Riding on rocky roads with the wrong tire size is not only uncomfortable but also very dangerous. You can be knocked out within seconds of starting out your ride since the wrong tire size will not provide enough traction or the right amount of grip that you need to ride on gravel.
We get it! With so many tire sizes and guides and whatnot out there, it can be really confusing to know what’s right and what’s not so right. The more you search, the more perplexing it gets. This is why we decided to put all the information that you will need to get the right tire for your gravel bike in one place.
We will also take a look at what kind of gravel bike tires are best for what kind of terrain but first, let’s discuss how to find the right gravel bike tire for you.
The Right Gravel Tire
|Tire Width||Feature||Great On||Not So Great On|
|28 mm||Lack Width And Traction||Pavement Ridding+ Daily Commuting||Rugged Areas|
|30 mm||More Comfort||Light Gravel Sectors||Rugged Areas|
|32 mm||More Stability||Cobbles||Single Track Riding|
|35 mm||Added Traction||Mixed Vairety Of Tracks||Rougher Gravel Roads|
|38 mm||Can Take On Mixed Track Riding Easily||Occasional Gravel Riding||Rougher Gravel Roads|
|40 mm||Enhanced Grip||Dirt Riding||Road Surfaces|
|45 mm||Lower Rolling Resistance||Hard Pack Riding||Road Surfaces|
|50 mm||More Puncture Protection||Gravel Riding||Speed Or Road surfaces|
Starting with 28 MM, these tires are narrow which makes them much more compatible with your road bike rather than your gravel bike. The reason is that since they are so narrow, they cannot provide the kind of traction and width that you need to ride on rocky roads. Even if you decide to get 20mm tires for your gravel bike, you will undoubtedly ride faster but it will not be comfortable.
- More Aerodynamic
- Less Space Taking
- Difficult To Change
- Less Shock Absorption
- Unsafe For Off-Roading
If the tire is too wide, it is going to destroy the aerodynamics of the rim. This is why a 30 mm is just fine tire width for light gravel ridding. To make your ride more comfortable, you can drop some pressure but make sure to do this without damaging any of your bike components.
Personally, I do not like to do longer gravel routes with 30 mm tires because it starts to get uncomfortable after a while. These tires do a good job on pavement riding or even on dirt or gravel roads that are well-maintained but anything above that and you’ll be very uncomfortable with all the bumps that you will feel.
- Improved Handling
- Increased Grip
- 2 Watts Slower Than 28mm
32 mm tires are great for riding on cobbles or gravel roads, the kind of roads that are more difficult. They are more stable, provide more traction, and are much better at damping vibrations. You expect a much more comfortable ride on these tires since they are more shock-absorbing.
You will not have to waste time trying to avoid rocky bumps because these tires provide extra comfort which is great while taking on sharp turns.
- Shock Absorbing
- Less Aerodynamic
- Not Good For Climbing
38 mm tires have a lot of grip to offer which is why they are great for riding on mixed kinds of terrains. These tires do not offer much speed, however, you will be pretty comfortable off-roading with a 38mm tire in your bike.
These tires are best suited to ride on slightly rough pavement and gravel roads.
- More Grip
- Suited For Beginners
- Less Aerodynamic
Have you heard the phrase The bigger, The better? Well, it is surely true in the case of gravel tires. 40mm is a fairly big size of tire that will provide you with bigger traction volumes. If you keep the air pressure lower, you will get an even more comfortable ride because of the extra volume of tire that you’ll be getting.
If you have a tubeless system, the PSI can get as low as 20. This makes the 40mm tires perfect for off-roading and ridding on rough terrain.
- Larger Tread
- More Cornering Stability
- Less Joint Stress
- Much Better To Carry Loads
- Needs More Clearance
- Less Aerodynamic
As we previously said, the bigger it gets the better it is. 45mm is more cushioned than 40 mm. You have more traction because the size of the tire has increased. There is even more volume which means that you will have a better grip. This is the best feature to look forward to for gravel riders.
- Minimized Vibration
- More Gravel Riding
- Less Speed
- More Space Taking
These tires are very wide so you should check if your bike supports these tires before you purchase them. These tires are best for some serious gravel riding because they are specially designed to take on the roughest tracks.
