When I started riding my current bike, I primarily rode on pavement. The default 700c wheels came with Schwalbe Spicer tires which are good (and probably should have stuck with) but I felt they could be better for some reason. I wanted to experiment so I purchased a set of Continental Grand Prix 5000 tires. Definitely could tell a difference right away! Better rolling resistance for sure...but, like the Spicers, still made for a rough ride. I’m not a speed demon. I just want a comfortable ride while still being able to keep up with others on group rides.
As the gravel trend emerged, I figured this was a good opportunity to smooth out my ride and add some comfort. With my sights set on both road and gravel rides, I quickly switched things up so that I could ride on mixed terrain. The goal was to have a tire that could handle both gravel and asphalt.
I opted to invest in a 650b wheelset with WTB Horizon 47 tires which I’ve been riding for a number of months now. It’s a great tire and I’ve been pretty happy with it. I was pleasantly surprised by how well it handles tougher gravel terrain. Plus, on asphalt, the ride is super smooth. This wheelset/tire combo will likely still be my “go to” for many rides to come.
Only downside to this combo is tire diameter. Technically, a 47mm tire on a 650b wheel is roughly the same diameter as a 30mm tire on a 700c wheel. The Continental tires were 32mm so they really weren’t that much bigger. Regardless, the Horizons felt a little slow on asphalt, like I have to pedal my ass off just to keep up with a group. They’re made for comfort rather than speed. Great for gravel and casual riding. Not so great if you need some extra speed to keep up with a group ride.
My 700c wheelset has largely been collecting dust. I threw it on recently for a few rides to test out a new handlebar. Other than that, I largely have been riding on my 650b wheels. I just don’t trust the Continental’s as much anymore. Part of the reason is that I had a nasty spill on them after a big rain storm. While they’re super cool on road, they’re not so good on dirty trails and other areas with loose dirt and gravel. I came to the conclusion that a road slick just isn’t for me.
700c Gravel Tire Choices
This got me thinking: What if I switch out the slicks for a solid gravel tire that works well on asphalt? After all, my bike can accept a 700c tire up to 40mm wide. There are LOTS of choices out there now for 700c gravel tires, the most popular being around 38mm or so. Depending on my choice, the tire I choose would be taller than the WTB Horizon, narrower as well, and overall would offer better speed on asphalt. That’s the theory anyways.
The more and more I read about current 700c gravel choices the more it seemed like a 38mm tire is the most popular choice. It’s said to be in that sweet spot in terms of width and volume. While the max for my bike is 40mm, I kept my options open for any tire between 38mm and 40mm. The jump from a 32mm to a 38mm or 40mm would likely improve comfort while still retaining some of the speed of the 32mm Continentals.
After some research, I narrowed my choices down to three:
I was pretty much dead set on gettin the WTB Venture. I really like my WTB Horizon tires and figured another WTB tire would be worth looking at. The Venture looks to be a solid choice and, who knows, maybe in the future I might look at this tire again. But as I kept reviewing and reading reviews and comments about other gravel tire choices more options emerged.
One of the options I looked at was the SimWorks Volummy tire. This one was the closest thing to the WTB Horizon tire. I mean, it’s practically a 700c version of the same tire. Only thing missing is the grooves present in the Horizon. Again, I darn near ordered these. That is, until I read a review about another tire option.
The last tire I looked at was the Specialized Pathfinder Pro 2Bliss Ready tire. After reading various reviews, I was convinced this was the tire to ride on. Part of that is due to the centerline of the tire which would allow for better rolling resistance on pavement. The other part is that the tread would allow for better traction on heavier terrain than even the WTB Horizons.
