My primary sponsor, my Dad, supplied me with some new tires to test this week. Gatorskin 700X32. These tires offer industry leading flat protection coupled with performance, or at least that’s Continental’s story. When my Dad told me he was ordering tires from England and asked if I needed any I knew it was a perfect chance to get some new tires for the gravel road bike. It’s been hung up without being touched since the last Dirty South ride way back in March. On that last ride my Vittoria Roubiax 700x28s lost a chunk of tread, which I have mixed feelings about. The tires are several years old, but haven’t really seen that many miles, but the miles they have seen were rough gravel or loaded touring. After thinking about it a minute I said, get me the biggest one they got.”
For years I’ve been reading forum posts on the web about how 700×32 tires are faster then smaller tires. There seems to be this group of riders knows something that all the rest of us with 700×23 tires don’t know. I’ve always thought that was rubbish, bigger tires are going to be heavier and slower, but there was still a question in the back of my head, maybe, just maybe.
I mounted the tires up on Jake the Snake which has some Open Pro rims. They’re big, real big, but they don’t look ridiculous, in fact they look kind of cool. I’m certain the sidewall said the max pressure was 94 lbs, I put close to 90 in them and took off. The first ride left me with doubts about their usefulness as a road tire. It seemed to be much more work to hold the bike at speed, almost like I was dragging an anchor. As you can imagine the ride of a 32mm tire is phenominal, all the rubber just ate up bumps. Performance in gravel was far better then the 23 or 28s I’ve run the past, and not much different from the treaded cyclocross tires I’ve tried.
I rode out to Jenny Ridge which is an extremely steep and short climb, so steep that it’s hard to keep gravel on it, it regularly washes out revealing ledges of sandstone underneath. I typically have no problem with the climb until the last 20 feet where it hits about around 18-20% grade and the gravel becomes very thick. On a cyclocross tire with some tread I’ve been able to spin the rest of the way up, but on road bike tires I almost always spin out and come to a halt. The 700×32 Gatorskins weren’t able to get me up the climb, but the gravel seemed thicker then usual.
Even though I didn’t finish the climb in two attempts I’m quite certain the larger tire saved me on the approach to Jenny Ridge. As I turned onto Jenny Ridge road I realized that gravel had really piled up in the turn, three or four inches deep, when my tires dug into the gravel in the middle of turning I expected to go down, but found that the bigger tires floated enough to not washout in the gravel, they didn’t dig in and bog out like a skinnier tire would.
I was curious about the slowness of the tires on hard road, and started checking out my bike when I got home, it had been making alot of noise. I found a crunchy bottom bracket bearing. I replaced the bearing and took another ride Thursday. The drag that I felt was nearly gone, I averaged around 16 for a ride with lots of gravel and wind, and no longer felt like I was fighting the bike to keep it moving. Now don’t get me wrong, it didn’t feel nearly as fast as my 700x23s but it wasn’t that different. The weight of the tires can be felt during acceleration and climbing, and I’m sure I could cruise a little faster on the flats with the 700x23s, but not much faster.
So upon reflection I’m pretty happy with the 700×32 Gatorskin, though I think I’d probably be a little better off with the 700×28. I’ve done lots of gravel riding with a 700×28 with durability being the only problem and on the hard road the 28 is going to be better then the 32. The 32 really shines on broken pavement, jumping curbs, potholes, cracks and stuff like that. I felt incredibly confident on the 32, I couldn’t imagine a better touring or city tire where absolute speed is not a priority.
If your routes are going to contain lots of rough roads or chunky gravel the 700×32 can’t be beat.