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

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


Here is the summary of most important conclusions from previous six parts of the article. The conclusions are based on my personal experience and riding conditions in South Estonia. Thus, it would be inadequate to generalize them to all cyclists and riding conditions in all parts of the world.

1. Slicks are clear winners for riding on tarmac AND on dry to damp gravel. On these surfaces, slicks beat knobbies in terms of speed, comfort, and cornering traction. On wet gravel, wet forest soil, and wet sand, slicks only beat knobbies in terms of self-cleaning ability.

2. Big knobbed tires with well thought-out knobs shape and distribution clearly outperform slicks in terms of traction (and thus safety) in very wet gravel (deep gravel mud), wet forest soil (forest mud), wet grass, and snow.

3. On moderately wet gravel and sand, differences between slicks and big knobbed tires are insignificant at a given tire width and pressure.

4. Small knobbed tires are the least suitable for gravel and allroad cycling. This might come as a surprise or controversy, since the majority of gravel cyclists seem to ride precisely these type of tires which at the same time are labeled as »gravel tires« by tire producers.

5. On gravel roads covered in ice and snow, heavily studded tires with deep winter specific profile are the best option, if very high rolling resistance and weight still feel better than broken bones and bikes. Nevertheless, winter gravel road conditions might sometimes be too harsh to handle even for these tanks.

The best tire tread is the one you don't even think of - the one that doesn't limit you on any surface you ride. The sweet secret is that if you want to know what really works for you, you'll have to find it out for yourself - by cycling.


For those who need more patterned advice on the dilemma, I recommend the following:

The main factor to consider are surface types you'll be riding on. Not only what these are substantially, but also how much time are you going to spend on each of them. When all this is clear to you, read through the conclusions once more again, and hopefully you should have your question answered.

If you expect to spend approximately the same amount of time riding in conditions in which slicks shine, and in conditions in which knobbies are better, it might not matter which of the two you choose. However, if your bike handling is excellent or, if you want to improve it or, if you are looking for more bike handling fun and adrenalin, slicks will suit you better. If you are more on the safe side, go for big knobbs.

Whatever decision you did or will make, I wish you good luck and joyfull rolling!

Tire tread is only one thing to consider when choosing a bike tire. And at the end of the day, all our mistakes are still the most effective way of learning.


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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