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Point of diminishing returns WRT tires/gravel

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Point of diminishing returns WRT tires/gravel

Old 04-23-18, 09:48 AM
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rosefarts
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Point of diminishing returns WRT tires/gravel

So what is the logical limit?

For example, I ride an extremely traditional steel road bike from the mid 00's with 10speed Campy. I've updated it to have a compact crank and 12-29 cassette. I've given it 28mm tubeless tires (Schwalbe Pro Ones, so these are road slicks). Aside from that, it's very much a road bike. I would not hesitate jumping in a fast group or entering a crit with it, exactly as it sits.

Currently, every single ride I go on is technically a gravel ride. Yesterday was 54 miles with 7300 ft of climbing, and about 20 of that on dirt. Washboards descents and the steepest climb of the day, all on dirt. I never lost traction and my gearing was 98% fine (if I'd had a 32 tooth, I'd have shifted into it a couple times). This is about 6th "gravel" ride of the spring with this setup and I've been very happy each time. I've gone as little as 12miles and as much as 45miles on gravel this spring. Yesterday is the most climbing on dirt so far but I have some plans to one-up myself soon.

The bike weight with cages and pedals (and steel frame and fork and comfy seat is 19lbs).

Contrast this to a friend of mine who has a legit gravel bike. Discs, tons of clearance, and 32mm tires and room for more. His bike was absolutely fine in the dirt too. It was noticeably slower on the pavement and was a lot more to force up the steep paved roads. It's a lighter frame and fork than mine but comes in a pound heavier. Totally adequate and awesome bike, but if it's overkill for a ride like this, WTF is it made to do?

Now to get crazy, another friend showed me his bike, I haven't yet ridden with him. 650b and enough room to stick the Michelin Man between the stays. To me, it looks like a mountain bike with drop bars and is probably more capable off-road than my first three mountain bikes. It's sweet, don't get me wrong but now we're pushing into the 22-23lb range and I'm having a hard time visualizing where this thing goes. It seems like the perfect White Rim bike. Where else?

Aren't we still talking about road biking, as in covering a lot of miles, going fast when we can, drafting when it's appropriate, and generally riding like roadies, even when there's no pavement in sight.

I'm not saying my setup is perfect. I'm just saying that it has yet to leave me wanting something a proper gravel bike can offer. It seems possible that I'm just dipping my toes into what gravel rides really mean but I have a suspicion that I've seen more dust in the last couple years than most gravel bikes have.

Maybe I'm trying to compare the Subaru, Jeep, and Monster truck.
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Old 04-23-18, 09:57 AM
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Your excellent bike skills may compensate for less than optimal equipment. Probably your friends are less skilled and need more help from the bike. Another point is that there may never have been a cycling term more vague than "gravel." Smooth packed dirt to fist sized jagged rocks, YMMV.
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Old 04-23-18, 10:03 AM
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28mm tires start becoming inadequate when the surface is either not hard-packed or is wet. 32mm tires (aside from very aggressive knobby CX tires) don't do much more either in those cases.

I ride 42-45mm tires. Great for say rural pea gravel parking lots that 30mm-class tires will just sink into and leave you walking. Also for how bad paved roads are, I'd much rather ride 42mm tires at 40PSI---than 28mm tires at 80PSI. Although if the surface is so loose as to want a bigger tire than a 45mm, you probably want a fatbike anyway.
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Old 04-23-18, 10:05 AM
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Originally Posted by rosefarts View Post
Maybe I'm trying to compare the Subaru, Jeep, and Monster truck.
Most people who buy 4x4 vehicles don't take them off road, like your Jeeps, but they like the security of knowing they could if they wanted, like you know, one day they have to go off the beaten trail to get to that secluded spot for the all-important selfie. Perhaps gravel bikes are like that.

My two cross bikes are commuter bikes, so I like having the option to put on wider tires, especially the studded variety. The wider tires do help with snow and ice in the winter, but there isn't enough gravel/dirt tract around here to make them worthwhile for just that purpose.
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Old 04-23-18, 10:07 AM
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Originally Posted by shelbyfv View Post
Your excellent bike skills may compensate for less than optimal equipment. Probably your friends are less skilled and need more help from the bike. Another point is that there may never have been a cycling term more vague than "gravel." Smooth packed dirt to fist sized jagged rocks, YMMV.
The first part of your post made me laugh. If I have good skills, it would be one of those "you have deceptively good handling skills" type of compliments. In other words, I probably look like I'm going to die most of the time, I just don't. One thing I am good at is keeping my rear tire from slipping while climbing. That may account for quite a bit of the big smiles I have on rides.

I agree wholeheartedly to the second part of your post. So what is the general use? Are people really riding their "gravel" bikes on stuff others take their mountain bikes on?

