Tour Aotearoa Top Tyre Picks & Setup Advice
If you are researching gear for the Tour Aotearoa (TA), including sorting out some fresh rubber for the 3000km journey, we thought it would be good to offer some advice and options on one of the more important gear choices, your connection to the ground, tyres.
Tyre choice for a long bike packing tour such as the TA is an important one as tyres influence the control and comfort you have on your bike on a range of surfaces. You also want something durable enough to last the distance, something that rolls well and has enough grip for the technical sections of the route. Your personal skill level and preferences of tyre characteristics also come into play.
If you are having a hard time finding an option, give us a call (021 262 6243) or send us an email (email@example.com) and we would be more than happy to discuss options and talk through our experience from riding the Tour Aotearoa and other off road/mixed terrain bike packing routes.
The most popular bike choice for the TA is generally a 29” hardtail or rigid mountain bike, though gravel bikes and mountain bikes of other wheel sizes and types are not uncommon and the advice and principals that follow can apply to all of these bikes.
We recommend setting your wheels and tyres up tubeless with sealant. This will ward off unnecessary punctures from small to medium size punctures, usually caused by sharp rocks, rim strikes, thorns or more likely glass. Tubes are still an option but the chances of being slowed down by a puncture are much higher. If you are Auckland based and would like to learn how to go tubeless, please get in touch, we can talk you through it or we are happy to come out and show/help you do it.
The majority of your time during the TA will be riding on unsealed surfaces either off road or gravel, even though most of the actual distance you will ride is on sealed roads (the breakdown of trail surfaces for the TA can be found here: http://www.touraotearoa.nz/p/trail-surfaces.html).
Tyre Width & Pressure
For mountain bikes, a tyre width in the range of 2.0”- 2.35” is a good mid volume choice. Typically, with a low-profile tread design. For gravel bikes or those looking for narrower, lighter and faster options, a larger volume gravel tyre is a possibility too. Gravel tyres can be a handful off road, especially in the wet, so we would only recommend them for riders that are confident in their bike handling skills. Generally, a 37mm - 50mm gravel tyre will still provide enough volume and comfort for long days in the saddle.
For loaded bike packing set ups, tyre pressures for mountain bike tyres are typically between 25 - 30psi for off-road sections and closer to 40psi for sealed roads. Varying tyre pressure for different sections can be an extra task you do not need on a big day, especially if you are riding a mix of road, gravel and off-road in the same day. I would recommend setting your pressure to suit for the day or days ahead (if you plan to check them daily or every few days) and only stop and set them up specifically for sections of serious off road such as the Kaiwhakauka Track in the North Island and the Big River/Waiuta Track in the South, or for long days on the tarmac that you will find from Helensville through past Hunua in Auckland and along the West Coast highways.
A narrower tyre will save some weight and will roll a little faster. Higher tyre pressures are needed to avoid punctures and the lower volume of a narrower tyre will sacrifice comfort and compliance on rough roads and terrain.
Widths on the larger end of the spectrum will generally be a little heavier and a little slower rolling on smooth roads. Their larger volume will provide the ability to run lower pressures, provide more grip and compliance/comfort on rougher terrain. They will also roll faster when the road conditions are poor/bumpy and on rougher roads and off-road trails.
Tread design can vary between brands, but generally a cross country tread design will do well off-road and still be easy rolling on the tar seal, this will be the most popular and sensible choice for the TA. Semi slicks with good shoulder knobs are an option for lower rolling resistance and good cornering grip but will be challenging to ride on slippery trails. Some tyres also provide an almost continuous centre tread design which are a fast-rolling option. Depending what characteristics you would like for your ride, speed or grip, or a balance of both, you can choose something with a more aggressive design with larger knobs or a tyre with smaller knobs, finer tread and lower profile design.
Mud clearance should be considered as there are some parts of the ride where you may encounter wet and sticky soil that could bind up between your tyres and frame/bags/racks. Slowing or even stopping forward progress.
Casing and rubber compound should also be considered when choosing a tyre. Look for something with a durable casing, they will generally be a little heavier, but faster in the long run when you don’t have to stop and repair a puncture, or a serious sidewall cut. A medium to hard rubber compound will help the tyre roll fast and last the 3000km journey, but still provide good grip on the off-road trails. Tyres with multiple compounds across the tyre help reduce the compromise between grip and speed/durability by using harder compounds on the base of the tyre and centre tread and softer compounds on the cornering knobs for more grip.
