The $20 Cheap Road Tire Review: Schwalbe Lugano VS. Vittoria Zaffiro

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Riding on the Cheap: $20 Road Bike Tire Comparison & Review

If you don’t have a ton to spend on rubber, don’t dismay: you still have options. So what are the best inexpensive road bike tires anyway? Today, we’ll be looking at two surprisingly viable options in the ~$20 range.

In the blue corner, weighing a respectable 255 grams and fighting out of Germany is the Schwalbe Lugano. In the red corner weighing a slightly more heavyweight 340 grams and rolling out of Thailand with an Italian passport is the Vittoria Zaffiro.

While this battle may not be Rocky Balboa versus Apollo Creed, it still has the potential to crown a worthy $20 road bike tire champion!

Road Bike Tires for Less Than $20: Can The Schwalbe Lugano Roll With The Vittoria Zaffiro?

If you’re looking for the best, affordable set of road bike tires for racing and training which doesn’t break the bank you potentially have two good road bike tire options for less than $20. The very competitively priced Schwalbe Lugano and Vittoria Zaffiro tires offer very different tread patterns with an aim to offer a rider affordable performance. This review aims to question whether either $20 road bike tire is a worthwhile investment.

How does the Schwalbe Lugano’s performance match up to the excellent Zaffiro in terms of performance, value and longevity?

Lugano vs. Zaffiro:  Road Tire Grip and Speed Review


Schwalbe Lugano
Sale Price: $21.74

In dry conditions the Vittoria Zaffiro feels like a fantastic tire. It feels pretty fast in a straight line while giving you the confidence to push into corners. They simply do not feel like a budget tire during dry conditions riding and can be pushed to their limits.

In comparison the significantly lighter Lugano feels slower, as though the rider needs to use more watts to maintain speed or accelerate. In theory the lighter tire (Lugano) should have significantly better acceleration but the reality is that the tire feels sluggish versus the Zaffiro.

Unfortunately, on wet roads the Schwalbe Lugano feels like it has very limited grip into corners. It feels like there is no “bite” to allow you to lean your bike into a corner without a fear of hitting the pavement. Corners become more of an obstacle than they should be and that really lets down this tire. Its tread pattern almost copies the classic Vredestein Fortezza Senso All Weather and Vittoria Corsa CX tread patterns which both offer exceptional wet road performance. This means the poor grip must be related to the tire compound used.

The Vittoria Zaffiro offers significantly more traction in the wet to give a rider more reassurance when the weather turns nasty. Having used them throughout bleak winters on some pretty nasty winter roads they don’t offer the kind of wet weather performance required for the unpredictable conditions of a road race but for general training and commuting purposes where you’re not looking to nail corners like you’re in a criterium they’re perfectly up to the task.

Tire Longevity and Puncture Resistance

For many people considering fitting a bike tire at this price point, puncture resistance is a priority and that need is addressed in both tires with puncture protection strips placed beneath the tires main tread.

In terms of longevity, my Zaffiro’s have easily managed to make it through damp, dismal winters on rough and rugged British roads. Their lifespan has been well beyond the 5000 mile mark and now they’re onto summer work commute duties with what appears to be plenty of life left in them. In the past I’ve even found that a Vittoria Zaffiro makes a good road bike tire to fit for stationary trainer use once it has been tortured on the road as they seem to resist a large amount of damage that the heat build up from a metal roller can cause.

 Having ridden a selection of Schwalbe’s road tires over the last few years their big let-down has often been their longevity.  The tread life has never been an issue. I have always experienced problems with their tire sidewalls. My Lugano’s didn’t quite make it to 1000 miles before they went into the trash having spotted the sidewalls were beginning to force themselves apart along their striations. Having remained within manufacturers recommended pressure ranges these occurrences seemed rather odd and very off-putting considering I’m usually pretty happy to vanish for a 100 mile ride on my own on some pretty bleak, rural roads. I’ve had similar problems on their Ultremo ZX tires recently too so this definitely needs addressing by Schwalbe.

The one credit I would give to my Lugano’s during 1000 winter miles on my bike was that they did not experience a single puncture. I’ve never stuck to perfect, smooth roads so Schwalbe must be doing something right with their puncture resistant strips as each of their tires I’ve ridden has been pretty puncture free. Vittoria’s cheap Zaffiro road bicycle tires have offered good puncture resistance but I’ve found the puncture resistant band on the Zaffiro isn’t impenetrable and have had a few punctures over the last winter of riding.

Lugano vs. Zaffiro Tire Weight

In the traditional 700x 23c road bike tire size, the rigid, base model Lugano weighs a respectable 255 grams. When compared to the similarly priced Zaffiro this figure is considerably lighter and riders should be able to notice the difference when accelerating. The Zaffiro, weighing 340 grams per tire is relatively heavy. On the roads the Vittoria’s give a feeling of decreased rolling resistance meaning that the additional weight should only be a minor issue when accelerating.

The Verdict: Which One is the Best, Cheap Road Bicycle Tire?

The Vittoria Zaffiro

The Zaffiro offers a rider a sensation of better speed and wet weather grip with enhanced long term reliability. Their performance far exceeds what you would expect from a $20 tire. If you’re hunting for cheap road bike tires with a surprising amount of upside, the Zaffiro has durability, speed and great traction, all at an extremely affordable price tag.

Liam Hallam

Liam Hallam

Liam Hallam is a Nottingham UK based road racer and cyclocross enthusiast. You'll mostly find him on the tough roads of the Peak District or trails of Sherwood Forest.

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