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The Perfect Guide to Choosing Gravel Tires

One of the most fun and most affordable customizations for gravel bikes is changing tires. However, gravel bikes, by their very nature, are also the most difficult to choose tires for. In this article, we will thoroughly explain how best to choose tires for gravel bikes.

Modified at: 2023.11.16Posted at: 2022.9.16

Find out what tire size you can fit.

Gravel bikes are designed to accommodate larger tires than road bikes, but there is still an upper limit. The upper limit is determined by the tire clearance of the frame and the recommended tire size of the wheels.

How to determine frame tire clearance

Frame tire clearance may be listed in the manufacturer’s gravel bike spec sheet, but surprisingly, some manufacturers do not list maximum tire sizes.

If this is the case, use a ruler to measure the distance from the circumference of the tire currently installed to the frame. For example, if a 38C tire is installed and the distance to the frame is 10 mm, a tire up to 45C can be installed with 7 mm to spare.

In most cases, the recommended tire size for a wheel is listed in the specifications on the manufacturer’s official website if the wheel is sold as a stand-alone product.

If the manufacturer’s official website does not list it, or if the rim specifications are not published in the first place, as is the case with the manufacturer’s standard equipped wheels, look at the actual wheel to confirm the rim size.

Usually, wheel rim sizes are listed in a European standard called ETRTO, which states “XX-622” for 700C wheels (and vice versa) and “XX-584” for 650B wheels. The “XX” part of this number is the wheel rim size.

Once the wheel rim size is known, add 3-12 mm to that number to get the recommended tire size for the wheel. For example, if the wheel rim is “19-622,” we can estimate that 23C to 32C is the recommended size.

However, if the tire size that the gravel bike comes standard with is larger than the estimated recommended tire size for the wheel mentioned above, it means that the manufacturer says it is OK up to that size, so there is no problem if the tire is smaller than that size.

Once you know the clearance and the recommended tire size of the wheel, you can narrow down the tire size you can choose.

For example, if the frame clearance is up to 45C, but the recommended wheel size is up to 32C, the tire size should basically be up to 32C, so the maximum tire size is 32C.

Similarly, even if the wheels are compatible with larger tires such as 40C, if the frame clearance is only 38mm, 40C tires cannot be mounted.

Choose the type of gravel tire based on your riding situation.

Once you know the limits of the tire size that your gravel bike can accommodate, the next step is to decide which type of tire to install.

The tires to be mounted on gravel roads will most likely be “road bike tires” or “gravel tires”. MTB tires can also be mounted if tire clearance and wheels permit.

Slick or block?

The first decision to make when choosing the type of gravel tire is whether to use slick (slippery tires) or block (lumpy tires). This is determined by where you mainly ride.

If you mainly drive on paved roads, slick tires are more nimble. On the other hand, if you ride on unpaved roads, such as gravel roads, you should use block tires to reduce the risk of punctures.

You may be thinking, “What’s the point of having slick tires on a gravel road if you’re riding on a gravel road?” You may be thinking, "What’s the point of using the same slick tires as road tires if you’re riding gravel roads?

If you’re going to go with block tires, “how bad can you expect the road to get?”

If you want to enjoy gravel and other unpaved roads in earnest, instead of slick tires, you should choose block tires.

Block tires are available in the following three levels.

  1. gravel
  2. trail (animal trail)
  3. muddy (muddy road)

Naturally, tires that can be used on muddy roads have larger knobs and are heavier.

For more information on how to choose the right one for this area, please see the following article.

Choose your tire size!

Once you have decided on a tire type, the next step is to decide on a tire size.

Gravel bike tire sizes are denoted by the number “700 x 00C” (where 00 is the mm width of the tire).

Thinner tires are lighter and better suited for high-speed cruising on paved roads, but have the disadvantage of slipping easily on gravel and other rough terrain, and are not as comfortable to ride on due to low air volume and high pressure.

On the other hand, thick tires have good grip and air volume, and can be comfortably ridden with lower air pressure and more cushioning, but have the disadvantage of being heavier and difficult to ride at high speeds.

The question of “thin and fast or heavy and comfortable?” is the most difficult to answer with gravel roads.

You should choose here based on the kind of riding you want to do. At this point, choose within the “tire size that the bike can fit” mentioned earlier.

Consider the cost

As is the case with road bikes, tires are consumable items. As they are used, they will gradually deteriorate, developing cracks, sidecuts, and so on. On a gravel bike, which rides on rough roads, tires take more damage than on a road bike that rides on paved roads.

With this in mind, the choice of tires for gravel bikes is also very cosmetic.

Generally speaking, “light and fast tires are less durable” and "thick and heavy tires are sturdier. Of course, manufacturers are taking measures to address this as well, and there are tires that are light but durable, and tires that are thick but light and sturdy, but they are generally the flagship tires of the manufacturer, so they are more expensive.

For gravel tires, flagship tires mainly cost about $100 per tire, while Panracer’s GravelKing, which is arguably the most popular gravel tire in Japan, can be purchased for about $50 per tire. The balance between cost and performance in this area is one of the secrets of the GravelKing’s popularity.

If you prefer slicks, you can also dare to install road bike tires on a gravel bike. It is not uncommon for road tires to be very inexpensive, less than $20 per tire.

The life of a road bike tire is said to be about 5,000 km, but a gravel tire with a tire knob will last at most 3,000 km. In some cases, the knobs have worn down to slick tires after about 1,000 km.

Tire cosmetics are very important, especially if you use your gravel bike for commuting to work or school.

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