You’d have to have been living under a rock to have missed the rapid increase in gravel riding in recent years. Now that it is becoming more established within the cycling community, it is also starting to define what exactly “gravel” means. It covers many kinds of riding, from broken tarmac or shortcuts between main roads to remote and technical singletrack trails, super-chilled social rides to demanding endurance racing. Therefore, choosing the right set up will depend on where you sit on this spectrum with your riding.
First thing to look at - tyres
For a gravel ride setup, the first thing to look at is wider tyres, which range from 35mm upwards. These will offer a larger contact patch (the area of tyre that’s in contact with the ground at any one point), so have greater traction on loose surfaces.
If you’re riding on mixed surface (i.e. road with some lighter gravel) a 35mm tyre is probably plenty. However, for rougher terrain you can now get up to a 50mm tyre for a 700C rim, or if your frame & fork have enough clearance you can even look at running a MTB tyre, this will offer greater comfort on rougher terrain.
It is also important to look at tyre tread as more knobbly treads will increase grip making these great for loose gravel or mud. In contrast, some gravel tyres will be closer to road slicks to make for a faster ride but with reduced grip/traction.
By running wider tyres, you will be able to run lower pressure which further increases the size of contact patch. This also reduces the rolling resistance allowing the tyre to deform around the rougher surfaces, improving ride comfort. Having wider tyres will also add a level of suspension, reducing the physiological impact on the rider’s body.
A tubeless set up is essential when running a lower tyre pressure. This removes the risk of pinch-flatting a tube and the latest sealant technology is always continuing to improve, meaning many punctures will seal before needing any kind of repair now. There is also the added option of tyre inserts which will further protect your rims and reduce the impact/risk of punctures.
Choosing wheels to suit tyre choice
When choosing wider tyres you should also consider wider rims on your wheels. The key specification that you are looking for is the internal rim width as this will determine how the tyre sits on the rim, the rule is the wider the better for wider tyres.
Moreover, wider rims will also keep the tyre sidewall vertical which is essential for a secure fit, allowing the carcass to remain rounded, rather than like a lightbulb shape.
Hooked vs. hookless
The hooked vs. hookless debate is an area that is spoken about regularly in cycling circles currently and gravel wheels are moving towards being designed with this technology more frequently.
Hooked rims maintain maximum compatibility across a range of tyres and there is a broader choice which includes tubed (clincher) setups. Hookless rims in comparison are limited by the ETRTO (European Tire and Rim Technical Organisation) to 72.5psi/5 bar but, for gravel this is not an issue as any tyre would be run at a much lower pressure than on the road.
In the context of gravel, hookless rims allow for a more impact-resistant rim, something which is very important to us at Parcours when undertaking research and development. Our Alta range uses our new IMPACT+ layup and resin technology to further strengthen the edge of the rim. For us at Parcours, hookless technology for road wheels is still a work in progress and is something we will continue to research, but, for the gravel sector it makes complete sense!
There are other factors to consider when you are putting together your gravel setup. The spoke count is one of these as this will determine how rigid and robust a wheel is. For the Alta we use a 28-spoke build as this produces the strongest all-round wheel. The Alta 650B differs slightly and in this we use a 24-spoke build as the shorter spoke length (from the smaller diameter rim) will allow for less flex. This will keep the wheel suitably rigid and robust as having 28 spokes would be overly stiff.
For heavier or more powerful riders we also offer an increased spoke count build ensuring the wheels are robust enough to cope with a higher power output.
Bearings are small component within the wheel but one that must be considered carefully when choosing a gravel set up. At Parcours, we use all-weather seals on our gravel wheel bearings which allows riders to use them in all conditions and reflects the terrain they are built to be used on. When choosing your wheels, it is also worth considering a ceramic bearing upgrade from Kogel which would be offered with cyclocross seals for gravel use, rather than standard road seals making them even more durable over rough terrain.
We believe that a carbon rim is best material suited to gravel riding as it is lighter, allowing for a deeper rim at a lower weight, keeping a degree of aero performance for road use when riding to/from trails. Having a carbon rim is also stronger and more impact resistant than alloy as it will nor deform or bend in the same way.
700C vs. 650B
The debate surrounding 650B wheels over 700c is something that we have done a lot of research and development into at Parcours. There are strong arguments for both and it will entirely depend on the type of riding you’ll be doing.
A 650B wheel with a larger size of tyre will be well-suited for:
- Rougher off-road riding, taking in gravel trails, light singletrack and with a majority of unpaved surfaces
- Looser surfaces where grip is a priority
- Snappy, sharp handling
For lighter off-road riding, including rides which will also include paved roads or tarmac, a 700C wheel will come closer to providing a “best of both worlds” type ride, combining road performance with off-road versatility.
Beyond that, it really does come down to personal preference. Whether you choose to run a 650B wheel with a 47mm tyre, or a 700C wheel with a 38mm tyre, Parcours has a wheel for you.
The Parcours range
If you're looking for all-road riding, look no further than the Ronde. A wheel that is a great mic of road performance but is also durable enough for some off road use or rougher tarmac.