Posted in Cycle

If you ride a gravel bike, you’ll need to choose the right tyres for the terrain so you get the right balance between rolling resistance, comfort and puncture protection. Our guide explains how.  

Fast and light enough for long weekend road rides, robust enough to thrash around the trails, you can see why gravel bikes are also known as ‘adventure bikes.’ Strap on some luggage and your gravel bike is perfect as a commuter bike. You can even take it bike-packing. 

This versatility is why we love gravel bikes, but it can make choosing the right tyres feel daunting. The wide spectrum of what you could use on a gravel bike ranges from the roadie’s favourite Continental GP 5000 at the very tame end through to the knobbly, rugged WTB Resolute.  

The most important thing when you choose a gravel tyre is that it’s right for the kind of terrain you’ll be riding. Whilst most rides will take you across varied terrain, especially if you’re hopping on-and-off road, it’s likely that you can generalise. We’ve identified five broad categories of terrain to help you to choose the right tyres. 

1. Rough roads

This is just a little on the gnarly end of road riding. The road feels a bit jarring and you're starting to feel slightly shaken by the road buzz. This could be rural roads with a poorly maintained surface, cobbles, or roughly paved surfaces.

You might be fine with a road tyre, especially if the majority of your riding is on decent quality tarmac, but a gravel-specific tyre will have more grip. 

For a more comfortable ride and less road chatter, go for a greater tyre width than you would buy for a road bike. The increased volume will absorb the vibrations making for a smoother ride.

Recommended gravel tyres for rough roads

Panaracer Gravel King Gravel Road Adventure Bike TyresPanaracer Gravel King Folding Road Tyre

Sizes: 700x23c, 26c, and 28c
Weights: 220g, 240g, and 270g

Tubeless compatible: No

Made from a ZSG natural compound, the Panaracer Gravel King Road Tyre feels smooth and fast on-road.

Combined with their AX-a technology, these tough tyres will resist punctures without weighing you down. 

2. Smooth but gravelly

You've ventured further off the road most travelled onto unpaved, smooth dirt tracks and bridleways. The ground is still pretty solid, but there's loose dirt on the top which means you'll need something with a bit more grip so you don't wash out on the corners.

Look out for tyres with a slick central strip for faster rolling. An aggressive tread on the outside will provide grip on corners when you need it.

A tyre width in the 30s, or even 40s, will give you enough volume to run a lower pressure, increasing grip and comfort.

Recommended tyres for smooth but gravelly roads

WTB Venture TCS Road Tyre

Sizes: 700c x 50c, 650b x 47c

Weight: 555g

Tubeless compatible: Yes

Developed to cope with both unstable gravel and smooth tarmac, the WTB Venture is lightweight and fast-rolling.

When you hit a climb, you'll notice these tyres offer superb traction, whilst the treads at the edges are optimised for stability at speed on loose terrain.

They're tubeless-ready and feature reinforced casing so you can worry less about punctures and just get on with enjoying the ride. 

3. Loose gravel

Now you're really getting into the rough stuff - loose gravel on top of a hard-packed or tarmac surface.

It's a bit more bumpy and washy than level two so you'll need a tyre in at least a 38-40mm width. This allows you to run an even lower pressure so that the tyre can form over lumps and bumps, giving you a plush ride. 

Bigger knobs and lugs mean you'll benefit from enhanced grip for more cornering confidence.

Recommended tyres for loose gravel

WTB Raddler Gravel Road Adventure Bike Tyres

WTB Raddler TCS Light Rolling Tyre

Sizes: 700x40c, 700x44c

Weight: 490g (40c), 526g (44c)

Tubeless compatible: Yes

The narrow tread pattern on the Raddler TCS is an evolution on the popular Riddler, giving you a smooth-rolling yet grippy tyre. Chunky outer-knobs inspire confidence in slippy situations. 

The combination of tread sizes is ideal for rides where you need increased traction but you also don't want to be slowed down.

4. Aggressive gravel

Similar to level three, at level four you'll be riding over hard-packed surfaces topped with loose gravel but you'll also encounter bigger rocks.

A larger volume will allow you to run an even lower tyre pressure, decreasing the impact as you roll over bumps. 

Recommended tyres for aggressive gravel

Panaracer Gravel King SK Folding Tyre

Sizes: 700x32c, 700x35c, 700x38c, 700x43c

Tubeless compatible: Yes

Like the lighter Panaracer Gravel King, the SK Folding Tyre is incredibly puncture-resistant thanks to a puncture protection breaker.

Available in a range of sizes, we recommend the 43c for best performance on punchy trails with loose rocks and roots.

5. Technical gravel trails

Now we're almost into mountain bike terrain. You'll have to contend with big roots and possibly even small drops and other technical trail features.

If your frame is compatible with 650b/27.5, it might be worth downsizing from 29". A smaller wheel size allows extra volume but you end up with same circumference as if you had 29" wheels. You'll need to check fork clearance if you're running a high volume tyre and make sure that there's no rubbing.

Recommended tyres for technical gravel trails

Schwalbe G-One Ultrabite SnakeSkin Tubeless Tyre

Sizes: 28" 2.00"

Weight: 440g(700c), 460g (650b)

Tubeless compatible: Yes

A sturdy choice in all weather conditions, the WTB Resolute has generous spacing between the lugs so that mud doesn't become lodged and weigh you down. 

The supple construction will conform to trail objects with ease and the lighter weight won't feel like a burden when you need to go fast.


Get the balance right

Because the majority of routes you'll be riding on will feature varied terrain and surfaces, when you're choosing tyres for your gravel bike you'll need to accept a degree of compromise between speed and grip.

Don't be tempted to go overboard on chunky tyres if the majority of your riding is relatively smooth or you'll end up wasting energy. A larger tyre volume lets you run a lower pressure which means you'll benefit from the increased grip, but you'll also experience increased rolling resistance which makes each pedal turn a little bit harder. 

If you expect to be hitting some pretty gnarly trails, a bulky, knobbly tyre is more sensible because what you lose in speed, you make up for with grip and comfort so your ride will be a lot more fun.

Should I go tubeless for gravel?

If you're riding anything more gravelly than our level one, we recommend you upgrade to tubeless. Uneven terrain combined with lower tyre pressures can make pinch-flats a lot more likely. With no inner, you've got no worries. 

Off-road, you're more likely to encounter sharp objects on the ground which can penetrate the tyre. Nobody wants to spend their day changing inner-tubes. If you go tubeless, you can often just keep rolling along and the rotation of your wheel will cause the sealant to repair any holes. 

Upgrade your riding style

Upgrading your gravel tyres will only get you so far. The correct gravel riding technique will help you to get the most from your ride.

About the author

NChamanian's picture
Nassrin Chamanian
Published on: 07 Sep 2020

Pretty OK at bikes. Enthusiasm outstrips ability.