Search
Close this search box.
Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, when you buy through our links, we may earn a commission from qualifying purchases.

The top 9 best 26 inch gravel tires

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.

Continental Cross King ProTection

Continental Cross King ProTection
Continental Cross King ProTection

The Continental Cross King tire stands out as a versatile and high-performing option for a variety of riding conditions. I especially appreciate its exceptional pedal traction, reliable braking performance, and ease of installation. Changes in the 2.3 version reflect Continental’s commitment to improvement. With a favorable price-to-performance ratio, the Cross King remains a top choice for those seeking a tire that delivers on both functionality and value.

Cornering:
The Continental Cross King is renowned for its versatility, excelling in a broad range of conditions from dry hardpack to light mud. The balanced tread pattern provides commendable cornering performance, ensuring stability and grip. I found that the changes in the 2.3 version, with increased knob height, enhanced cornering even further.

Pedal Traction:
I especially praise the Cross King for its exceptional pedal traction. The tire’s ability to maintain significant grip during various terrains, including gravel, trail, and moderate singletrack, adds to its appeal. When riding with a somewhat lower tire pressures than I normally would, it enhanced the comfort significantly.

Braking Traction:
The Cross King demonstrates reliable braking traction, crucial for riders navigating diverse terrains. The increased knob height in the 2.3 version has improved braking performance. However, keep in mind the preferred intended use of this tire, which is dry conditions, hardpack, and light trail riding.

Rolling Resistance:
As I expected from an XC tire, the Cross King strikes a balance between minimal rolling resistance and traction during cornering. The 2.3 version introduces changes in knob height and tread thickness, impacting rolling resistance.

Ease of Installation:
Installation of the Continental Cross King is as easy as can be. I never had issues with Continental mountain bike tires before, and didn’t expect any hee. The tire’s compatibility with tubeless setups and secure fitting on rims contribute to a hassle-free experience. Although never the most important aspect of a tire, I can certainly appreciate the convenience of the installation process, which further contributes to the overall positive experience.

Pros and Cons

Continental Race King ProTection

Continental Race King ProTection
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.

Expert Experience

James | Site owner – May 30, 2023

The Race King ProTection is absolutely blisteringly fast! Doing some airstrip rides alongside my friend on his fixie with road tires really showed that even ‘large’ tires can be fast now! Heck, the amount of roadies I’ve passed while coasting downhill is downright satisfying. Seriously, it felt like a whole new bike in the speed department – at least concerning regular daily riding conditions (pavement, gravel, tarmac, cobble, etc).

Pros and Cons

Panaracer GravelKing SK (TLC)

Panaracer GravelKing SK (TLC)
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 aficionados. But will serve those bikepackers and hard-riding daily commuters just as well.

Expert Experience

Katherine Moore | Contributor – November 17, 2021

As a ‘road plus’ or gravel tyre for riders who tend to stick to well-surfaced fire roads and tarmac, the GravelKing SK TLC could be a good-value option.

However, for those who like to stray further afield and come across more variable conditions, these are limited by both grip and puncture protection.

Pros and Cons

Maxxis Ikon

Maxxis Ikon
Maxxis Ikon

The absolute cross-country king in Maxxis’ lineup. The Maxxis Ikon has near perfect all-round 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.

Read more: Maxxis Ikon review
Expert Experience

Jeff Barber | Editor in Chief – January 23, 2014

I think a better description for the Ikon (and one that Maxxis even uses themselves) is “all-rounder.” The knobs are long enough and spaced far enough apart to give good bite in the straights and the corners. I’ve experienced excellent results in both wet and dry conditions, and find myself able to push the envelope a bit more in the turns on these tires compared to others I’ve tested.

Pros and Cons

Kenda Booster Pro

Kenda Booster Pro
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 lose its 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.

Expert Experience

Joe Mackey | Contributor – August 2, 2021

The Boosters are one of the faster tires I’ve used on a gravel bike. While these are some of the best all-around gravel tires I’ve ridden, they did show some feathering on the knobs pretty early on. A large part of this is due to the softer compound, which I would take over less traction any day. All that to say, if you’re shopping for the highest mileage tire possible, this probably won’t be the best option. Overall the Booster Pro is a solid all-rounder with confident traction and support that I would run on just about any style of gravel.

