The Vulpine is the latest gravel tyre from US-based WTB tyres and is currently available in a single 700 x 36mm width. The design, narrower than many gravel tyres, does affect comfort. Still, it meets the objective and is an incredibly fast and smooth-rolling tyre that isn't just for the dusty mid-west US.
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If the name Vulpine sounds familiar, this may be because it was previously released as a mountain bike tyre in the late 2000s. WTB has brought the name back, keeping a low semi-slick tread pattern, but this time for gravel bikes.
It's available in a single width of 700 x 36, with two versions: the 120-threads-per-inch (TPI) SG2 version here, and a slightly cheaper 60-TPI tyre at £50. Our pair on test measured slightly above the claimed size at 38mm when fitted to a set of rims with 24mm internal width. They weighed 414g and 411g, below the claimed weight of 434g. This makes them some of the lightest true gravel tyres you can buy, and certainly the lightest pair that we have tested for off.road.cc.
Installation was OK but not quite as simple as some other tyres, with one inflating quite easily with a track pump. However, the other wasn't quite so obliging, and while it might have inflated with some more persistence, I had a tubeless-specific track pump handy which made the job quick and easy.
I was instantly impressed with how smoothly and quietly it rolled, especially on surfaced roads. It barely felt any slower than a full slick road tyre. Where the route was almost all tarmac roads, the ride average was at speeds I would normally expect for a road bike, despite the wider width and the pressure of 40psi, which is low for a road bike. There was the occasional slip of traction on a few very steep, greater-than-20% climbs, but this was on narrow green lanes.
However, the Vulpine is designed as a gravel tyre, so how about off the tarmac? The tread pattern is both low and very closely spaced, and my expectations for performance off-road were quite low. But the tyre surprised me with a tenacious grip on anything firm. It can slide on dusty or looser surfaces, but it is quite predictable and never out of control.
Overall speed on typical British fire road descents is hindered by the narrow width, and speed is also reduced on rougher flat surfaces compared with a typical gravel tyre over 40mm. Another issue at times is traction, with braking, in particular, needing some care and good modulation to avoid skidding. Traction, when the rear wheel is weighted, was quite good, but if, like me, you like climbing out of the saddle, this will affect the ability on steeper, looser off-road climbs.
The low weight may put some people off as the tyres could be more fragile. Still, for me at least, they have been perfect with no issues or punctures at all – and I took them on a fast, rocky descent and didn't go any easier for the sake of the tyres. Plus, they have the new SG2 casing, which features a layer of puncture protection and a higher TPI count of the casing construction.
The Vulpine is designed primarily for racing on dry trails, and while it performed better than I expected on slippery and muddy tracks, it is still a long way off a tyre that is specifically designed for mud, with deeper and more open tread.
If you live in the US, there will be plenty of suitable races with fast, smooth and dry terrain where tyre width is less important. But the Vulpine's uses are more limited here in the UK, where gravel riding has a slightly different meaning. There are still times and riding styles that might make it a good choice, with bikes that have limited tyre clearance being the big one. Several older and more recent gravel bikes struggle to fit anything bigger than a 40mm wide tyre; here, the Vulpine could be perfect for events and racing. Given how well the tyre performed on surfaced roads, it would also be a good option for people who ride mostly on-road with an occasional excursion onto rougher terrain. Or riders at Audax events, where comfort is important, and narrow green lanes are frequented.
While the tyre performed better than expected in many conditions, it doesn't stop me from thinking about what could be if a wider version should become available. It's such a smooth and fast tyre; if WTB ever does release a Vulpine over 42mm, it would be even more suited to our typically rougher tracks.
At £55 and aimed at faster riding, the Vulpine shares many advantages with the Vittoria Terreno dry (£45), a gravel tyre available in multiple width and size options. Much like the Vulpine, it grips far more tenaciously than you might expect from looking at it.
If you have the space for a wider tyre, the Schwalbe G-One R (£70) is still the best racing tyre I have used, and it comes in two widths, 40mm and 45mm.
It is unlikely that what we class as gravel here in the UK will have been a focus for WTB when designing the Vulpine. However, while it is limited in its appeal, it is still a tyre with merit. It will suit certain riders very well. It rolls extremely well and quietly with a grip that belies its looks. For riders with limited tyre clearance on their bikes, it could be ideal, and for those with more, if WTB releases a wider version, it will be one to shortlist for faster riding.