I wish I saw other riders on my adventures so I could see what they use. I'm in a sparsely populated area with only a handful of people in the area who like to get exercise on purpose. Yesterday was exciting because I actually saw other road bike tracks in the dirt.
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Old 04-23-18, 10:08 AM
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Originally Posted by Marcus_Ti View Post
I ride 42-45mm tires. Great for say rural pea gravel parking lots that 30mm-class tires will just sink into and leave you walking. Also for how bad paved roads are, I'd much rather ride 42mm tires at 40PSI---than 28mm tires at 80PSI. Although if the surface is so loose as to want a bigger tire than a 45mm, you probably want a fatbike anyway.
I've got 38's no one of mine and I like the 'sturdy' feel of them, especially over mixed surfaces.

I had 45 mm Suomi studs on the same bike too, and it was super for going over slush and ice, but unfortunately the clearance was a tad tight, so I took it down to 35's. Not as nice.
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Old 04-23-18, 10:11 AM
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You CAN go over an awful lot of stuff on 28mm tires. Bigger will be far more comfortable though. 28s on anything but the smoothest crushed limestone path is not the ideal choice. They probably wouldn't even be the fastest. Bigger at lower pressure will FOR SURE be much more comfortable, and likely faster.

This isn't about what you NEED...nobody needs 650b wheels with 55mm tires to go on an organized gravel ride. It's about the best tool for the job, and what provides the most comfort.

Heck, on the road, you can take 19mm tires pumped to 150psi on a group ride through the city if you want, and it will work. It's not the choice I'd make though...
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Old 04-23-18, 10:13 AM
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Originally Posted by mcours2006 View Post
I've got 38's no one of mine and I like the 'sturdy' feel of them, especially over mixed surfaces.

I had 45 mm Suomi studs on the same bike too, and it was super for going over slush and ice, but unfortunately the clearance was a tad tight, so I took it down to 35's. Not as nice.
Funny thing...Was thinking of building a set of 650B hoops for studs and fat tire last summer. Didn't bother, figured "we never get ice to justify the $500 in wheels and $200 in studded tires".

Then this last winter happened:


Yea....that is an MUT underpass that should have a full-width bike path and a canal (wide enough to be a 2-way residential) for a river next to it.
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Old 04-23-18, 11:03 AM
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Not all gravel is created equal. 25s are fine on some gravel while 30s are super squirmy on other gravel. If what you have on your bike works adequately for what you ride on, that's cool, but it doesn't necessarily have much bearing on what works for others.
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Old 04-23-18, 11:14 AM
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Given my minimal skills and timidity, I like to ride 2 or 3 sizes larger than what an accomplished rider could use. If Rosie is bombing it on 28s, I'll want 38s!
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Old 04-23-18, 11:39 AM
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Originally Posted by rosefarts View Post
I agree wholeheartedly to the second part of your post. So what is the general use? Are people really riding their "gravel" bikes on stuff others take their mountain bikes on?
I'm riding 28 mm nominal tires, on rims that stretch them out to about 33 mm. That's been great for most of the unpaved roads around here. Keywords = around here. Lot of hard packed dirt.

I don't enjoy riding in actual gravel, meaning deep loose rock. It's unpleasant. We don't have much of it. It's not in the best places. I'll just ride somewhere else.

If I need wider tires to handle things like roots and embedded rocks, I'll probably want a suspension too.
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Old 04-23-18, 11:43 AM
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Originally Posted by Abe_Froman View Post
You CAN go over an awful lot of stuff on 28mm tires. Bigger will be far more comfortable though. 28s on anything but the smoothest crushed limestone path is not the ideal choice.
Crushed limestone and ... you know ... earth.

I did this 50 mile of this on 28 mm Conti All Sports with tubes. 20 of them were chip-seal.

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Old 04-23-18, 11:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
Crushed limestone and ... you know ... earth.

I did this 50 mile of this on 28 mm Conti All Sports with tubes. 20 of them were chip-seal.

I'm sure it was fine.

I've got 28mm GP4000s right now. It's a tradeoff. They're a bit quicker, and handle a bit better on pavement than my 40mm tires. They are reasonably comfortable on dirt trails and limestone. The 40mm tires, however, were blissfully comfortable at 40-45psi, and rode stably right over the top of loose EARTH, gravel, and sandy patches.

Like I said...28s are fine for that stuff. 40s are better though.
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Old 04-23-18, 11:55 AM
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Why not 400s?
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Old 04-23-18, 12:40 PM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
Why not 400s?
Now you're talkin!

Look man, I'm not saying 28s aren't a good choice. They are. I have 28s on MY OWN bike lol. But they're good because they're a great size for pavement, but also competent off road. Not because they're the BEST choice for trails/gravel, etc.
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Old 04-23-18, 12:50 PM
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I'm not saying you should use 28 mm tires. Or 400 mm tires. I'm just saying that more isn't always better, enough is enough, and at whatever point that is more doesn't mean better. That point is clearly different for everyone. I know this is captain obvious stuff, but this is the 41 where people lose sight of the obvious.

