Tyre Choice for the 2017 Dirty Reiver gravel race

Hands up, my blog for last year’s inaugural Dirty Reiver about tyre choice was a little bit off the mark. The tracks were rougher and bumpier than I expected and while I like a fast and narrow tyre, most of the options suggested were a little bit too skinny and narrow!

2017 and I’m back in the Dirty Reiver,  a little less fit and unfortunately now knowing just how much hard riding lies ahead. However at least I have a much better idea of what tyres to run!

I finished in the top 20 running 31mm Vittoria Cross XN tyres on front and a 37mm Continental Travel Contact on the rear, not an obvious combo but the logic was fast and light on the front and heavier and robust on the back.

These were certainly fast but the feedback fatigued my entire body pretty ruthlessly and how the heck I managed not to puncture the Vittoria is still a mystery to me. To help avoid punctures on the skinny 31mm tyre I ran over 75psi and similar on the back, the Travel Contact is a pretty rigid tyre that makes for a harsh ride, but with minimal grip it rolls fast, however I believe the extra muscle fatigue from the solid tyres outweighed the speed advantages. On most trips since I’ve punctured the Vittoria on gravel tracks too!
While not as rough and abusive on tres and wheels as the Three Peaks was there were still lots of people fixing punctures during the race so it’s important to get the right tyres.

 

1. Tubeless is the way forward
Lower pressures and more compliant for comfort, self sealing sealant for pinch flats and lighter rotational weight. I’ve been tubeless on all my trips in 2017 while riding on gravel and I won’t be going back to tubes. I expect to run about 50psi, but I know others went much lower last year and were still faster than me!

 

2. Width
40mm is about the magic number for speed/grip/tolerable comfort for the Reiver. For more comfort anything up to a 1.95″ tyre would be a good option. For faster I think a 37mm would work fine but don’t go any less than this, even if running a Lauf fork. The course is coarser than you might expect and you’ll be carrying some serious speed on the downhill sections, so don’t be tempted to run 31mm like I did as you’ll feel even more destroyed!

 

3. Wheel size

Like more and more gravel bikes I have the option on my new Tripster ATR V2 to run 650b or 700c. Either would work fine for the Reiver and running it with 650bs has been a revelation recently, it genuinely opens the door for riding so many new routes that maybe had a few sections too rough before. If you’re taking the Dirty Reiver as a challenge and not racing then 650b with 1.95″ tyres works well and reduces the fatigue from the constant feedback. However for me I like speed more than comfort and the better rolling resistance of a 700x40mm set up has won for this years event.

4. The tyres:

Gravel specific tyres
Since last year it seems there are even more options available in this niche. My first point is that there isn’t a best tyre or a winner in this review. Each tyre will vary between rolling resistance or speed, strength, comfort and grip.  The best tyre is a balance of these factors, tipping towards which one is most important to you. I’ve only listed what I think are very good tyres and explained the positives and negatives about each, either from my experience or from my research and chatting to others.

WTB Nanos

I thought these in a 40mm width was the answer, they roll fast and they’re an OK weight at 530gm for TCS version. In 2017 I have used Nanos extensively set up tubeless and I like the speed and grip but they just keep puncturing on me. Each time they have self sealed eventually but that’s about 7 punctures in 600km of riding. That’s not good enough for me. I can’t keep stopping and spinning the tyre to seal holes. I have been riding pretty fast on varied gravel tracks but I’m not exactly that heavy either. Maybe an option on the front but not the rear.

 

Vee tire – Rails

I knew nothing about Vee Tire however the Vee Tyre Rails came on my Tripster build and they have really impressed me in both a 650b x 1.95″ and 700 x 40mm. These grip really well on most surfaces but most importantly still roll incredibly well on smooth roads. The 1.95″ is just a bit too much for me in the Dirty Revier, but I’m sure it would be ideal for others interested in a wee bit more comfort over speed. I have not punctured once with the rails.
The 700x40mm Rails are tubeless ready and set up well, to be fair they perform quite similarly to the Nanos, with similar weight (480gm)and rolling resistance, but I think they grip better all with a 120TPI casing thats pretty robust. The little perforations in the blocks grip well on rock and even snow. They’re really competitively priced too, however they’re pretty hard to track down, I got mine through Upgrade Bikes.

WTB – Riddlers

A new gravel tyre model from WTB that is a bit more grippy and controllable than the Nano, depending if you go 37mm or 45mm. I’ve not used these but heard good things about them from people riding on them. I don’t think they are fast and light enough for me personallyfor doing the Reiver in either the 45mm or the even the 37mm. They are a bit heavier than other options here, but do come in Tubeless ready version. A comfort friendly option for the Reiver.

Maxxis – Rambler

A surpisingly light option (385gm), the lightest listed in the 38mm+ sizes. It is tubeless ready and rolls well, and being tubeless should cover your back a bit. With 120 TPI its a compliant ride. In comes up quite narrow, measured at just under 38mm in real life when quoted as 40mm. The EXO protection casing used in these works well for Maxxis MTB tyres, therefore it sounds like a good option for the Reiver. I’ve not seen or used these though.

Vittoria – Cross XN

A fast and light tyre that I used last year, semi slick style with minimal rubber on it anywhere. Good on the front maybe for those going fast but at 31mm they’re only for the super keen and those ready for a lot of drifting and probably punctures (although I survived last year without I punctured on most rides since)! They aren’t Tubeless ready.

