Among cyclists, there are those who enjoy road cycling and those who enjoy mountain biking. However, there are also those who enjoy a bit of both. The gravel riding discipline emerged from this group of people. Gravel bikes are great for handling both on-road and off-road journeys. And gravel bikes require gravel-specific tires. But with so many choices available, it can be tough picking the right tires. Well, in this article, you will find everything that you need to know about gravel bike tires. With this information, you will be able to make a suitable choice.
How to shop for gravel tires
The most important criteria for choosing gravel tires is the kind of terrain that you will be riding on. When we talk about gravel riding, it could mean a wide spectrum of surfaces. Ranging from almost road-like to light mountain trails, the various types of terrain are listed below:-
- Rough Roads: These are just slightly worse than smooth pavement. These include cobbles, roughly paved roads, or roads that are badly maintained. You might be able to get away with normal road tires. But for the best ride feel, go with something wider and with more grip.
- Unpaved Dirt: These are smooth, manicured trails but with a thin layer of dirt or fine gravel. The ground is quite solid and so, you would need a tire with a smooth center tread and slightly more aggressive outer tread for cornering. Tires of widths between 30 and 40 mm are a good option.
- Light Gravel: This is when things get a bit more serious. This is typically a hard-packed surface littered with loose gravel. You will need a tread with small lugs at the center and larger ones on the sides. A tire at least 38-40 mm wide will be required for a large volume and low pressure.
- Aggressive Gravel: This is similar to the previous category but with the addition of some bigger rocks. You don’t necessarily need a more aggressive tread. However, you do need a wider tire and larger volume so that the tires can absorb the bumps.
- Light Mountain Trails: This is now nearly mountain biking terrain. These tracks can include roots, rocks, and even small jumps. If possible, it could be worth switching from a 700C to a 650B tire size. This is because a 650B tire has more volume than 700C. You should also look for a semi-aggressive MTB style tread.
If you are riding on surfaces that are more smooth like pavement, then the tires need to be slicker, with minimal tread. They will usually be only a few millimeters wider than road tires. This reduces rolling resistance while still having enough grip and comfort.
As you go down the list, the tires get wider and have knobbier treads. The increased volume allows lower pressures to be run. This, combined with the aggressive tread, offers better traction and makes your ride more comfortable.
Next, you have to check what tire size is compatible with your current bike. Most commonly, gravel bikes use 700C tires. However, 650B tires are also quite popular. In fact, 650B tires are better for more aggressive terrain. They have a smaller inner diameter than 700C but nearly the same outer diameter. This means a greater tire volume. A few other sizes are available as well. The difference between the various sizes is not too big. Hence, there are no significant performance differences either.
|Common Bike Tire Sizes|
|Size (wheel diameter)||ETRTO/ISO size (mm)|
Tire Width & Volume
A typical gravel tire can have a width ranging from 30 mm to 50 mm. For comparison, road tires range between 20 and 30 mm in width. The wider profile means more air volume and a higher volume means that the tires can be run with lower pressures. This allows the tire to better conform to the surface and provide enhanced traction. Another upside of wider tires is that they have lower rolling resistance than a narrow tire. This may seem counterintuitive. A wider tire forms a larger but more elongated contact area with the ground which improves rolling efficiency. Ultimately, it is upto your personal preference.
Tubes vs Tubeless
For gravel riding, you can use two types of tires available – tires with an inner tube (aka clinchers) and tubeless tires. However, for anything other than smooth pavement, tubeless tires are recommended. Rough gravel surfaces along with low tire pressures can easily cause a pinch flat. By getting rid of the tube, you eliminate that possibility. There’s no need to carry spare tubes and air cartridges with you. Moreover, the liquid sealant will take care of most small punctures without you even noticing.
➥ Related: You can also have a look at our best selections for Tubeless MTB Tire.
Just as there are various terrain types that gravel riders cycle on, there are varying tread patterns for each kind of surface. For rough gravel paths, and trails full of roots and rocks, the tread has to have relatively large knobs to better grip the surface. Whereas, for frequent road use or on rough pavement, the tread is much smoother. Many gravel tires have a file tread in the center which consists of numerous tiny knobs, and fewer larger knobs on the sides. This keeps rolling resistance moderately low and provides ample traction for cornering.
The exact composition of the rubber used on a tire can differ from one manufacturer to the other. It is also different depending on the purpose of the tire. The main property of interest is the hardness of the compound which is measured in durometer. The lower the number, the softer a compound is. When you need to prioritize rolling efficiency over grip, look for a tire with a high durometer value. The opposite should be done for maximizing traction and comfort.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. Can gravel bike tires be used for cyclocross?
Ans.: In some cases, yes. Early season cyclocross tracks are usually dry and filled with dirt and gravel. For this, gravel tires are the perfect choice. Bike tires designed for early season CX are pretty much identical to gravel tires. So, there is no point in buying separate tires for CX if you already have gravel tires which fit your bike. However, later in the CX eason, when conditions get muddy, you will need to switch to tires with more aggressive tread patterns.
Q2. Which brands make the best gravel tires?
Ans.: There are plenty of brands that you can choose from if you want a good quality gravel tire. These include Schwalbe, Panaracer, Vittoria, Continental, WTB, and Maxxis. There are a few more, but these are the most reputed. Make sure to purchase from one these manufacturers. The price might be a little high but the tires will deliver superior performance and last you a long time.
Q3. What pressures should I run in my tires for gravel riding?
Ans.: Tire pressure is something that is quite difficult to suggest as each rider will have a specific preference. You should know that lower pressures translate to better traction and comfort but higher rolling resistance. The opposite is true for higher pressures. What we can suggest is to start off with a pressure of around 2.5 bar or 36 psi for the front tire, and 2.7 bar or 40 psi in the rear tire. Then you should ride around and continue adjusting the pressure until you find the kind of performance you were looking for. This might take some time but is an important step.
Even if you are completely new to the world of gravel riding, you should now have all the necessary knowledge for choosing the perfect set of tires for yourself. If you enjoy both off-road and road cycling, then gravel tires are the ideal choice. They provide a good balance between grip and rolling resistance. basically, they are the all-rounders among all bike tires.