Best gravel road tires tested – part 1

Top tires for varying conditions, surfaces, and riding styles

Gravel Tires
As with mountain bike tires, gravel tires are made for different conditions, different surfaces, and for different preferences.

As with mountain bike tires, gravel tires are made for different conditions, different surfaces, and for different preferences (click to enlarge).

When I pitched the idea of testing tubeless-ready gravel tires I didn’t realize there were so many options on the market. I was aware of several that I was eager to try, but upon digging I was amazed at how quickly the bike tire world has embraced the gravel segment. With new tires being launched all the time, the models tested here are the crème of the current crop. (Check out part 2 of our test here and part 3 here.)

While the benefits of tubeless tires can be debated in cyclocross racing, for mountain and gravel riding, tubeless is the only way to go. Reduced weight, a suppler ride, and fewer flats mean that you can spend more time pedaling your favorite roads instead of being stuck on the side of the road. The only maintenance required is periodically checking that the sealant hasn’t dried up and changing a valve core if it becomes clogged.

As with mountain bike tires, gravel tires are made for different conditions, different surfaces, and for different preferences. Widths alone vary in this test by over a full centimeter. Tread patterns range from smooth road to mini mountain bike. All of them have strengths and weaknesses. Because where and how you ride may be vastly different from where I live and travel to for gravel riding and racing, it’s difficult to make specific recommendations. But each tire tested here has been put into context to help you decide if a given model is right for you.

To be as scientific as possible, I weighed all tires on the same Feedback Sports digital scale and measured all widths at 40 psi on either a Stan’s Iron Cross rim or a Bontrager Aeolus tubeless rim, both with internal widths of 19.5mm. My body weight also remained constant at 150 pounds, and I test rode all the tires in the 30-40 psi range with the exception of the Compass Bon Jon Pass. (Look for them in the second installment of this test coming soon).

For the purposes of a quick reference, I’ve also included a “Road to Rowdiness Rating” (R2R Rating) with 1 being a road tire and a 10 being a mini mountain bike tire to help you focus on tires that might best meet your mixed surface riding needs. For those doing occasional forays onto dirt road connectors, look to the lower end of this scale. If you’re looking to make your local mountain bike trails a bit more challenging, fit a pair of R2R Rating 10 tires on your bike and shred on. For just a touch more perspective, a 5 rating would be a fantastic, fast-rolling gravel race tire.

The Trigger isn’t a new tire, but has a successful history with gravel wins all throughout the gravel scene.

The Trigger isn’t a new tire, but has a successful history with race wins throughout the gravel scene (click to enlarge).

Specialized Trigger Pro 2Bliss 38mm

This tire has been around for a good while and thanks to riders like multiple time Dirty Kanza 200 champion Dan Hughes and former Specialized athlete Rebecca Rusch, the Trigger has quite the resume.

If your focus is on going fast, the Trigger is a great tire. It won’t excel in technical terrain due to its mild tread pattern, but for covering dirt and gravel road distances quickly, it’s hard to beat. Puncture resistance is excellent, though its casing feels quite a bit more supple than some of its competitors.

Don’t let the 38mm claimed width scare you if your preferred gravel steed is a cyclocross bike. The Triggers run a tad small at 36.7mm and fit easily into a Specialized Crux Disc aluminum bike. That 36mm width is a great one, maximizing flotation while maintaining some mud clearance on readily available CX bikes. While not the primary focus of this test, it’s also worth noting that at $55, the Triggers are a bargain compared to some of its competitors.

Width: 36.7mm | Price: $55 | Weight: 485g | R2R Rating: 5.0 | More info at www.specialized.com.

Teravail’s Cannonball is a great option, if it’ll fit in your bike. The 38mm was a big 41.5mm wide on our test rims.

Teravail’s Cannonball is a great option if it’ll fit in your bike. It measured 41.2mm wide on our test rims (click to enlarge).

Teravail Cannonball Premium 38mm

A super fast rolling tire, similar in many ways to the Specialized Trigger. The Cannonball has a peaked profile helping it roll extremely well. Side knobs that are larger than its Specialized competitor do a great job in loose stuff but the tire has a go-fast design. The Teravail, like the Specialized and other smooth center section tires, isn’t as stable in loose gravel as models with deeper treads. But the Teravail did fair better than the Trigger in the loose stuff, especially under braking. It can wander a bit but is also very fast.

While labeled a 38mm, on my test rims the Cannonballs ballooned to 41.2mm. This is worth considering when you compare its weight is only 15 grams more than the Specialized Trigger, but a full 4.5mm wider. This also means that you’ll need a gravel bike with clearances for the larger tire. But in my opinion, that extra float is usually worth the extra weight. The comfort and decreased punctures both contribute to overall performance in a way that isn’t easily measured on a scale.

The Cannonball is offered in both the premium version tested here with a 120-tpi casing and bead-to-bead flat protection, and a standard version with a 60-tpi casing and flat protection under the tread. For those seeking a narrower options, Teravail also produces the Galena, with a similar tread pattern, in a 32mm width.

Width: 41.2mm actual | Price: $85 | Weight: 500g | R2R Rating: 5.0 | More info at teravail.com.

Continue to page 2 for more of our gravel tires test »

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About the author: Nick Legan

Nick Legan is happiest with some grease under his nails and a long dirt climb ahead. As a former WorldTour team mechanic, Legan plied his trade at all the Grand Tours, Spring Classics, World Championships and even the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In recent years, gravel and ultra-distance racing has a firm grip on Legan’s attention, but his love of mountain biking and long road rides hasn’t diminished. Originally a Hoosier, Legan settled in Boulder, Colorado, 14 years ago after finishing his time at Indiana University studying French and journalism. He served as the technical editor at VeloNews for two years and now contributes to Adventure Cyclist, Mtbr and RoadBikeReview.


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