Gravel Cyclist's Tire Dilemma: Knobbies or Slicks? 2/8

Read this, if you are a critical thinking gravel or allroad cyclist

On the Other Side of the Truth

At the end of the day, words are only words. They reveal as much as they hide, and there's no end to them.

A semen of doubt was planted into me. And it grew. At a certain point, the only way to solve the tire dilemma was to cast off the spell chanted by majority, and to continue searching my truth by relying on myself alone. Not by surfing the web, but by riding and experimenting with different tires out there in the nature. Ironically, soon after my decision I came across an influential blogger who plausibly argued for advantages of slick tires for allroad, also gravel, cycling. His arguments, experience, and results confirmed and even upgraded my riding feelings and intuition. Nevertheless, I still felt a need to continue my own way. I simply had to arrive at what I considered to be my truth through my real-life experince.

Peaceful summer fields of South Estonia, so full of freedom and joy, invite you to find your own way. No matter where you come from, no matter where you go, you'll find yourself at home at every pedal stroke.

The Scope of My Findings

When I speak about the tire dilemma, that is to say, about knobbies vs. slicks, I have this in my mind: how exactly does riding slicks compare to, and differ from, riding knobbies. In other words, I am interested in how a cycling tire's tread type influences the tire's riding characteristics. This said, I am not proposing that the tread type is the most important, or even the one and only, parameter determining the tire's riding characteristics. I am also aware of other parameters, and consider them the same important. Thus, I believe a cycling tire's riding characteristics depend on its:

tread type (knobby, grooved, or slick),

material (the more supple and thiner is the rubber compound and casing of the tire tread and sidewalls, the lower is the tire's rolling and puncture resistance),

inflation (too complex to be explained in short),

width (out of two tires weighting the same, the wider one has slightly lower rolling resistance and slightly higher air resistance etc.),

diameter (out of two tires weighting the same, the bigger one has slightly lower rolling resistance and slightly higher air resistance etc.).

Having this in mind, I will now focus upon the tread type alone (knobby or slick), and will stay focused on it to the end of the article.

I rode slicks and knobbies on pretty much all surfaces which gravel cyclists ride. These are, of course, gravel in the first place, but also (both very rough and smooth) tarmac, forest soil, sand, grass, ice, and snow. All my rides were performed in South Estonia during last four years in all seasons and weather conditions.

I tested four slicks (Michelin Pro 4 Endurance v2 700x28 mm, Vittoria Voyager Hyper 700x40 mm, Compass Snoqualmie Pass 700x44 mm, Maxxis Re-Fuse 700x40 mm), and three knobbies (Schwalbe Smart Sam 700x44 mm, Schwalbe Racing Ralph 700x33 mm, and Suomi W240 A 700x40 mm). At least one representative of the slicks and at least one representative of knobbies were tested in all weather conditions. For example, on ice and in snow, I only rode the slicks by Vittoria, but not the slicks by Michelin, Compass, or Maxxis.

The parameters of comparison were:

speed / rolling resistance,




puncture resistance,

self-cleaning properties,


The parameter which I payed special attention to, was traction, cornering traction on gravel in particular. Why? It is precisely this segment in which knobbies, in majority's opinion, have their main advantage over slicks. But do they also have the advantage on the other side of the general truth? Let's take a look.

Four out of seven tires tested. From left to right, Schwalbe Racing Ralph, Compass Snoqualmie Pass, Schwalbe Smart Sam, and studded Suomi W 240 A.


Credibility of the Article

The author of the article is Matej Goršič [Matey Gorshich], 41, male, PhD, who has been an active sportive cyclist for 28 years. In his youth, he trained, and competed in, road cycling and athletics. Once finally out of the competitive waters, he started consciously re-defining his understanding and practice of cycling. Today, he feels most at home in a creative mixture of non-competitive, electronic-devices-free, self-exploring, adventurous allroad cycling. . During last 3 years, he spent over 25.000 km mostly on tiny gravel roads of South Estonia.

The tires tested for the article were bought by its author at normal market prices from different cycling shops in Europe. There have been no sponsors or donations for writing the article nor for mentioning brands and items in the article and showing them in its photos.

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