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I'm about to n+1 my bike collection and am aiming for a gravel bike, in a radonneur setup with fenders and fixed-mounted lights, as shown below. (Let's ignore stories about poor LBS support for the brand shown^^)

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Basically, I want a dropbar commuter with potential for light gravel riding and bikepacking. So, it'll be primarily ridden on roads, but it should be capable to deal with dirt roads and light trails, I'd definitely consider it for routes that are not ridable on my road bike, even popular cycling routes here often include unpaved segments.

That being said, in this version it comes with a 35 mm slick tyre and set up with tubes, it'll sure roll like a dream on paved roads but I'm afraid that it is not a very pleasant ride offroad or at least prone to punctures, based on my various road bike detours, albeit on narrower 25 mm tyres. Plus, I want to go tubeless since the rims are tubeless-ready, there is potential for up to 40 mm tyres according to the manufacturer.

I'm well aware that this Q&A is not meant for product recommendations but I would appreciate some guidance what type of tyre I should go for. It'll be a lot easier when I know what to look for.

  • Am I too concerned about light gravel and a wider slick would still be OK to ride, possibly going to a tubeless setup when the from-factory tyre is worn down, mitigating the puncture risk a bit? 35mm is wider than typical road bike tyres, would lower pressures on a tubeless setup help here?
  • If I go for a gravel tyre, should I aim for something with a light/slick tread pattern in the middle or is even a moderate full-nub pattern OK? Not going for KOMs or Strava segments, indeed but it shouldn't be a slug on paved roads, either.
  • If not using slicks, will this eat the tyres away or can I still expect decent lifespans? I'm probably riding max. 3k/year and one set of tyres would be OK per season, knowing that my road bike tyres on the rear are usually worn after 5000 km.
  • I know, two sets of wheels would be ideal but I'm no big friend of swapping and another set is too expensive in relation to the overall cost of an aluminum bike in this price segment (RSVP 2499€)

I feel that I should add what my expected riding profiles are:

For the commuting part (which might be 50-70% of the yearly distance), it is pretty much community roads and suburban cycleways, so no real urban commuting in a sense that shards of glass or other kinds of debris are a major concern with regards to punctures. The route is part of one of my road bike loops and my commuter on regular, old-fashioned street tires without special puncture protection hasn't had a single puncture riding here, so I could throw on a pure road bike tire like a GP5000 and that would be totally fine.

My gravel riding is yet to be explored and established, to be honest, however, I think, it'll be limited to relatively easy terrain, I'm not intending to take this bike to a gravel race or unsupported event, so it'll be more about taking shortcuts or extended segments of dust and gravel roads in my region here in Austria or on occasional weekend trips, mud or wet grass are an exception I want to avoid, so taking a road detour or avoiding wet days, if possible.

Is this generally a good/bad idea, or overkill? Let's say the price is not too much of a concern for me and I don't have the time and knowledge to build up something custom and I like the tidy and integrated look. The probability of the bike getting stolen at my workplace is rather low, I'll keep my current cheap citybike for pub runs or when I intend to park for longer in crowded city areas. Just trying to adress some things in advance that might be part of a longer answer's prelude. ;)

I hope, this is not too vague of a question for Bicycles SE - thanks for any valuable input!

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    I have a road bike with 25mm tires and also converter my mountain bike to fully rigid 38mm slick tires. I rode gravel both bikes a lot. Sand, soft loose gravel and mud are the biggest problems. Narrow tires dig in easily and lack of thread does not allow to push through. So my recommendation would be to go with semi slick tires as wide as you can fit. On pavement have higher pressure and for rough terrain reduce it slightly.
    – Edmundas
    Aug 24, 2023 at 10:00
  • @Edmundas Yeah, based on current responses it seems that a semi-slick like the Specialized Pathfinder (just for example) would work best. Am I right in assuming that the reduced 3-5 bars on a wide tubeless tire can be easily reinflated with an handpump if I encounter a section where I have to reduce pressure? No fun trying to accomplish that with my 25 mm clinchers and tubes. :)
    – DoNuT
    Aug 24, 2023 at 10:06
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    On 25mm tires i keep 6-8 bar since with lower pressure I keep getting pinch flats. On 38mm tire I newer were precise with pressure, but it's roughly 3 bar. With mini handpumps I never had a problem to pump to 4 bar. Pumping to 6 bar require some effort and going to 6+ bar is way to hard even if pump can go to 11bar.
    – Edmundas
    Aug 24, 2023 at 10:44
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    @DoNuT on the 40mm, my default range is also in 3-3.5 bars for hard surfaces, and almost never felt a need to go lower "temporarily". The exception being when I was in Italy, on very steep (15-20%) and very rough gravel paths, but that's also the kind of environment where a mullet drivetrain is recommended if you want to do that on a gravel bike without suffering too much. Also, 5 bars is often considered to be too much for most sealants (they get out of the tire before having coagulated).
    – Rеnаud
    Aug 24, 2023 at 11:12
  • I personally wouldn't hesitate to run 35 mm, slick, tubeless tires on a commuter or a "serious" gravel bike. Once those wore out, I'd probably go a little wider (maybe with some mild side knobs), but wouldn't stress over it. "We used to do everything on 28 mm Panaracer Paselas and we LIKED it"
    – Paul H
    Aug 24, 2023 at 19:13

2 Answers 2

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I personally have not done Gravel bike, but my experience with MTB and road use probably comes to play as it is a more extreme version of your dilemma.