The ride with these tires turns out really smooth since the tires provide suspension by absorbing all the vibration. More wide tire means more tire clearance but they won’t take you faster, but they will surely take you comfortably through the roughest terrains.
- More Volume
- Better Gravel Ridding
- Extra Comfort
- Not Supported With All Gravel Bikes
How To Read A Bike Tire Size
We all have been here where we are looking at the numbers confused not having a clue in the world as to what could they actually mean. If you know how to read a bike tire size, half of your problem is already solved. So let’s get started on how to read a bike tire size.
With road bikes, it’s all the same, but with gravel bikes, your tire might read something like 26x”some” inches. In mountain bikes or gravel bikes the numbers are going to be in the American version, which is in inches, So let’s suppose the tire that I am reading has the numbers (26×1.95).
Now 26 means that it will be 26 in diameter, and 1.95 will be the width of the tire. If you cannot find this numbering system, you will have the ETRTO version. The ETRTO will also state some figures.
On my tire, it said 53-559. 53 means 53 millimeters in the width of the rim while 559 resonates the diameter of the rim.
Choosing A Gravel Tire – What You Need To Consider
When choosing a gravel tire, the most important thing that you will need to consider is the type of track you will be riding on. You have to work out a ratio of how much off-roading and on-road cycling you are going to do because this will heavily influence the kind of tire that will be right for you.
The most popular wheel size for gravel bikes is the 700c. The 700c is followed by the 650 B. The 650 B is a smaller wheel size that allows you to host bigger volume tires.
Related: How To Measure Bike Wheel Size
The most important thing that you should be considering is the tire width. It is a rule of thumb that bigger is better. Generally, it is understood that a bigger tire will give you more traction and cushioning making your ride more comfortable.
The more air volume there is between you and the ground, the less punching you will experience. However, wide tires are really heavy. These tires are also less aerodynamic so they won’t help you in case you are going for gravel racing. They have more drag.
How wide you can go with your tires also depends on how accommodating your cycle frame is. For example, if you have a cyclocross frame it will support up to only 35mm while a gravel bike might be able to support 40-45 mm. However, the new gravel bikes are able to support huge tires, as big as 50 mm.
From my experience, I can say that 40-45mm is a perfect tire width to go gravel riding but if you need more, you know you might have to upgrade your bike.
The tread pattern will determine how much traction you will be able to have on the riding surface. If you have to ride on well-maintained gravel or dirt track you can opt for a fat slick tire that is large. If you are riding on a track that is rougher with plenty of rocks and roots lying here and there, then you will need a tire with a more aggressive and burlier tread pattern.
The more big shoulder blocks, the more traction you will have. You can also opt for an intermediate tire. These are tires that have a low-profile tread pattern in the center and shoulder blocks on each side. Such tires are really great all-rounders who will perform well on all sorts of tracks.
The next important feature is tubeless and if you ask me tubeless is important if you are going to get the most out of any gravel tire. Irrespective of the tire width or its tread pattern, this is one feature that you must have.
Nonetheless, most of the tires on the market are tubeless now. You might face a compatibility issue with the rim and so while going tubeless but once you have sorted that out, you will experience the most amazing gravel ride of your life. I am talking fewer punches, more cushioning, and so on.
The general rule is that the better the knobbles will spread out on your tire the more grip it will provide you. The bigger tire you will get the less rolling there will be. The knobbles on your tire deform when you are ridding over rocks and rough edges which is how they reduce or increase the rolling resistance. This is the reason why thin tires are faster.
IceBike’s Expert Opinion To Help You Find The Right Size
With so many different types of gravel trains out there, it can be really hard to know what size is going to be right.
Are You Actually Going To Ride Gravel?
Gravel has now become a very loose term that is being used to describe pretty much any kind of off-roading. Sometimes the track is more suited to a mountain bike but since it has no proper road we consider it to be gravel.
There is an obvious difference between the two tracks and you can only find the perfect tire if you know your track. Nonetheless, you should remember faster rolling and smaller knobbles are actually gravel whereas slower rolling and faster knobbles are for mud tracks and other similar tracks.
Is Going Widder Wiser?
