Road Bikes on the Gravel Loop

Anyone out there do a gravel loop on a road bike? Considering it this year, but would like to hear how it went with others. Thanks!

31 Replies

mootsman, March 21, 2018 at 8:13 am

My 25mm tubeless tires did not get close to “bottoming out”. They worked great the whole time and I didn’t need to let air out of them for gravel. They are a nice for the other 99% of RAGBRAI on paved roads over wider-heavier tires.


Ragbrai Nation, March 21, 2018 at 3:07 pm

If you can afford and have a place to store an extra wheelset, then set up the standby set with more appropriate tires for gravel use. I would really shy away from road tires requiring 110 psi and higher. At 125 psi and higher they are just too skid-ish, IMHO. Having an extra wheelset can also come in very handy if you destroy a wheel anywhere during the week. On that subject, if you do wreck any bikeshop on the route can have a major component air-freighted in overnight IF they don’t already have it. Have a grrreat Ragbrai!


Clyde Halsrud, March 21, 2018 at 6:22 pm

My only disappointment with RAGBRAI 2017 was the gravel loop. There was lack of support for repairs. I had to depend on a local citizen for a ride into town. Won’t do it again unless the Register provides better support. With that said, 2017 was a great event and appreciate all the effort put in by the Register. Truly remarkable. I am an old guy. Maybe the gravel loop is for the younger guys/gals.


KenH, March 21, 2018 at 9:51 pm

Well, if you never need to veer from the automobile tire tracks then yes, I would suppose that your 25mm tires will never bottom out on a gravel road since you won’t need to let any air out of them because you aren’t really riding on gravel! On the other hand if you like your tubeless tires because you don’t get pinch flats anymore then clearly your tires are bottoming out from time to time, otherwise you would never have gotten any pinch flats. If you realize that any given gravel road might not have tire tracks to ride in for part or all of its length and you don’t want to be pounded to pieces when you have no choice but to ride on actual gravel then you might like to be able to let some air out. In that case if you are as massive as a lot of RAGBRAI riders (myself included) your 25s could bottom out a lot.

My 38s are actually as efficient as all but a handful of tires that I have seen tested online. That is why I bought them. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I have seen the rider ahead of me struggle to deal with some road “feature” that I roll right over without any trouble. And while that happens on gravel too most of those incidents were on the main, paved route. Everyone with a strong opinion on the matter should ride the tires they like but for those who are still open minded about what tires to take to Iowa my advice is to consider a nice efficient tire as wide as your bike frame will allow. There are starting to be more and more of them on the market because they just work well in the wild and woolly real world for a variety of reasons.

If you need to ride north of 20mph for hours on end to win a race then you want something more aerodynamic. That is not how I ride RAGBRAI and yet I pass a ton of people riding at my rather sedate pace. I don’t think most people who run them get any benefit from their 23s and 25s. Perhaps you are different and that is fine.


nhhillrider, March 22, 2018 at 10:08 am

It seems like you either like it or you dont. I’m a roadie … I brought my touring bike with 35c tires. I understand the joy of being away from traffic and the crowds but man … all that bouncing around is just not fun for me. Did some riding last year the day before the ride on some gravel roads out toward the river. Was with a bunch of other roadies. They were not happy either.
Yes you can do it on 25c tires … no problem …. will you enjoy it ? Well … not so sure.
If you like Mtb riding then probably yes. If your a roadie like me … probably not.
ps … dont count on the free trial bikes being available. They go real fast and you will need to wait around for an hour or so for one to free up.

This reply was modified 2 years, 10 months ago by nhhillrider.


mootsman, March 22, 2018 at 10:17 am


Not true. I’ve ridden my 25mm tubeless on gravel a number of times and 1) they never bottomed out and 2) I have no issues switching lanes through deeper looser gravel. Plus no pinch flats ever. And I run them at a normal road pressure, no trouble at all. I suggest seeing if your local bike shop will let you demo a set of them before making assumptions. Keeping up a reasonable minimum speed helps on gravel also as far as changing lanes. But I’ve never bottomed them out. I have some of off-road and cyclo-cross racing experience also which helps with handling.


John Richardson, March 22, 2018 at 11:05 am

I think you should use the tire that you’re comfortable with. 23C use to be the standard now it seems like it’s 25C. As I’ve aged I find I enjoy the plusher ride of a wider tire and really haven’t noticed a speed or effort penalty. If any one wants to get some gravel practice in, Kirksville, MO is having a gravel grinder race on April 21st with distances of 25,50,100 miles.


