- Brand: Vee Tire Co.
- Model: Rail
- Price: £39.99 each
- Distributor: Upgrade Bikes
- Tested for: two months
As a mountain biker at heart I’ve been chomping at the bit to try a 650b set up on my drop-bar bike. Whilst big wheels are great for going fast and straight, something smaller and chunkier has the potential to make the most of the twists and turns my local trails have to offer. With MTB-style thru-axles and disc brakes commonplace, fitting 650b wheels into a modern-day adventure bike is increasingly straightforward, especially as more companies design their frames around this option. Tyre choice maybe has a little of catching up to do though; the range of smaller diameter gravel tyres still pretty limited. Fortunately Vee Tire Co have stepped up to the mark with a 650b version of their well liked Rail.
Vee Tires Rail
The Rail is designed as a fast-rolling gravel, CX and even XC tyre for hard-packed conditions. It’s available for 27.5”, 29” and 700c wheel sizes with the widths for the MTB wheel sizes wider than the 40mm 700c version (1.95” for 27.5 and 29” and 2.25 for 29” only; 700c 40mm is a 1.5” equivalent). I had the 27.5” (that’s 650b for the avoidance of doubt) x 1.95” on test and fitted onto American Classic rims with 22mm diameter at 40psi they came up true to size. The tyres were pleasantly easy to fit. They have a satisfyingly tight bead and went up tubeless using just a track pump.
Vee has constructed the Rail from two rubber compounds: the harder centre tread for speed (56A) and softer tapered outer knobs for greater grip (48A). In a straight line the Vee rolls reasonably well and on the rougher stuff I didn’t notice any untoward drag from the tyre. On the road and very hard-packed trails they’re not the fastest but then they’re not designed to be either – as a 650b tyre I’m perfectly happy with this, if I want to do fast and straight I’d run bigger wheels.
The rounded profile gives progressive grip on cornering and it took me a while to get the most from the outer tread. The more aggressive I became and the more faith I put in the tyre, the better it cornered but there was a fine line between success of a fast ridden corner and failure of slipping out. On bermed corners this was lots of fun, on flatter gravellier ones it was a little more scary. But scary is fun, right?
After about 200km of use you can see the difference in terms of durability between the two rubber compounds. The softer outer tread shows some signs of wear but the centre is holding up well and barely looks used. This nothing more than I’d expect given the type and amount of riding I’ve done on these tyres and I’ve no concerns about their longer term durability.
Given the Rail is designed for hard-packed trails it’s no surprise that it doesn’t offer much grip in muddy or wet conditions. On the plus side, and compared to some other gravel tyres I’ve run, they do shed mud very well so once you’re off the squelchy stuff they’re quickly back up and running.
The Rail utilises Vee’s “Synthesis” woven carcass which is designed to be of low weight but also have a high resistance to punctures and cuts (the Rail is listed as a 120 TPI which is pretty high but the ones I have had on test are an incredible 185 TPI). On my scales the tyres weighed in at around 500g (one was 494g and the other 517g) which isn’t the lightest but far from the heaviest you’ll come across.
The tyres had been run a couple of times already by the team at grit.cx and I was a bit concerned about their durability as there were a couple of small holes evident on the side walls of the tyres on fitting. But the sealant did its job on these existing punctures and even after I gave them a pretty good hammering and ridden them past freshly cut hedgerows they don’t appear to have punctured since. They also managed not to pinch or split despite me hitting some rocks so hard I’ve majorly dinted my rims.
It took me a bit of faffing to get the tyres to a pressure sweet spot but once I did my bike came alive on twisty-turny armoured trails. Unfortunately this sweet spot (give or take 27psi for my 65kg riding weight) did not last as the tyres had a tendency to squirm and burp under cornering, quickly dropping the pressure to something unridable. A pressure of over 30psi was enough to keep the tyre seated but was rather too skippy to make the most of the trails and wheel size I wanted to ride. On the plus side the tight bead meant the tyre stayed seated even with less than 10psi so at least I wasn’t trying to re-seat it on the trail with only a mini-pump at my disposable. Given this is the case, I don’t believe the rim was at fault, although I didn’t get the opportunity to run the tyres on another wheelset.
The Rails aren’t quite my holy grail of a do-it-all fun times tyre. It’s a difficult balance for a gravel tyre – more so than a mountain bike one. Our expectations of low weight and fast rolling are high, but we still want it to play nice on technical terrain.
As a true gravel tyre though, the Rail is a well-priced and robust option which rolls and grips well in equal measures. It performs well at a higher pressure on gravelly trails but they fall short on more technical terrain where I’d want to run a lower pressure for more grip.