question of tyres…”

  1. 1 Simon May 25, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    I’m thinking Nobby Nic on the front and Smart Sam on the back (both Alpen)…as you say…no match for the XRs on the laden bike. Do you think you could stretch to a Supremo on Manali-Leh.

    You’re options are going to be so much more limited the year you do it on a Pugsley!

  2. 2 otbiking May 25, 2007 at 10:49 pm

    A pugsley would be the ultimate rock muncher! Just point and shoot straight down the mountain! But my thoughts lie with the Big Dummy, now that I’ve been bitten by the Xtracycle bug…

    The Marathon Supremes are a really nice tyre, and suprisingly grippy. But given the vagaries of the winter and the uncertainties of how those pass tops will be, a bit too slick for Manali to Leh I think. They do a 29er version now, or rather 28×2.0 – the Germans are much more precise about these things!

  3. 3 Ben June 22, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    I’m going to be running a Panaracer Rampage on the front and a Panaracer Razor MX PR on the rear.

    The front will be a 2.3″, just in case Cass decides to try to drown me again, so I can use it as a flotation device!

  4. 4 otbiking July 4, 2007 at 9:16 am

    Thought I should just clarify that Ben’s on the Spiti tour this year in terms of tyres. And that any drowning comments from last year’s Manali to Leh should perhaps be placed into context to put minds at rest (-;
    I think that what Ben meant to say was that I was actually saving him from a raging torrent. Now, as to whether we should have been crossing a river in freakishly torrential rain with fully loaded BOB yaks behind us… that’s another question… (-;

  5. 5 Ben July 4, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    Sorry, yes should have said I’m on the Spiti ride.

    Last year I rode Schwalbe Marathon Plus XR 2.3 on the Manali to Leh ride, which although weighted a tonne, were incredibly resistant to anything I threw at them, grippy on descents yet very quick rolling on the road.

    Can we also just clarify that we didn’t undo the trailer from the bikes when crossing! To be fair, I did enjoy my diving experience. I’m not sure Cara was too impressed with either of us though…

  6. 6 Andrew Clark July 5, 2007 at 9:01 pm

    Hi Cass, would Vredestein Spyders 1.9″ be OK for Manali-Leh? I’ve got a pair in the loft that handled Icelandic dirt roads with no problem.

  7. 7 otbiking July 5, 2007 at 11:51 pm

    Hi Andrew.

    I think Spiders would be ok. I know they went through a bad phase at one point with sidewalls going (happened to me) but that’s probably all in the past. I think the slightly wider Marathon XR 2.0s are pretty much the best tyre for the conditions (some of the sections can be very rough and rocky), but if you have Spiders to hand, makes sense to use them.

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