Gravel tires, which ones to choose?

Let's talk about gravel tires, to understand well what tires to mount and when according to our needs.

The tires are the point of contact of the bike with the ground. They allow you to release the propulsive force to the ground and to have grip to face the curves; they also give us grip when braking and, last but not least, absorb the roughness of the ground by dampening shocks and vibrations.

Perhaps, gravel is the sector where developing a quality tire is more challenging because it must perform well all the tasks required on various types of terrain. It must be smooth on the road and allow a good grip on asphalt (even wet) but have a tread suitable to deal with dirt roads and ensure grip when cornering and braking, have a carcass that allows a good rolling but sufficiently resistant not to cut the rubber on the first stones. In short, the tires on gravel bikes must be the right middle ground to meet our needs, which is not an easy task.

Main categories

We can distinguish gravel tires in two main categories:

  • Slick tires for hard ground
  • Knobby tires for mixed terrain

Another difference is the wheel size: 650b wheels and 700c wheels have different characteristics and different advantages and disadvantages, which will be reflected on the use we are going to do.

Then, let’s analyze the individual categories to understand when and where to use one type rather than another according to their characteristics.

Slick tires for hard ground

This type of tire features a closer and lower central knob design, in order to improve the rolling qualities (even on asphalt) and to ensure a good grip on hard and dry dirt roads. They are excellent on terrain such as dirt roads, fairly even and even dusty. They roll well on asphalt and provide good grip even on wet asphalt. The low knobs allow a large area of contact with the ground so as to have good traction and grip even when braking. Let’s say that they are the perfect tires for the summer if we ride mainly on this type of terrain; in winter, they have some limits on wet dirt roads, even if they are smooth. Anyway, usually there is a good side tread that assures a very good grip in curves on dirt roads. Generally speaking, their casings are a little lighter and less protective, but there are exceptions. For the weight freaks, they are lighter than the most treaded tires, due to the smaller amount of rubber; however, it is a few grams of difference.

Knobby tires for mixed terrain

These tires feature a significant tread pattern that allows the rubber to penetrate the ground and guarantee grip even on the most difficult terrain such as mud, sand, loose soil and grass. The shape of the knobs is very important as is their spacing. A knob transverse to the rotation direction allows a great grip in braking but lowers a lot the smoothness; on the other hand, a knob longitudinal to the rotation direction, if well made, allows a good grip and a good smoothness, the right middle ground that a gravel bike needs. The spacing of the knobs is particularly important in muddy terrain to ensure a good removal of mud and keep the rubber clean so as to ensure grip at every turn. Therefore, a good compromise is to have central longitudinal knobs more closely spaced, in order to have good grip and good smoothness even on asphalt, and more spaced and prominent side knobs so as to allow the rubber to penetrate the ground, especially in corners, and to clean itself well from the mud and the ground in general. These tires are usually a bit heavier. They are the ideal choice for mid-season and winter, or for when we want maximum versatility and peace of mind in dealing with all types of terrain. On asphalt, they suffer a bit in terms of smoothness, but they are appreciated when we have to deal with turns on dirt roads.

The size matters: 650b or 700c?

When it comes to wheels and tires, size does matter. If in the MTB sector a balance has been found between 650b and 29″ after years of keyboard battles and hand chronometer comparisons, in the gravel sector, fortunately, the phase of battles over what is better or worse has been skipped over. In fact, the two diameters offer different advantages and disadvantages and each one is better for certain situations and has its own field of application.

How come? Simply because the actual diameter in the end becomes almost the same; what changes is the volume of the tire and its section.

Let’s try to explain better: the tires that are usually mounted on 700c wheels vary between 34/35mm section up to 40/42mm, those that are mounted on 650b wheels range from 42/45mm up to almost MTB sections. It goes without saying that if the section increases, the final diameter of the wheel increases, so they are very close to each other in absolute terms of diameter.

