The growing appetite for gravel and adventure bikes and the riding these bikes allows have fuelled an increase in the availability of wide gravel-specific. This guide brings together a variety of 30 to 45mm tyres designed for tackling mixed terrain with a focus on off-road capability.
All about the adventure
What's the difference between gravel and adventure? Not much… The two terms are essentially interchangeable. The US has a popular gravel bike racing scene but it’s been slow to catch on in the UK, mainly down to our lack of endless miles of gravel roads, though there are a few new events that are tapping into this appeal such as the Dirty Reiver, the Dorset Gravel Dash and others. What has caught on over here though on is the desire for adventure, with long distance rides over varying terrain and bikepacking becoming increasingly popular. Events like the Transcontinental Race have certainly helped, putting the adventure back into cycling.
Manufacturers have been quick to cotton onto this desire for bikes that offer more capability to expand riding horizons more than regular road bikes allow. Gravel and adventure bikes can accommodate bigger tyres, the geometry is influenced by endurance bikes, they offer the versatility of a touring bike and there are disc brakes for all-weather control. These traits make a gravel and adventure bike perfect for a wide range of riding, including commuting, touring, Audax, winter training and are ideal for beginners. And the bigger more aggressive tyres provide more comfort and make it possible to get away from congested roads and into the sanctuary of the open countryside. They can be ridden anywhere, and they’re adaptable and versatile.
Read more: 16 of the best 2017 gravel & adventure bikes
Growing tyre choice
And with the growing bike choice comes a growing tyre choice. The tyre you choose can dictate the sort of riding the bike can be used for. Choosing the right tyre comes down to the style of riding you have in mind. Mostly road? You want a smoother tyre that emphasises low rolling resistance. Want to ride predominantly off-road? A tyre with an aggressive tread pattern to provide grip in dirt, gravel, grass and mud is going to be preferable. And there are many tyres that attempt to bridge these two extremes, with a smooth centre section and bigger shoulder knobs, to provide road and off-road capability. The tyres in this guide lean towards off-road riding where grip on grass, gravel, mud and dirt is important, but most also offer the rolling speed you want for hardpack and tarmac roads, to provide that essential versatility.
How wide you go comes down principally to what your bike will accommodate and how wide you think is right for the riding you're doing and terrain you're tackling. At the time of writing a 38-40mm tyre is a very popular width for gravel and adventure riding, but there are many options between 30-34mm if clearance is tight on your bike, and you can go up to 50mm if you have space and want the biggest volume. We're mostly concentrating on 700c tyres here, but there's a growing interest in the smaller 650b size, which provides the benefit of a bigger tyre volume with roughly the same outside diameter as a 40mm tyre on a 700c rim.
Let's take a look at some of your choices.
For exploring the road less travelled WTB’s Byway is a decent choice providing fast rolling speed on road and hardpack gravel. Only wet grass and mud reveal its limits.
The 650B wheel size — a bit smaller than the standard road bike 700C — has become very popular on adventure bikes and it’s easy to see why. The smaller wheel enables a bigger volume tyre without messing around much with the frame design, providing hugely improved cushioning on badly surfaced roads, gravel tracks and dirt paths.
WTB hit the market early with its original Horizon providing stacks of comfort and off-road capability. There’s only so far you can push a slick tyre on dirt and gravel, so WTB took the Horizon and added a meaty shoulder tread pattern to provide a bit more cornering traction when you’re drifting through the bends.
The Panaracer GravelKing tyres are excellent all-winter rubber for your road bike; Big Dave Atkinson declared them his new favourite all-purpose winter tyre. They're pretty light, they're easy to set up tubeless and they roll really well. Also, they come in a range of natty colours. Well, two. Plus black.
The 32mm version isn't really a gravel tyre for the UK, but you can get them in 35mm and 38mm widths too, as well as 650B versions up to 48mm wide, so for dirt riding in non-soggy conditions, they're a light, quick option.
Designed to offer off-road grip in mixed conditions and speed on the road, the Schwalbe X-One Allround is pretty much the perfect tubeless tyre for the privateer cyclo-cross rider. These provide decent grip in slick mud, but roll really well when the course is dry.
The Pathfinder Pro is a fast-rolling tyre that is good for tackling rough roads and dry hardpack gravel trails. With its smooth centre section surrounded by tightly packed diamond-shaped blocks, it's obviously a good choice for lots of road riding. When riding in a straight upright position, that smooth centre line is all that contacts the road, and as a result provides low rolling resistance, allowing you to zip along the road at a decent pace. It really feels little slower than a slick tyre of similar width.
Feel adventurous and want to get off the road and onto some gravel and dirt, and the remainder of the tyre provides good grip. The diamond-shaped tread combined with bigger and spaced out shoulder blocks gives you the capability to let fire into loose gravel or dirty corners, knowing the compound and blocks will find grip. You won't be tackling any muddy bogs, it's not quite that capable, but for gravelly surfaced tracks, canal towpaths and dry bridleways, it offers more grip than a slick tyre.
