There’s little to match the exhilarating feeling of hurtling down a mountain on your bike, or cruising along scenic country lanes in the Midwest. One feeling you definitely don’t want though, is that stomach churning moment where your bike slips out from under you and you feel yourself crashing to the ground.
If you are the sort of biker who enjoys getting off the beaten track, then you’ll know the importance of selecting the very best gravel bike tires for your riding situation. There are many advantages to riding on gravel roads, all of which appeal to the majority of bikers.
Firstly, gravel roads tend to have a lot less traffic so you can often cycle for miles without having to worry about cars. Secondly, the scenery surrounding most gravel roads is simply spectacular. From mountain passes to wide open plains you can be sure of the perfect photo opportunity wherever you stop.
Lastly, cycling on gravel feels like ‘real’ riding. You need to think ahead, plan your route and simply enjoy the fact that you are in full control of the ride. If you want to slide round corners at speed, or just enjoy the easy pleasures of being on your bike, then gravel roads could well be just what you need to take your riding to the next level.
Why do I need a purpose-built gravel tire… won’t my standard road tires do the job?
If you do decide that you’re going to give off-roading a go with your bike, you will definitely want to consider getting a set of gravel tires. These tires generally have a wider width which results in a greater surface area making contact with the road. This improves traction on loose gravel and dirt.
The increased volume of air in the wider tire also allows you far greater control over the air pressure in your tires, essential if you want to avoid the risk of a pinch flat but also maintain comfort over inevitably rough terrain.
Riding on gravel is one of the best ways to improve your bike handling skills, but importantly, confidence in your bike’s handling is paramount if you’re actually going to enjoy riding on gravel rather than constantly worrying that your road tires are simply not up to the job.
So if you plan on heading out into the countryside with your bike soon then you should definitely consider investing in a set of tires specifically made for gravel roads, and take your riding to the next level.
What features do you need to think about when choosing your tires for gravel roads?
There’s a huge variety of tires out there to choose from, with costs to match. You will want to think carefully about the kind of riding you’re going to be doing and choose your tire accordingly. You might want a multi-purpose tire which can handle both asphalt roads and gravel, if you commute to work but also use your bike for fun rides at the weekend.
This saves changing your tires on a regular basis. Equally, if you ride on one specific type of gravel road regularly, you would most likely be looking for a tire that is solely suited for that particular surface. As such, gravel tires can roughly be sorted into four main categories:
- Complete off-road – A very wide tire (42c is around average) which provides cushioning and grip for both gravel and muddy conditions. Some of these tires also feature puncture protection which can come in very handy when you’re in remote off-road locations. Despite fantastic off-road performance, it’s inevitable that these tires will not perform as well on the road.
- Multi-purpose tire – A narrower (around 35c) more versatile tire, equally at home on gravel, asphalt or mud. The tread may well be graduated with a smoother tread for road use in the middle and a more aggressive tread on the outer rim. Additionally, adjustments from road to gravel conditions can be made by reducing the tire pressure.
- Fast gravel tire – If you’re a speed freak who enjoys fast cornering on gravel, then you’ll be looking for a narrower (30c) tire with a far more subtle tread pattern. These might be expensive but provide superior grip and ride quality for those who know what they like.
- Touring tire – A hybrid tire of around 35c providing a compromise for those looking for a road tire with some off-road capabilities, these could be the perfect tire to start you off on your gravel road adventures. The tread on touring tires is fairly uniform. These tires tick all the boxes, providing comfort, grip, handling and reliability.
Gravel tires are one of the most important choices for your off-road bike set-up, and once you know which category of tire you’re looking for, your search is going to be a lot easier. You can then move onto looking at the range of features that differentiate these tires from their road-going cousins. These features include:
- Tread – smooth tires vs. textured/knobbly
- Width – gravel tires are usually wider than road tires
- Tube or tubeless
Let’s look at each of those features in a little bit more detail. But first, bear in mind that bike riding and especially the technical aspects of tire choices can sometimes be a bit like a physics lesson, and if this is an area that interests you, you will most likely become an expert in forces such as friction, air resistance and gravity.
Whilst gravel tires are of course more textured than your standard road tire, you don’t necessarily need a vast amount of knobs to safely ride on gravel. These knobs don’t necessarily improve your traction on gravel, which is down to the lack of friction between the layers of gravel as opposed to the relationship between the gravel road and the surface of the tire itself.
