The Specialized S-Works Pathfinder gravel bike tyre builds on the success of the brand’s Pathfinder Pro, one of the most popular gravel tyres on the market, with a lighter casing and dual-compound rubber.
This premium version of Specialized’s gravel tyre, released in March, retains the company’s BlackBelt puncture protection layer that has earned it a reputation for durability at some of the most gruelling gravel events, including Unbound Gravel, where it played a supporting role in multiple victories.
I tested the S-Works Pathfinder in the American gravel hotspots of Colorado and Kansas to see how this new version stacks up against the competition.
Built for speed
Since its introduction in 2019, the original Pathfinder Pro has proven itself to be one of the top gravel tyres for riders who prioritise speed and durability. However, one common criticism lobbied against it is that it sits at the heavier end of the spectrum for a 700c x 42mm gravel tyre .
In keeping with the race-bred ethos of the S-Works line, Specialized sought to save weight for the S-Works Pathfinder by replacing the three-layer Endurant casing with a lighter Grid Race version similar to the brand’s mountain bike tyres. This new casing features lightweight cross-woven polyamide fibres.
Specialized claims the Grid Race sidewalls improve tear and puncture resistance while maintaining good elasticity for a supple ride.
Another carry-over from Specialized’s cross-country mountain bike tyres is the use of dual Gripton rubber compounds: the smooth-rolling centre strip uses firmer, longer-wearing T5 rubber, while the knurled shoulder knobs use the softer and grippier T7 compound.
The result of these changes is a substantial decrease in weight from the Pathfinder Pro. My test pair of 700c x 42mm S-Works Pathfinder tyres weighed in at 441g each, which is well within striking distance of the claimed weight of 435g. For reference, the Pathfinder Pro in the same size has a claimed weight of 540g.
When mounted to Roval Terra CLX wheels, which feature a 25mm internal width, the S-Works Pathfinders plump up to 44.5mm. Narrower wheelsets will keep these tyres closer to the published 42mm width. Tubeless setup was painless and the tyres seated into place without resorting to high pressures.
S-Works Pathfinder details and specifications
- Claimed weight: 435g
- Actual weight: 441g per tyre
- Claimed width: 42mm
- Actual width: 44.5mm on a 25mm internal rim
- Material: Gripton T5/T7 dual-compound rubber
- Casing: 120 TPI Grid Race casing
- Puncture protection: BlackBelt anti-flat layer under the tread
- Type: Tubeless-ready
Specialized S-Works Pathfinder performance
My test of the S-Works Pathfinders took place on the rocky gravel roads of central Kansas and the dirt roads of northern Colorado. The Flint Hills region of Kansas has gained notoriety as a harsh proving ground for tyres, while the ‘gravel’ roads surrounding Fort Collins, Colorado, are hardpacked dirt covered in a fine layer of dust and sand.
Over the course of 450 miles of testing, my pair of test tyres has remained flat-free. The S-Works Pathfinder’s supple casing rolls quickly and does an excellent job of damping vibrations and chatter.
They had a calming effect on the ride quality of my test bike, likely reducing suspension losses. Quantitative data from Bicycle Rolling Resistance appears to support my qualitative testing.
Even on 25mm-wide rims, the S-Works Pathfinders have a very round profile that, when combined with the raised centre strip and minimal edge tread, doesn’t result in overly confident cornering performance.
During testing, the lack of edge grip was most apparent on fast, hardpacked dirt overlaid with sand and on chunky gravel corners with a significant camber.
On loose-over-hardpacked conditions, the Pathfinders have a tendency to kick out from the rear when cornering aggressively. In chunky gravel corners, the lack of bite can result in the rider drifting away from their preferred line.
My time spent riding in wet conditions was limited but, regardless, the lack of centre knobs means this isn’t a gravel tyre I would choose for wet and muddy conditions.
Tyre pressure is key to getting the most out of the Pathfinders. I started testing at 30psi front and 32psi rear, and settled on 28psi front and 30psi rear for my 68kg (150lb) rider weight.
Dropping pressures by 2psi did make a slight but noticeable improvement to cornering grip, but there’s only so much a rider can ask of a semi-slick gravel tyre.
What sort of gravel races is the S-Works Pathfinder suitable for?
Unlike mountain bike races, which are frequently won or lost due to cornering ability, many gravel races are generally long-haul affairs with the winners chosen through attrition (and flats, other mechanicals, and mistakes in nutrition and hydration).
The S-Works Pathfinder’s supple ride and impressive puncture resistance will likely solidify its position as one of the most ‘successful’ gravel treads in years to come.
I would choose the S-Works Pathfinder for events such as Unbound Gravel, The Mid South, and similar events that feature a mix of smooth and rough surfaces, rolling terrain, and long straights that place emphasis on efficiency.
However, I would select a tyre with a more open and aggressive tread pattern, such as the WTB Resolute, for muddy conditions and for gravel events that include singletrack segments, such as Grinduro.
How does the S-Works Pathfinder compare to the competition?
Compared to these three tyres, the S-Works Pathfinder wins on the scales, coming in 80-100g below the competition in 42-44mm sizes. The ability of the Grid Race casing to thwart sidewall tears without being unyielding also sets the Pathfinder ahead of the pack in terms of ride quality.
That said, the S-Works Pathfinder falls short of its peers in sizing. Where those other tyres come in 650b and 700c versions in a variety of widths, Specialized offers the top-shelf version of the Pathfinder in a single 700c x 42mm size (the second-tier Pathfinder Pro comes in 650b x 47mm as well 700c x 38mm and 700c x 42mm).
Tyres that are near peers in terms of performance with slightly more aggressive tread patterns include the Maxxis Rambler, Schwalbe G-One-R, Vittoria Terreno Dry, Panaracer Gravel King SK, and Specialized’s own Tracer Pro. They’re neither as fast nor as light, but they are better options for riders seeking a set-and-forget tyre that performs well across a wide range of gravel surfaces.
Specialized S-Works Pathfinder bottom line
The Specialized S-Works Pathfinder’s combination of low weight, ride quality and flat protection make it a category leader for fast-rolling gravel race tyres.
Despite my criticisms of the cornering grip, it’s an excellent tyre to have for relatively smooth gravel races and a great option for recreational riders who split their time evenly between pavement and gravel, and who have a need for speed.
Those who don’t mind its cornering performance will also benefit from its supple casing and impressive durability.
|Price||AUD $95.00EUR €60.00GBP £50.00USD $60.00|
|Weight||441g (700c x 42mm) – as tested (435g claimed)|
|Features||Gripton T5/T7 dual-compound rubber
Specialized S-Works Pathfinder performance
120 TPI Grid Race casing
|Puncture protection||Blackbelt anti-flat layer under the tread / Grid Race sidewall protection|
|Sizes||700c x 42mm|