Best gravel road tires tested – part 2

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).

We continue our ride down the road less traveled with the second half of RoadBikeReview’s Best Gravel Road Tire Test. Make sure to check out part 1 here and part 3 here. As a quick recap, we tested 11 sets of tubeless gravel tires over the course of several months. All tires were weighed on the same digital scale before installation. All tire widths were taken at 40 psi on the same rim.

The models reviewed offer a wide range in width, weight, price and tread pattern. It’s an exciting time for those of us who seek out mixed surface rides and it’s great to see so many manufacturers offering such capable tires. We’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. This will help you focus on tires that best suit your mixed surface riding needs.

For those doing occasional forays onto dirt road connectors, look to the lower end of the spectrum. 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 would be a fantastic, fast-rolling gravel race tire.

Clement’s new MSO 36 tubeless is a welcome addition to the company’s already great line of gravel tires. At 35.1mm on Stan’s Iron Cross rims, the tire should fit in most cyclocross bikes.

Clement’s new MSO 36 tubeless is a welcome addition to the company’s already great line of gravel tires. At 35.1mm on Stan’s Iron Cross rims, the tire should fit in most cyclocross bikes (click to enlarge).

Clement MSO 36mm

Clement’s gravel tire models are hard to fault, especially now that they are tubeless ready. In the past, against the advice of Clement, I’ve used USH and MSO tires tubeless with excellent results, but the initial setup was sometimes difficult. This is not the case with the new MSO 36mm. They set up easily and held air consistently throughout my testing.

Previously offered in 32mm, 36mm, and 40mm, the new tubeless 36mm is a wise decision from Clement, as it will fit most cyclocross bikes and all gravel bikes worth a darn. If they were any larger clearance, especially in wet conditions, would become a concern. On the rims used in this test, the tire ran a tad undersized at 35.1mm wide.

The MSO may not be the absolute fastest rolling tire in the test (how I would love to have an in-house rolling resistance test rig), but they offer a confidence-inspiring ride in loose conditions. The tread pattern ensures consistent braking, traction, and cornering. In all, the MSO is a great middle of the road choice; not too heavy, not too light, not the fastest, not the slowest, and a good compromise on width. This makes it hard to beat for gravel riding and racing.

Width: 35.1mm actual | Price: $75 | Weight: 475g | R2R Rating: 6.5 | More info at clementcycling.com

Maxxis’ Rambler is the featherweight of the bunch if you take into account width versus weight.

Maxxis’ Rambler is the featherweight of the bunch if you take into account width versus weight (click to enlarge).

Maxxis Rambler 40mm

While some play it conservative with their gravel tires, Maxxis has gone for gossamer with its Rambler model. While the casing feels paper-thin in hand, the Rambler held up well to gravel and mild trail riding. It has a nice block tread pattern that works well under braking and when cornering, and it stays stable in the loose stuff. For a tire with this much tread, the Rambler rolls well.

On a Stan’s Iron Cross rim, the Rambler, while labeled a 40mm, was a bit undersized at 38.1mm. This means that the Rambler should fit in many cyclocross bikes, certainly up front, if not the rear.

Putting a larger tire on the front of your gravel machine is a good way to go, reducing wear and tear on your hands on long, rough rides, and increasing control. The light weight of the Rambler also makes it better front tire than rear. Rear punctures are more common and so running a heavier rear tire is a good strategy.

With the loosest bead of the bunch, I needed to use a tire lever to install half the bead before the tire would seat entirely using a compressor. Once done though, they held air well.

If you’re riding and racing takes you through a mix of smooth dirt roads with a dash of rowdier terrain, the Rambler may be a good choice. With its light casing though, you’ll need to stay vigilant to avoid punctures.

Width: 38.1mm | Price: $64 | Weight: 365g | R2R Rating: 5.0 | More info at www.maxxis.com

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

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. To follow along on Legan’s cycling adventures, find him on Instagram at @nlegan and be sure to check out his new book Gravel Cycling: The Complete Guide to Gravel Racing and Adventure Bikepacking.


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  • BL says:

    lighter than a T-serv.
    Would it make a good Urban tire?

  • Tom says:

    Thanks for a great article. Could you please elaborate on why the Vee Rail is good as a rear tire but not on the front and why the XCX is better on the front? Is there something about the center tread, side knobs, casing, sidewalls or what? What disadvantage would I find by running the Rail on front and back? Thanks.

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