Pros and Cons

Schwalbe Nobby Nic

Schwalbe Nobby Nic
Schwalbe Nobby Nic

The Schwalbe Nobby Nic is the best all-round trail tire from the German manufacturer. If there’s a tire that could rival the dominance of the Maxxis DHR and DHF and its omnipresence on the trail, it’s this one.

It’s tread pattern provides loads of grip and traction. Its allround nature means it’s just as good in the front as it is in the back. And it’s also often seen as a grippy front tire for aggressive XC riding, with a faster and lighter tire in the back.

You can go up to a size 2.35 if you want to and it’s also the only tire that comes in a 26 inch tan version. So if you’re looking for a solid all-round setup, meant for every conceivable condition, dry and wet, hardpack and forest trail, and you want to ride a tan version, this is the tire for you.

Expert Experience

Drew Rohde | Editor in Chief – December 1, 2020

The Nobby Nic Super Ground tires opened my eyes in many ways as to what a lighter weight trail tire is capable of and what sort of ride advantages a lighter casing trail offers. We also saw the limitations of the SpeedGrip tread compound on certain types of terrain and obstacles. If you ride harder pack terrain, want a fast rolling tire that has a solid tread pattern, can climb, corner and brake well, these are certainly worth considering. The downside to this long lasting compound is that they won’t offer the confidence and traction on wet roots, loose terrain or angled and steep rock faces.

Pros and Cons

Schwalbe Racing Ralph

Schwalbe Racing Ralph
Schwalbe Racing Ralph

Schwalbe’s lineup consists of a number of highly specialized cross-country tires. The Schwalbe Racing Ralph being one of them.

As stated on the website, the Racing Ralph was designed for the rear. That’s because it has the shallowest center tread pattern, making it perfect for riding as fast as possible in dry conditions.

Although it’s meant for a combo setup with a grippier tire in the front, you could actually use it as a dual setup when bikepacking or gravel riding instead of pure XC racing.

If you want to ride as fast as possible, and maintain that speed when cornering, I suggest pairing it with a grippier front tire. You can opt for the Racing Ray, Rocket Ron, or Nobby Nic. With the Racing Ray offering the least amount of grip and the Nobby Nic the most. The Rocket Ron sits in between the three.

Expert Experience

Jeff Barber | Editor in Chief – April 28, 2023

What really convinced me this is a very fast roller is how it translates into increased momentum on the descents. I noticed myself cruising past heavier riders who usually have the freewheel advantage over me on the downs, and I could coast farther than usual on familiar sections, delaying the need to spin the pedals again. I don’t know if it’s the tread pattern, or the tire carcass, or the compound — or all three — that make this a fast rolling tire, however I am confident that it is well above average in that department.

Pros and Cons

Schwalbe Rocket Ron

Schwalbe Rocket Ron
Schwalbe Rocket Ron

Both the weight and tread pattern puts the Schwalbe Rocket Ron squarely into XC territory. The evenly spaced knobs mean you always hold contact with the ground ensuring a low rolling resistance.

They are small as well, which means you need to look for the Nobby Nic if you want a more allround and grippy trail tire. But if you want a bit more speed the 640 gr. for a 2.35 inch version you can run two of these.

You should be able to confidently do light trail riding in loose and wet conditions with these tires, and the XC-oriented tread pattern combined with either the Super Ground or Super Race compound will provide you with the speed you need.

It’s worthy to note that the Schwalbe Rocket Ron performs really well in the rolling resistance department, as do all Schwalbe tires. So it’s both light and fast.

Expert Experience

Rachel Sokal | Technical writer – May 2, 2018

As well as a general improvement in durability, rolling resistance and grip, the new Addix compound from Schwalbe offers a much greater choice of characteristics to suit different riders and riding. The Speed compound is definitely that and gives the Rocket Ron vastly improved durability over the previous version. I did find front grip from the Speed a little lacking so would choose to run a grippier compound on the front and keep the faster rolling on the rear. While these tyres still aren’t cheap – sadly not many high end tyres are – the lower wear rate means that at least they won’t cost you as much in the long run to replace.