Therefore, a 650b tire has a larger volume, a larger trace and usually a heavier weight. Consequently, we can ride at lower pressures with more comfort and grip, but on the other hand it will be less smooth and generally less fast. In short, it is a tire more suitable for those who pedal most of the time on trails and technical terrain.

With the same type of tire, a 700c tire will have a smaller trace and a lower weight, being consequently smoother, faster and quicker even in changes of pace. Also in downhill on asphalt, a smaller volume represents an advantage in terms of drivability. The main disadvantages are the lower comfort due to the lower absorption and the higher pressure required as well as a lower grip. It is a tire suitable for those who pedal more on fast and smooth terrain or who cycle a lot on asphalt in addition to dirt roads.

The various merits and demerits can be mitigated by adopting various types of rubber: for example, if we mount a smoother rubber on a 650b or if we mount a more treaded one on a 700c to increase grip on mixed terrain.


There is no ideal tire for everything but there are various choices based on our needs. Today, the market offers a wide variety of gravel tires that allow you to tackle any route safely and having fun. Our advice is to choose quality and reliable tires, with designs, compounds and carcasses specific to the gravel and the terrain that we are going to face to a greater extent, whether dirt roads and smooth as the white roads or mixed technical trails. Pay close attention to the design of the knobs and choose the size of the tire and wheels based on the characteristics you want, remembering that more volume corresponds to more grip and comfort and less volume to more speed, precision and lightness. Which is the most suitable tire for the Tuscany Trail? We’d say that a treaded tire for mixed terrain, like the Pirelli Cinturato Gravel Mixed Terrain, is the best choice for tackling the trail safely and with maximum grip, in both wheel sizes!

Snow I’m not afraid of you!

Words and photos by Bruno Ferraro

Bad news, I’ve started biting my nails again and this doesn’t go along with my Lycra cycling outfit at all. Of course, I can’t blame myself for this habit, the period is definitely not the best but I still consider myself lucky to have always been able to get out on my bike. However, my cycling has become more reflective lately, leaving aside the watts and making room for an ocean of thoughts, ideas and reasoning. One of these thought came up the other morning while cycling through the Asolo hills. I was thinking about the fact that I have always used the bike as a means to escape from everyday life, while in this period, cycling often brings me back to reality: the countless restrictions, the few possibilities of movement and the overdose of free time. In short, always the same old ride.

Damn spring, does it take much longer? Damn virus, why don’t you cease to exist?

Around here, winter is not bad, but not completely suitable for cycling. I live in Bassano del Grappa, at the foot of the Venetian Prealps, where some of the most beautiful climbs in the Veneto appears between one shed and another.

From December to March, I often find myself in the dilemma of not being able to decide which ride to do, as the options are many and challenging. Shaded and upwind valleys, mountain massifs that go well above 1000 meters in altitude, eat and drink between frozen hills and the straight parts of the Po Valley.

I usually prefer the mountains. The peace up there is incomparable, but this cold weather certainly doesn’t make the choice any easier, especially considering the descent.

This winter will surely be remembered as a time of heavy snowfall but poor skiing. Every time I look north, towards Monte Grappa, I am fascinated to see it covered in white and the idea of climbing it always crosses my mind.

Today is one of those days, a Saturday morning in February with a clear, cloudless sky. The temperature is so low that there is no humidity in the air and the drops of condensation solidified on the glass of the house shine, reflecting the sun’s rays as I open the window. There it is, the Monte Grappa, irradiated by the morning light, so clear that I can see the summit with its ossuary. Its call is strong and all in all the day seems perfect. I decide to take the gravel bike, fill the frame bag with spare clothes and get ready to leave without too much hesitation. Finally, I’m out and about! As usual, the air is cold but the sun is pleasantly warm: it promises to be an initially hot climb so I open my jacket to avoid excessive sweating. And here I am, after less than 15 minutes, to pass the first of several bends of the Cadorna road, which leads to the top of the Monte Grappa after 25 kilometers.

