Reviewing the WTB Riddler tire has been an interesting experience. Technically speaking, this is the third gravel tire I’ve tried. It’s by far the most aggressive all-terrain tire I’ve put on my bike to date. Compared to other gravel tires I’ve ridden on, how do these compare?
An Irreparable Tire Puncture
One of the downsides of running tubeless is the possibility of having tire punctures. Most of the time, with small punctures, the sealant you use will plug up the hole. However, a big enough puncture can’t be sealed and has to be fixed with a plug or patch kit. There are times though when a puncture just can’t be repaired. These are the moments when tubeless tires kind of suck.
After riding on a set of Specialized Pathfinder Pro tires for the better part of a year, something happened that caused me to consider a new set of tires: I got a flat. But not just any flat. I punched the hell out of the side of my back tire and later found a second hole in the sidewall right near the bead. Definitely puts the back tire in the arena of non-repairable. Granted, I could have just replaced the one tire. But I figured it was time for a change up.
Deciding on a New Tire
The max size I can put on my bike with a 700c/29” wheel is a 38mm tire. At that size, it just barely works with the front fork before hitting the bottom of the crown. I do have a 650b wheelset so I can go wider if I want with it. But I primarily ride gravel with a 700c wheelset. Just feels faster with 29” wheels.
Lots of brands are putting out gravel-specific tires. Hutchinson for instance put out the Toureg tire recently (isn’t that the name of a VW?). But a lot of other brands have been in the game for a bit longer so many of the newer tires seem to have a look-a-like quality about them. The Toureg and the recently released Specialized Rhombus all resemble tires that already exist. They feel more or less like iterations off of other tires. There might be some innovation with some of these new tires but distinguishing between the real innovations versus the iterations is starting to become really hard.
One of the first brands I thought of for this upgrade was WTB. This is a company that does a fair job of innovating on tires. They’re also one of the first to truly tackle the idea of a gravel-specific tire. I’ve been riding on a set of WTB Horizon tires on my 650b wheelset and have been quite pleased with them. Great cushy tire that does well for easy rides on both road and light gravel.
Now, I did consider the Rene Herse Steilacomm tire, which is a rather beefy 700c x 38mm tire. Compared to the Riddler though, it just felt like the Steilacomm was a bit much, not to mention they’re also a little pricey.
I also looked at the Panaracer gravel series tires, specifically the GravelKing SK. Like the Riddler, it’s a rather popular tire within the gravel cycling community. It’s very, very similar to the Riddler but the outer tread isn’t as chunky.
I don’t think I could have gone wrong with GravelKing or the Riddler. They both have very good reviews and seem to be well liked by those who ride on them. A review on the Gran Fondo website claimed that the Riddler offers better puncture protection, more rolling resistance, and proved to be a bit faster than the GravelKing. In the end, I decided to go with the Ridder.
About the WTB Riddler
The WTB Riddler tire is a benchmark gravel tire for 700c wheelsets. Available in 37 and 45 mm versions, the Riddler allows for a high level of versatility. A low-profile center tread is matched up with a more chunky outer tread to allow for better cornering on difficult terrain.
My main concern was having a tire that is versatile enough to handle multiple levels of terrain. The Riddler looks to be the kind of tire that can easily handle gravel terrain anywhere between Category 1 on up to Category 3. Once you get to Category 4, that’s probably the level when a more beefier tire might be in order. The Riddler’s newest brother, the Raddler, might be a better choice for more gnarly terrain.
I wanted something that is similar to the Pathfinder Pro but without the smooth centerline. The Riddler certainly fits that bill and then some. With the Pathfinder Pro, I found that the back wheel would slip a bit in a steep climb on chunky gravel. With the Riddler’s tread in the middle I figure that will help me immensely with climbs. Plus, the beefier outer tread would likely aid in better grip with climbs as well, especially when running at lower pressures.
There’s also the issue of puncture protection. I honestly wasn’t please to see two punctures in my Pathfinder Pro’s so having a tire that is more resilient to punctures was definitely a concern. WTB doesn’t make any claims on the puncture protection of the Riddlers. Some reviewers say that the Ridder’s puncture protection is quite good. However, some reviewers, even on WTB’s own website, claim that they don’t offer much in the way of puncture protection. Regardless, I figure they have to be better than the protection provided by the Pathfinder Pro. Only time will tell.
Installing the Riddlers
Before getting the Riddlers, I was having problems getting rim tape installed on my wheels. Seems that Stan’s rim tape doesn’t want to stick and the Kapton variety of rim tape seemed to promote more leakage. I ended up going ghetto and used Gorilla tape to seal up the wheel. So far, so good...now onto getting the tires on.
