Best Gravel Bike Tyres - Edition Zero Gravel Race
With the training miles slowly adding up and the tyre treads wearing down, there has been much talk about what tyres we are using on race day, and to ensure we can get a few rides in on each choice in preparation. Tyres are one of the most critical parts of the bike, the only connection between you and the pavement, so it's key that you pick the right option to get the perfect balance between speed and grip on the day.
There has been researching on the web, delving into tyre rolling resistance charts, and weighing up the options of ultralight tubes, tubeless setups, and reliability, all to try and edge out each other on the day. Fortunately, we’ve also had a visit from Edition Zero race organiser extraordinaire Andy to get some inside knowledge and secrets about the course that would give us an edge.
The word is the Silver Fern Car Rally will be going through the roads in the area the week before Edition Zero leaving a nice hardpack racing line. It could just about be done on any tyre but bear in mind running a 32c gravel tyre will more than likely be asking for a bad time going up the final major climb, Meyers Pass, not to mention the fatigue-inducing body pounding it would give you over the course of 10-12 hours of gravel riding. Likewise, the same could be said for running a full slick tyre if the conditions are wet - doable but would require more concentration to stay in a straight line and not to mention the unintentionally two wheel drifting around the corners.
Gravelisters live and die by 38c tyres but most people are going to be happiest on tubeless tyres sized between 40-45c, with a reasonable set of cornering knobs and some tread on the center of the tyre. A couple of really good options on the market that fit this are the Pirelli Cinturato H or the Maxxis Receptor. If it's wet you may want to consider more of an all-around tyre with a deeper tread through the center section like the Pirelli Cinturato M.
The Cinturatos H are Pirelli's hard-packed gravel tyre with a lightly threaded center section and square side knobs for great cornering so things don’t go sideways on the descents. For those that are feeling a bit more confident in their handling skills, the minimal treaded Maxxis Receptor may be a better option, with a lighter tyre casing and a diamond center tread pattern combined with sparsely spaced square cornering knobs to minimise rolling resistance on the road sections while still maintaining control on the gravel.
Without further adieu here are some of the Tyre choices that we will be running in the shop here:
Richard: Has recently changed his wheels to a set of Vittora Terreno Dry, the perfect option (in his opinion) having a dimpled centre tread and slightly more aggressive side knobs for cornering. With the Giant Revolts allowing up to 53c sized tyres, he has gone for them in a 47c.
Jason: Waimate homeboy Jase with his local knowledge toyed with the idea of running an ultra light set of 32c gravel slicks for a while, but common sense got the better of him and he is running a pair of Pirelli Cinturato H in a 40c size to help ease the jitters of the road while the lightly treaded middle section gains him the extra watts on the flat.
Hayden: Will be running his go-to tyre Pirelli Cinturato M in a 40c. Which he has near-flawless performance on anything from tarseal to technical mountain bike trails with these tyres. The tractor like tread pattern hooks up when needed and he finds they still roll really well.
James: James is running a Mountain Bike with 30mm internal rim width, he’ll be lining up on a Pirelli's fast-rolling cross country Scorpion RC tyre in a 2.4. He absolutely loves it, and is always surprised how fast rolling these tyres are on the flat and doesn’t feel like running a bigger tyre is that much of a disadvantage
Henry: Will also be running that the Pirelli Cinturato M in a 40c. He absolutely loves the grip and control the aggressive side knobs of these tyres give and finds the reasonable continuous centre section rolls really well on the pavement and hardpack. For Henry these tyres were love at first decent.
Louis: Is a going down a different tyre choice and running a set of 38c tan walled Panaracer Gravel King SK. A much rated tread pattern, he thought he would give it a go, so far he has been very impressed about how they have handled the gravel miles.
Gravel Tyre Basics
With gravel riding covering such a wide spectrum of riding styles from smooth dirt roads to expert-level mountain bike trails, gravel tyres need to cover an equally wide set of riding styles; they come in any size from 32c to 50c, side walls that range from ultra light construct, to heavily reinforced, and tread patterns ranging from slicks as smooth as a baby’s bottom to aggressive knobs that would be just as likely to be seen on the current generation of down country and trail bikes.
Most gravel tyres are able to be run tubeless with tubeless sealant. We would always recommend running gravel tyres tubeless as it has the benefits for added puncture resistance, the ability to run lower pressures for added grip plus lower rolling resistance, and a more comfortable ride. You can still run these tyres with a tube for those of you that prefer or in a case of a puncture. For weight weenies out there, ultra light tubes by the likes of Maxxis or the even lighter TPU SmarTube tubes from Pirelli that you will barely notice in your tool kit.
To help make your life easier in choosing the right gravel tyre for your needs they can be broken down into four broad categories: slicks, semi slicks, all terrain, and aggressive tyres.
The Slicks and Semi Slicks
These two categories we will look at together as they have been designed with a similar purpose in mind, and built for hard and fast gravel roads. They are fast rolling with minimal tread to maximise efficiency.
Slick tyres have a smooth center section to maximise rolling efficiency and often small diamond profile knobs on the side to help give traction in the corners, whereas semi-slicks have a lightly threaded center section and small side knobs. These are the tyres for you if you're a fan of sealed roads with the intention of the occasional detour through some light gravel roads, or if you enjoy smooth dirt roads.