Pros and Cons

Schwalbe Marathon Plus MTB

Schwalbe Marathon Plus MTB
Schwalbe Marathon Plus MTB

The Schwalbe Marathon is the ultimate allrounder in the tire department and one of the best-selling tires on the market. So the German brand decided to make a MTB-specific version of this tire: the Schwalbe Marathon Plus MTB.

Although it looks like a knobby tire, if you look close enough you can see that the center tread will let you run smoothly across pavement. And just like the standard Marathon is meant for commuting and touring, the same goes for this one.

It’s a heavy tire when compared to some of the XC racers. But the biggest plus for hauling all that extra weight is that in terms of puncture protection, this tire has no equal. The reason is pretty simple. Schwalbe stuffed a 5mm strip underneath the center tread, made from highly puncture resistant rubber. And as simple as that sounds, it’s extremely effective in preventing punctures.

So for those of you who want the risk of flats nearing zero, this is the tire for you.

Expert Experience

Mike | Site Owner – March 15, 2017

Since I’ve made the jump to these large-and-in-charge tires (in my case, on a drop-bar adventure bike rather than a pure mountain bike) I’ve felt like I’m getting pretty close to the right balance of tradeoffs and advantages.

I’m not whizzing through my city streets en route to my favorite forest getaways, but I roll smoothly and comfortably enough out of town. Once I’m on the rough gravel-and-clay surface of the C&O Canal towpath outside my Washington, DC home, I really appreciate the limousine-like feel and peace of mind these tires offer.

Pros and Cons

Sources

David Arthur, Continental Race King BlackChili Protection tyre review, Bikeradar, November 5, 2020
James, Race King ProTection – Best MTB bikepacking tire, Canadianomad, May 30, 2023
Katherine Moore, Panaracer GravelKing SK TLC tyre review, Bikeradar, November 17, 2021
Jeff Barber, Review: Maxxis Ikon: A Racing Tire With Bite, Singletracks, January 23, 2014
Joe Mackey, Kenda Booster Pro Gravel Tire Review, Gravelstroke, August 2, 2021
Drew Rohde, Schwalbe Nobby Nic Super Ground Review, The Loam Wolf, December 1, 2020
Jeff Barber, Schwalbe Racing Ralph Tire Review, Singletracks, April 28, 2023
Rachel Sokal, Review: Schwalbe Rocket Ron Addix Speed. Fast XC tyres that last., Singletrack World, May 2, 2018
bio vanseijen

Johan van Seijen

Founder Restoration.bike

Johan van Seijen is the founder of restoration.bike. His cycling career has seen him at the starting line of classics such as the Amstel Gold Race and Liege Bastogne Liege. Realizing his racing capacity would fall short of what was needed he obtained a MS from the University of Amsterdam in engineering. His love for cycling changed into riding in an amateur capacity with his local cycling club TFC Weesp as a roadie and supporting MTB Noordwest as a mountain biker. He repairs, restores, and builds bicycles and shares his knowledge on YouTube, Facebook and this website. 

You might also like

26 inch touring tires
26 inch tires

The top 7 best 26 inch touring tires

With this blog I’ll share my top picks for the very best 26 inch touring tires. I use several of my older-style mountain bikes for something else than trail riding and there are a couple of solid opti

Read More »
26 inch e-bike tires
26 inch tires

The top 12 best 26 inch e-bike tires

In this article I’m going to give you an overview of the best 26 inch e-bike tires.

With the explosion in popularity of e-bikes it was inevitable that tire manufacturers would come up with e-bike spe

Read More »
26 inch dirt jumper tires
26 inch tires

The top 9 best 26 inch dirt jumper tires

In this article I’m going to focus on the best 26 inch dirt jumper tires.

26 inch might seem obsolute to many mountain bikers, with everyone basically running either 27.5 or 29 inch tires. The same

Read More »
26 inch enduro tires
26 inch tires

The top 5 best 26 inch enduro tires

It’s becoming harder and harder to find a solid pair of 26 inch enduro tires. But many mountain bikers, myself included, feel there’s nothing wrong with their older-style mountain bikes. So if you enj

Read More »