When you think about it the only bit of the whole bike that connects you, the frame, all the parts and the wheels to the ground are the tyres and even then it’s a tiny contact patch in comparison with the surface area of the whole package. So it’s vitally important that this interface is exactly what you need to give traction for climbing, cornering confidence and braking performance. Which is a wide range of things for one design of tyre to achieve. This would be easy if all we rode was a road bike on tarmac, there, apart from icy conditions its basically one type of surface that is either wet or dry. That’s relatively easy for a manufacturer to design a tyre for. However, the gravel bike rider is a little more demanding, even in summer my local rides can include dry tarmac, hardpack singletrack, damp singletrack, dry dusty loose mud, hub deep (yes even in summer) mud and water and let’s not even begin to list the different types of “gravel” we experience in the UK as it would probably take up all the words in this article.
Who would be a gravel tyre designer then given the sheer range of conditions that tyre would need to excel at in a world wide market? Pirelli though have thrown their hat into the ring and come up with the Cinturato Gravel M tyre.
Extra UK the Pirelli tyre distributor in the UK sent me a pair of the Cinturato Gravel M, (“M” stands for Mixed terrain) tyres and I asked for the 45mm version. I’d have liked to try the tan wall version but at the time these were unavailable so I received the normal version that comes with what Pirelli call “techwall” which is a cut resistant 120tpi (threads per inch) casing all over the perimeter of the tyre to help reduce punctures and sidewall slashes but still retain a supple feeling. Pirelli say this is a cross over between their road tyre and mtb tyre technology. They say tread compound is “gravel specific”, don’t laugh! And comes from their World rally car experience where a mix of speed and grip is essential. So on paper it all sounds good, but as stated above the stuff we ride on is a little more challenging than paper!
On first impressions just looking at the tread I’d have said these tyres were more of a fast rolling tyre than a grippy tyre with the almost continuous centre tread with side knobs that don’t exactly stick out too far compared to something like a WTB resolute they look fast. The tyres are tubeless ready and popped onto the rims of my wheels very easily with just the use of a track pump.
I set the tyres up with the pressure I usually run in other tyres and I won’t say what pressure though as that topic is worth a whole novel in its self!
It’s time now to say that in 4 years of riding gravel bikes this is the first time I’ve ever ridden a tyre that wasn’t a tan/skin wall and these tyres with their tech wall design did feel noticeably stiffer and less compliant or maybe I should say more supportive. Because of this I was able to drop the pressures slightly which gave me more grip without the feeling that the tyres were going to roll off the rim during hard cornering.
On tarmac they were noticeably faster rolling than my previous tyres, the centre strip also gave off less hum as speed increased. Onto off road on some dry but very bumpy (thank you horse hooves) singletrack the less rolling resistance could also be felt but because I was able to run them slightly lower pressure together with the 45mm width the tyres smoothed the trail out and I felt less like my teeth were going to be rattled out.
I pedaled one of my usual routes which is a mix of tarmac, gravel, mtb-esq trails and mud, your typical UK gravel ride but on this first ride on the new rubber I felt like I needed to test the mud riding ability too. However, we were in the middle of a very dry spell so muddy trails were scarce…..it’s lovely to say that! There is one trail tough that is permanently wet, it starts at a disused phone box repurposed into a library and goes from dry mud to pebbled stream bed to all year round deep mud, all downhill. I thought though if I was to challenge these tyres capability I’d do the trail “the wrong way” and start from the bottom.
The trail this way around goes across someone’s drive and plunges straight into the deepest mud on the trail, up and over the height of tyres and rims combined. I ploughed on and I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting a stellar performance from these tyres in mud just by looking at the tread pattern but the more I pedaled and the steeper the climb got the more impressed I was with the amount of traction they managed to find. There were a couple of slips and wheel spins but for the most part if I could keep pedaling then forward motion continued. Out of the worst of the deep mud and onto the stream bed the tyre performed well, I defy any tyre not to ping off some of the large polished rocks that litter the trail. Out to the other end and back on tarmac past the telephone box and some faster rolling conditions the tyres shed the mud very quickly.
Jump forward 3 weeks and I can report that the Cinturato experience has continued in the same vein, no punctures to report despite a lot of local blackthorn hedge trimming so maybe the tech wall worked, I can’t really tell other than to say pressures have stayed constant. I’ve ridden around 350 miles on the tyres now and they are showing no signs of wear
I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the Pirelli Cinturato tyres but I’ve been pleasantly surprised, although i wouldn’t say they were a tyre for deep winter (unless your conditions in winter don’t consist of lots of cloying mud like my local conditions do) but definitely a 3 seasons tyre, they excel on dry trails and tarmac obviously but do a great job on the stickier stuff too. When they do get clogged with mud they clear quickly allowing the tread to dig in and find grip. The sidewalls are noticeably stiffer than tyres I’ve run before allowing lower pressures and thus more grip for traction and cornering. I would love to try a tan wall version to compare.
Pirelli Cinturato M tyres, confidence inspiring rubber for all but the very muddiest conditions with added puncture resistance and with the range of widths available there’s no reason not to fit a set to your bike and reap the benefits.