Sergio Osuna, March 22, 2018 at 12:52 pm

Last year being my first RAGBRAI, perhaps I was a bit naive. I did not come even close to considering all the issues that have been raised in the string. My only concern was to get the most I possibly could out of my time in Iowa. An opportunity arose to ride a little longer and visit another town, to boot, and I sure wasn’t going to pass it up and look back later and wonder if I’d missed something. The people of Sutherland made it all worthwhile. They were great! I plan to ride the gravel loop this year also on 25s and show my appreciation for the fine folks in Moorhead and will approach my adventure with the same sense of naïveté as my first time. If by some chance something should happen along the way, I’ll take care of it and look forward to the rest of the ride with the same sense of anticipation I felt every moment of my first RAGBRAI. I hope to see a lot of you on the loop day 1.


mootsman, March 22, 2018 at 3:51 pm

The subject is “Road Bikes on the Gravel Loop”. Few pure road bikes can handle tires more the 28mm and fewer yet as large as 32mm (Surly Pacer does). Plus a few road bikes can only handle 25mm at the most. One of mine barely gets a 25mm in and then only with the tire deflated. Same for road rims. Sure some touring bikes for baggers can but few people run those. Its great if your bike handles wider tires but most riders opt for the lighter rigs without that capability.

This reply was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by mootsman.


Michael Rissman, March 22, 2018 at 8:51 pm

Thanks for all the great ideas for the gravel route, I believe I’ve been talked into it, looking forward to it now! Keep the ideas coming, and I’ll see you responders on the gravel….with a rode bike!


KenH, March 23, 2018 at 3:45 pm


I’m not sure how you verify that you are not bottoming out. Those of us dinosaurs who still use tubes know for sure we have not bottomed out if we go the whole week without fixing a pinch flat! On tubeless tires how do you know?

As far as 25s go I have a most excellent set that I have not used in several years because they just don’t do anything that I cannot do just as well on 38s. I know what they can do. Road pressure on them is 120 or there’bouts. I’d have to find them and check to be sure. Road pressure on my 38s is 85 to 90 and I know for certain that when I run them at that pressure on a real gravel road, not just switching lanes from one compacted tire track to another, that you get pounded to pieces pretty quickly. If you can explain to me why a 25 at 120 would be better at absorbing shocks than a 38 at 90, in convincing enough fashion, then I can easily put the notion to the test. But as of this moment I am unwilling to devote the effort to the experiment when it seems doomed to failure from what I already know.

But that is at road pressure. You can pretty safely drop your tire pressure to the Berto pressure on a bumpy gravel road without a significant increase in rolling resistance or pinch flat risk. For me and my bike the Berto pressure on my rear wheel is 60 with 38s and I have proved by actual experiment that to my taste that makes a huge difference in comfort on a bumpy road. For me and my bike the Berto pressure is 124 rear, 88 front, when running 25s. So, no room at all to adjust pressure if I find the gravel road too jarring at my road pressure. So far I have done every mile of every gravel loop at RAGBRAI, and last year’s loop twice, at the Berto pressure without any pinch flats and without any handling issues at all.

You and your bike may be significantly lighter than me in which case you are much better off with 25s than I. There are clearly a great many riders every year whose bike plus personal mass is above to well above mine and a great many of them are riding 23s because that is what we are all supposed to do on a road bike, right? Even if they do ride 25s they will be below the Berto pressure on their rear wheels and they would have less rolling resistance with a good grade 28 on the rear. If the frame will fit 28s. I realize that is a problem for some/many/most road bikes. But 28s are more forgiving on the road hazards you will face all week long on roads paved and unpaved so a many people would be better served by 28s than by anything narrower. It’s just an engineering decision, not a religious dogma.

I guess I really am an old tube dinosaur. I just ordered a set of circuit boards and pieces parts to build a tube amp for my bass guitar this week!


mdsnowman, March 24, 2018 at 3:40 pm

I got me a new snow bike this past week. Do you think it would do okay on the gravel roads?

This reply was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by mdsnowman.


Jim Kuhn, March 25, 2018 at 4:03 am

The gravel loop is just another part of the great adventure that RAGBRAI offers. I did the loop in 2015 and 2017 on a lwb and had no trouble. Looking forward to another great year on the ride this year. This will be my 15th RAGBRAI and each year I’ve ridden this great ride I’ve ridden every mile. That’s what I come to Iowa to do is ride my bike with all my friend and friends to be. Happy peddling.


John Richardson, March 25, 2018 at 9:52 am

This will be my 15th year too Jim and like you I’ve always done all the loops as well and have always enjoyed those options. mdsnowman the fat bike will work great on the gravel just be prepared to work a little harder.


KenH, March 25, 2018 at 6:08 pm

Unfortunately it will be too hot for your snow bike in July but it could still do you a lot of good on the gravel loop if you carry it in your water bottle!


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