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 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. 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 »
Easily the most airtight of the bunch, the G-Ones have a tight bead that didn't fit on a Stan's rim. But once mounted to a compatible rim, they held air for weeks (click to enlarge).
Schwalbe G-One 40mm
Schwalbe's G-One is an interesting take on a gravel tire, with a clear slant towards road-oriented riders. I was skeptical of the tire's abilities on loose gravel but was pleasantly surprised by the G-One's stability. If you're accustomed to a 28mm road tire, the G-One will be a big step up in terms of off-pavement performance. Air retention was the best of the bunch and initial setup was easy once the Schwalbe was paired with a rim that it liked. With an exceptionally tight bead, I could not get them on the Stan's Iron Cross rims, and instead used them on Pacenti and Bontrager tubeless rims.
Like the Specialized or Teravail, the Schwalbe prioritizes fast rolling, straight-line performance. Few gravel races are lost in the corners, so this isn't a concern. But unlike the Trigger or Cannonball, the German tire foregoes the side knobs. It is the closest to a beefed-up road tire in the bunch. This opens up possibilities for road-minded riders, but at the same time it limits the tire for those who like to play off road. For a gravel bike that also sees regular road duty, the G-One is a solid choice. Riders who like to play on mountain bike trails and in rowdier, deep gravel, best look elsewhere.
For bikes without the space for 40mm tires, the G-One is also offered in 700x35. For those interested in converting a 27.5 mountain bike or a randonneur bike with 650b wheels, Schwalbe produces a 650bx40mm size as well.
Width: 39.1mm actual | Price: $75 | Weight: 470g | R2R Rating: 4.5 | More info at www.schwalbe.com.
Kenda's Flintridge pays homage to the Dirty Kanza 200 and the Flint Hills that host the event (click to enlarge).
Kenda Flintridge Pro KSCT 40mm
The best two-word description of Kenda's Flintridge tire is "wonderfully massive." Despite the 40mm number on the tire's hot patch, on my rims they blew up to 41.5mm. The corresponding volume makes for a fantastic ride and the tread pattern is a good one, combining control and speed effectively.
The Flintridge's name pays homage the area that is home to the Dirty Kanza 200, the Flint Hills of eastern Kansas, and from my time on the tire it looks up to the task of the brutal double century event. The Flintridge rolls really well and is stable at high speeds on loose surfaces. It won't rail around corners the way the WTB Nano or the Bruce Gordon models will, but for gravel racing this isn't a huge concern.
With a claimed weight of 515 grams, our test pair averaged 473 grams, a nice surprise. The sidewalls are reinforced and should help prevent cuts when riding in deep gravel. The slightly stiffer carcass also aids in set up and the Kenda's mounted up tubeless with ease. I often ran the Kenda's in the 30-35 psi range, finding a sweet spot that helped my bike float over rough roads.
Like several other extra-wide tires in this test, the 40mm size will not fit in many cyclocross bikes. That said, Kenda also offers a 35mm version that is certainly worth a look.
Width: 41.5mm actual | Price: $60 | Weight: 473g | R2R Rating: 5.5 | More info at bicycle.kendatire.com.
Continue to page 3 for more of our gravel tires test
The TCS tubeless version of WTB's Nano 40 encourages riders with a knack for exploration to get out and do just that. A true 40-millimeter tire, the Nano is a great way to make the local trails that have become mundane on a mountain bike a bit more interesting (click to enlarge).
WTB Nano TCS 40mm
When the WTB Nano 40mm tire launched a couple years ago, the prayers of monster-crossers everywhere were answered. Not long afterwards the TCS tubeless version hit the market. The Nano is an explorer tire with a nice, rounded cross-section, and a narrow, raised center section. When cornering it transitions nicely onto the side knobs. And with what are aggressive knobs for a gravel tire, I was surprised at how well the Nano rolled on pavement sections.
Indeed, the Nanos ride exactly like the miniature mountain bike tires that they are. On trails, the Nanos were exceptional, tracking well in loose stuff and cornering and braking far better than some of the smoother treaded options in the test. The trade-off is heft. Out test set weighed a little over the claimed 530 grams, instead averaging 555 grams each. But for riders who want to run a conservative setup for their next gravel race or who like to explore rarely ridden roads, that extra security may be worth it.
Width 39.2mm actual | Price: $55 | Weight: 555g | R2R Rating: 10 | More info at www.wtb.com
Bruce Gordon doesn't do flashy logos. In fact, it takes some looking to find the hot patch on the black or in this case tan sidewall of these Rock 'n Road tires (click to enlarge).
Bruce Gordon Rock 'n Road 43mm
Bruce Gordon's Rock 'n Road was one of the first 29er tires in the world. Back in 1988, Mountain Bike Hall of Famer Joe Murray designed it as a "jack of all trades" mixed surface tire for 700c wheels. After being abandoned for newer models, Gordon revived the model in recent years having them produced by Panaracer in Japan.
While Gordon doesn't call the modern 700c version tubeless ready for legal reasons (the 650b version is tubeless compatible) that's how I've used it for years. At a wide 42.8mm, this tire will not fit on many cross bikes. You'll need a gravel bike or even a 29er mountain bike to find adequate room. (Check Gordon's website for tips on measuring clearance before you buy.) But if the tire does fit, you're in for a treat. They work well on paved roads, dirt paths, and even on mountain bike trails. You'll need to pick your line in techy stuff, but on chunky gravel roads the Rock 'n Roads really shine.
This, along with the WTB Nano 40, is among the burliest of gravel tires, but its versatility is hard to match. The option of a tan sidewall also deserves bonus points for the classic look than many of us adore.
While I don't know of many gravel events where the Rock 'n Roads would be my first choice, they are an exceptional option for riding where smiles are a priority and exploration is a necessity. They also make a good choice for cautious types not interested in riding the lightest tire possible for a given event.
Width: 42.8mm actual | Price: $57 (shipped) | Weight: 545g | R2R Rating: 10 | More info at brucegordoncycles.bigcartel.com.
Check back soon for part 2 of the RoadBikeReview gravel road tire test.