For example, you mentioned crushed limestone. I can't remember what year it was the last time I rode on a crushed limestone surface. I don't know who was president at the time. On the other hand, that photo I just posted is from July, there were 4,700 feet of climbing on that ride. I bet the last time you did a ride with that kind of vert profile was around the last time I rode on crushed limestone. But hard packed dirt? We can go three months without rain during the summer drought.
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Old 04-23-18, 12:58 PM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
I'm not saying you should use 28 mm tires. Or 400 mm tires. I'm just saying that more isn't always better, enough is enough, and at whatever point that is more doesn't mean better. That point is clearly different for everyone. I know this is captain obvious stuff, but this is the 41 where people lose sight of the obvious.

For example, you mentioned crushed limestone. I can't remember what year it was the last time I rode on a crushed limestone surface. I don't know who was president at the time. On the other hand, that photo I just posted is from July, there were 4,700 feet of climbing on that ride. I bet the last time you did a ride with that kind of vert profile was around the last time I rode on crushed limestone. But hard packed dirt? We can go three months without rain during the summer drought.
Your comment made me curious enough to look....I've got 9744 feet of climbing - for the year lol

I think we actually agree more or less on this. I've ridden pretty much everything from 23s to 40mm and up to MTB tires obviously. And I would say that yes, the benefits of going larger begin to taper off after you get around the size we're both at now, ie 31-33 or so. After 40-45...I'm not sure you're accomplishing anything meaningful by going larger. Barring fat bike type territory of snow/sand/etc.
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Old 04-23-18, 01:01 PM
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It's always enough... until it isn't. Like the sandy patch at the end of the WeDu Hundred. I was cursing my 23s then, even though they'd been fine on the rocks and hardpack for the first couple miles of "gravel". And my wife got stuck and fell over on 25s.

People with better skills than us were fine, but I'd be hard-pressed to say that 23c or 25c was the "right" tire size for that. Of course your 28s would have been better... and probably 32.

We just made the decision to stick to the dman pavement from now on.
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Old 04-23-18, 01:04 PM
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I was never able to ride on dirt with 23s except in a straight line. I mean, I could turn, but I'd have to slow to a crawl. So, on 23s, it was pavement only for me.

Sand is dangerous, even on 28s. It's extremely rare here. I hit a patch on a descent in the MFK Teanaway, but it's so remote and rarely visited I saw a bear on that ride, and the road just sort of ended in a meadow, I had to find my way back to the next road.
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Old 04-23-18, 01:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
Crushed limestone and ... you know ... earth.

I did this 50 mile of this on 28 mm Conti All Sports with tubes. 20 of them were chip-seal.

Gorgeous shot! I ride 28 Turbo Cottons at 80# and do ride quite a bit of chip seal here, but it's much better on 650b's at 45#.
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Old 04-23-18, 04:58 PM
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To respond to some upthread banter, my 28's have about 70# if the gauge on my pump is accurate. I run 30ml Orange sealant in each.

So as far as "gravel" goes.

I grew up on a dirt road. About 3 times a year the county would grate then cover the road in gravel. I couldn't get down it as a kid on my BMX bike. Later, I hated riding home on my road bike and I pretty much couldn't do it on my tri bike.

Southern Colorado roads aren't like that, or at least I have been lucky enough that I've never gotten on one after a gravel dump. They tend to be dirt with a decently hard base. There are rocks and washboards but I haven't gotten on anything that was unreasonable. If it was full on deep gravel, I couldn't and wouldn't ride it. I would never consider riding something like Rampart Range Road or most anything else in the South Platte either. It'd be cool riding but might be busier than the highway to get there and I've never seen washboards that bad anywhere. Maybe with one of those 650B monsters and a police escort. I'm also pretty familiar with known 4x4 roads in the area like Hermit Pass and other things in the Sangre's. I wouldn't mountain bike on those roads, I'm not planning to ride my road bike on them.

I've mentioned here before when my Pro One's wear out I'll get something at about 30mm with a dot pattern. It's about the maximum my brakes can allow.

I really do appreciate the responses. I'm practically doing this in a vacuum. I just know I enjoy steep punishing rides and around here, they aren't paved.
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Old 04-23-18, 09:19 PM
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I've nothing useful to add to this thread but just wanted to say how ironically refreshing it is that roadies are discussing gravel tires in a road bike forum.

You guys are really progressing. I'm proud of you all.


-Tim-
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Old 04-24-18, 09:57 AM
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You're riding a road bike, not a gravel bike. Come ride that bike with me around here on a real gravel ride and you wouldn't like the results nearly as much as you would on your friends' gravel bike. Conditions are everything, and it sounds like you have the right bike for your conditions. (And I'm pretty sure I'm jealous of your locale)
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