Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Specialized’s Pathfinder Pro has proven to be a fast gravel tire, both in our lab test of 24 tires and at races like Unbound Gravel under 2021 champ Ian Boswell. Now the California company has an S-Works level version of the tire, which is lighter, offers a dual-compound tread with a fast center and grippy shoulders, and, the company claims, is even faster in terms of rolling resistance.
The Pathfinder retains the same mold as before, with a smooth center for upright speed, a shallow tread on the bulk of the casing, and knobs on the far sides. It also keeps the Blackbelt puncture protection belt under the entire casing.
Related: 24 gravel tires lab tested for speed
On the new S-Works Pathfinder, a firmer Gripton T5 tread is used for the center strip, while a softer T7 is used on the shoulders. Specialized has been using multiple compounds in its mountain bike tires, with its race teams sometimes opting for differing compounds but in the same tread pattern depending on conditions.
The new S-Works Pathfinder also gets a new sidewall protection Specialized calls Grid Race, a woven polyamide that the brand claims retains elasticity while beefing up cut resistance.
The $60 S-Works tire comes only in 42mm, while the $55 Pathfinder Pro continues in both 38mm and 42mm widths. Specialized claims the S-Works’ weight at 435g, some 105g lighter than the Pathfinder Pro. My Feedback Sports scaled pegged an S-Works Pathfinder at 447g.
First 100mi ride impressions
I received a test set Friday, mounted them on the new Cadex AR 35 gravel wheels, and rode them Sunday on Project Supertraining, a brisk, supported road ride here in Boulder, Colorado. Why do a road ride to test gravel tires, you ask? Well, a couple reasons. The dirt roads here were mucky from melted snow, and I wanted to give both bike and body a shakedown ahead of The Mid South in two weeks.
Further, I’m familiar with the feel of the old Pathfinders on dirt. Conceptually I like the mix of a fast center and grippier shoulders for gravel riding and racing. I’ve done two editions of The Mid South, one dry and fast, and the other fully muddy. Both times I used a relatively slick tread — Vittoria Terreno Zero Terreno Dry, respectively — and was happy with the results. At Belgian Waffle Ride Kansas I used and appreciated the fast-rolling and near-slick Maxxis Receptor.
Still, I was surprised the the Pathfinder Pro did so well in our lab test; I expected that the thickness of the center strip would add drag in the way thicker road tires are typically slower than thinner road tires, all other things equal. Turns out, I was wrong.
So, ride impressions: for big, 42mm casings, these things roll quite nicely on pavement. And for gravel tires with sidewall protection and full-tread puncture protection, they feel pleasantly supple. Not quite as buttery smooth as Schwalbe’s G-One Allround, but close.
Riding in a large group, I could definitely feel the extra mass compared to road tires when accelerating, but once at speed, I didn’t feel like I was at a significant disadvantage on the flats. And, of course, should we have deviated onto gravel, the tires would truly have come into their own.
I’ll report back after The Mid South!