Gravel bikes might be closer in appearance to road frames, but their tire requirements are more closely related to the rubber you find on the best hardtail mountain bikes.
The moment you transition from tarmac to trail conditions, many of the conventional truths about rolling resistance and grip alter. Dramatically. Whereas road bike tires are mostly true slicks, with marginal tread grooves for water displacement and transitional grip, a gravel bike’s tire requirements are wholly different and its tread profile reflects that.
Sidewall cuts are not something you need to consider on a road bike, but they are a very real puncture risk off-road. So is the dynamic of climbing, braking and cornering grip, on a loose surface, which can move below your wheels. This is completely the opposite of a high-friction tarmac riding surface.
To find the best compromise between rolling resistance, ride comfort and off-road grip, we have listed some of the best gravel bike tires currently available.
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Hutchinson classifies its Touareg as a multiuse off-road tire, suited for both gravel and cyclo-cross. Available in three sizes, the Touareg varies from 40- to 47mm in width, although we would always recommend going widest if your gravel bike’s frame clearance allows.
The casing is 127 tpi, which makes for a supple tire with relatively low rolling resistance. In terms of tread design, there is a chevron-arrangement of small blocks in the middle, to aid with both climbing traction and braking.
Along the Touareg’s tire edges there are larger tread blocks to assist with cornering traction, giving you the confidence to lean these gravel bike tires through tight switchbacks.
In terms of rubber compound, the Touareg is primarily 60 ShA durometer grade rubber, for durability, with its edge blocks being 50 ShA, makes them suppler, improving grip when corner posturing at moderate lean angles.
Puncture protection is good, with Hutchinson’s textile grid embedded into the Touareg’s casing. This technology has been proven in XC mountain bike racing and should provide more than adequate puncture proofing, for any gravel bike route.
As one would expect from a French tire product, style is not a forgotten feature, and the Touareg gravel tires are available with tan sidewalls.
The Power Gravel is a robust multilayer off-road tire that should appeal to riders who frequent terrain containing some shale and rockiness.
It features a triple-layer 120 tpi casing, which ensures that if you glance a sniper root edge or rock whilst navigating some singletrack, you probably will not be required get out the mobile puncture repair kit.
Although the Power Gravel is not available in larger 42-47mm casing sizes, it does have a credibly low rolling resistance. Michelin’s engineers have mostly used triangular-shaped tread blocks for the Power Gravel’s contact patch, reducing drag whilst still giving the tire fair braking performance.
The edge tread features much large blocks, both in size and height, to ensure predictable handling when cornering.
The Japanese tire brand is best known for its colorful treads, but with the Gravelking SK TLC, Panaracer proves that it also has gravel riding product prowess.
Whatever your gravel bike frame and fork combination, rest assured that there will be a Gravelking SK TLC tire fit for purpose. Panaracer markets no less than six derivatives of its Gravelking SK TLC, varying in size from 700 × 32C to 650b x 48c.
All the Gravelking SK TLCs use Panaracer’s natural compound ZSG rubber and feature a unique tread pattern, with interlacing rectangular tread blocks. The Gravelking SK TLC tread pattern might look like a rubberized version of a Tetris gaming screen, but it guarantees incredibly low rolling resistance and surprisingly active braking performance.
Panaracer’s ProTite shield delivers puncture protection, by embedding an epoxy infused yarn within deep within the casing. As one would expect from the tire brand which has always wowed with its vivid colors, the Gravelking SK TLC range is available in both black and tanwall.
From the company that produces the Diverge gravel bike, comes an equally convincing off-road tire. The Specialized Pathfinder Pro 2Bliss Ready has a distinctive slick center section, revealing its intention to deliver low rolling resistance.
Although the bald middle patch might make it less predictable when happening upon some slick roots or moss-covered forest terrain, this is a tire that rewards skillful gravel riders with very high average cruising speeds.
The Pathfinder’s tread pattern does not contain any raised edge blocks or sipes, but if you are going to be rolling a lot of miles on fast country roads, there are few tires with a better efficiency index. If your gravel bike becomes a weekday commuter between those epic Saturday adventure rides, these are ideal dual-purpose tyres.
Schwalbe’s tire range is huge and the G-One Bite doesn’t disappoint, offering three different wheel size diameters and a selection of widths.
The German tire specialist uses an interesting tread pattern for its G-One Bite. Instead of triangular, square or rectangular tread blocks, the G-One Bite features round knobs. These are clustered in a row of three along the tire center, delivering traction bite for climbing and braking on loose over hardpack terrain.
Two rows of transition knobs lead to the edge tread, with technically proven siping patterns cut into the respective knobs, depending on where they are placed. The result is very progressive steering feedback as you start leaning the G-One Bite over from its center tread to the edges.
Schwalbe's Snakeskin gives the casing an exterior fabric finish, increasing cut resistance and making the G-One Bite effortless to seat and inflate, on a tubeless rim.
Vittoria’s tyre designers provide a great tire choice for those gravel bikers who aren’t afraid of a muddy adventure route but might be limited by frame clearance issues.
With its company casing size, the Terreno Wet G2.0 will fit in virtually any gravel bike’s rear triangle. If you are given to long rides, on muddy roads beneath grey skies, the open tread pattern of Vittoria’s Terreno Wet G2.0 will be hugely beneficial.