Getting the tires around the rims was a little tough but not unexpected. They fit pretty tight so I had to use a tire lever to get them around my rims. I’m ok with tight if it means that the tire will be more airtight around the rims.
I use a Specialized Air Tool Blast tubeless tire setter to blast tires and get them initially seated. The front tire took a couple of tries. Don’t know if it was the Gorilla tape or just the tire but one area didn’t wanna seat properly initially. Wasn’t until the second blast and a little bit of pulling till it seemed to seat and not leak. Definitely need to keep my eye on the front tire since it appears to leak a little bit more than the rear. The rear tire was no problem. Took only one blast and it seated right up. I let both tires sit for a while at 50 psi before adding sealant.
Added a couple of ounces of Orange Seal sealant to each one, pumped them back up to 50 psi, rotated and bounce them to spread the sealant, and then let them sit for a few. After that, I brought the psi down for a quick test before the first big ride. Tires felt fine and didn’t appear to have any noticeable issues with the installation.
Time to do the first ride on gravel!
First Ride Impressions
Dialing in the right psi is always a bit of an experiment with virtually any tire. The recommended psi range for the Riddler is between 30-50 psi. For my first ride, I set the pressure to 44/46 psi in the front/rear respectively. I based this primarily on Silca’s tire pressure calculator which actually gave me a 45/47 psi recommendation for Cat 2 gravel conditions. My first ride wasn’t going to amount to a lot of Cat 3 conditions so I figure a little less would work. Might even run it at 43/45 psi next time. What’s wild is that Silca’s recommendation for Cat 3 gravel is actually 39/40.5 psi. Could probably run it even lower and give it a more cushy feel.
Here in Dallas, we have a series of gravel trails off the Trinity Levee near downtown Dallas. The terrain is pretty varied with mostly Cat 1 and 2 gravel roads with a good amount of Cat 3 gravel to boot. Depending on where you go and what the weather is like the days before you can run into soft dirt or mud, chunky gravel, and more. There are some gnarly areas to ride on for sure.
While the majority of the trails are pretty level, there are a number of areas that require sharp climbs and descents to get on and off the levee. These are the parts where I can really test the climbing ability of my tires. Some of these descents/climbs can have some pretty chunky gravel as well as ruts to maneuver around. Definitely have had my fair share of moments when my back tire would slip and slide a bit while climbing up onto the levee.
The initial circuit of my ride was a simple out-and-back stretch of the levee. Along the way, there are three areas that require descending and climbing back on the levee. Right off the bat, I noticed that the condition of the gravel roads changed a bit. Don’t know if the city regraded them or what but they definitely felt a bit rougher than normal. This definitely added to the test and upped the ante a bit with the new tires.
Setting off on the levee I maintained a cruising speed of around 12 mph. The Riddlers felt pretty darn good and seemed to have better rolling resistance compared to the Pathfinder Pros I was using before. Now, the Pathfinder Pro is a bit bigger tire and definitely is a little more supple. While the Riddler may lack a bit in suppleness, it makes up for it with more traction and control. I was able to float over some of the more chunkier areas of the road while still maintaining speed. The beefy side tread of the Riddlers definitely gave me more confidence for sure. I could definitely tell a difference between them and the Pathfinder Pro in terms of how they grip the road.
Climbing with the Riddlers was noticeably better too. I don’t have a dropper post so I try to stay seated while not leaning too far forward. If I don’t then too much weight in the front can cause the rear wheel to slip. Regardless, the Pathfinder Pro tended to slip a bit too much in the rear. My theory is that the smooth centerline is the cause for most of the slippage. The Riddler did a better job at maintaining traction. I felt a little slippage here and there but, honestly, I think you would have to have some pretty beefy tires to keep from slipping on some of the chunkier gravel climbs I did.
Heading back from the first segment, I did a bit of switching sides on the double-track road I was on. I could definitely feel the outer tread when I did. Just felt a little more grippy when I veered from one side to the next. It’s like the tread just pushes things out of the way to help you maintain speed and direction. Noice!
The second part of my ride started me off on mostly asphalt parts of the trail for the first half. This is probably the type of terrain where the Pathfinder Pro works best. By comparison, the tread of the Riddler is definitely more noticeable. I can’t say that it rolls bad though. Rolling resistance even on pavement is still really good. Maybe not as good as the Pathfinder Pro but still very good nonetheless. Cornering does feel a little weird though with the outer tread but nothing that would worry me really.