Some tyre brands and models offer additional side wall or bead to bead puncture protection. They usually weigh a little more than a standard casing tyre but pay dividends in keeping your tyres full of air and you riding rather than repairing. Sometimes the additional protection can also stiffen up the casing on your tyres which is beneficial for the additional weight and load they are taking during bike packing tours.
Mixing it up
It can also be advantageous to run different tyres front and rear. The front tyre does a lot of the heavy work for you in terms of braking, steering and general control of your bike. A larger and more aggressive tyre can help keep you right side up and the rolling disadvantages are not felt as much here. Rolling speed is more important on the rear of your bike which will be taking more of the overall weight of the set up and will be impacted by poor rolling tyres. Running a lighter, less aggressive tyre on the rear can help keep the bike fast.
Top Tyre Picks
Here are some good options for the Tour Aotearoa or any other mixed terrain bike packing trip you may have planned (in no particular order). They come in a range of sizes, casings and rubber compounds. Click on the tyre name to be directed to more detail:
Mountain Bike tyres
- Mezcal – A versatile all round XC tyre. The Mezcal has a near continuous centre tread for fast rolling on hard pack/sealed surfaces and many effective edges and siping to the transition and cornering knobs for excellent traction. A very popular choice for bike packers, with a good track record.
- Barzo – A XC tyre that can handle more technical terrain but still rolls fast. Alternating and tightly spaced centre tread with taller side knobs. Ridden by the winner of the 2020 XCO world champion and the winner of the BC bike race (Canada).
- Ikon – An all rounder and popular XC/Trail tyre for bike packing. The low profile and consistent tread design mean that the Ikon is a fast rolling tyre that is predictable in corners and performs well on a range of surfaces.
- Rocket Ron – A very fast XC tyre that is capable in a range of conditions. The Rocket Ron has one of the lowest rolling resistance for MTB tyres and the blockier tread design means it is grippy in loose soil and gravel too.
- Racing Ray/Racing Ralph – Front and rear specific XC race tyres. Tread designed specifically to excel for the demands of front and rear tyres. A fast combo with low profile tread. These tyres can be run as a combo or as a Racing Ray front and rear or Racing Ralph front and rear on their own.
- Race King – A very fast rolling XC tyre. Rolling resistance is very low on this tyre and they have been independently tested (bicyclerollingresistance.com) as faster than most gravel tyres too. Good tread design for consistent traction off road.
- Cross King – A similar tread design to the Vittoria Barzo but with different knob siping and Continentals casing and rubber compound offerings. Another tread with a good reputation.
- Nano – Another fast-rolling tyre with a continuous centre tread. Staggered transition and shoulder knobs for climbing, braking and cornering traction. Also available in gravel tyre widths.
- Ranger – A XC/Trail tyre, more aggressive than the Nano and less aggressive than a Trail Boss. A really great bike packing tyre that won’t suffer too much on hard surfaces but will still excel on single track and off road.
- Trail Boss – An all-round trail tyre. On the more aggressive and heavy side for bike packing but has some good high-volume options that will give you tonnes of traction for the most technical sections of the TA.
- Booster – Another proven fast and aggressive XC tread. Popular for XC racing and fast trail riding. It has good casing volume and the additional sidewall protection makes it a great choice for bike packing.
- Saber – High volume casing, a very low-profile tread design, low rolling resistance and grippy rubber compound means this tyre is fast rolling, comfortable and has plenty of traction. The race-oriented rubber compound may wear a little fast on a heavily loaded bike and these tyres won’t be as capable as the Booster in wet conditions.
- Peak - A fast rolling XC tread. The peak has a supple but tough casing. Due to its speed and tread design it is a great fast all rounder for bike packing. The design is similar to the Maxxis Ikon but the tread is a little shallower and more spaced, faster rolling and better at clearing loose dirt or mud.
