Bigger is better
I submitted my name for the Dirty Kanza lottery in the hope of riding in the world’s premier 200-mile gravel bike race. After watching several YouTube videos and reading articles about the race, it was clear to me bigger tires were better to resist puncture and to navigate over the sharp chert rocks of Kansas’ Flint Hills.
As an archaeologist on the Southern Plains, I have studied prehistoric stone tools crafted from these rocks, and my fingers can attest to their sharpness. I have cut myself several times while making prehistoric tools for replication experiments.
I decided to upgrade from Stan’s No Tubes The Raven 700×35 tire to the larger Continental Terra Trail 700X40 tire. I ride on a Specialized Diverge road bike and regularly switch between a road and gravel wheel set. My gravel wheels are Stan’s No Tubes Grail S1. These rims can fit road tires between 25 to 32mm at tire pressures up to 115, and wider gravel tires with pressures below 45psi.
I have used Continental’s Gator Skin road tires and appreciate their puncture resistance. The Terra Trail, along with Terra Speed are Continental’s first tubeless gravel-specific tires — released in August 2019. The Terra Trail tires have a slightly more aggressive knob pattern for muddier condition compared to the Terra Speed; otherwise, the two tires have the same BlackChill Compound thread, a ProTection layer, 3 plies 180 TPI in the sidewall, and 4 plies 240 TPI under the tread.
I was shocked by how easy it was to mount the Terra Trail tires. A combination of sheer will, an arm pumping cardiovascular workout, and luck typically are needed to install tubeless tires without an air compressor. I almost gave up trying to get the bead to stick with the Raven tires. I had to purchase a special bike pump that can compress air until the valve is released, and it still was a chore mounting the Raven tires even with the new pump.
After placing the Terra Trail tires, with new sealant, on the rims, I was ready for a workout to get the new tires’ beads to set with my special pump. To my surprise, however, I just started pumping, and I immediately heard the popping sounds of the beads sitting. I did not need to use the air compressor function of the pump.
After a maiden voyage, I can report that I thoroughly enjoyed having the broader tires to provide more stability for navigating my local gravel trails.
I did not get into the Dirty Kanza for this year, but I am looking forward to using these tires in the 100 mile Caprock Gravel Grind in Southland, Texas, and other races this year.