While the Volummy is sort of a semi-slick tire, the Venture has no solid centerline whatsoever, which meant that the Pathfinder Pro would likely be faster on pavement. The rest of the tread on the Pathfinder Pro is pretty similar to the Venture, but the Venture doesn’t have a solid center line. Basically came down to the Pathfinder Pro being the best of both worlds really. It’s as if the Venture and Volummy had a baby! :P
My thought was that, with the Pathfinder Pro, I would end up with two wheel sets that would give me more varied choices for the ride at hand. The 650b/Horizon combo would still be good for casual road and gravel rides. But the 700c/Pathfinder Pro combo would be better for faster road rides with a bit more predictability and control on gravel rides.
The Horizons tend to spin a bit on sharper uphill gravel climbs. The hope is that the Pathfinders will have more grip on these kind of climbs. Yet another situation where this combo would be an asset.
Installation with Tubes
Installation with tubes went very smooth. These tires are quite stiff so getting them onto your rims might be a little harder than others. Now, I have no experience installing them as tubeless but, based on other reviews, it seems getting them installed on a tubeless wheel is a piece of cake (which I’ll talk about in a bit).
With the first tire, I did have a little bit of a hard time getting the last bit of tire around the rim. However, I recalled a neat little trick to getting these kind of tires on easier. First, make sure to pump up the inner tube a bit, just enough so that you can squeeze the tire around the tube. Then, once you’re close to having the entire on, pump up the tube more so that you get a little pressure on the tire. This makes it so that more of the tire is clinched on which, when using a tire lever, you can get that last bit on much easier. Plus, it helps avoid any tube pinching with the tire lever.
Since I’m installing these with tubes, my only concern is the risk of tube pinches at lower pressures. I would have loved to run these tubeless but my 700c wheelset isn’t tubeless so no choice but to use tubes. Eventually I’ll upgrade the wheelset to a tubeless one (more on this later!) but, for now, I’ll run it as-is.
One thing I noticed is that, while the max clearance for my bike is 40mm, the Pathfinder Pro darn near maxes the clearance out. I could probably have gone with a 40mm tire but, man, it would have been pretty tight. The front offers a little bit more clearance than the back. In the back, I would be concerned going with a 40mm tire with the same amount of tread. Pretty sure it would still fit but I would probably feel more comfortable after changing out the front derailleur bracket.
Road Ride Impressions
After installing the Pathfinder Pros, I took them for a spin a couple of times on some shorter rides. The pressure range is between 50-80 psi so for my initial ride I set it to 70 psi in the front and 75 psi in the back. That’s probably a little high but I figure this would give me a decent baseline to gauge on road rides. Right off the bat, I did notice that they were stiffer than the Horizons but that’s expected between two tires with a 9mm difference. Lower pressures are probably better...just not too low.
Rolling resistance is definitely better than the WTB Horizons. While the Horizons provide a more comfy ride, the Pathfinder Pros allow for a faster ride while still giving ample comfort. The slick centerline of the tire adds to the speed of the tire on asphalt. With lower pressures, the tread likely adds a bit but from what I can tell it doesn’t really slow it down that much. No doubt a good road tire is faster but for the kind of rides I do I honestly don't think I’m gonna notice much difference.
One thing that stood out was how cornering feels. It’s way different. If you’re going from a slick road tire or even a semi-slick like the WTB Horizon, the feeling of the Pathfinder Pros will put you off at first. The diamond patterned tread tends to hug the pavement in a way that at first makes you think it’s gonna slip. I’m sure once I ride them more on different types of asphalt the feel of them will improve. At the moment, the sound and feel of them are a little odd. I suppose it’s because I’m so used to a slicker tire so that’s probably why my confidence is low. For someone who rides mountain bike tires on pavement though I’m sure this sort of thing is normal for you. But for someone like me who is riding mixed terrain for the first time this is very much a new experience. (Note: I used to ride a hybrid cruiser/BMX bike with dirt bike tires when I was a kid but that was a really, really long time ago!)