- Escape - Similar to the WTB Trail Boss the Escape is a dedicated trail tyre. This doesn't exclude it for being great as a tyre for bike packing. It is fast rolling for a trail tyre and the more aggressive tread design gives you plenty of confidence on fast and loose gravel or in the most challenging off road sections. A good choice if you are happy to sacrifice some speed on the road for speed and control off road.
Gravel Bike tyres
- Terreno range - The Terreno tyres from Vittoria are their gravel range. Available models from most road oriented to most gravel/off-road oriented are the Zero, Dry, Mix and Wet. For the Tour Aotearoa or other bike packing routes we would recommend either the Terreno Mix or Wet, with both having enough traction for off road surfaces. The dry would be ok for gravel and tar seal routes.
- G-One Bite – A really great balance of speed and grip. A consistent tread design similar to the G-One All Round, but with larger knobs and bigger spacing between the side knobs. This allows much better off road traction. The Bite can be paired up as a rear tyre with the Ultra Bite for a fast rolling and grippy combo.
- G-One Allround – Uniform tread design provides fast rolling and predictable traction. This tyre is a good choice for predominantly gravel routes with some off road but can be an option as a rear tyre paired with the Bite or Ultra Bite. For those confident off road and ok with a bit less traction on muddy trails the Allround is still an option.
- G-One Ultrabite – The most aggressive G-One tyre. This tyre sacrifices some rolling speed for much more traction than the others in this range. Great as a front tyre paired with either of the other G-One tyres or run front and back for a very good bike packing and adventure set up for rougher routes.
- G-One Speed – A fine micro tread design aimed at seal and gravel roads. Ok on dry and hard pack trails but will be a handful if the dirt gets too loose or wet. The fastest of the G-One range.
- Terra Speed – A gravel tyre with a consistent tread design with reasonable knob spacing for traction. Up the top of the list for rolling speed.
- Terra Trail – A more aggressive version of the Terra Speed, the better option if your plans include rough roads and trails. Could be run up front with a fast Terra Speed in the rear.
- Riddler – A really great tread design for gravel and off-road riding and bike packing. Low and tightly spaced centre knobs with chunky side knobs. These tyres roll and grip well on a range of surfaces and have good traction in the corners.
- Raddler - A similar design to the Riddler but more aggressive. The side knobs are large, close to the size of a mountain bike tyre side knob. Great for loose gravel and those wanting a fast tyre with very good cornering traction.
- Flintridge - A very popular, tough gravel tyre with a fast rolling centre tread and grippy transition and side knobs. Tread is a good size so can handle off road trails well. As with other gravel tyres it will start to struggle in conditions with sticky mud. Bead to bead puncture protection.
- Alluvium - Another popular gravel tyre. Faster tread design than the Flintridge, with small closely spaced knobs in the centre and reasonable side knobs for cornering traction. A little less capable off road but still doable and plenty capable and fast on gravel and sealed sections. Bead to bead puncture protection.
- County - A fast rolling tyre with a slick centre tread that transitions to widely space side knobs for traction in loose conditions. This tyre is aimed at predominantly gravel and sealed routes. Off road trails in the dry would be fine but braking and drive traction would be poor off road in the wet due to the slick centre.
- Connector - A very capable tyre that can handle loose gravel and trails. Tightly spaced centre tread for good rolling speed and traction. Aggressive side knobs help with off road traction and cornering.
This is not an exhaustive list of tyre options, so if you are after something different or are not sure what to go with, feel free to get in touch, we are always happy to help.
My personal favourite for the TA is the Vittoria Mezcal in a 2.25" width. They are fast, grippy and reliable.
It is always essential to be prepared for punctures and tyre damage so you can keep rolling and keep unwanted downtime to a minimum. Some spares to carry with you:
- Tyre pressure gauge.
- Mini pump.
- CO2 cartridge's and inflation tool (optional, but great to seat a tyre back onto the bead or get a flat tyre back up to pressure quickly).
- Spare tube (ideally 2 if you have space).
- Tubeless puncture repair kit (plug tool, several 'plug strips', a small knife or clippers to trim off excess plug strip and some top up sealant).
- Puncture repair kit for tubes, either if you are running tubes or if you puncture your spare (patches, glue, sand paper or something to rough the tube surface).
- Tyre Boot (muesli bar wrapper, $5 note or similar can be used and will save you carrying an extra item).