Normally people are choosing to run smaller sizes between 32c to 40c for these categories, but can be found as large as 45c if you're looking for a tyre that offers a more comfortable ride.
The offerings from Maxxis in this category are the Receptor, a semi-slick option available in both Silk Wall side wall protection for a light and fast rolling tyre or their heavier duty EXO sidewall protection for added security.
Another great option in a semi-slick tyre is the Pirelli Cinturato H, designed for long days in the saddle on hard pack terrain. It has a lightly threaded centre section that conforms to the terrain under you for maximum grip and larger cornering knobs to help out. This is a great tyre for those bike packing missions, that Pushbikes owner Richard Allin used on his Southern Brevette Trip.
The All terrain
These are the do-it-all-well tyres, from a little bit of tarmac all the way through to rough gravel roads. If you're wanting to do a bit of everything this is the class of tyre you would want to be looking at. These have medium height knobs and normally run a tightly packed centre row of knobs to help lower rolling resistance on smooth roads while still providing grip on the gravel, plus larger more open side knobs to help maintain traction in the corners.
Best suited for longer rides on gravel roads, these are a great choice if you’re riding mainly gravel roads or long bike packing trips. These are a versatile tyre that will handle most road conditions that you can throw at it.
The Maxxis Rambler with its tight centred knob spacing and wider spaced cornering knobs is always a great choice in this style of tyre. Just like the Receptor it has side wall offerings of the lightweight Silk Shield protection or the heavy duty EXO casing.
Personally I can’t wait to try the new offering from Pirelli, the Cinturato Gravel RC when it hits our store this summer.
The Aggressive Tyres
These knobbly tyres are designed to handle whatever you can throw at them, the roughest of gravel roads to gnarly single track. Typically you’d be running these in the wider sizes, anything from 35c all the way up to 50c. With tyres above 40c it does pay to check your frame specifications for the maximum tyre size as running a tyre without enough tyre clearance can cause tyre rub and frame damage.
These are ideal tyres choice for those adventurous riders that don’t know what the road is going to look like, people that want a little bit of extra grip on gravel roads and descents, or those mad riders that enjoy riding their gravel bikes through the local bike park.
Our go to favourite tyre in this category would be the Pirelli Cinturato Gravel M. This tyre could almost be at home as an all terrain tyre. With its tractor-like tread pattern, it has a near continuous row of center knobs allowing it to roll well on hard pack and tarseal, plus widely spaced side knobs and tough side walls, it can handle anything you put in its path.
Another worthy contender would be the Maxxis Ravager, the big brother of the Maxxis Rambler. With larger knobs to help give traction the Ravager works great when things get rough, and with EXO tyre casing or Silk Shield protection to help prevent sidewall cuts. This is only available in 40c option however.
Other considerations when choosing a gravel tyre:
Before trying to ply the latest and greatest gravel tyres it always pays to check your frame and tyre clearances to make sure you are not putting on a tyre that is too big for your bike. Most modern gravel frames have tyre clearance for tyres between 45 -50c tyres, but it always pays to check with the manufacturer as older gravel bikes previously only had clearance for 35-38c tyres.
Running the correct tyre pressure is just as important as running the correct tyre type. The correct tyre can be the difference between feeling like a ping pong ball bouncing off every stone on the road or feeling composed, railing every corner. Most people especially if they have come to gravel from a road riding background will have a tendency to run their tyres at too harder pressure. The ideal tyre pressure will vary between riders depending on their: weight, tyre size, and riding conditions. Typically you will find that you’re able to run a pressure somewhere between 25 and 40 PSI.
When experimenting with tyre pressure it is better to start high and work downwards than starting low and going upwards, as it minimises the chance of rim damage. You will want to get yourself a good quality floor pump, or tyre pressure checker. If your bike is feeling skittish on the gravel, or you're getting excess vibration coming through the bike try slowly reducing your tyre pressure till the bike feels like it's on rails. If your tyres feel like they are going to roll off the rim, burp, or the sound of dings as the tyre is bottoming out on the rim going over rocks, cattle stops etc, you will need to run more pressure in your tyres.
This is something that is well worth experimenting and getting right as correct pressure is not only more efficient but also makes for a far more comfortable ride meaning you will feel less fatigued after a long day of gravel.
Once the domain of the downhill mountain bikers, tyre inserts are slowly gaining traction across all genres of cycling. In Gravel riding an insert enables you to run lower tyre pressures without the risk of damaging your rims. Not only do they allow you to run lower pressures, they help dampen bumps and support the side wall of the tyre. There are several offerings on the market but by far the most popular and our go to option in an insert would be the Cushcore gravel version, this is rated for rims up to 26mm wide and tyres up to 46mm. If you're a fan of running tyres larger than this the XC Version is what you'll be after.
Don’t Have a Gravel bike, Mountain bike options:
Don’t own a gravel bike? Don’t let that stop you from doing gravel events and rides, there are plenty of good XC tyre options that can be used to help give yourself an advantage without slowing you down too much . Check out our blog post on Versatile MTB tyres for street or trails for some great tyre ideas.