I've had my mountain bike for three summers now and I love it. I bought it for the ability to ride on different terrains and build endurance. Since my primary goal is weight loss and cardiovascular health, I've found that I ride mostly on paved surfaces during typical rides. I do often ride on bike trails for long endurance rides. These trails consistently have crushed limestone surfaces, as well as pavement.

I've considered purchasing road tires due to my extensive presence on pavement, but how well do road tires perform on crushed limestone and/or tightly packed gravel? Do road tires sink a little on crushed limestone, causing lots of friction?

I don't want to spend the money on the conversion just to find the answer on this question.

I will be riding on paved & crushed limestone/gravel during the same ride.

  • 1
    You tag this question "mountain bike". Do you therefore have 26" tyres currently?
    – PeteH
    Jul 9, 2014 at 15:26
  • Yes. They are the default tires that came on my Giant Revel 2 26 x 2.1 Jul 9, 2014 at 15:37
  • 2
    If the gravel is well-packed then ordinary street tires will do fine on it. The real issue is how rough the gravel is and hence how low you need to run the pressure, coupled with how wide the tire needs to be. The tread is not an issue unless the gravel is tending towards mud. Jul 9, 2014 at 15:48
  • (I commonly ride short distances (a half mile or a mile) on gravel with my 100 psi nearly bald 35mm touring tires. If I were going farther I'd consider lowering the pressure to maybe 75, for comfort. But I avoid loose gravel -- if you have much of that you need a wider, lower pressure tire, since loose gravel will "suck in" even a 35mm tire.) Jul 9, 2014 at 15:52

4 Answers 4


Look for city or touring tires. Road in bicycle means more of a racing tire.

A tire like this go pavement and packed nicely Travel CONTACT. Almost all manufacturers will have tires like this. A road type tread in the middle but a little grip on the edges for if you do sink a little.

Great answer from Batman (+1) but I don't think the Gravel Plus is an optimal tire for the needs you state. One it does not come in a 26 but you did not state that in the original question. The Gravel Plus is a relatively light race inspired tire. I commute on cyclycross that I also ride on light trails and I was buying the most roady "cyclocross" I could find and was burning through them every 6 months because they are soft light race inspired tires and not designed to be run on the street. I finally figured out to look in touring / city with a bit of tread.

Yes a 25mm pure road tire will sink in gravel. But don't get a 25mm tire. Get a tire the width of your current knobby or slightly less.

You stated you have 26 X 2.1 now. If you sink a bit now then stay at that width. If you don't sink then I would drop down to 1.75.

  • The TravelCONTACT is a very durable tyre; I have a pair showing almost no treadwear despite the sidewall showing its age and cracking through the branding!
    – Emyr
    Jul 9, 2014 at 16:49
  • Thanks everyone for the great recommendations. I went with the Continental Double Fighter II and I really like them! Jul 21, 2014 at 16:14

Gravel tires are normally a little knobby: gravel grinder tire versus completely smooth for a road tire.

One strategy is to run a gravel or combination tire in the front and a road tire in the back. A combination tire is one which is nearly slick in the middle with knobs on the sides, so you might want to try one road tire on the back and one gravel tire on the front. Combination tires aren't great at road or off road, but they're passable on each. Certainly will be an improvement if you're running big knobby tires on the road, but not as much of an improvement as if you went to complete slicks. Two combo tires might be more durable than a combo/off road tire and a road tire though.

The main issue is that gravel is sharper than asphalt, so you'll want a bit tougher of a tire. On the other hand, if you're mostly on the road, knobs are bad. So you'd have to play around with it to some extent.

For what its worth, I currently have an old mountain bike with Geax Evolution tires on the front and back (they're combination tires). If the gravel is packed enough and you're not overly zealous, they seem to work fine. The rolling resistance on the road isn't bad either (though they are a bit noisy, and you'll want to play with tire pressures for gravel and road). Another good option might be something like Kenda Kwick or WTB All Terrain or Specialized Burrough (all slightly more expensive and not exactly equivalent, but the idea is there).


You have 26" tyres currently, there are certainly "slicker" options available to you. I think its quite easy to obtain tyres which go down to about 1.25" wide.

This is not the crazy narrow 23mm (or less) that you might typically see on a road bike (and really, these bikes can only be ridden on the road), but on tarmac/asphalt you'll certainly notice a difference if you're currently riding 2.1".

I think ultimately you will have to work out a trade. The narrower the tyre, the better performance you'll get on the road, but the worse performance you'll get on gravel. You might need to do a bit of trial and error here.

You seem to say that you will either ride road or gravel, but not both in a single ride. One other option therefore is to keep two sets of wheels, one with narrow slicks on, the other with your current tyres. Obviously this is quite a costly solution but you do win in terms of having the most "ideal" tyres on any given ride.

  • Actually, the performance has more to do with tire pressure. It's just that narrower tires tend to be run at higher pressure. Jul 10, 2014 at 11:53

I have done quite a bit of touring on my Surly Long Haul Trucker which includes 1,000 + kilometres of dirt riding 1.

On my Surly for such tours I fitted Schwalbe Marathon Mondial HS 428 47-622 tyres and prior to that for an early tour again with a fair bit of dirt roads I fitted Schwalbe Marathon Cross HS 334 700Cx38. Both tyres have proven to be more than adequate performers on the dirt and road.

They also have quite good puncture protection but on the downside they can be heavy. Schwalbe do offer similar tyres in 26" so may be worth a look. They also have a very handy rating system for their tyres which makes deciding that much easier.

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1 For those interested you can read more about the tour on my blog here. The photo was taken on the Carnarvon to Mullewa leg

Regards Andrew

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