Whilst knobbly tires undoubtedly improve your traction in mud, you will probably find that most gravel tires feature a relatively smooth tread pattern.
If you’re looking for a pure gravel tire, you’ll want the widest width your bike’s frame and fork can safely accommodate. This is important for a number of reasons. On gravel, a lot of the energy created by both gravity and your pedaling is lost because of the additional bounces and vibrations caused by the rough road surface.
By running a wider tire, you can reduce your tire pressure accordingly, which helps absorb some of the bouncing, resulting in a faster and more comfortable ride for you. A wider tire also has a larger surface area making contact with the road.
This means any forces encountered as you corner are spread over this larger area, making you less likely to take an unexpected slide. Finally, on a reasonably soft surface such as gravel, a narrow tire inevitably sinks into the surface. A wide tire spreads the load resulting in less sinking (which is hard work) and more floating over the surface (which is fun!).
You might already know whether you’re prone to sidewall punctures, in which case you may well want to consider a reinforced tire. In general though, standard punctures are usually more common on hard roads. This is again due to physics, with the firm surface of the asphalt acting to push any debris up into the tire.
If you think about the softer nature of gravel, any potential puncture making material is more likely to be pushed down into the gravel rather than up into the tire. That said, punctures from sharp rocks slashing a sidewall can be a problem associated with gravel roads, so you will need to weigh this one up for yourself and decide whether to go for a reinforced tire or one with a softer more flexible sidewall.
Tube or tubeless
A setup without an inner tube (tubeless) is standard for gravel bikes. This lets you set a lower tire pressure which we now know results in a more comfortable ride, but importantly also means that the sealant inside the tire rapidly works to plug any small punctures. If you do find yourself with a bigger puncture you should always carry a repair kit and spare inner tube.
Once you’re feeling more confident with the vast range of tire choices out there, you also have the option of mixing and matching your front and back tires to create a totally bespoke combination precisely suited to the conditions.
You will most likely want to select a wider front tire with a rough tread pattern in order to maintain traction and prevent sinking. Your back tire should ideally be narrower and with a smoother tread. This should reduce resistance without compromising stability.
Our Top Picks
Tires, like your bike set-up, should be determined by both the conditions you’re riding on and your ability. Once you have a better understanding of the choices available to you, it’s time to start making some decisions!
Takara Shiro Gravel Bike
Weight: 42.6 pounds
Dimensions: 50 cm
Specific features: Big volume 700 x 40 c tires specifically designed to absorb the bumps of rough gravel tracks.
Best use: Suitable for urban or rural terrain
The Takara Shiro Gravel Bike bridges the gap between smooth asphalt and gnarly gravel, for riders who want the best of both worlds on a very affordable budget. The wide 40c tires have a fairly low tread pattern for a smooth and comfortable ride. Featuring a sturdy blue steel frame in an eye catching electric blue and black colorway, this bike could be your perfect introduction to the world of gravel riding.
This bike only comes in one size option, which could cause problems if you’re not of average height. Also of note is that this bike is significantly heavier than many of the other choices, which could be problematic if you use a car-mounted bike rack to reach those gravel roads.
Tommaso Sentiero Compact Gravel Road Bike
Weight: 26.2 pounds
Dimensions: Range of five frame sizes, from XS to XL
Specific features: Kenda Kwick-Trax All-Terrain Tire 700 x 32 c with 700 x 32 c Presta tubes.
Best use: Multi-purpose riding for beginners and enthusiasts alike
The Tommaso Sentiero Compact Gravel Road Bike is a mid-range, quality bike for entry-level cyclists looking for reliability. Available in five sizes from extra-small to extra-large and two different colorways, flexibility is the keyword here. This bike comes with your classic touring style tire allowing you to seamlessly transition from your morning commute to gravel road riding in wet and muddy conditions. Because Tommaso bikes are sold directly to the consumer, here you can get a fantastic performing bike at a fraction of the price offered by other brands.
Mongoose Selous Expert Gravel Road Bike
Weight: 27 pounds
Dimensions: Three different frame sizes, from small to large.
Specific features: Kenda small block 700 x 35 c folding tires.
Best use: Gravel road riding, commuting.
The Mongoose Selous Expert Gravel Road Bike has three different sizing options combined with distinctive and bold styling which makes this a great choice for the fashion conscious rider. The Kenda small block 700 x 35c tires provide both rapid acceleration and multiple contact points with the ground. This bike provides everything you need to get started on your off-road gravel adventures. Small or tall riders might struggle with the limited sizing options for this bike.