A wider tire means more comfort. This is because of its ability to run at lower pressures without damaging the rim. Thus, these pressures deliver a smoother ride for you on rough surfaces. When it comes to grip since there is a wider area of the tire touching the ground, the grip will also be better. In a nutshell, wider tires will provide you with better control.
Since there is more material being used to make these wider tires, they are less aerodynamic and heavier. So if you are not going to be ridding over let’s say big rocks and real gravel, wider is not going to be wiser for you.
Mixing And Matching
Another secret is that you can also mix and match your tires. Hear me out! what you can do is that at the front of your bike, you can use a slower tire but one with more grip. On the rear end of your bike, you can opt for a faster but slightly less grippy tire.
The reason is that there is more load on the read-end tire as compared to the front-end. This makes it easier for you to control your bike.
A Smaller Wheel Means A Bigger Tire
The 700cc is the most common size of wheel that we come across on gravel bikes. But riders have now adopted a new technique of going with a smaller wheel size (650b) so that they can install a bigger tire. The plus point of this is that since the wheel is not big, you’ll have more clearance between the front fork’s inside and the inside of the rear chain stays. This also means more space near the front derailleur.
Minding The Tire Direction
The direction in which you will mount the tires is very important. Usually, there is an arrow that shows you the right direction but this might not be the case always. Sometimes we tend to mount the rear one the wrong way to the front one.
Now, this won’t mess with your speed but it will surely mean less grip. See the printed directions on your tires before installing them.
The Best Gravel Tires
As a little treat from us to you, I decided to add some extra information that might come in handy for you since you are looking for the best tire width for your gravel bike, here is an overview of the best gravel tire brands that you can get your hands on.
1-WTB Resolute Tcs Light SG-2
These are open-treaded gravel tires which makes them perfect for rough conditions. The SG-2 puncture-resistant layer makes it best for all kinds of weather and ridding. While we tested these tires at a mix of different kinds of pressure that were officially recommended (25-20 PSI).
It might not be the fastest while you are riding on the road but then again, it’s not really designed for that. It delivered really impressive traction on climbs as well.
2. Maxxis Receptor
Maxxis Receptor is a lightly treaded tire that is incredibly fast. The combination of a sleek design and somewhat puncture resistance makes it outperform hard packs.
Its average speed is almost the same as a road bike tire. It’s smooth, efficient, and performs really well if you know what kind of terrain you can use it for. It has a 120 TPI carcass which is thin.
3. Vittoria Terreno Dry G2.O
This kind of tire is for both dirt roads and tarmac rides. While testing this one, we found out that it has a central section along with a fish scale tread in which the hexagonal scales that have different heights.
This gives the tire more grip. The tread might not be very deep but it gives the tire good traction and offers a smooth delivery on loose as well as rough surfaces. What’s best is that it even works best on muddy or a little wet tracks.
More on Gravel Bikes:
What Is A Gravel Bike Wheel Size?
700cc or a slightly smaller 650b goes well with many gravel frames. The frames on most modern gravel bikes are made to accustom both wheel sizes.
What Is The Best Tire Size For Gravel Bikes?
Generally, 28mm-32mm is considered the best tire size for gravel bikes but then again it depends on the kind of track you are choosing to ride on. Nonetheless, this size is best for well-maintained gravel roads.
Is 38mm Enough For Gravel?
38mm tires are enough for occasional gravel ridding. If you have the right wheel size to go with your 38mm, it can become the best choice for pavement riding.
To conclude, getting the right tire mainly depends on determining the kind of surface you will be riding on. My recommendation would be wide tires for the rough slots or else you can go for the 40mm tires which are really perfect for handling a lot of terrain without messing with your speed or aerodynamics to a great extent. One thing that I sometimes do is use my mountain bike tires on my gravel bike. You can only do this if they fit the width according to your bike.
Don’t forget, Smaller Knobbles and a Medium Width are perfect for riding on American gravel tracks, which is the real gravel by the way. Nonetheless, if you are opting for pavement ridding or something closer to a gravel track but not really gravel, a 30 mm tire is going to be your best shot.
It’s going to be difficult since you have to work out your riding preferences but trying out different things to see what works for you is what makes cycling fun.