In part 1, I spoke about training for a gravel grinder.  In part 2, I want to spend time discussing the myriad of bike tires available to those looking to participate in a gravel grinder as well as give some tips to make your selection easier.

Tires

Selecting the correct tire is crucial to having the ability to climb loose pack, power through mud, and zoom on the pavement.  Tires have many areas to consider, but for the purpose of this article I will speak about 3: mounting, tread, and width.

Mounting

  • Tires can be mounted to wheels 3 ways via a clincher, tubular, or tubeless system.
    • Clincher – The most common.  With this set-up, you have the wheel, tube, and tire all separate from each other.
      • Pros – Low cost, ability to change a flat.
      • Cons – Unable to run low pressure and greater risk of pinch flats.
    • Tubular – The “pro” choice.  With this set-up, the tire is sewn around the tube and then glued to the wheel.
      • Pros – Ability to run the lowest pressure, virtually no risk of pinch flatting.
      • Cons – Price, impossible to change a flat in < 3 days due to needing to re-glue, did I mention price?
    • Tubeless – The new kid on the block.  With this set-up, the tire is held directly to the wheel with no need for a tube and utilizes a tire sealant.
      • Pros – Ability to run lower pressure compared to clincher, but with very low pressure the risk of rolling the tire off the wheel increases.  No risk for pinch flats.
      • Cons – Price, poor mounting technique, sometimes the tire will “burp” if a sharp turn is taken, or if there is a strong lateral force placed against the tire, which will reduce the tire pressure substantially.

So, what mounting system you choose depends on a lot of factors, but the majority of the riders I know and have spoken with go with a clincher system.

Tread

  • Tire treads come in 3 varieties: file, mud, and all terrain.  Each of these varieties have many more sub-varieties, but let’s save that for a later post in the Fall #crossiscoming.
    • File Tread – Think of a metal file in your high school’s shop class and you will get the idea.  This tread features many shallow and closely packed bumps that facilitate SPEED.  These are best used on dry, flat, and grassy/packed dirt courses.
    • Mud Tread – Think of a traditional mountain bike tire with the deep and prominent bumps that are spaced far apart.  This tread type is good for muddy and wet conditions (you are so smart if you guessed that!).  I have also had success in using mud tires on a course featuring lots of elevation gain over loose packed gravel/sand as it digs deeper into the surface and maintains traction better than the file / all terrain tread.
    • All Terrain Tread – Think of a hybrid between file and mud tread.  Usually, these tires will feature a file tread in the middle and mud tread on the outside.  This will allow you to cruise on the flats, but still have the traction needed for the turns.  If you can’t decide what type of tire you need, or if the gravel grinder you choose is not crazy extreme, these are the best of both worlds.

Width

  • The wider a tire is, the greater the contact patch becomes which yields increased traction over many conditions.  However, as the contact patch increases, so does the rolling resistance which can slow you down on the fire roads and pavement when you want SPEED.  Tire width can also be limited based on what your bicycle frame can support, but most will easily support a 32mm tire which will be plenty wide enough for the majority of gravel grinders.

As you can see, the process of selecting the right tire can be a daunting task.  But, with the right knowledge of the different mounting, tread, and width options available to you, as well as what your gravel grinder event dictates, you will be able to walk in to your local bike shop like a boss!

About the Author Shayne Gaffney

Shayne holds a bachelors degree in biology, is a USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, USA Olympic Committee Safe Sport Certified, and a Category 3 road and cyclocross racer. He is the owner of GC Coaching and the creator and director of P2 Cycling. He can be contacted directly via info@gaffneycyclingcoaching.com

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