Few bike upgrades—if any—comes close to the value of great tires.
It was one of my main reasons to get myself WTB Byway, two years ago. And, for the most part, I was happy with the tire. Granted, it has few quirks; it was occasionally losing grip when wet, and it was nightmarish to install, especially when I had to deal with it in the dark, under the rain, alone. But the high-volume carcass provides extra comfort, and the slick centerline rolls smoothly on the road. It must be one among the fastest allroad/gravel tires out there, too, I had thought.
And then, I learned that—based on few independent testings—WTB Byway was consistently one among the slowests.
After 16,000 km of (ab)use, the Byway was finally begging for retirement. Armed with better knowledge about bike tires, I decided to find a “better” replacement; something faster, with perhaps better grip and easier installation, if possible. It should come in beefy 650b size, as it’s the only wheelset size I have (and I prefer) for now. It should also look good, and come with tan sidewall, to help give my all black bike its much-needed color accent to stand out in its natural habitat.
After much research, I finally settled my choice. Allow me to introduce my new allroad/gravel tire: 650b x 45 Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H.
Well-known for its high-performance motorsport tires, Pirelli entered cycling industry six years ago and launched Cinturato Gravel models in late of 2019. But it wasn’t the company’s history that caught my interest; it was the fact that the model consistently scored high in several independent tire rolling resistance tests. It’s not really on top of the list, but it doesn’t seem to come with glaring compromises either.
Like WTB Byway, Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H is designed for compact and hard terrain. Unlike the former, however, it features low, tightly-packed knobs, which I expect to provide better grip overall. It was exactly what Pirelli claimed with its SpeedGRIP compound: all-weather grip without compromising rolling efficiency.
At least the rolling efficiency part has been proven by several independent testings…
Another plus point: Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H is equipped with puncture-resistant fabric from bead to bead, to protect the tire from sharp objects and sidewall cut. I’ve had few punctures from roadside debris for past couple of years; they were often challenging to deal with, and ruining the mood of the ride. While tubeless setup would make such puncture virtually obsolete, it’s good to know that the tire comes with extra protection—that I can go anywhere and roll over anything almost worry-free.
Perfect All-road Companion?
It was what came to mind when I pulled Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H out of its packaging for the first time. It felt more like plastic than rubber.
The stiffness made it really hard to fit into the rim; it was even (a bit) harder compared to the WTB Byway! I reckon proper tire levers like Parktool TL 4.2 are must; even with them, fitting it was quite a struggle…
On much brighter side, the ultra-tight fit made it surprisingly a doodle to inflate tubeless. With standard floor pump—and the valve core removed—it was almost as easy as inflating a tubed clincher tire. It took only 35-40 psi for the tire’s bead to make a couple of loud seating pops, and it retained air well afterward—no sign of sealant weeping and leakage around.
Mounted to 21mm inner rim width, the 650b x 45 Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H measures 46 mm from sidewall to sidewall, making it 1.5 mm narrower than 650b x 47 WTB Byway in size. Still, it’s wider than printed size, even on narrowish rim. A fellow cyclist reported it measures 48 mm on his slightly wider rim.
Dubbed as “Classic”, the tan wall is noticeably darker than the Byway. While I wished it was a bit brighter, it looked gorgeous overall. I especially appreciate Pirelli’s decision not to clutter that beautiful sidewall with texts and logos, giving the tire clean, stylish look. It complemented the classic look of Surly Midnight Special—or any bike it’s fitted to—well.
Out on The Road
On-road first impression: Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H felt virtually just as fast as WTB Byway—far from bad, but not as great as I had expected. Of course, measuring speed improvement out on the road is tricky; there were too many intervening variables. On indoor roller, however, with the same effort, Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H averaged 37% faster compared to the WTB it had replaced. Based on such figure, I calculated Cinturato Gravel H is ~3-4% faster on real road, or about ~1 kph faster at 25-30 kph. While still below the threshold of average human perception (~5%), the improvement was substantial, considering no other single bike upgrade comes close to such figure.
Despite the tread, the Cinturato Gravel H rolls virtually as smooth as Byway’s slick profile on most road. I said “virtually”, because the smoother the road, the more the vibration from the tread—and the humming sound it produces—becomes noticeable. It’s even almost as loud as XC MTB tires on smooth roller, but realistically no road is as smooth as a roller anyway.