On a longer road ride, I lowered the pressure to 55 psi in the front and 60 psi in the back. I wanted to gauge how things felt on the low end. The tires are supple enough for a more comfortable ride at lower pressures. Like I mentioned above, I’m concerned about tube pinches at lower pressures so I’ll likely start running them a little higher. I’m thinking that 60/65 psi should do alright. In fact, I’ll probably run closer to 70 psi in the back. I think I can get away with 60 psi in the front for most rides. That will likely be just high enough to avoid pinches and bottom-outs.
I’m starting to get a better handle of cornering on pavement with these tires. My guess is that cornering only gets easier once you break them in. I’ll definitely revisit this particular area later on after multiple road rides.
So...how do these handle on gravel rides?
Gravel Ride Impressions
To test out the Pathfinder Pros, I opted to take a ride on the Trinity Levee here in Dallas. I’ve ridden the levee trail using the WTB Horizons which will make it easier to compare them with the Pathfinder Pros.
The initial part of my ride took me on some gravel areas that were pretty much middle of the road in terms of the terrain. The gravel wasn’t fine but it wasn’t super rough either. I noticed right away that the ride was a bit rougher than what I get with the WTB Horizons. (There’s that 9mm difference in tire width again!) Also, since I’m running with tubes the Pathfinder Pros definitely won’t be quite as supple as that of a tubeless setup.
On one area of the levee, I rode down to the bottom in order to cross under a bridge. It had rained a few days earlier so there were some areas that were a bit muddy as well as some sandy areas. I had ridden through similar areas of the levee on the WTB Horizons and made it through, no problem, but it was a little sluggish. At times, I could feel a bit of side sliding going through mud. A 47mm wide tire with very little tread is only going to help you so much. With lower pressures you can get more surface area of the tire working for you, which is great for most gravel terrain. But that doesn’t always apply to every type of terrain...especially mud!
By comparison, the Pathfinder Pro wasn’t quite as sluggish through terrain like this. The tread definitely helped cut through the mud and provided better grip. I felt a little bit of slide here and there but that’s mostly due to the soft ground giving way. No tire will help when the ground below you decides to move. Aside from that, I think the Pathfinder Pro has an advantage for this type of terrain compared to the Horizons. Just felt like things were more stable going through mud and sand with the Pathfinder Pros.
One thing that surprised me was how well the Pathfinder Pro repelled mud. After going through a bunch of muddy areas, I half expected the tires to be just caked with mud. Nope! Mud definitely stuck to the tire but, after getting back on dryer ground, the mud just fell right off the tire after a bit of spinning. That’s good news, especially if you’re going from a muddy area to asphalt. I’ve eaten pavement due to muddy tires slipping on a turn so knowing that the Pathfinder Pros can sort of clean themselves does add more confidence when riding.
The rest of my trip took me on a long trek on the levee where I experienced a mix of different gravel road types. Some parts were definitely rougher than others as well as some areas of much finer gravel. With terrain like this, the WTB Horizons do just fine. They’re plush and allow for a very comfortable ride. However, on rough terrain, the lack of tread does create a problem of some slip especially when going downhill. It’s not bad but definitely have to take note of it when planning gravel rides.
With the Pathfinder Pro, the diamond patterned tread showed its colors as I hit various mixed gravel roads. Maneuverability along the trail seemed a bit more stable than the Horizons. This was especially true on rougher terrain. I had a few times when I needed to quickly veer around a big rock or bull pit (my name for the gravel equivalent of a pot hole). The Pathfinder Pros definitely give me a bit more confidence when I need to move and move quickly from side to side along a gravel path.
There was little to no slip when going up and down big gravel hills as well. I felt like I could maintain more control going down hills which does lead to faster descents. However, I will say that I still had to stay seated when going up gravel hills, otherwise the back tire slips. Pretty much any tire will slip in the back if more weight is being applied to the front when going uphill. The added tread and larger diameter of the Pathfinder Pro though does seem to help with uphill climbs on heavy gravel.
Overall, it was a successful ride and taught me a lot about what the Pathfinder Pro was capable of compared to the WTB Horizon. However, I did wonder...how much better can the Pathfinder Pro be with a tubeless setup?
