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 (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 (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 »
Panaracer's Gravel King SK was one of the easiest tires to mount and seal tubeless (click to enlarge).
Panaracer Gravel King SK 32mm
Panaracer is a company that produces its own line of mountain bike, road, and gravel tires, as well as making tires for Compass, Bruce Gordon, Rivendell, and Soma. The Japanese company is known for high quality and for making reliable, often niche-oriented tires that enthusiasts rave about.
With its easy installation, fast-rolling nature, and excellent puncture resistance, the Gravel King SK, especially in the 32mm width that I tested, is the best gravel tire for those with limited tire clearance. The 32 will fit into any cyclocross bike and can even be squeezed into some road bikes. For bikes with more room, Panaracer also offers the Gravel King SK in 35mm and 40mm widths. All of them are tubeless compatible.
I was surprised at how nice a ride the narrowest tire in this test delivered. It was comfortable without feeling sluggish. The simple tread pattern works really well under braking and while cornering. Oddly, the Gravel King SK did seem to kick up a fair bit of small pebbles while riding on pea gravel bike paths. Not a big deal, but worth noting.
If your bike is sparse on tire clearance and you're looking for a fast-rolling, highly capable gravel tire, the Gravel King SK may be the ticket.
Width: 31.8mm | Price: $50 | Weight: 311g | R2R Rating: 4.5 | More info at www.panaracer.com
Vee Tire's Rail is an affordable option and pairs well with the company's XCX tire (click to enlarge).
Vee Rail 40mm
The Rail is a bit of an underdog in this test. Vee Tire isn't the first name in gravel tires but the company offers a large line of gravel appropriate models. The 40mm rail has a nice, round cross section and small, triangular blocks in the center of the tread. These offer good braking confidence and a stable ride through loose gravel. On the edges are longer, taller lugs to help with cornering. The tough sidewall gives the tire a good structure, allowing for quick tubeless setup and protecting the tire from punctures.
For their size, the Rails are actually pretty light, not Maxxis Rambler light, but good nonetheless. I liked the Rail, but more as a rear tire. It rolls well, but as a front tire, it lacked a bit of bite that others in the test offered. Vee Tire's XCX is a better option for that role and together with a Rail, Vee offers a great gravel tire combo.
Width: 39.8mm | Price: $50 | Weight: 468g | R2R Rating: 7.5 | More info at veetireco.com
Compass Bon Jon Pass 35mm
Easily the best road tire in the bunch, the Bon Jon Pass also works well on dirt and gravel roads as long as the going isn't too steep or technical. Many contend that tire casing and air pressure are far more important than tread design and the almost smooth tread of the Compass tire helps make that case.
I would categorize the Bon Jon Pass as more of a dirt road or rough pavement tire than a gravel tire. That is to say that it works exceptionally well on hard-packed dirt roads. If the going gets loose, you'll need to stay on your toes. The smooth tread, compared to other tires in this test, won't bail you out if you push things too hard.
The casing, while wonderfully supple, is also a bit light for riding on sharp gravel. But if you're looking to ride on rough pavement roads, connect them with smooth dirt roads, then the Bon Jon Pass is an exceptional option. In mounting the tire tubeless, as with the Maxxis, it was helpful to install the tire onto the rim using an inner tube, unseat one bead, take out the tube, slip in the valve and inflate. Once seated and sealed, the tire held air well.
The Bon Jon Pass, like many Compass tires, is also offered in an extra-light casing version for $76. It too is tubeless compatible. While I didn't ride the extra-light, Compass claims it is even suppler in its manners.
Width: 34.9mm | Price: $57 | Weight: 340g | R2R Rating: 2.5 | More info at www.compasscycle.com