Gravel tires can be a lifesaver for any cyclist who regularly has to contend with rocky or gravelly terrain while cycling. However, choosing the right gravel tires for your bike isn’t always easy and can bring up a lot of questions. One of the biggest factors involved in choosing the perfect gravel tires for your cycling needs is determining the tire width that will work best for you.
The issue of tire width also prompts questions relating to speed. Any cyclist who is concerned about their bike speed will, naturally, want to know whether a certain type of tire will affect how fast they can travel. A very common question relating to gravel tire width and speed is whether wider gravel tires will help your bike to move faster than slimmer gravel tires. We will be answering this question in depth in this article, so stay tuned for the answer!
What are Gravel Tires?
We know you’re all anxious to know whether wider gravel tires have a positive impact on bike speed, and we promise we’ll get to the answer very soon. Before we do, though, we should probably explain what exactly differentiates a gravel tire from a regular bike tire, just so that we’re on the same page. Gravel tires, as their name suggests, are tires that are designed specifically to grip well on uneven and gravelly surfaces. Contrary to popular belief, gravel tires are not simply tires with bigger or more protrusive treads.
While it seems logical to assume that larger treads will make a tire grip its surface better, this isn’t actually the case. In fact, many gravel tires actually have smaller treads than regular or ‘road’ tires to avoid creating extra instability between the uneven surface of the terrain and the uneven surfaces of the tires.
How Wide Should Gravel Tires Be?
Generally speaking, gravel tires should measure somewhere between 38 and 42 mm. This only provides 4 mm of leeway, which doesn’t sound like very much on paper.
In practice, however, those 4 mm can make all the difference to your cycling experience, which is why the decision of which tire width to choose can be daunting to some cyclists. However, with a little guidance, working out whether you need a 38 mm tire or a 42 mm one shouldn’t be too difficult.
Will Wider Gravel Tires Improve Bike Speed?
Because the difference between a 38 mm and 42 mm bicycle tire can have such a big impact on your biking experience, it’s important to understand how tire width can affect the speed of your bike. Although wider gravel tires do, almost unquestionably, provide better grip on gravelly surfaces than narrower tires, and are likely to deliver a much smoother riding experience, the downside is that they will usually The simple fact that a wider gravel tire will have more surface area in contact with the ground at any one time than a narrower tire means that more friction is generated between wider tires and the ground.
This creates more drag, which ultimately slows down your bike speed. Therefore, wider gravel tires typically do not improve bike speed but are actually slower than narrow gravel tires. So, if you’re looking to maintain your personal best times after changing the tires on your bike, we would advise against going for the 42 mm tires and recommend the narrower, 38 mm models instead. However, it is important to note that gravel tire features other than width do have an impact on bike speed.
The size of the tread blocks on your tires, for example, will also affect how fast your tires are able to move. This, of course, will impact your speed. Generally, the bigger the tread blocks on your tires, the more drag they will cause on hard terrain.
So, if you feel that you want to smoothness of wider gravel tires but don’t want to compromise on speed, you may be able to rectify your problem by investing in some Group 1 gravel tires. Group 1 gravel tires are gravel tires with more subtle treads, designed for a combination of smooth and gravelly roads.
They’re rugged enough to perform well on gravel terrain, but smooth enough not to impact your speed to much.
Therefore, Group 1 treads are perfect if you want your wider tires to maintain a good speed.
Will Wider Gravel Tires Last Longer?
Something else that cyclists considering investing in gravel tires are desperate to know is whether gravel tires have better durability or longevity compared to regular bicycle tires. Despite not being advantageous in terms of speed, wide gravel tires do have the advantage of being more durable, on average. Again, this comes down to the greater contact area between the tire and the terrain.
While a narrow tire will be more easily worn down due to having more pressure exerted on it at any given moment, a wider tire will be able to withstand rocky terrain for longer. Wider tires are also less prone to puncturing due to the lesser pressure per square millimeter, so not only are they less susceptible to long-term wear and tear, but they’re also generally more resistant to sudden damage like punctures. With that being said, you shouldn’t rely on the width of a gravel tire to tell you how long it will last.
Ultimately, the quality of construction is the most important thing, so you should always pay attention to the quality and thickness of the rubber compounds as well as the carcass construction and any other treatments the tire may have been finished with.
Although wider gravel tires don’t automatically make your bike faster, and in many cases, may actually slow your bike down, it is possible to find wide gravel tires that move quickly if you look for the right kinds of treads. Group 1 tire treads, which are equally well-suited to smooth and gravel terrain, will roll faster than tires with larger treads, so you can maintain your top speeds with wider bike tires by choosing Group 1 treads. Moreover, wide gravel tires have the advantage of durability and smoothness over narrow tires, which leads to good value for money as well as more pleasant cycling experiences.