Gravel Grinders: Tyres for the Dirty Reiver

It seemed such a great idea when I entered the Dirty Reiver but now the thought of riding 200km in April for a gravel race from England to Scotland and back seems a little ambitious. This is the first long distance gravel bike riding event in the UK based on the popular Gravel Grinder events in the United States. Given I quite like riding long distances on gravel, I thought I should enter. On reflection I expect these forest roads to be pretty rough going and more tiring, even before I clock up 200km. While I’ve ridden all winter I have struggled to put in many long day rides and feel under prepared. Ideally I would have liked a month riding at least one 100 mile ride a week but that’s not happened due to a lingering cold and the awful Scottish weather! However it’s too late to do anything now so my thoughts have turned to what kit to use and mostly tyre choice.

UK Gravel Racing Tyre Options

My preference is always going skinny and light but this needs to be weighed up against the abuse that 200km of rough gravel track will give the tyres, the bike and most importantly my backside!
It is finding a balance between puncture protection, weight, grip and volume to give comfort. The rougher the track the wider the tyre, more chunky tread doesn’t always grip better in gravel and will drag a lot so I’m mostly looking at low profile options. I don’t know what condition the route is in but assume it will be rough in places but not dry, deep and particularly loose gravel.

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 32/33mm width personally, and in the lighter Conti, but both are well regarded. However these tyres will grip morn you think but are maybe just too heavy for this event, even though they won’t break or puncture on you.
The Classic Schwalbe Marathon These are heavier but a go to tyre for so many.
I have used these Continental Touring Plus and they’ve been great on gravel, lighter than the Schwalbe’s but still hefty. Never punctured in a year using them from Tajikistan to the blue at Glentress. Scotland.
Continental Touring Plus

The CycloCross options
These tyres are normally lighter, grippier but more puncture and maybe roll slightly slower than the others on harder gravel. I think one on the front is a good option for comfort. On the back is maybe asking for pinch flats.
I like the look of these conti ones in 35mm for the Dirty Reiver:
Continental Cyclocross Speed
These are reduced here, but still not cheap. Challenge Chicane good on front for looser corners
These are again maybe an option on front but I don’t think I’ll use it on back due to sidewall strength more than anything on rough rock sections: Sammy Slick

Pave style

These first came to my attention for racing Paris-Roubaix last year, these are certainly a racy choice for gravel, strong, robust, light and fast and despite the fact they are only 27mm quite grippy. Don’t get me wrong they’ll be sketchy on deeper gravel but so fast on hard stuff! Best results a tubeless setup would allow slightly lower pressures for a token gesture towards comfort and grip. Given 33mm plus recommended I don’t think I’ll use them for the Dirty Revier.
Vittoria Pave tyres

Gravel specific
These are a newish generation of tyres with small tread but massive surface area to add grip. Usually in around 28mm to 32mm for road focused ones and then 38mm for deeper gravel and more comfortable options. I’m looking at around 32mm for the rear. Who needs more grip and comfort 😉
This wider gravel option from Challenge will be comfortable and still pretty fast:
Challenge Gravel Grinder

Another comfort and grippy looking option that looks really good in 32mm for the rear and 40mm also for looser stuff. Designed just for gravel I’m pretty tempted by this on the rear for Dirty Reiver.
Panaracer Gravel King SK
The road focused Panaracer gravel king is skinny but light and fast and I’m tempted by this on the front.
Panaracer Gravel

A road focused 30mm tyre from Challenge that I like the look of but not necessarily the price and maybe a bit skinny:
Chain Reaction Cycles

Wide Road tyres

This is a gamble but I like the idea of a 32mm Continental Gatorskin on the front to roll well and they do grip on loose stuff when weighted well and drifting a bit. I rode across Kyrgyzstan on plenty of gravel with just 28mm Gatorskins so they do work. If it’s dry I would be tempted but any mud and these suffer badly, so realistically not a good option.
Continental Gatorskin 32mm

Gearing Options

I don’t think a MTB 1x set up gives enough range for gravel racing as I would want a 46 on the front in wide narrow.
A double 50/34 on the front with a 11:28+ range on the back seems a good option. I have gone with a triple 28:36:46 on the front and 11:28 on rear. This stops me pushing a 50 too much and straining my legs. It also opens up the option of spinning the steep stuff later on in ride. It also slower than you think riding for so long on gravel, so a 50 would be a bit big.

This is a no brainer, being 6ft 4″ I need drop bars to hide from the wind and I have my Kinesis Tripster ATR which is the perfect bike for this race. Titanium or steel is by far the better option for munching miles on rough terrain. I would have liked to swap my Kinesis CX Lite wheels for a lighter and a tubeless setup but time and funds are against me.
BEST tip is probably double bar tape, this was great for Paris-Roubaix on the rough cobbles, I strongly recommend it unless you have tiny hands!

Other Stuff
Getting everything on the bike so no back pack is vital. A frame top bag, saddle pack and my new snack bar bag from Apidura should be sufficient to carry food, kit and spares. Two water bottles should be enough for April riding with feed stops, a drop of Loc-tite on the bolts is always good plan too!

If anyone has any thoughts to add I’d be keen to hear them!


  1. I’ve signed up this year and I will be tackling it on a Wilier Cento CX that I just bought towards the end of last year. It seemed like a good idea at the time however I am still recovering from a RTC in October so will need to cram in some miles before the event. Plumped on this webpage as I browse tyres to replace the stock tyres fitted to the bike. At the moment I’m thinking Challenge Gravel Grinder 700 x 38c being sold at the moment at a reasonable price by Planet X.

    • Good luck with the training it’s a good event for sure, I won’t say you’ll enjoy it at the time! I concluded with tyres there’s no right or wrong options, think 700×38 would be best width and those are similar to the Vittoria tyre I ran in 31mm which was bit harsh and narrow but worked well tread wise. It is rough going at times on the course but much wider than 38mm and the drag takes its toll. I just bought some 40mm Nanos and a rock cut them on the first ride, fairly unimpressed with them. I would like tubeless for this year though so looking at other options.

      • Hi, thanks for that. I’m pretty used to long distance events and that’s my kind of thing. I’m over in Brittany for 7 weeks from beginning of March so intend to get a good bit of gravel riding in over there and put the tyres I choose to the test.

  2. I went stock on my Alpkit Sonder ti which came with 1×11 gears but wide range and low and the Nano 40 setup tubeless …. had no issues whatever in the race. Although only did the 135km version it was very quick 23.5kmh average and 5h36 finish. I carried too much food though as didn’t know the feed stations would be sooooo good

    • Sounds an ideal set-up, love the ride/speed of the 40mm WTB Nanos but I just got so many tubeless punctures on the gravel tracks here in the Tweed Valley. I think it could be the higher pressures I run them at but the Rails are definitely more robust for same weight and speed.

      You’ll have to try the 200km next year if only for the fact 150km was the best food stop 🙂

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