Gravel bikes might be closer in appearance to the road brethren, 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 loose surfaces, 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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Best gravel bike tires
The Rhombus is one of Specialized's latest gravel tires and comes specced as standard on the brand's Diverge Evo, the flat-bar version of the flagship Diverge gravel bike.
The Rhombus uses Specialized's 2Bliss technology for easy tubeless set up and features a 60tpi carcass to protect from sidewall slashes. The center tread consists of tightly packed siped knobs in a varying arrowhead design, while there are bigger square-edge knobs closer to the edge of the tire.
Because of this design, the Rhombus is an excellent tire for riding in variable off-road conditions. This tire is for riders who aren't afraid to take their gravel bike on singletrack that most riders reserve for mountain bikes.
The Rambler has existed for a few years now, but Maxxis recently introduced a 50mm version for riders who want to get more aggressive on their gravel bike.
The Rambler's center tread uses a close-spaced mix of rough top crosses and depressed bricks, and on the shoulders, there are ramped L knobs and siped mini-MTB blocks. Riders can choose from two carcass options: Maxxis's standard EXO or SilkShield, which offers greater protection against punctures and slashes.
We've tested the Silkshield carcass and found that because of the thicker rubber, riders need to lower their pressure for a smooth, responsive ride. On the other hand, the EXO version is more supple and compliant at higher pressures and lighter.
This tire brings a MTB-style tread design, good protection, and a variety of size options to gravel riders for a fair price.
Vittoria makes four versions of the Terreno for drop-bar bikes, and this is the all-rounder version.
Available in four sizes, the Terreno Mix uses Vittoria's TNT casing and features a centerline tread block featuring arrow-shaped blocks. There's a single row of shoulder knobs, which require riders to lean the bike fairly aggressively to get the best grip. The Graphene infused G2.0 compound helps with wet conditions traction.
The Terreno Mix is a jack of all trades but a master of none. It will work for both tarmac and dirt riding and offers impressive wet weather grip if ridden right. The Graphene compound offers a long lifespan, and the tire is offered at a great price point.
Hutchinson classifies its Touareg as a multi-use 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 to get out the mobile puncture repair kit.
The Power Gravel has a credibly low rolling resistance, and the latest version is offered in a bigger 47mm size. 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 larger blocks, both in width and height, to ensure predictable handling when cornering. This is a fast-rolling tire for riders who prioritize speed, but it still has a decent casing to handle some singletrack sectors.
The Japanese tire brand is best known for its colorful treads, but with the Gravelking SK, 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 tire fit for purpose. Panaracer markets a huge variety of Gravelking sizes ranging from 26-inch to 700c. Riders can get tan sidewalls too.
All the Gravelking tires use Panaracer’s natural compound ZSG rubber and feature a unique tread pattern, with interlacing rectangular tread blocks. The Gravelking SK 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 also delivers puncture protection, by embedding an epoxy infused yarn deep within the casing.
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 tires.
Schwalbe’s tire range is huge and the G-One Bite doesn’t disappoint, offering 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 tire 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 frequently take on 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 patch 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 tires with smaller tread blocks might roll faster, they’ll also clog much quicker, rendering them incapable of transferring brake forces.
Tires 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 tires 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 has 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 tire formulation and fabrication. The chemical interaction of rubber and graphene enhances the overall properties of its Terreno Wet G2.0 tire in terms of grip and lifespan.
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, center 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 the Riddler mountain bike enduro tire, the WTB Raddler also scores style points, with its choice of either black or a tan sidewall finish.
How to choose the best gravel tire
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 resistance, 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 45mm 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 a 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 featuring 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.