By creating adequate room on the contact pact for mud to clear itself during wheel rotation, the Terreno Wet G2.0 prevents clogging. There is a sacrifice in ultimate rolling resistance, but whereas gravel tyres with smaller tread blocks might roll faster, they’ll also clog much quicker, rendering the incapable of transferring brake forces.
Tyres with a narrower profile have the ability to cut into muddy trails, finding any semblance of grip that might be a touch deeper into the compounded sedimentation. Although larger casing tyres provide better comfort, in the case of a wet-weather gravel bike ride, you’ll want something that can dig into the surface, a task for which the Terreno Wet G2.0 have appropriate sizing.
Excellently suited to grimy conditions, the Terreno Wet G2.0 also features graphene in its rubber compounds, something which Vittoria prioritizes in its tyre formulation and fabrication. The chemical interaction of rubber and graphene, during Vittoria’s production process, enhancing the overall properties of its Terreno Wet G2.0 tire, in terms of grip.
WTB’s Raddler is a good example of semi-slick mountain bike tire technology, finding a repurposing to gravel bikes. Enduro mountain bikers discovered the benefit of a rear tire with pronounced edge tread and tightly packed, smaller, centre blocks. WTB has successfully migrated that product knowledge from its mountain bike to gravel tire offering.
The Raddler uses this configuration to deliver sufficient climbing traction on loose surfaces, without robing too much of your pedal efficiency on level gravel roads. Those larger, rectangular, edge blocks are orientated to face outward and have deep sipes cut into them. As any mountain biker will tell you, sipes allow tread blocks to react to changes in terrain, giving a great deal more dynamic grip when you happen to roll across some roots or rocky bits, on your gravel ride.
Puncture protection is provided by WTB’s SG2 nylon layer, which sits within the casing structure and runs bead-to-bead.
Effectively a downsized and gravel bike appropriate version of Riddler mountain bike enduro tire, the WTB Raddler also scores style points, with its choice of either black or a tanwall finish.
American customer-direct brand, Teravail, promises all the gravel tire features for a more reasonable price, with its Washburn.
Similar in tread purpose to Specialized’s Pathfinder, the Washburn has a slick center patch to facilitate the lowest possible rolling resistance when you are powering along those hardpack farm roads. The tread pattern features some interesting lug distribution in the transition zone from center to side, with large rectangular tread blocks framing the casing’s edges, proving ample grip when leaned over.
Teravail’s product planners have subscribed to the current trend of wider rims and larger casings, recommending its Washburn tires are used with 23mm internal diameter rims. Riders have a choice of either 60- or 120 tpi casings, with the latter being lighter and suppler, providing superior trail feedback through the handlebars.
If your gravel riding routes are on the rougher terrain spectrum, the Washburn 60 tpi specification is slightly heavier, but it does offer the puncture resistance of a woven nylon composite layer, as part of the tire’s structure.
How to choose the best gravel tyre
The catalog of available gravel bike tires can be intimidatingly diverse. Here is how to identify which tire tread pattern and size, is best for your riding requirements.
1. Is bigger, better?
The issue of tire size is depending on frame clearance and terrain type. As more gravel riders have come aware of the benefits that a larger casing can have in terms of ride comfort and lowering rolling résistance, cycling brands have been producing bigger tires.
What is the ideal size? Your frame’s tire clearance limitation will guide much of that choice, but for general gravel riding, it would be recommended to experiment with the biggest tire you can fit. The rotational mass penalty in casing size from 33- to 45c is low, but the gains in ride comfort on a five-hour gravel route, will be significant.
It is worth remembering that larger tires work best on wider rims, so ensure that there is good compatibility between your choice of rubber and wheel width.
2. Punctures are a lot worse, than having to push a few grams
Low mass is always desirable with regards to any rotational cycling component. But with gravel tires, you should carefully consider the reality of opting for lighter casing, which does not have embedded layers of additional protection material.
We would always justify the presence of a nylon or composite layer in your gavel bike tire, to prevent a great day out from becoming a series of puncture repairs. The more adventurous a gravel route, the higher your likelihood of rushing rowdier trails or terrain, which could trigger a puncture or sidewall cut.
The weight penalty between ultra-lightweight gravel tires and those with substantial sidewall protection isn’t that burdensome. You should balance the annoyance that punctures deliver, with the saving of a few grams. By our logic, the slightly heavier gravel tire, with its protection sidewall, wins every time.
3. Keeping it on the edge
The gravel bike tire remains, in principle, a hybrid between XC mountain bike and road tire design. Most gravel tires are true semi-slicks, with some feature a completely bald center section, for the lowest possible rolling resistance.
If you consider how unpredictable an off.-road adventure ride can be, in terms of terrain diversity, it is best to consider a tread pattern with some very low center knobs. Those will provide the necessary braking bite, on wet rocks and roots.
By far the most important descending feature of any gravel tire, is its edge blocks. You want these to be boldly sized and preferably with sipes, which allow the tread blocks to form and shape more dynamically over rooty or rocky terrain, increasing grip and boosting your riding confidence.