This road is the only one that is sufficiently clean and maintained during the winter, while the other roadss, although more spectacular, are often impassable in case of snowfall. Since I am on a gravel bike, I decide to make a change in the route. Thanks to well treaded Cinturato Mixed tires, I go to a place called “Colli Alti”, which overlooks Valbrenta to the west and stretches to a rather simple but very beautiful and scenic path northward. We are over 1000 meters of altitude and there is already plenty of snow. Fortunately, some vehicles crossed this area in the previous days flattening the snow. The wheels roll well, allowing me to pedal without slowing down but, above all, without the risk of having to walk for the entire detour. I go on towards Col Fenilon and then Alpe Madre, not being able to stop photographing the spectacular scene in which I find myself. I return on the asphalt and then descend with caution towards the second half of the route that leads from Ponte San Lorenzo to cima Grappa.

Going up in altitude the scenery becomes amazing, the alpine pastures and the various alpine huts are covered by almost a meter of snow; around there, you can see the traces of some snowshoeing that took place a few hours before. Some guys have drawn dozens of lines with their snowboards on the slope south of Costone: it’s the paradise of freeride and it’s incredibly close to our house.

The last 5 kilometers of ascent are the most spectacular, the direction of the road often changes and so the scenery changes as you go up. On one side, you can still see the plain and, if you look properly, you can see the reflections of the sun on the lagoon of Venice; on the other side, the slopes become gentle and herald the climax of the climb. You cross through various monuments in memory of the wars, as awful battles were fought here; it’s hard to believe that someone could have resisted for weeks under such weather conditions. Once you have crossed the last real curve, you begin to see the Bassano refuge and, next to it, the ossuary to the fallen of the First World War, which stands on the entire summit of the Grappa. Finally at the top! From here, I can also see the north side, where the Lagorai and the Dolomites are framed in the distance. The thermometer reads 6 degrees below zero but inside the refuge the atmosphere is warm and welcoming and I indulge in a glass of mulled wine accompanied by a slice of apple strudel, a well-deserved booty after almost 2000 meters of elevation gain.

How to train for the Tuscany Trail

Words and images by Michele Minessi

The Tuscany trail is an event that welcomes all kinds of cyclists. It’s hard to say what the proper preparation is and maybe I’m not even the right person to do it. If you happen to participate in the TT, you will notice every kind of cyclist, bike and set up: there will be those who will start and will not set foot until reaching Capalbio and, on the other hand, those visibly out of shape wandering if they reach the finish line but decided to enjoy the journey, cuisine, detours, visits and overnight stays in hostels.

Between the two extremes, there are light bikes, heavy bikes, touring bikes, bike packing or just backpacking, more or less sculpted physiques, young and old people, veterans or newcomers, those with only a cash card or those with bags, stove, dishes, tent and sleeping bag. 

The text of an article that many would like to read would be, I imagine, “How do I train for the Tuscany Trail?” followed by a long presentation of numbers, data, kilometers, tables, how to find motivation and things like that.

I would change it to “How I don’t train for the Tuscany Trail”. Let’s be clear, I’m not going to arrive in May with a preparation made of beer and sandwiches leaving the bike in the basement all this time.

My formula is simply the desire to get on a bike and cycle every morning to go to work with already in mind what I will do in the evening or at the weekend. I love to move, whether it’s running in the mountains, pedaling on roads or trails; it’s not a duty for me; I pedal because I like it and I spend most of the year doing it… this inclination has led me to test myself in races and events always with some ease. I love the approach to an event, I love the daily routine of keeping my body in a state of well-being that only those who have experienced it can understand. I have no labels, the evening after work I leave the day at the office behind, I go straight to the city mountains and, one evening I attack it to get my best time as the worst of the competitors, the other evening I climb it at a steady pace listening to my thoughts, another evening I climb the trails and throw myself down the downhill slopes; for me, it is a way to positively set the day aside, expel my tensions, find myself in the darkness of the mountain, with my breath, fatigue, season after season.

Other times, the desire is given by the search for new things, exploring corners further and further away from home, spending hours planning new routes. 

Another fundamental part of my “training” is having both the need to go out with friends and the need to go out solo; the bike allows both things, the limit is in the person.