Ritchey has gone inverse with the tread on its Alpine JB WCS Stronghold tyres to create a tyre that grips on light gravel and rough sections of broken country lane while also offering a smooth ride if you want to get a shift on on the tarmac. A very impressive all-round tyre choice indeed.
You'll need room in your frame for 35mm tyres to fit the tubeless version of the Alpine JB WCS Stronghold, as the 30mm version is only available with a conventional casing.
The Compass Steilacoom TC tyre is a fabulously grippy, fast-rolling tyre off-road that displays frankly ridiculous speed on the hard stuff too. The performance comes at a price you'll forget the moment you hit the first transition from tarmac to gravel.
The G-One Bite is a more off-road orientated version of the acclaimed G-One All-round, with bigger knobbles and a more pronounced shoulder making them more suited to gravel and hardpacked trails. They still roll smoothly on Tarmac but when you get to the gravel or hardpacked trails the fun really begins. We've ridden them on 40mph descents and tough climbs and the G-One Bites never put a foot wrong, no matter what type or size of gravel we were riding over.
Kenda's Cholla Pro is a supple tubeless-ready mud-conquering tyre for skinnier-framed bikes at a fairly sensible price. If you like it mucky and flat-free, it's a great option – particularly if you have limited clearance.
The Cholla Pro has a striking squared-off tread profile, with no chance of getting tyre orientation wrong; arrows point forwards folks. Based on "the hooks and barbs of the cholla cactus", says Kenda, this is somewhat ironically not a tyre for the desert – at just under 33mm fitted to a 19mm rim, you're more likely to dig into soft sand than float over it.
German tyre company Schwalbe hit a home run when it introduced the G-One. The close-packed circular knobbly tread, round profile and sticky tread compound give them prodigious levels of grip on all sorts of surfaces. They’re tubeless and we’ve never had any problems sealing them on a wide range of rims. It’s available in 35 and 40mm widths.
The Halo features two central rails (hence the name) along the centre section for fast rolling speed on the straight with raised square blocks of alternating size on either side. They’re directional tyres with a puncture protection system and come in all-black or with tan sidewalls.
Challenge offers a couple of gravel tyres but this one is actually named for the riding it’s intended for. It combines tall and long shoulder knobs for cornering grip and a low profile dimpled centre section for fast rolling speed. It’s available in 33mm, 38mm and 42mm widths.
Donnelly (the new name for the tyres formerly known as Clement) has designed the X’Plor MSO for mixed conditions with a smooth rolling centre section and bigger shoulder knobs, but it looks more aggressive overall than the Challenge Gravel Grinder. It comes in 32, 36 and 40mm widths and regular clincher and tubeless varieties.
Prices above are for 36mm and 40mm variants. If you need to be UCI-cyclocross-legal, you can pick up Clement-labelled 32mm X’Plor MSO for £26.49. The change of name came about when the brand's licence to Donnelly Sports LLC ended because brand owner Pirelli was returning to the bike tyre sector.
The Overide is a brand new tyre from the French company and is its début into the burgeoning gravel and adventure bike market. It comes in 35 and 38mm widths and Hutchinson has opted for a very smooth tread design with low profile diamond shaped blocks of alternating size. It’s tubeless-ready with a dual compound construction.
The Rambler is Maxxis’ first gravel-specific tyre and it comes in both 38 and 40mm width options with a tightly packed tread design, including ramped centre knobs for improved rolling speed when on the smooth. The side knobs have been spaced out more to improve cornering traction in the loose.
Panaracer has been quick to offer a wide range of suitable gravel tyres, and it keeps on adding new options. It offers tyres with a smooth file tread pattern up to more aggressive tread pattern such as the one pictured above, and a wide range of widths from 23 to 43 and 700c and 650b options. It’s recently added the first mud-specific gravel tyre we’ve come across and there are new tubeless options being added this year.
Specialized has a number of gravel and adventure bikes in its range now (Diverge and Sequoia) and so it has designed the Trigger for dealing with mixed terrain. Tightly packed diamond shape blocks make up the centre section for a fast rolling tyre on tarmac and hardpack dirt roads, and more widely spaced shoulder blocks for leaning the bike over and steering control. The Trigger is available in four widths: 33, 38, 42 and 47mm.
Surly’s Knard has a closely spaced tread pattern for providing speed over varied terrain, and there’s enough grip for loose and slippery trail conditions. The tread pattern comprises aggressive square blocks with only the edge knobs being rectangular to allow for lean and grip in the corners. Surly offers the Knard in a variety of wheel sizes, including 650b, 26 and 29in, and a 700x41mm. The cheaper price gets you a 33 threads-per-inch casing; the spendier version is 127tpi.
WTB has taken its mountain bike tyre of the same name and shrunk it down to 37 and 45mm widths for gravel and adventure bikes. A fast and low profile tread pattern across the top of the tyre should provide good rolling resistance, while aggressive shoulder knobs deliver cornering grip.
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David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.