Tommaso Illimitate Gravel Road Bike
Weight: 24.9 pounds
Dimensions: Five frame options, from XS to XL
Specific features: Kenda Kwick Tendril Road Tires 700 x 32 c.
Best use: Gravel road riding
The Tommaso Illimitate Gravel Road Bike is a very stylish bike in an unusual matte black. Built to a very high specification, this bike still comes in at just under the average price for the bikes we reviewed, making it exceptionally good value. All features of this bike are built to impress, from the frame to the wheelset Classic multi-purpose tires with graduated tread provide you with versatility, making the Tommaso Illimitate equally at home on gravel roads and city streets.
If you do plan on taking this bike for some serious off-road adventures, you would most likely need to look at upgrading the tires to provide additional grip.
Raleigh Tamland 2 Complete Bike
Weight: 22.6 pounds
Dimensions: Six frame sizes, from 52 – 62 cm
Specific features: Clement X’Plor MSO 700 x 40 c tires, 60 TPI folding.
Best use: Gravel road riding, on-road riding
The Raleigh Tamland 2 Complete Bike has top-of-the range high performance with a classic retro style twist. Distinctiveness and reliability combined as you would expect from the iconic market leaders on the bike scene, Raleigh. The Tamland 2 comes complete with a multi-purpose tire leading toward full off-road capabilities.
The Tamland 2 frame has also thoughtfully been designed to accommodate a tire of up to 42 c, giving you the option to upgrade to a serious gravel tire should you choose to do so. That said, the factory-fit tires, the Clement MSO tire in 40 c width, provide second-to-none traction in all conditions combined with an exceptionally smooth ride. Coming in no less than six different sizing options, you can be sure of a fully customized ride to suit you every day of the week.
Diamondback Bicycles 2015 Haanjo Road Bike
Weight: 33 pounds (shipping weight)
Dimensions: Four frame sizes, from 50 – 59 cm
Specific features: Kenda Happy Medium 700 x 40 c tires.
Best use: Gravel road riding
The Diamondback Bicycles 2015 Haanjo Road Bike is a stylish bike with a lightweight and comfortable frame, allowing you to easily transition from any route you choose to take, be it asphalt, gravel or dirt. With rack mounts and no less than three bottle mounts, this bike can take you anywhere you want to go.
If you are a serious rider you may want to upgrade the brake pads at some point but as the bike comes delivered 90% assembled you can be ready to go in no time. The Kenda Happy Medium tires give you exactly that: a center tread designed for speed and an outer tread which provides traction in all conditions.
Factory Road Bike R340-700C
Weight: 25 pounds
Dimensions: Three frame sizes, from 52 – 57 cm
Specific features: Kendra road specific tires 700 x 25 c
Best use: Gravel road riding
Eye-catching green and grey details on a black background make the Factory Road Bike R340-700C really stand out. This bike offers exceptional value for money by coming to you direct from the manufacturers.
Factory offers a fantastic lifetime warranty on the frame and forks however, one downside is that the Kendra road tires will not necessarily hold up to a great deal of gravel road riding. You could easily swap these out for a more suitable tire if the rest of the bike offers exactly what you’re after.
Iron Horse Warrior 3.1 Bike
Weight: 39.7 pounds
Dimensions: One size only
Specific features: Chunky 2.1” tires
Best use: Off-road riding
The Iron Horse Warrior 3.1 Bike is a mid-range bike leaning more towards a mountain bike style than a true gravel grinder. Full suspension frame and front fork to ensure a smooth and comfortable ride whatever the surface. This bike is built specifically for men and comes in one size only, so your options are more limited than with some of the other brands out there.
The tires are also more suited to mountain bike trails than gravel. That said; this is a sturdy bike so is more than capable of carrying the heavier rider with ease.
So which tires are the right ones for you?
Ultimately your choice will depend on the sort of riding you’re going to be doing. If you take your bike to work on weekdays but enjoy getting off the beaten track at the weekends then you may be looking for a versatile multi-purpose tire. If you ride your bike almost exclusively off-road then a complete off-road tire will definitely be what you’re looking for.
Wherever you plan on going with your bike, rest safe in the knowledge that with a little bit of research you can find the perfect gravel tire for your needs. This style of bike is becoming increasingly popular with so many out there to choose from.
If we’ve missed out on your favorite, then please do let us know in the comments section.