An advice column for gravel cyclists
Well, cycling fans, it’s happened. Dirt Tan Bike Club has reached what motivational speakers call “a tipping point.” Together, after a couple years of internet tomfoolery and self-deprecating bike humor, we’ve reached a sufficient audience that, every now and again, a stranger will turn to us for “expert” advice.
Who are we to turn them away?
Brace yourselves, people. Because some wisdom’s about to get dropped up in here. Let’s do this thing.
Shauna from near-abouts Iowa City writes:
Dear Mr. Dirt Tan,
I’m a casual gravel rider with the same Niner RLT rig as you. Same paint, same everything. (Your taste is impeccable.) I’m ready to go tubeless on this bike, and I thought I’d ask you whether you’ve gone that route. Have you been happy with it?
Have you played around with tire width? What have you dialed in as your favorite setup? I’m eager to hear some perspective from a fellow RLT owner.
Congrats on a great DK finish and thanks for sharing your experiences with the gravel community. Have a safe and fun summer.
Dear RLT Twinsie,
I’m afraid the good taste is all yours. My RLT is an orphan child—the last remaining Niner swept up cheap from a now-defunct shop pining to enter an exclusive relationship with a wealthier model.
Christie Brinkley: a wealthier model (photo, libn.com)
The Niner RLT: First I loved the price. Then I loved the bike.
But to your questions… Should you jump in the tubeless pool? Yes, ma’am. Come on in. The sealant’s fine.
If tubelessness has a downside, it’s a messy and finicky setup. But it’s easy to delegate the dirty work to your friendly local bike shop. And the upside is more capability and less worry on the road. Even if you’re the DIY type, I’ll take frustration in the basement over frustration on the racecourse 10 times out of five.
Now, a sidewall slash can still ruin your day. But riding tubeless decreases your punctures and pinch flats and helps you ride rougher conditions with greater confidence.
What about tire brand and width? It’s really about your priorities. Do you value heavy-duty durability? Or do you want speed?
For the durability-first kind of gravel riders, I’d recommend venturing outside the genre of gravel tires entirely and roll what the tourists roll.
It’s OK. Embrace your inner tourist. (Photo, aceonlineschools.com)
Touring bike setups are designed to carry you and a crap-ton of gear across Patagonia. They’ll get you and your GU packs across a gravel course. In my pre-tubeless days, I ran one pair of Schwalbe Marathon touring tires absolutely bald through three years of gravel and pavement hellfire, and never once flatted.
I see Schwalbe makes a “tubeless-easy” Marathon, and if durability’s your jam, I’d experiment with those.
But touring tires don’t do hurry. And these fun things we enter are called races, right? So when I went tubeless, I also leaned toward performance.
Happy with Schwalbe, I tried their G-One gravel tire. They have a cool factor and a long list of race wins. I felt good about it. And promptly ripped up three of them. So this year, I’m on Maxxis Ramblers, and am satisfied so far.
But here’s the thing about recommendations like these. No matter how detailed, they’re just anecdotal. Neither my positive experiences with the Marathons, nor my negative experiences with the G-Ones, are even close to statistically significant. They’re just what happened when one guy rode them.
Same with tire width. I can spout off about what’s worked best for me. I’ve decided that 38c hits my sweet spot for comfort, control and speed on the roads I ride most often. But don’t be surprised if your experience leads you somewhere else.
My experience only goes so far. And I’ve already told you more than I know.
Experiencing a gravel quandary, crisis or conniption? Write us today. We guarantee to tell you more than we know, or your money back.