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29-01-2024 | Frank Jansen

How to choose a gravel tire?

The array of tires for gravel bikes is immense. With an ever-growing selection, it's virtually impossible to test them all. This article simplifies the process by guiding you on how to "read" a tire. Understanding the tire's construction can give you a good idea of its performance, often making the choice much easier.

A wide range of gravel bike tires
Photo: The vast selection of tires. © Rick Groeneweg

Identifying your riding type

The ideal tire for you largely depends on your intended use. Below, you'll find categories to help identify your riding style. Keep in mind, these are generalizations and many riders may not fit perfectly into one single category. Nevertheless, these descriptions can be a useful starting point in selecting the right tire.

  • Type A: 80/20. Primarily rides on gravel, with minimal asphalt.
  • Type B: 50/50. Balances time between asphalt and gravel equally.
  • Type C: 20/80. Mostly asphalt riding with occasional gravel trails.

Different types of gravel tires
Photo: Which tire is best for the World Championship? © Rick Groeneweg

Varieties of tires

Slicks
Tires with minimal or no tread. They offer the least rolling resistance, hence are the fastest, but provide minimal grip. Ideal for beach riding and dry, hard-packed gravel. Not recommended for mountainous terrain. Best suited for Type C riders. Examples include Challenge Strada Bianca, Panaracer GravelKing Slick, Vittoria Tattoo Light, and Schwalbe G-One Speed.

Small knob tires
These feature a modest knob pattern, making them a versatile choice for various terrains. They roll reasonably well on asphalt and offer more grip than slicks, though not significantly. Notable examples are Schwalbe's G-One, Continental Terra Speed, and Pirelli Cinturato Hardpack. Frequent road use may wear down the knobs quickly, effectively turning them into slicks. Primarily recommended for Type A riders.

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Hybrid: Flat center with side knobs
These tires feature a nearly flat tread, similar to slicks, but are equipped with side knobs. Examples include the Specialized Pathfinders and WTB ByWay. Primarily designed for Type C riders, they are also effective in gravel races with substantial asphalt or hardpack surfaces and minimal mud. The catch is that these tires require aggressive riding to gain traction, as grip is optimal when the bike is leaned into turns. Consequently, they are recommended for more experienced cyclists.

Hybrid: Light tread with side knobs
Similar to the above, but with small knobs on the tread for added grip. This slight modification results in a minor reduction in speed but significantly enhances traction. More forgiving than the flat tread variant, these tires are beginner-friendly and better suited for technical terrains. While they offer improved performance over slicks in muddy conditions, they are not ideal for deep mud. Examples include WTB Vulpine, Challenge Gravel Grinder, Vittoria Terreno Dry, and Vredestein Aventura. Suitable for both Type A and B riders.

Larger knobs
These tires are designed for tougher terrains and are ideal for Type A riders. Their construction is akin to mountain bike tires but slightly narrower. The only choice for mountainous terrains, examples include Schwalbe G-One Bite and Ultrabite, and Continental Terra Trail. While they offer maximum grip, they also have the highest rolling resistance, making them perfect for riders who prioritize safety over speed. They are particularly suitable for beginners or those frequently riding in mud or snow. For these tire types, it's advisable to opt for the widest possible size to mitigate speed loss. Consider pairing a larger knobbed tire in the front with a faster tire in the rear to optimize performance.

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