 

Specialized – Trigger


Fast but heavier than you might expect looking at them, but still a respectable (490gm for 38mm). There’s more rubber to these than they appear. They are 38mm or 47mm so bit wider than some and even in a 33mm to compare to the Vittoria Cross XNs, as look similar design. They come ‘2Bliss’ ready so can pump full of sealant and a much better bet than the above Vittoria’s for the Reiver. Supposedly a strong tyre and fast rolling just a bit bulkier than you might expect looking ay the minimalist tread pattern. Also the casings are 60TPI so bit stiff feeling like the touring style tyres below and not that compliant ride.

 

Challenge Gravel Grinder


This 38mm gravel option from Challenge will be similar to the Specialized Trigger and pretty fast, however I hear mixed things about their ability to not split or puncture on the rougher stuff. However they are an interesting option. Not tubeless ready so a no go for me.

Panaracer Gravel King SK

Another comfort and grippy looking option that’s really good in 40mm for the looser stuff or 35mm if you can find it for those wanting a fast but quite robust option. Weight is OK at 490gm for 40mm. They went down pretty well in the Reiver in 2016 from what I heard and quite a few bikes were running them (they must have read my blog recomending them last year!). Designed just for gravel I’d be pretty tempted by this on the rear for Dirty Reiver. Get them in the TLC tubeless ready version.

GravelkingSK

 

Others that fit into the lightweight Cyclocross design tyre, which I think will struggle from strength and puncture resistance on rough gravel at high speed but might work for you:

Schwalbe Sammy Slick

Continental CX Speed

There’s more out there, but these cover the tyres in a sensible width that have a central ridge that works so well in gravel maintaining a good speed.

Touring style tyres

These are heavy but roll well and are super robust and almost puncture proof. They come in range of widths to suit personal preference for comfort up to 42mm. I would go for 37mm width personally, and in the lighter Continentals, but both are well regarded. However these tyres will grip more you think but are going to be loose on the corners, they’re also a bit too sturdy and uncompliant, offering a harsh stiff ride feel. I think they are just too heavy for this event, even though they won’t break or puncture on you so don’t need to be tubeless.

Continental Travel Contact

Solid centre line and side knobs and lightest ‘Touring option’. This is quite a good option and pretty fast on gravel. Little less grip than might like and they can’t reliably be set up tubeless like all touring style tyres. They give a solid harsh ride but won’t puncture and will roll well, if little sluggish from the extra weight over some of the above options.

 

Schwalbe Marathons

These are heavier but a go to tyre for so many. Reliable, bombproof, unrelenting tyre option that will get you home without issue….eventually.
Continental Touring Plus

I have used these Continental Touring Plus and they’ve been great on gravel, lighter than the Schwalbe Marathons’s but still very hefty. Never punctured in a year using them from Tajikistan to the blue at Glentress in Scotland.
IMG_4237

Conclusions
Well I hope this has helped, it’s probably just confused matters even more. If it helps I think I’ll stick with my Vee Tire Rails in 700 by 40mm. Otherwise the Maxxis look an interesting bet or the safe option is probably the Panaracer Gravel King, all set up tubeless.

However nearer the time I suspect I might go for something even lighter and faster on the front like I did last year and then later regret it!

13 Comments
  1. Nice, good info. As a fellow Tripster V2 owner I will have to search you out up in Kielder.

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    • Definitely say hi if you see me, I should stand out with my gate like 63cm Tripster! It’ll be interesting to compare the different builds people went with for the V2 as it’s so versatile. Are you sticking with 700 wheels too?

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      • Yes 700’s for now. Will be interesting to compare having done all four of the old Kielder 100 mile races on 29er. Going to be a long brutal day.

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  2. Excellent write up. I came here via the Kenesis Twitter feed, which linked to this article. Good luck at Dirty Reiver!

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    • Thanks, I think I’ll need it!

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  3. I’m voting for the Vee Tire Rails, again from Upgrade Bikes – they seem to be a bit more robust than my usual Schwalbe G-Ones.

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    • That’s interesting to hear the comparison with G-Ones after the positive feedback comments on Facebook about the Schwalbe G-Ones. I’m sure if the Rails had a different logo on them they’d be the ‘go to’ gravel tyre IMO!

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  4. Any thoughts or experience of surly Knard 41mm ?

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  5. Two weeks to go!! I’ve been running Kenda Happy Medium tyres 700 x 35c tubeless and found them pretty good on a variety of terrain, and importantly I’ve had no punctures, for this type of event I believe going tubeless is a no brainer.

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    • Totally agree about tubeless, there’s no going back! I think I’d go a bit wider than 35mm for Reiver, although I hear a rumour that the rougher wet sections have been taken out for 2017. I still love the Rails after some more miles on them, rode some rough tracks around Glentress on Friday and split the WTB Nano on the front but the Rail on the rear was like new still!

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      • I did try the WTB NANO in 40c I think, but there was zero tyre clearance on my forks, 35c is the biggest I can go I think (GT Grade).
        So I’d better double-wrap the bar tape as well!

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  6. Great write up. Looking forward to test my WTB Nanos on some local gravel routes and see if they’ll puncture. Good luck at Dirty reiver!

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    • Thanks, all went well at Reiver and loved the Rails. Hope the Nanos are holding up OK for you, the forestry tracks here are pretty rough so should be fine on most gravel.

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