You see it all the time on Facebook groups. Its almost a daily question. “Whats the best tyre for…..?”
Then everyone chips in with a recommendation for their current tyre, most having never tried any other tyre. You have to have a comparison. A point of reference. Saying a WTB resolute is fast rolling on tarmac is pointless unless you have a reference “Resolutes are fast on tarmac compared to Senderos but are slower than GK`s”.
That’s always my question back when I hear such claims, “compared to what?” In the last 2 years of gravel riding I have tested over 8 different sets of tyres. This gives me a good frame of reference. When I say a tyre rolls well you know that I have at least 7 other tyres as a comparison.
So, before I get into reviewing what tyres I have personally tried and tested lets set the parameters.
First off, not all gravel is equal. Not all gravel riding is the same. Some rides are 80% tarmac. Some involve mud. Some would be more suited to mountain bikes. You cannot pick a good tyre until you answer this question; “What am I going to be riding? What is the surface like and how much tarmac will be included?” Now, this will vary from ride to ride, so you have to generalize.
Its always going to be a compromise as gravel riding generally takes in multiple surface types and the best tyre for hardpack isn’t going to be the best tyre for mud or deep loose gravel.
I came across a good article the other day which classifies gravel into four levels starting with dirt, small gravel, big gravel and ending with. You can read the descriptions of these classes here. Its really useful to think of these classes when considering tyre choice.
Class 2 aka “Gravel” – loose, small and medium-sized gravel spread over the road or in the crown or along the shoulder on top of hardpack or softer/uneven dirt; some washboard and occasional 1-2’ diameter potholes; sand and/or clay sections without gravel
Class 4 aka “Technical” – big rocks/rock gardens, deep loose gravel, deep ruts, path-, lane- or road-width potholes or single- or double track paths/roads with rocks, roots, fallen trees or other large obstacles
Kenda Flintridge Pro
700c x 35mm and 700c x 40mm
- Get the pressure right and its a magic carpet ride
- Tough casing with excellent puncture protection
- easy tubeless fitting
This was my tyre of choice for Gritfest 2019. Its not the lightest and its not the most supple, but it sure is tough and surprisingly grippy on fast class 1 and 2 gravel (I have a top 10 time on a couple of Gritfest descents to prove that)
Schwalbe G-One All Round
700c x 38mm
- Fast on tarmac and hard pack
- Squirmy in the corners at lower pressures
- lack of grip if its not bone dry
Pump these up hard and they roll like a slick on the tarmac. No other tyre over 35mm comes close to the speed of these. The same goes for class 1 gravel, as long as its in a straight line. I have to admit, I did not get on with these tyres offroad at all. When run at a pressure low enough to get the benefit of the light and supple casing they became very squirmy through the corners. I found them quite scary. Pump them up hard and this goes away but you then loose some grip and a ton of comfort as a result.
700c x 40mm
- Best all round tyre
- good grip in mud with predictable breakaway
- excellent at lower pressures
- No 650b option
In a world of compromises the WTB Nano is king. In my opinion its the best all round tyre on the market. It doesn’t feel draggy on tarmac, it`ll handle some mud and when it does loose grip it does it in a very predictable way that give you confidence rather than scarring the pants off you.
650b x 42mm
- Not enough volume in 650b x 42
- Good grip in most conditions
- Not the best on tarmac
- burped air constantly at lower pressures
These tyres just did not work for me at all. They are too small at 42mm and that highlights all the disadvantages of 650b and removes any of the advantages you would normally get like increased volume. They burped air when run at lower pressures. Shame, as the grip is good.
700c x 32mm
- Great high volume road tyre
- Hard to setup tubeless
- good for broken roads and hard packed gravel
This one is for the high road percentage riding. 80% road and dry class 1 gravel. Grip is good even offroad.
700c x 38mm
- Compound is grippy but doesn’t wear too fast
- excellent grip in dry conditions
- come up small
- rolls fast
My current goto summer fast riding/endurance riding tyres. I love these things. They are grippy, light, and supple without being too delicate. The tread is holding up well and showing no signs of wear.
650b x 47mm
- Easy to setup tubeless
- come up small
I have these fitted ready for this winters riding. Not tried them out yet but if they are as good as the Cannonballs then they will not disappoint.
Donnelly Xplor MSO
650b x 50mm
- Sensitive to pressure
- good grip in both wet and dry
- Superb comfort when you get the right pressure
- Doesn’t clear mud well
Monstercross tyres! I love these. I think of them like space hoppers. Big, rounded, massive bulbous bubbles of air. They are not the most supple and the weight can take its toll on longer climbs and bigger rides, but short blasts around the forest and bridleways, these things are a hoot.