So far, I’m really liking the Pathfinder Pro, but I wondered how much improvement there could be if I mounted them to a tubeless wheelset. I had purchased a 27.5” FSA NS wheelset for the WTB Horizons which I’ve been really happy with. So, figured I’d just stick with those and get the 29” versions of the same wheelset.
Now, I have never done my own tubeless installation. This would be my first time. It was definitely a learning experience for sure. I got the wheel tape on, no problem, and it was a piece of cake getting the tires onto the rims. The fun part came when adding the sealant.
The first tire I did, the front one, I got sealant everywhere! Even made the mistake of leaving the bottle of sealant open and toppled it over spilling a good amount on the floor. I didn’t have a compressor so I had to resort to using a standard tire pump. Sealant leaked out of the edges of the tire and I just couldn’t get the beads to seat right. I even took my emergency CO2 pump and tried that, which resulted in a wasted CO2 tank. Nice. Eventually, I just kept pumping with the hand pump while spinning the wheel around. It finally worked and the beads popped right into place. But, man, what a mess to get to that point!
The second tire was much, much easier. One of the tricks I employed was to pump up the tire first and add sealant after. I started pumping and pumping and, after a series of pumps, I was surprised that the beads popped right into place. The pressure held and I was able to pump it all the way to the max PSI. From there, I took out all the air, removed the valve, and added the sealant. This was a much, much easier approach with almost no mess. Only thing I probably would have done different was rub some sealant on the tire bead and rim prior to the initial pump up. I had to top off the sealant on the last tire I installed so adding some sealant to the tire bead probably would have helped it stick and seal better.
Overall, the install was relatively easy. In fact, with a little practice, I think tubeless might be an easier install than with tubes. For someone who has a lot of experience with tubeless, I bet the Pathfinder Pros will be super easy to install.
Once setup, I took the new tubeless setup for a spin. Even on just asphalt I could tell right away that the Pathfinder Pro was more supple. Still not as supple as the Horizon but a better ride nonetheless. Ideal tire pressure remains the same but without the tubes everything just feels more cushy. Also, cornering feels better. Without the tube, it just feels like the tire can shift and stretch better and provide more control in turns. So, yeah, tubeless definitely provides more benefits. Basically, with tubeless you’re allowing the tire to shift and move more naturally without being encumbered by a tube. At this point, I doubt I'll ever go back to using a tube setup! :P
I’m thoroughly pleased with the Pathfinder Pro. The primary goal was to find a tire that would work well on rides that were primarily on asphalt. I love the WTB Horizon wheelset I have but being that it’s noticeably smaller than a typical tire on a 700c wheelset it’s not as fast on pavement. When installed on a 29” wheel, the Pathfinder Pro provides a better overall wheel circumference than the Horizon. Add to that a slick centerline, a bit smaller width, some tread on the outer areas, and you end up with a tire that provides better rolling resistance on pavement while still giving you plenty of grip on mixed terrains. It definitely feels faster than the WTB Horizons and does offer a bit better grip on gravel climbs. So, yeah, goal achieved!
But that’s not the total story. What I really gained with the Pathfinder Pros is versatility. The WTB Horizons are still a “go to” tire for most of my gravel rides. However, for rides that I know will require more asphalt and/or better tread the Pathfinder Pros will definitely be my “go to” tire. Heck, I don’t even have a road slick tire setup anymore. I pretty much plan on riding all road-only rides with the Pathfinder Pro. In the end, it’ll probably end up being a 50/50 split on time spent with each tire setup.
The Pathfinder Pro is a rather surprising tire. Even on gravel, you’ll find it to be rather speedy. At 38mm wide, its right in that sweet spot in terms of comfort while still retaining the speed and control you’d expect from a skinnier tire. In the end, if you need a solid gravel tire that works well on both gravel and asphalt, you simply cat go wrong with the Specialized Pathfinder Pro.