The last stretch of the ride was made up mostly of Cat 2 gravel conditions. There were a few rougher areas and some lighter areas with broken pavement. The Riddler handled it all like a champ, allowing me to maintain a great pace with the utmost confidence.
I don’t think I had any moments where the Riddlers felt squirrelly or squirmy. In fact, I think I could even go down more with the psi of these tires without them being too supple. The Riddler isn’t the most supple tire I’ve ever ridden on which might be a bit of an advantage really. The more supple a tire is the more it tends to shift as the psi goes down. These seem to maintain their form more when shifting your weight around on them. Will be interesting to see how they feel at lower pressures for sure.
After the end of my ride, I checked the psi of my tires. The front tire definitely lost a bit of pressure, about 2 1/2 psi from where I started. The back only lost 1 psi. Not bad! I’m sure once I’ve fully broken them in and allows the sealant to seep in they’ll hold psi even better.
All in all, it was a great first ride on the Riddlers. While not as cushy as the Pathfinder Pros, they’re still quite comfortable to ride on. Plus, they appear to offer far more control over the Pathfinder Pro as well.
This was a first ride though. Before I can fully pass judgement, I should probably do another ride, vary it up a little bit, push the tires through their paces, and see if the performance still sticks.
Second Ride Impressions
My second ride was delayed a bit due to the rain but, once I was able to get out onto the trails again, I decided to set a course for some uncharted territory and put the Riddler through it’s paces. To do this, I set the front/back tire pressure to 43/45 psi, a couple of pounds less than my previous ride. My theory is that by doing so I’ll gain a little more traction and possibly a bit better rolling resistance on tougher terrain.
This was a shorter ride compared to the first one. I started out on a similar route but diverged just a bit. The thing about the Trinity Levee is that you can ride either on the levee or down in what I call the “valley”. Even down in the valley, there are areas that are made up of some asphalt trails as well as gravel road. In one area, I hopped up onto the levee for one segment before riding back down into the valley.
On one stretch of the valley, I was able to maintain a really good pace, riding around 14 to 15 mph. This segment had a lot of different gravel conditions, everything from hard pack, dirt, mud, bad tarmac, washboard, potholes, chunky gravel, and more. It’s a mixed bag that varies like a patchwork quilt. The washboard was pretty heavy though in areas which definitely was hell on the arms. But I kept the pace up pretty much the whole way with a few slowdowns here and there. I did this same segment on the last ride but, with this one, it felt faster for some reason. My only guess is that the lower psi helped with rolling resistance and allowed me to float over the terrain easier without having to slow down.
At around the mid-point of the ride, I started down a path that I hadn’t been on yet. I was still down in the valley and, at one point, had to go up on top of the levee due to some high water on the trail. This is where things started to get interesting.
On the levee, there was a long stretch of gravel that I like to call slush. It’s basically heavy amounts of smaller rocks that give it a rather slushy feeling when riding on it. This is where the lower pressures of the tires revealed themselves. I could feel the way the tires gripped more on the gravel. Now, with virtually any high-volume tire, lowering the pressures gives you more traction. With the Riddler, the best word I can use to describe it is predictable. The traction and expectations with them at lower pressures feels more predictable than with higher ones. Granted, there’s a certain point where I’m sure too low is too low. At the moment, 43/45 psi seems to be the sweet spot.
As with the previous ride, ascents and descents on and off the levee were fine. I had a little slippage on an ascent but, like I mentioned earlier, I think any tire will slip on loose gravel when the back tire doesn’t have as much weight on it. Even then, I think the slightly lower pressure on the back tire does help a bit in adding a bit more traction. Descents felt equally predictable on this ride than the last. In fact, I think a few of the descents were faster which I suppose means I’m gaining more confidence in the tires. Based on both rides, when it comes to ascending and descending, the Ridder is still better than the Pathfinder Pro tire.
If there’s one takeaway with all the tires I’ve ridden on it’s this: buy tires from a company that actually specializes in tires. I know that sounds weird but that’s the experience I’ve had with tires. I’ve owned tires from Bontrager and Specialized and both of them, while good in their own way, just aren’t as good as the tires I bought from more specialized companies like Continental, WTB, and Rene Herse. These are companies that put the quality of their tires first before all other products. And it shows in the design of their products.
WTB has an outstanding line of tires that suit virtually every kind rider. Now, it would appear they don’t know shit about road tires...but MTB and gravel? Hell yeah!
My experience so far with the Riddler has me thinking about maybe putting a set of Ventures on my 650b wheelset (once the Horizons wear out of course!). Definitely would love to see what a hardcore 650b gravel tire would feel like. For now though my go-to gravel tire set with be the one with the Riddlers on them.