On my very first mountain bike ride about five years ago I was given some pretty sage advice: “Trust your tyres.”
This advice has stayed with me and been my mantra whenever I’m freaking about the terrain I’m riding. I say it over and over while trying to negotiate the tricky bits, “trust your tyres… trust your tyres… trust your tyres.” When it’s really tricky I might add a few expletives, just to give me that extra bit of inspiration I need. I do have pretty aggressive boofy tyres on my mountain bike, so they’re not too hard to trust. Just the look of skinny road tyres was enough to put me off even wanting to ride a road bike. But things can change.
A few months ago I bought my first road/gravel bike, and I got some Teravail Cannonball tyres to replace the slick 28mm road tyres that it came with. Most of the riding I wanted to do was on quieter sealed and gravel roads, with some light off-road too. A bit of everything really. The Cannonballs were recommended and my mechanic mounted them up. Setting them up tubeless didn’t go completely smoothly, with a bit of struggle to firstly get the bead to seat and then holding air overnight (so my mechanic tells me). Apparently it was probably to do with the rims and sealing the spoke holes, but as I needed to ride the next day tubes were installed and have been in ever since. And even so, I haven’t had a single puncture.
My guess is that a tyre review can’t just be a screed of prosaic adjectives; there’s got to be some technical detail. So here’s a quick run down: they’re 38mm wide, have a dense diamond/chevron tread pattern with a smoother centre ridge, which, so I’m told, is for good rolling on the road (tick). They have aggressive side knobs for cornering in loose stuff (they work!) and 60tpi casing (also available in a 120tpi version). For the mixed bag of riding they are used for, I run around 50psi or 60 if there’s only road to be ridden.
It was time to hit the road (and wherever else I was being blindly led into). Being my maiden voyage riding clipless pedals, 700c wheels and lycra-clad, there were a lot of firsts to contend with. On the smooth road, the tyres were great. Lots of grip, fast and smooth. I was enjoying the sensation of relatively effortless speed and was feeling pretty confident, although the clipped-in thing was a bit challenging.
Then we hit the gravel. Just ordinary loose gravelly gravel. Not huge particles – the stones were roughly between 5 and 15mm. Apprehensive is an understatement. I was freaking out. I don’t think I breathed for a while. I may even have screamed out loud once or twice. I wanted my mountain bike. Bad.
Maybe this was just too many firsts to contend with at once. I stopped riding for a bit and regrouped. I looked at my tyres and silently asked them “can I trust you?” Strangely, they didn’t answer. So I asked my mate: can I trust my tyres? He said yep.
And there, at that moment a remarkable thing happened. I looked at my tyres, and they looked back at me. I decided then and there that if this relationship was going to work I needed to suck it up and trust them, and I needed to let them show me they were worthy of my trust.
So I did. I took a deep breath, stuck my chest out and recited my mantra. I rode the rest of the way on the gravel getting more confident with each pedal stroke. I just couldn’t believe tyres this skinny could have that much traction. I didn’t slide out once. Then we hit the mud, a familiar terrain on my mountain bike, and what d’ya know, they handled that terrain sweet-as. No sliding or gliding, just riding. And me, well I think I started to enjoy myself right about then.
The ride back I had more confidence and increased my speed. Mud, gravel and smooth road – nothing was a problem for the Cannonballs. I began to think that maybe this relationship was going to work. These were dependable partners.
Since that very first ride, my tyres and I have negotiated numerous and varying terrains. We rode from Wellington via the Hutt River Trail and the Rimutaka Rail Trail to Featherston where I had my first (apparently customary) clipped-in slam; nothing to do with the tyres. The ride down from the summit into the Wairarapa was another step up in the gravel size, shape, amount and even colour; red in fact. Actually I think the technical term is rocks. I was more confident this time and riding with speed (probably debatable) downhill over the rocks. I did have to stop once to give my wrists a break from the juddering. The tyres handled well, just not much absorption of the bumps, expected given the size of them. That, and no suspension.
Next up was a trip out the back of Napier where we found some gravel roads to explore thanks to some good advice from the guys at The Hub Cycle Centre. This time the gravel was no ordinary gravel, these were seriously large nasty particles – probably around 20mm-60mm. A huge step up. Could I trust my tyres? Could I trust my handling? Actually I just wanted to turn back. But again, I pulled over – looked at my skinny wee tyres and asked the critical question: can I trust you? Of course I could. I slid out only once, but that was to do with my handling and line-picking more than anything else. I am a wee bit embarrassed to say that once or twice I did get off because of the size and looseness of the gravel. But this wasn’t about lack of trust of my tyres, more my lack of experience and handling ability!
With a few more rides under my belt, we tackled a 70km ride out to the charmingly rugged Wairarapa coastal settlement of Flat Point. Again, a variety of terrain was covered – road, mud, sand and 20km of gravel, including some challenging descents and climbs. Although I can’t say that I am overly confident or competent riding gravel, I can say my tyres, once again, did not let me down. They seriously do not cease to amaze me with their dependability and reliability.
The 38mm width really pushed the chainstay clearance on my Avanti Giro AR, and although we’ve been through a fair bit of mud, water and sand, the tyres haven’t hindered any forward motion and seem to shed mud well enough to avoid any serious clogging.
After five months of riding on all sorts of surfaces and distances, the tread is holding up great. They still look as good as new with virtually no wearing and no punctures. The Teravail Cannonball tyres are everything I could ask for in a gravel bike tyre – adequately fast on road, grippy in mud and sand, and dependable and confidence-inspiring on all types of dirt and gravel. Yip, our relationship is going to work, they have proven themselves to be worthy of my trust. Not so sure whether they can trust me though…