I had expected Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H’s shoulder knobs to squirm on high-speed road corners, causing vague handling. In reality, however, cornering winding mountainpass descent was firm and confident, thanks to its stiff casing. The casing stiffness also provides a firm, connected-to-the-road sensation like harder, narrower road bike tires; it doesn’t bob and sway when pushed hard. It also provides better damping to road irregularities, too—so much that I began questioning the validity of tire suppleness hype, in term of speed and comfort.
The 2022 Bikesystem Rides 500 highlighted Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H’s on-road performance; it handled the 500 km of climbs, flats, and descents with confidence. I kept up with those riding narrow road tires just fine on constant cruising speed of 25-35 kph on the flat. “Constant” is important keyword here, though; on short burst of acceleration and sprints, there’s no escaping the fact that Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H’s 540g/piece weight blunts responsiveness.
Of course, a gravel tire should not only perform well on the road…
Off The Beaten Path
Off-road, when compared to the WTB Byway it had replaced, Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H’s stiff casing feels harsh and rough, particularly on large hits and bumps; it transmits more shocks to the rider instead of absorbing them, which reduces comfort, to a degree. On the other hand, the damping characteristic of the casing makes it more stable and composed instead of bouncing around like runaway basketball, which provides better control. The differences were subtle, but noticeable.
When it comes to grip, Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H is outstanding—at least for a shallow-knobbed tire. On gravel and rocky road, the tire rarely slips, even when the road is wet. Pedalling up a rocky climb becomes easier, as I don’t need constant struggle to maintain grip.
The highlight of Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H’s off-road performance came during Off The Beaten Path event by Graventuria; the rolling rocky road of Gunung Halu was challenging under pouring rain. Early on, I constantly braced myself for loss of traction, only to find that the tires gripped just fine on wet rocks, even when many other tires—including those with more aggressive treads—were giving up. SpeedGRIP compound does work! Over time, the tires gave me confidence to push through, and attacking the rolling rocky road under the rain became a big amusement instead of a chore.
Naturally, the shallow, tightly-spaced tread means Cinturato Gravel H is struggling when presented with mud. To be fair, however, all fast-rolling gravel tires are, too. Those looking for tires that perform moderately well on mud will be better served by more aggressively-treaded tires like Gravel H’s more popular brother, the Pirelli Cinturato Gravel M. They come with significant rolling resistance penalty, however—the price I’m not willing to pay, given my preference and type of riding.
At this point, it’s clear that Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H is well suited to paved and hard-packed gravel road—the terrain it was designed for. It’s fast, it’s efficient, it doesn’t bob, and it tackles high-speed corners with aplomb. Meanwhile, the casing robustness, grip, and damping characteristic inspire confidence when directed toward harsher, rocky road—as long as mud isn’t involved. Add in the fact that it looks great, and that it’s also a breeze to set up tubeless—even for home mechanic—and Pirelli Cinturato Gravel truly shines like a winner.
On the other hand, the stiff casing hampers rough-road comfort, to a degree. Suppleness is clearly not part of Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H’s forte.
At Rp895,000 (US$61 at the time of writing) apiece, Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H isn’t cheap—it was 50% more expensive than the WTB Byway it had replaced. Whether it was worth the price, however, depends on what you’re looking for. For those prioritizing comfort above all, there are better alternatives even at better price; they often sacrifice speed and rolling efficiency on smoother road, however. For those prioritizing speed and efficiency, there are faster models still, but usually come with compromises in robustness, grip, ease of tubeless setup, and/or longevity.
Which brings us to our next question: what about Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H’s longevity? Answering it will require a longer testing time. However, at the time of this paragraph’s writing, these tires have accumulated 2,200 km with minimal wear—even the rear tire’s tread still retains a bit of its molding line. Granted, half of that mileage figure was done on a roller. Based on current wear, I’d expect it to last at least 10,000 km—a worthy investment, given the premium price.
For me, Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H’s balanced performance is a winner. It’s the closest I can get to the elusive allround tire that feels at home at both long-distance paved rides as well as off the beaten path excursions. It’s my perfect companion for adventure rides to come…
Pros: fast-rolling, firm and confident on high-speed corners despite tall shoulder knobs, stiff casing doesn’t bob and sway when pushed hard, amazing grip even on wet rocks, damping characteristic provides predictable handling off-road, ease of tubeless setup, stylish & uncluttered look.
Cons: limited comfort, high weight, premium price.
Overall rating: 4.5/5