Firstly - the ideal tire setup is probably two sets of rims; I am sure you have considered this so won't go into any more detail.

The majority of the riding will be paved roads. You should target tires that are biased to this. The unsealed/gravel performance should not be compromised too much if at all and they will perform adequately on dry trail and grass. If you plan on riding any distance on wet trail, wet grass and mud you will need a better allrounder and have to compromise road performance.

I would aim for a fast-rolling gravel tire, probably with a lightly treaded or solid middle ridge. Going full nub on the middle rib will cost road speed and tire wear.

I know www.schwalbe.com have excellent information on their web site for making tire choices such as this, with good guides to which model of tire for what conditions.

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A few thoughts:

  • the problem is not per se to have a "gravel tire" but what you intend to when going on gravel rides. The more offroad you'll plan to go, to more you'll need to have opposite characteristics of what you need on the road. At some point, you may not be able to compromise. But if the main use is commuting, road bias is the way to go.
  • another area of compromise is suppleness vs puncture resistance, there it depends on your commuting routes. Tubeless changes the game here, my main concern would be glass, that is probably where the supple thin tubeless tires will be at disadvantage compared to a Marathon Plus. But if your routes are clean enough, that shouldn't be a problem.
  • after suppleness, the most influential item for gravel tires is humidity. Small knobs are more cable than most think on dry surfaces, their problem is when it gets wet/muddy.
  • 40mm is considered to be "race size in gravel", at low pressure, with good tires, it's surprisingly less uncomfortable than you imagine on cobblestones. I would personally not go below if off-roading it at the agenda. 45mm seems to be the new default now.
  • I tended to ignore the "touring" segment that could potentially be a good road biased compromise (if not the best). My image of this kind of tires was more of the "old-school rigid but resistant" tires, but it looks there was some interesting development in that area as well, with new tubeless tires (Schwalbe Marathon Efficiency and Allmotion).

For the anecdotal feedback:

  • on my side, for the fun bike (front-suspended hybrid with gravel-style transmission & wheels), that I use mainly on the secondary/tertiary network here (which includes cobblestones, gravel, agricultural paths) and light trails, I use small and dense knobs tires in summer (Michelin Power Gravel, same segment as Schwalbe G-One Allround/R) and deeper and more spaced treading in winter, but with an almost continuous rolling band (Pirelli Cinturato M). The difference in terms of average speed between the two is 1-2km/h.
  • my brother commutes with a mix of road, smooth gravel & forests paths (no cobblestones though). He's using the style with a slick middle ridge and light treading in the 40-45mm range (Specialized Pathfinder, Teravail Washburn). The compromise is when turning at high speed on tarmac, when transitioning from the slick part to the knobs, where obviously there's a bit less grip than fully slick tires.
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  • Thanks, that's definitely a guideline. From your and mattnz's answer, I take away that stock slick (it is a Conti GP Urban 35mm) is out of the equation, unless I want to keep it as a full road commuter. My commute is from city suburbs out in the region, I haven't seen a shard of glass and had no single puncture due to that in years. Classics are public squares and bus stations where bottles get smashed but I can totally avoid these. Will add a few of the things addressed into the initial question to make my profile clearer.
    – DoNuT
    Aug 24, 2023 at 5:44
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    @DoNuT added a note on more recent tubeless touring tires, that can in fact be the best road-focused compromise (I actually installed the 50mm Allmotion on my wife's commuter - trekking e-bike, I forgot there was a 40mm version).
    – Rеnаud
    Aug 24, 2023 at 5:54
  • Another good shout, I'll need to compare all these types tires and read some reviews but I must admit, aesthetics also play a role, so if there is a tan sidewall options, that's a plus^^ - the Specialized or Teravail definitely look like contenders, I'm aware that the slick strip will be a nightmare on mud but that is probably acceptable riding in the dry. Ideally, I will aim for a size slightly under 40 mm, using maximum clearance with fenders could be a bit tight, I imagine...
    – DoNuT
    Aug 24, 2023 at 6:14
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    But they have the reflective stripe, that is also a plus for a commuter ;)
    – Rеnаud
    Aug 24, 2023 at 6:31
  • Making sure that the setup meets legal requirements will be yet another topic but I'll focus on rideability, first.
    – DoNuT
    Aug 24, 2023 at 6:45

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