Maxxis Rambler Gravel Tyre Review


There is no substitute for good tyres, no way of compensating for bad tyres.  Simply put they are the only single component connecting your bike to the road, and there is no one other component that can affect your ride in such a big way.  This is particularly true when you are on a rigid bike, as the tyre is your suspension.  When I was building Betty one of my biggest concerns was what tyres do I choose? The type of riding I have done over the years has changed a bit, particularly more off-road.    Part of the reason I changed bike was to fit larger tyres to allow me to ride more surfaces away from paved road.  One tyre cannot be the perfect tyre for all conditions, inherently they are a compromise.

When I originally built Phil in 2013 there weren't many 700c high performance wider tyres, particularly in tubeless format, also most off-road tyres were narrow 33mm cyclocross tyres.  Fast forward to the present and there is plenty of choice, particularly tubeless compatible ones too.  Ever since I rode the Challenge Strada Bianca I have been slightly obsessed with supple tyres, however as these punctured relatively easily I was also very keen to try out tubeless with my next build. Looking at what was available now, one of the most popular gravel tyres is the WTB Nano 40c, this is a bit of an all conditions tyre which isn't too much of a slouch on tarmac either.  However I spotted that Maxxis was releasing some gravel tyres, in particular the Rambler which is a low profile microknob design which was tubeless compatible.  At a quoted 380g these are the lightest 40mm tyre on the market which is what drew my attention.  Also they have a finely threaded 120tpi carcass which meant it should give a supple smooth ride, at the expense of being a little more delicate.  I went ahead and bought a pair, not cheap at £45 each, however surprisingly they came in lighter than the quoted weight, they have a very lightweight construction with a flexible sidewall, hopefully this will mean they have a supple ride.



Installation and Setup

I had read that these were difficult to install as tubeless, these were going to be the first tubeless tyres I'd ever setup on the first tubeless specific wheels I ever built.  As expected the tyre's beads were pretty tight and had very little give, but they slipped on with a bit of soapy water.  I used Stans tape and did two layers to cover the valve holes on my B.O.R XMD-366 tubeless compatible rims, this took a little bit of practice to get it to cover all the holes evenly.  After popping the tyre on the rims, I stuck a tube in it and inflated the tyre to get it to a more round shape as it was still in a bit of a folded shape from it's packaged form.

After removing the tube and popping on both beads, I gave the edge a quick spray with some soapy water and then installed the tubeless valve with a bit of sealant around the rubber grommet.  A few quick blasts of air with the track pump and it seated almost straight away...  I couldn't believe it was so easy as I had heard it could be difficult and had some CO2 canisters at hand but never ended up needing them.  The rear tyre held air overnight without any sealant, the front wouldn't hold air without sealant however.  I added a bit of Orange Seal to each tyre and swished it around, after this both held air perfectly.


After inflating it to about 50psi (3.5bar) and leaving it overnight to stretch out a bit, they measured at 40.3mm wide.  This is on a 21mm internal width rim, having read a few reviews saying they come out undersized I was pleasantly surprised with it's trueness to spec.    The knobs barely protrude from the tyre carcass and such the width of the knobs vs the carcass is about the same.


Compared to my old 34mm Schwalbe Smart Sam tyres that I ran before they are noticeably bigger.  Doing the maths a 40mm tyre is about 1250mm² in cross sectional area and a 34mm tyre is about 900mm², which at 38% increase which is quite a bit.  Now to test these out.

First impressions

One of the first places I was eager to test it out was the South Downs Way, this is a chalky, dusty long distance bridleway dotted with gravel and lots of sharp flinty rocks mixed with some grass and some soft loamy soil.  Initially I set these up at 45psi (3.0bar) and was impressed at how fast these were on pavement, despite having knobs these things really flew on the road. Don't get me wrong though, they aren't going to come near proper slicks and they have a slightly audible buzz on tarmac, but looks can be deceptive.


Once on the gravel they really came into their intended environment.  I played around with pressure a bit and ended up dropping them to 30/35psi(2.0/2.4bar)  front/rear, the recommended pressure is 50psi however I think this is far too much air and you can safely drop them a lot lower, as long as you aren't burping them you should be fine. Compared with my old tyres the first thing I noticed was the plushness of the ride, these were the first tubeless tyres I'd ever ran and I was very impressed.  Lots of the small flinty, rocky parts it soaked up with ease.  Transition to grass and then tarmac and they feel really fast and plush.  However where they came unstuck was when there was damp, these tyres do not like any wet conditions at all!  The rear just simply doesn't have the knobs to really grip, it slips which means you really have to weight the back wheel on muddy climbs.


Slippery when wet

One of the first times I tried out these out it was a rainy day in Surrey Hills, on some of the MTB trails they simply can't cope and are a bit dangerous when it's wet.  Off camber sections of singletrack had to be taken at a snails pace and wet rooty trails were difficult to say the least, this is probably due to the lack of significant shoulder knobs.  Not really a surprise as the tread on these is minimal.  Even in the dry the tyres don't have the sheer stickiness or knobblyness to make it over more gnarly trails with big rocks and roots. Large roots and rocks tend to deflect the tyre completely, it simply doesn't have the volume or knobs to just grip and float over these.


Over grass they are quite fast, they have little rolling resistance and braking/cornering traction is good.  Despite being out of their league in muddy conditions, they seem to clear mud pretty quickly unless it is of the clay type which I think would clog up even slicks!  Ultimately though they are not meant for muddy or wet conditions, this is pretty obvious.  Despite this they are still much better than slicks in these kinds of conditions!

Performance on tarmac is good, whilst not the stickiest rubber they have decent grip  and only emit a slight hum but are really easy to push, you almost forget that these are meant for off-road.  The voluminous 40mm (for a 700c tyre) soaks up pretty much anything you'd encounter on a paved road apart from giant sinkholes, potholes, ruts and manhole covers just disappear.


A visit from the fairy

Their light weight and supple ride does come with a price, despite having the EXO puncture resistant casing they punctured a fair bit over the past 8 months.  The sharp flints of the South Downs caused two punctures in one ride alone.  However as I've set them up tubeless with Orange Seal sealant this isn't really an issue at all, all I have to do is let the sealant pool a bit, then spin the tyre around.  Once the puncture is sealed the air just needs to be topped up and you're good to go.  The first puncture I got was in the wet and it only lost about 5psi before it sealed itself and I kept on riding.  I've never been left stranded by these tyres, nor have I ever had to resort to using a tubeless patch kit or god forbid an inner tube!  However this has happened to me with other tyres and was relatively easy to do.


Verdict

After riding these for about 6 months and about 1000km, I really like these tyres, they really transformed the bike into a do-it-all machine.  The Ramblers excel at their intended purpose which is a diet of mostly gravel, road and the odd bit of loamy singletrack.  Just don't expect too much when it's wet or a rooty/rocky trail. Though they aren't the grippiest tyres,  their best quality is their super supple ride and low rolling resistance.  When you have them spun up they seem to be so easy to push, their plushness soaks up most small bumps.  The casing is very lightweight and flexible which gives them their suppleness, much more than their 40mm width would suggest, they even feel better than some much larger 2.0" mountain bike tyres yet are much lighter and faster.  However this comes at a price, they are somewhat prone to puncture. Set up tubeless with sealant this isn't really much of an issue as they work great this way and seal quickly and effectively.  They really are a bit of a jack of all trades tyre, ideal for rides which are 75% road with 25% off-road to 100% off-road.  So in short, get these if you want really light, fast supple tyres that are somehwhat delicate, suited to mostly dry conditions.  Definitely recommended.

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