Sometimes I say that I could do more, I could have more results by training with the methods that we all know, I could do more miles because often the only regret when I take part in some competition is to finish the race thinking “damn, if I really trained, what would I be able to do?” … I could force myself, but I do not get along well with this word.
Despite the passion for the bike as an object and as a means to get excited and make wonderful experiences, I have many other things to give space to but, because of this passion (and perhaps this gives the answer to the first question), I cover without frustration the miles that many people would find difficult to cover even by car; that’s why I arrive at an event as the Tuscany Trail without any particular thoughts or plans to deal with it. 

So, my advice is: come to the Tuscany Trail following the type of cyclist you identify with and enjoy it; it will be a memorable experience, I can assure you, as I will be back for the second time! See you on the trail!

Northwave Rockster review | gravel shoes

The first Northwave shoe dedicated to gravel, stylish and with interesting details; how does it behave in real situations like the Tuscany Trail?

As we all know, gravel is now the fastest growing sector of cycling; thanks to the versatility of gravel bikes, you can explore trails, dirt roads and cover many miles quickly on the road. It is the multi-purpose bike par excellence, especially for a territory like Italy, rich in secondary roads and dirt roads. Since the gravel is spreading like wild fire, more and more companies are deciding to offer products dedicated to this type of users; of course, it is not an easy task, especially when it comes to shoes. In fact, being able to create a gravel shoe that is in the right “sweet-spot” between rigidity for cycling efficiency on the road, flexibility to walk without problems, comfort to be able to ride for several hours, lightness and strength to face challenging dirt roads is not easy. Therefore Northwave has decided to present its first shoe designed for gravel: the Rockster.


The Rockster are available from size 36 to 48, have the closure with laces and a comfortable elastic band to keep them stable, the sole is carbon-reinforced polymer, has rubber inserts for grip and comfort in walking and two studs on the toe to help grip on steep or muddy terrain. The upper is made of synthetic leather with laser-cut holes to improve breathability and elasticity of the upper, on the toe and heel there are TPU supports to increase wear resistance in the most stressed points and protect fingers from accidental impacts, such as with stones raised from the wheels. The interior is made of microfiber and is very breathable. The colour available is white with gray details, really nice and elegant.

How do they behave?

The first thing you notice is the lightness of these shoes: they weigh only 310 gr. each in size 44. At the end of the day, lightweight shoes are a great advantage, the feet are less tired and, even if we have to face stretches on foot or we stop for a beer with the companions of the tour, we do not feel our feet heavy. For those who look more for performance, they are a good gain in terms of overall weight and, if we think about how many times we turn the pedals, the gain is significant.

The size is consistent and the shoes fit well without pressure points, thanks to the perforated upper that, in addition to ventilation, gives a certain elasticity, especially thanks to the laces. In fact, the lace-up closure allows you to distribute the tension well at all points of the shoe and eliminates annoying points such as those that can arise with plastic snap closure. They are also very stylish and give a high-end look to the shoe. The only sore point of the lace-up closure (of all the shoes that have it) is that it can’t be adjusted while pedaling, then you have to stop and re-lace the shoes in case you want to adjust the closure. Honestly, we had no such problems with the Rockster, especially because the laces do not loosen and hold very well.

The sole is quite stiff, 10/14 according to the Northwave shoes classification, and allows to transmit all the necessary power to the pedals. However, at the same time, it is not as stiff as a carbon sole, and this is appreciated when you get off the bike, especially in damping vibrations when you ride on gravel terrain; Northwave’s choice is right; at the end of the day, your feet are less tired!

The rubber inserts in the sole help a lot when walking and we have never had problems, neither on dirt roads nor on hard or slippery and treacherous terrain. The TPU supports on the upper are well placed and protect the shoe, the foot and toes well from any bumps. There is a faux leather insert inside the heel that helps hold the foot in place, and it works very well, the heel doesn’t move and stays in place at all times. The overall fit is stable and firm without having to tighten the shoe.

