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The IRC Marbella Tubeless X-Guard gravel tyre aims to bring offroad capabilities to road bikes with limited tyre clearance. But while it's smooth on the road and usefully light, its performance in the loose is limited for its size, in no small part due to its very high minimum pressure requirements.
The Marbella is not some kind of magic part that will turn your road bike into a graveller, but it does provide a noticeable boost offroad.
While IRC classifies it as a gravel tyre, it's much closer to a road tyre and not a serious contender for a gravel bike. Instead it's designed to give narrow-framed road bikes, or perhaps older cyclocross bikes with limited clearance, a little extra grip on hardpack trails, muddy lanes and gravel roads.
It's worth pointing out that this Marbella Tubeless X-Guard is actually totally different to the pimple-treaded Marbella gravel tyre... even though that can also be run tubeless at pressures down to 35psi.
Fitting is not the easiest due to the narrow width and reasonably tight bead, although I did manage to it with just a single tyre lever. Once on, they were so easy to seat and inflate – with no loss of air – I think it might even have been possible with a hand pump.
On a 22mm ID rim this 28mm (there's also a 26mm if you really like vibrations) blows up to 29mm, though it looks smaller: the design tricks the eye as the centre tread is just 20mm wide, and only 25mm from shoulder rail to shoulder rail.
The recommended pressure range is 75-100psi, which is almost what I run on the road. To be honest I expected, and felt I needed, far lower.
On smoother forest roads, byways and narrow country lanes it feels OK, but at no point could you say it gives a comfortable or soft ride – and this is only in part due to the volume. The rest is that high minimum pressure.
It means traction is an issue on very loose ground, such as dry gravel climbs and descents, though in deepish mud it does pretty well – the narrow carcass cuts down to more solid ground and that low tread depth actually finds some traction.
On slippery or off-camber surfaces, though, they slide pretty early.
Road performance is quite good, as it rolls well enough to almost match a pure road tyre. There is no noticeable extra noise over a full slick, and it's smooth too. There's a slight lack of feel that takes some getting used to, but grip on the roads and lanes is good.
There aren't many other tyres in the Marbella's category, but there are plenty of cyclocross tyres to choose from, including the iconic, bright green Michelin Power Cyclocross Jet, though that needs a bit more clearance at 33mm. At £42.99 it's £12 cheaper too, though they're really only good in the dry.
Amongst slightly fuller road tyres that are not pure slicks, you have the likes of the Panaracer GravelKing 32 Dave recently pronounced his 'new favourite all-purpose winter tyre,' though he didn't really consider them proper gravel tyres either. Again you need a little more clearance, but again they're cheaper at £39.99.
Although the Marbella is categorised as a gravel tyre, if you consider it a road tyre that can do a little more than a slick it is a far more appealing option. It does offer more traction than a slick away from tarmac, but it skips over even small bumps when climbing or descending.
Ultimately the IRC Marbella is quite niche, and anyone who thinks it will turn their road bike into a gravel bike will be disappointed. The biggest problem is not the skinny size or lack of tread, but the high pressures that spoil its performance offroad.
Adds a little off road performance to road bikes, but can't cope with the low pressures to suit
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road.cc test report
Make and model: IRC Marbella Tubeless X-Guard gravel tyre
Size tested: 700c x 28mm
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
IRC says:"We know you want to take that left turn and explore the fire road, or take that single-track shortcut home, but not every bike can fit a 40mm wide gravel tire. The Marbella Tubeless X-Guard lets you take your road bike where other roadies fear to go."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
- Flat-Top Diamond Tread Rolls Fast on the Tarmac and Grips in the Dirt
- Aggressive Side-Knobs Let You Corner With Confidence
- X-Guard Protects Your Side-Walls From Sharp Objects
- Inner Air Seal Prevents Leakage
Inflation 75 to 100psi
Claimed weight, 330g
The 75psi minimum is the biggest performance limiter.
Rough tracks, back lanes and normal roads created no issues.
Light compared to a true gravel tyre, and around the same weight – or lower – than many tubeless road tyres.
Massively impacted by high pressure recommendations.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
More grip than a standard road tyre, but the pressure recommendations are similar (if not higher) and that has a big impact in overall performance and ability.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Very easy to inflate, and smooth and quiet on roads.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
There aren’t many other tyres in the Marbella Tubeless X-Guard’s category. The iconic, bright green Michelin Power Cyclocross Jet is £12 less at £42.99, though, while the Panaracer GravelKing 32 is excellent for winter roads – if not really a proper gravel tyre either – and cheaper still at £39.99.
Did you enjoy using the product? Not really
Would you consider buying the product? No
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Unlikely
Use this box to explain your overall score
This tyre is quite niche, which is fine, but even within that niche grip and comfort are impacted by the very high pressures needed. If the carcass could take lower pressures more suitable to offroad use it could score higher, but with its current flaws it's a six.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is: Cannondale SystemSix
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo cross, sportives, mtb, Lots of gravel style riding
Matt is an endurance nut who loves big rides and big events. He's a former full-time racer and 24hr event specialist, but now is also happy riding off-road on gravel bikes or XC mountain bikes and exploring the mountains and hills of Mid Wales.