Choosing the right width gravel tire for your bike can be confusing and complicated at first but it’s quite easy when you understand some of the basics.
The best way to choose your gravel tire is to understand the type of terrain you’ll be riding. The rougher the terrain you’ll be riding, the wider the tires you’ll need for your bike. You’ll also need to balance tire width with a few other factors, as well.
In this article, we’ll discuss what to consider when choosing gravel bike tires and give you a quick guide to understanding tire widths. We’ll also take a quick look at the best types of tires for different types of gravel riding. But first, let’s talk about what to consider when choosing your gravel bike tires.
What to consider when choosing gravel bike tires
There are a number of things to consider when choosing the best tires for your gravel bike.
First, you need to look at the terrain you will be riding on. The term gravel doesn’t just mean gravel, it actually covers a wide diversity of terrain from tarmac, to light gravel, to dirt, and sometimes even a bit of single track or even cobblestones. The more difficult the terrain, the wider the tires you’ll need to choose.
You’ll also need to consider:
- Tread pattern
- Tire Width
- Tire Pressure
Your speed is a big consideration when choosing a gravel tire. If you are riding more on the road than on actual gravel, you’ll want a narrower tire that can roll a bit faster.
Thinner tires need to be run at higher tire pressure and they also have less rolling resistance. You’ll go faster and feel the road surface more. However, thin tires on real gravel can mean lots of punctures and difficulty getting through the terrain.
Basically, choosing the best gravel tires is like making a series of compromises.
Wider tires mean less flats and punctures and a much more comfortable ride. You get a more comfy ride because the wider tires are able to absorb a lot of vibration from the ground. However, the wider the tire, the greater the rolling resistance. Wider tires are heavier and slower, so you’ll sacrifice a good bit of speed for comfort and safety.
Tire tread is another factor to consider when choosing your gravel tires.
If you are riding more hard-packed fine gravel, you can go with a tread that is a little bit slicker in the center with some rougher tread towards the outside. This will give you a little more speed on paved road. However, if your terrain is rougher or more varied, you’ll want a deeper tread to give you more traction.
For a fast gravel tire, you can run them as thin as 28 mms. However, this is not going to be a very comfortable ride at all and will limit the type of terrain you can ride on. These are best used for poorly maintained tarmac or very hardpacked gravel. These are good if you are putting some gravel tires on your road bike, because they usually will fit bicycles with rim brakes.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can find gravel tires as wide as 50mm. These will tackle a lot rougher terrain and give you a much smoother ride. However, you will sacrifice speed and weight as these are a much heavier, slower roller tire.
Ideally, you’ll find something that falls in the middle, giving you a good variety of terrain without sacrificing too much speed or weight.
At Unbound, a famous gravel bike race, you’ll find that many racers are running 700c tires at a width of 40 to 42 mm with a pressure between 30 and 40 psi (source). This is a good clue to the new gravel rider that finding something in the middle – a nice balance of width to terrain type, is a great place to start.
Tire Width and Terrain Type
|Width||Good for||Not good for|
|28 mm||Tarmac, fine crushed stone, speed||Rocks, rough terrain|
|30 mm||Wet, gritty roads||Rocks, rough terrain|
|32 mm||Dry conditions, climbing||Single track|
|35 mm||Mix of road surfaces||Large loose rocks|
|38 mm||Mix of road surfaces||Large, loose rocks|
|40 mm||Gravel, hard pack, dirt||Speed on road surfaces|
|45 mm||Gravel, hard pack, dirt||Speed on road surfaces|
|50 mm||Singletrack, gravel||Road or Speed|
Characteristics of various gravel tire widths
28 mm gravel tires
28 mm gravel tires are a good transitional tire for roadies to try out a little bit of graveling. You can fit these skinny tires on your standard road bike and ride on very finely crushed stone.
This will give you a nice feel for what gravel riding is like and you won’t sacrifice much in the way of speed. However, you will feel the vibrations of the road with a tire this thin.
If you take it on very rough terrain, you’ll be more prone to flats and sidewall cuts.
30 mm gravel tires.
30mm gravel tires aren’t very wide at all. They’ll give you some grip, but they are really best suited for wet, gritty winter riding or well-maintained fine crushed stone.
These make great commuter tires if you need an all-around tire. You can most likely fit these on your standard road bike, though, which is a nice bonus if you aren’t in the market for a gravel bike.
32 mm gravel tires
If you’ve done any cyclocross, you might use a 32 or 33 mm gravel tire. This is the max width that a CX tire can go.
Most likely, you’ll have enough clearance in your road bike for this size tire (unless you’re using rim brakes, and then it just depends on the bike). If you’re very skilled, you can manage some gravelly roads and hills with this size tire.
They’ll get you through dirt, mud, sand, and grit, if needed, but they also ride well on rough, paved roads.
