The Right Tire for the Job

I’ve been reading a lot of blog posts and articles online about tire choices for gravel and it’s interesting to me how many people run something different in back than they’re running up front.  To be honest, I’d never really given any thought to doing so myself but then reality intruded.  My rear tire was shot and I needed to replace it fast.  I had an old mismatched front tire from a previous set of WTB Rangers still lying around (I keep the front tires since the rears always wear out sooner) and so I slapped it on the back end of the Fargo so that I could get a ride in.  Lo and behold, it wasn’t bad.

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Serious side knobs.   How would it do on Greene County gravel?
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The old reliable.  For my money, the most delightful gravel tires ever.

But even that old WTB tire was worn and I knew that I was going to need new tires.  For what it’s worth, I’ve been running Vittoria Mezcals both front and back on the Fargo.  They’ve become a personal favorite.  Vittoria infuses their rubber compound with Graphene which, by most accounts, is a wonder material.  It’s absolutely superb when it comes to bicycle tires.  The Mezcals are grippy but wear well.  Rolling resistance is really fabulous, especially when you consider that I’m running  the 29″ x 2.25″ version.  These are heavy tires with a lot of girth.  I’ve become a big fan.

So I was looking around online and came across the Vittoria Morsa.  Vittoria calls this an enduro and trail tire, which is to say a mountain bike tire designed to go uphill and downhill equally well.  I wasn’t all that excited about the tread pattern for the type of riding I do and worried that they’d be terrible on pavement.  They’re slightly wider than the Mezcal at 2.3″, but they were $19.95 a tire at JensonUSA and so I picked up two for giggles and grins.  I mounted one on the back (tubeless) and kept the old Mezcal up front because it still has a lot of miles left in it.  Yesterday was judgement day…the first ride.  Since GIRG is only a week out, the plan was to go 60 miles in 4 hours on a mix of pavement and gravel…not super fast but not dogging it either.    I do this sort of thing a lot.  I like to see how close I can get to my target time.  Yesterday I got pretty close…17 seconds close over four hours.  Not too shabby.

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Just to be clear, my Salsa Fargo is not a gravel race rig.  This is my go-everywhere, have loads of fun rig and the performance of this tire combination on it was simply superb.  Around here, go everywhere means a combination of gravel and pavement…usually.  The gravel yesterday was wet, heavy and slow from significant rain on Saturday and yet I was able to power through in a way I probably wouldn’t have with a Mezcal on the back.  Going uphill on loose gravel I was able to stand on the pedals and there was minimal slippage.  There was also a downhill stretch on slick mud at mile 48 and the bike was stable and solid.  What’s not to like?

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Deep tracks means hard work, but the Morsa handled it with aplomb.
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The tire was well mannered and stable, even when descending on slick mud.
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And it (surprisingly) rolled reasonably well on pavement, too!

But an even bigger surprise was just how well the Morsa performed on pavement. I did not expect this at all and was really pleased.  Of my sixty miles, approximately 40 were on the smooth stuff and it was pure joy.  I had a lot left in the tank when I got home.  I had expected to work a little harder, not that I’m complaining.  This is supposed to be an easy week.

In hindsight, I’m starting to realize that getting tires right for conditions on gravel matters…a lot.  It’s probably the single biggest factor in terms of speed, effort and how much fun a ride entails.   Get the tires right for conditions and you’re going to go faster while working less.  Get them wrong and it can be a real slog.

Like most things gravel related, this is something that took a little while for me to figure out.  Now that I have, I look forward to experimenting with other tire combinations going forward.

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