Tires & Wheels – Some Art, Some Science

28 Sep

Tires / Wheels is one of the keys to a good adventure / gravel ride.

Gray Gravel
Gray Gravel

On each of my adventure / gravel bikes I run a tubeless wheel set up with Stan’s or Orange Seal inside the tire.  Why tubeless?

  1. I can run lower pressures ==> softer ride without the worry of pinch flats that can happen with clinchers (i.e. a tube and tire combination).
  2. Tubeless setups typically repair themselves when a small puncture occurs on a ride.  The Stan’s or Orange Seal liquids seal the leak quickly.
  3. Tubeless setups can be repaired on a ride, unlike sew-ups (i.e. tubulars).  If you get a major puncture with tubeless, you always have the ability to add a tube to repair the puncture.
  4. Caution! Tubeless are more difficult to initially set up. With tubeless I highly recommend a tubeless specific rim mated to a tubeless specific tire.  Other combinations, may result in the tire rolling off in a corner or when taking on a big bump.  Trust me on this – I have hit the deck unexpectedly due to a not following this advice.

Tire pressure is a critical key to a good ride.

  • A good starting point for pressure is when you get about 10 to 15% side wall deflection when the rider sits on bike. Some people may want to run more pressure, others less.
  • Digital Gauge
    Digital Gauge

    Tire pressures are dependent on the tire in use! A stiffer side wall tire will require less pressure.  For example, with the Clement X’PLOR 32 mm tire I run 42 psi (pounds per square inch) rear, with the WTB Cross Wolf TCS 32 mm I run 35 psi.

  • Tire pressure from front to rear, may vary by over 10 psi.  With the Clement X’PLOR 32 mm, my wife runs front / back pressures of 23 / 33 psi.
  • Tire pressure is depenant on body weight.  The more a person weighs, the more tire pressure needed.  Again, on the Clement X’PLOR 35 mm, my wife runs a back pressures of 33 and I run 43 psi.
  • To measure tire pressure accurately and reliably, get yourself a good hand held gauge. DO NOT rely on the gauge built into your pump, they lack accuracy at low pressures.  I have seen readings differ from pump gauge to hand held gauge by over 15 psi.

Tires that I use:

  • Clement X’PLOR 32 mm.  This is my go to tire when there is more than 50% pavement on a ride. This tire does not hold up well when there is a lot of loose, rough gravel.  Recently, I put two punctures in this tire on a rough 75 mile, gray gravel ride.
  • WTB Cross Wolf 32 mm. Love this tire!! especially for Bend / Prineville area.
  • WTB Nano 40 mm. A really good tire choice for those routes that have deep and / or big chunky gravel or river rock.  I generally only use this tire on routes that are 100 % gravel.
  • In general, the wider the tire, the more air it will hold, and the less pressure you can run it at ==> softer, more comfortable ride. But … the wider the tire, the slower it will be on pavement.  Trade-offs!
WTB Cross Wolf 32 mm tire
WTB Cross Wolf 32 mm tire
Clement X'plorer 25 mm compared to WTB Nano 40 mm
Clement X’plorer 25 mm compared to WTB Nano 40 mm

2 thoughts on “Tires & Wheels – Some Art, Some Science

    • In general, you can put a tube into any tubeless tire. However, you cannot take a tire meant for a tube and run it tubeless. The exception to this rule is mountain bike tires (some will work). But for tires with smaller air volume and width, I do not recommend trying to make a tubed tire tubeless. If and when that set up fails, it can really hurt. Trust me, I still have scars from over a year ago when I ran a tubed cyclocross tire tubeless.

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