QUESTION: Can you put road tires on a gravel bike? I’m looking at a used gravel bike and like the idea of a more upright and comfortable geometry. But in reality I almost only ride on the road so I probably want road tires. – Ralph C
RBR REPLIES: Yes, you can definitely use road tires on a gravel bike. The reverse is not true though, because road bike frames often don’t have enough clearance to fit a wider gravel tire. There are a few issues you might still look out for if you’re going to run road tires on a gravel bike.
Some gravel bikes come with ultra wide wheels that specify a minimum tire size. My ENVE gravel wheels have a minimum tire size requirement of 28mm, for example. That’s because the additional width of the rim requires enough tire to span the rim distance and still seat properly. A tire that isn’t wide enough could blow off the rim and cause a crash. But many roadies these days are riding 28mm tires anyway, so that doesn’t have to stop you.
Another potential issue with using road tires is that your gravel bike might not have a high enough top gear that allows you to keep up on fast group rides. Since a gravel bike is designed for wider, knobby tires and riding on rougher surfaces that tend to mean lower average speeds, you usually get more low gears for climbing hills and not as big of a top gear for high speeds. So study the gearing on that gravel bike and make sure it’s something you can live with.
Instead of swapping out tires, it might be simpler to swap out the entire wheelset if you have a spare set of road wheels that match your gravel drivetrain. (You’ll need the same or a compatible drivetrain brand, and a cassette with the same number of gears.) This way you could use your existing road wheels when you’re riding on the road, and then quickly switch back to your gravel wheels for gravel roads or bike paths. It would make things quite a bit more expensive to buy an entire second set of wheels if you don’t already own a set though.