35 mm gravel tires
When you move up to slightly wider 35 mm tires, you’ll be looking at a little more comfort, a little more grip, and you can run a slightly lower tire pressure without fear of pinch flats.
You might give up a little bit of speed on tarmac, and you probably won’t be able to fit 35 mm gravel tires on a road bike that has rim brakes. However, these are great for mixed surfaces, such as bike touring or bike packing where you might go from road to trail.
Avoid big ugly rocks, though, because you won’t have much cushion to get over them.
38mm gravel tires
38 mm tires are great for cornering on tarmac because they give you lots of grip. You might sacrifice a little bit of speed on the tarmac overall, but you’ll gain a lot of comfort and confidence with the extra grip.
38s are perfect for mixed terrain, especially when you have to go through rough pavement, light gravel, and tarmac.
40 mm gravel tires
This size tire is the optimal size for most types of gravel riding, especially if you have the option of running 650b tires (learn about various tire sizes here).
You’ll get loads of traction, and the extra tire volume means that you get an even plusher ride with lower air pressure. You probably won’t be hitting any singletrack with these tires, but they’ll get you through most types of gravel terrain, especially if you choose extra knobby tread.
45 mm gravel tires
If your gravel bike has enough tire clearance, 45 mm gravel tires are the ultimate in comfort. Offering great grip and nice low pressure, you’ll have a cushy ride that will manage most gravel, dirt, and sand.
If you love gravel but don’t love the vibration of the road, 45 mms are a great solution. Extra knobby tires will help get you through some mud and muck, as well.
50 mm gravel tires
You’re not going to go very fast at all if you take 50 mm gravel tires onto the road. However, it will get you through some really rough gravel.
The extra air volume in the tires will absorb vibrations much like a suspension, so you’ll get a smooth ride. With tires this wide, you’ll definitely need disc brakes and you might not be able to fit fenders.
Tires of this width work best with 650b-sized rims rather than 700c. Not all gravel bikes can support tires this wide, however, it your gravel bike does, it might be worth the investment for the extra comfort and suspension you get from these super wide tires.
Best gravel tires for pavement
The Terra Speed is a fast tire with a shallow tread, making it great for pavement, rough roads, and hard pack. This tire is also great for quick cornering and is tubeless ready. You can find it here.
Keep in mind that a tire that is fast on pavement won’t fare as well on gravel, but it an all around gravel tire will get you through some rough road.
Best gravel tires for a road bike
If you’re looking to throw a pair of gravel tires on your road bike, you’ll need something pretty slim. We like Gravel King SS Folding Gravel Tires because they are available as thin as 28 mm.
This is a great way to try out some lighter gravel roads and see if you enjoy it before investing in a gravel bike. These are also great if you just want to hit some easy trails. You won’t be able to get too crazy, but you will have the opportunity for a nice ride. Check out the Gravel King tires here.
Lightest gravel tires
The Hutchinson Sector is a lightweight semi-slick gravel tire. It isn’t great for mud, but this lightweight tire will give you plenty of grip on rough roads and hard pack. The Sector really shines on cobblestones. You can check out this tubeless alternative, here.
Best all terrain gravel tires
If you love all-terrain adventures, you might love the Kenda Alluvium Pro Gravel Tire. This tire is a treat to ride anywhere from pavement to single track. With puncture protection and tougher sidewalls, you’ll get less flats, tread that is optimized for speed, and in a tubeless -ready package so you can really enjoy low tire pressure.
Best gravel tires for sand
Sand is difficult to ride on. It takes a lot of watts to power through, not to mention grit and tread. The best gravel tires for sand are probably GravelKings SK tires, with their aggressive tread. Check them out, here.
Best gravel tires for touring
Bike touring is definitely an endurance sport. You need a tire that will last for miles and miles, is extremely puncture resistant, and will handle both tarmac and trails with comfort. In this case, you’ll like the Continental Travel Contact Tire, with a smoother tread in the center and knobby tread on the sidewalls, and a tough as nails steel bead.
Best gravel tires for speed
Race day means you have a need for speed and the GravelKing SS tires deliver just that. These tires perform best in dry conditions but are strong and sturdy and give you plenty of speed for your fastest gravel races.
Best gravel tire for commuting
If commuting by gravel bike is your thing, you’ll want a solid tire that resists punctures on all types of terrain. This do it all tire, the Sawtooth 2Bliss Ready, gives you everything you need for your commute. Its reinforced center offers extra support for high mileage. These tires are extra tough to resist punctures and carry heavy loads. They’ll easily take you over all surfaces, from tarmac to trails, so you can get to your job on time.
While there is no single perfect gravel tire, there are a lot of great tires available. To figure out the best tire for you, first look at the type of riding you’ll be doing. You’ll always want a wider, knobbier tire for rougher terrain, but it has to fit into your bike, as well. Once you understand all the factors that go into selecting the best gravel tire for you, you’ll be able to choose a great tire for your ride.