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The top 5 best 26 inch gravel tires for 2023

In this article I’m going to cover my list of the very best 26 inch gravel tires.

In its never-ending search for new innovation, the cycling industry decided to dust off the age-old concept of the “hybrid” bicycle. Though some might argue otherwise, we all know that the current rise in popularity of gravel bikes was born decades ago.

Nonetheless, some innovations are so blatantly obvious, it’s absurd we couldn’t think of them sooner. Like platform pedals, wider handlebars, and 29 inch wheels. And now, putting knobby tires on road bikes for people who want to eat more than just pavement on their average ride, without having to worry about getting flats constantly when traversing anything else but tarmac.

And so the gravel bike was born (again), and with it a new market for tires suitable for this ride. What also came with it, was a renewed interest in older-style mountain bikes from the early nineties, or late eighties. Non-suspended frames for 26 inch tires that turned out to be perfectly suited for your average gravel ride.

So for the people who don’t want to dish out thousands of dollars for the latest and greatest gravel bike incarnation, I present you with the best 26 inch gravel tires of this year, to turn those old mountain bike frames into hardpack-eating monsters.

Maxxis Ikon

The absolute cross-country king in Maxxis’ lineup. The Maxxis Ikon has near perfect allround tire characteristics, which makes it an excellent option for diverse road and trail conditions. Though it’s categorized obviously as an XC tire, it’ll also perform superior for bikepackers and gravel riders.

That being said, this is a racing tire, which means it’s light. But the reliable EXO compound, also used for harsher enduro racing, also means you’ll enjoy this tire for many miles.

As with any tire with this type of tread, it’ll perform well in dry conditions. The 26 inch version has both a 2.35 and 2.2 inch width option. You can run this tire both front and back, and might opt for the wider version in the front for some added grip. Especially if you expect some portions of your ride to be particularly rough.

It’s undeniable that the top-of-the-line products of Maxxis are superior to many if not all of their competitors. And the Maxxis Ikon shows it, with a perfect blend of weight, speed, grip, and protection.

Maxxis Ikon Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
The cross-country king. Highly versatile tire which excels in XC, bikepacking, and gravel, lightweight. Can be used front and rear. Pair with Ardent Race in the front for ultra-fast yet grippy XC setup. Tan options available
Reasons to avoid
None

Panaracer GravelKing SK (TLC)

The Panaracer Gravel King SK has become my favorite gravel tire on the market. In my mind there are two brands that stand out from the crowd, and those are american-made WTB and their Japanese counterpart Panaracer.

I’ve been a longtime fan of Panaracer. When the gravel-craze took hold of the bicycle industry, they created the tire that would serve as the de facto standard for gravel tires with the GravelKing SK. It has just the right weight, just the right tread pattern, just the right puncture protection, and all wrapped up in a beautiful package, both in black and tan-wall options.

Deservedly so the Panaracer Gravel King SK is in my mind the true fit-and-forget, all-weather, all-season option for gravel afficionados. But will serve those bikepackers and hard-riding daily commuters just as well.

Panaracer GravelKing SK (TLC) Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
Superb allround gravel tire, very lightweight, with excellent puncture protection, ride characteristics, and with japanese build quality.
Reasons to avoid
None

Continental Race King ProTection

The Continental Race King ProTection is an extremely light tire. In the weight department it means it outshines every comparable tire from every other brand by far. And it’s also the best XC tire in the rolling-resistance department.

I cannot stress enough that with respect to speed and acceleration, a light tire makes all the difference. And tires are also the most cost-effective way to reduce the overall weight of the bike.

Try reducing a couple of hundred grams of any other bike component and be ready to spend in the hundreds of dollars. Not so the case with tires. And on top of that the tire has the advanced ProTection puncture protection, with a composite breaker and a bead to bead sidewall protection polyamide fabric.

All that speed comes at a price, because traction is not this tire’s strength when compared to other mountain bike tires. And it’s the reason this tire performs best in dry conditions.

But when riding in those conditions getting up to speed and keeping it is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. It rightly deserves its name.

Continental Race King ProTection Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
One of the lightest mountain bike tire on the market, with excellent puncture protection. Geared towards speed in every way.
Reasons to avoid
None

Continental Cross King Racesport

The Continental Cross King RaceSport is a lightweight XC tire. Besides the Continental Race King RaceSport the 2.2 version is the only tire that remains below 500 grams.

With this tire you’re able to get more grip in both dry and wet conditions and veering of the path into the woods is an option with more prominent side knobs.

With the Cross King in the front and the Race King in the back it means your main focus is speed while adding some extra traction for the front tire. It’s by far the lightest 26 inch cross country tire combination available, with a 2.2 setup staying well under 1 kilogram.

Continental Cross King Racesport Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
Extremely lightweight XC / light trail tire, with a durable compound. In combination with the Continental Race King provides the lightest XC setup possbile.
Reasons to avoid
None

Kenda Booster Pro

The Kenda Booster Pro is the only 26 inch XC tire on this list that comes in a 2.4 inch width.

It’s unfortunate I don’t have the weight and rolling resistance numbers for that version of the tire.

The knobs are extremely densely packed with 6 in a row, so you know the tire is meant for speed and will loose it’s grip very fast in wet conditions.

It looks very similar to the Continental Race King RaceSport with its arrowhead like tread pattern, making it ideal for cross country and dirt jumping.

Kenda Booster Pro Value
Brand link
Reasons to buy
Durable and lightweight XC and dirt jumping tire
Reasons to avoid
None

Specifications 26 inch gravel tires

Name
Size
ETRTO
Weight (gr)
Tread color
Sidewall color
Compound
Puncture protection
Tire bead
Buy at Amazon
Maxxis Ikon
26×2.20
55-559
676
Black
Tan
DUAL
EXO
tlr
Maxxis Ikon
26×2.35
60-559
742
Black
Black
3C MAXX SPEED
EXO
tlr
Maxxis Ikon
26×2.20
55-559
592
Black
Black
DUAL
 
tlr
Maxxis Ikon
26×2.20
55-559
657
Black
Black
3C MAXX SPEED
EXO
tlr
Continental Race King ProTection
26×2.20
55×559
535
Black
Black
BlackChili
ProTection
tlr
Continental Cross King Racesport
27.5×2.00
58-559
600
Black
Black
BlackChili
RaceSport
tlr
Continental Cross King Racesport
26×2.20
55-559
495
Black
Black
BlackChili
RaceSport
tlr
Kenda Booster Pro
26×2.40
61-559
618
Black
Black
Single
 
tlr
Panaracer GravelKing SK
26×2.10
54-559
590
Black
Tan
ZSG (Zero Slip Grip) Natural
Advanced Extra Alpha Cord
tlr

Bicycle tire puncture resistance

EXO, GreenGuard, AGC, AEC, ATC, do you ever get confused with all the jargon related to puncture protection. I know I did? That’s why I’ve written a separate article about puncture resistance technologies. That way, you’ll be able to better understand what’s out there and if it’s worth your money.

Johan van Seijen

FoundeR Restoration.bike

Johan van Seijen is the founder of restoration.bike. His passion for cycling in general, and restoring older bikes turned into a website to share his knowledge with a broader audience. Starting out on his father’s road bike and riding classics as the Amstel Gold Race and Liege Bastogne Liege he has shifted his attention to trail, XC, and gravel riding since. No matter how much he loves writing about everything related to cycling, nothing beats actually using his ever-expanding bicycle collection.

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