Last but not least, the breathability is great and even if we end up with our foot in a puddle, the shoes dry very quickly and drain the water well.


In conclusion, with the Rockster, Northwave has hit the mark for a well-balanced and well-made gravel shoe. We were pleasantly surprised by the lightness and overall comfort of the shoe, given by a combination of factors (no pressure points, breathability, right stiffness of the sole, excellent walking) that make the Rockster a perfect shoe for routes like the Tuscany Trail. Last but not least, the really interesting price for such a high quality and detailed shoe: 159,99€.

You can find it directly from the Northwave website by clicking HERE

The freedom to travel

Testo e immagini di Sara Ischia

In a period where talking about FREEDOM is difficult and thinking about TRAVEL is pure madness, we can only DREAM, and we must never stop dreaming! 

Dreaming big, exaggerating, thinking and planning the next trip. We are free to do this and it is thanks to our imagination that we will find the real reason to get up in the morning, with a head full of dreams waiting for that day, when we can go out without limitations and leave without thoughts. Leaving for that small or big trip born from our imagination and from that forced confinement that we will not easily forget; loneliness exploited as a research, made of hours on the computer, open maps, fingers tracing and pencil marks showing the possible roads to take; some remain impossible dreams, others will come true. I want to think that we will be ready that day because we have had time to mentally prepare our bags and figure out what equipment is best for us. I’ve already chosen the tires for my Gravel bike, Pirelli Cinturato, ideal for my next adventures on dirt roads. The mystery will remain the season, what will be the month of departure? It doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold, we’ll be ready and I can’t wait!

At the moment, I’m dreaming of riding the Tuscany Trail in as many days as possible, I’m dreaming of riding with only daylight so as not to miss any detail, seeing cities again, riding in new places, on dirt and white roads, going from the hills to the small villages and old towns that are the most beautiful in the world. I dream of stopping to taste typical products, meet local people and maybe ask them for some water to fill my empty bottle, ask for advice on where to eat and, in the evening, find a nice place to pitch my tent. I dream of waking up with the rooster’s crow and the sun rising through the vineyards thinking back to the glass of wine I drank the night before and trying to remember the name of the trattoria where I had dinner. I know it will be the end of May, it will be spring and it will be the Tuscany Trail 2021. I don’t know if I will leave alone or in company yet; the certain thing is that you are never alone at such a great bikepacking event!

I will ride to regain my place out there, take my time and make the most of it observing what surrounds me, stopping to see up close what enchants me most trying to re-establish a true contact with nature. I test myself by always riding a few more kilometers, maybe putting myself in difficulty and then finding solutions and finally realizing that, in those moments, life is really limited to the basics: sleeping and eating.

The thing that fills me with joy is knowing that we’ll be back to have stories to tell and landscapes to describe with our most beautiful words, the ones that come from the heart and go straight to the listener.

We’ll be on the road again, without limitations, and it will be a new beginning because the bike is freedom and discovery. So, “SMILE, BREATHE and PROCEED SOFTLY” ,this is my motto. Smile, because smiling opens the heart of the people you meet and seeing you in trouble will be happy to help you, breathe and live this moment; it is not effort, it’s your ADVENTURE; slow down and let your eyes look at all that you have managed to achieve with your strength alone.

We’re not just cycling, we’re living, and we’ll surely be in a wonderful place, without fear, because there’s always someone out there ready to lend us a hand, whether it’s for a small repair, a shelter for the night or a good piece of advice.

What we can do right now is train, cycle, get the body used to the effort and to the many hours on the saddle and dream. I dream in silence, well hidden, I fill my bags with a few but carefully chosen things, I reach my favourite place and spend the night there dreaming of being somewhere else. This is freedom too; freedom to dream while waiting for the freedom to travel!

Why gravel?

And if someone were to ask us: “but is this route a gravel one?” the answer would be mostly always the same: “yes, of course!”. Because gravel is not a category and even less so it doesn’t outline a single type of route. It’s post-punk cycling with a rebel streak.

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