Help me turn this into my 1st gravel bike

I’ve been very lucky and been gifted this old-school MTB (circa late 1990s).

I did a lot of MTBing as a kid in the 1980s (specilized Rockhopper sport :grin:) but whatever I may have learnt has long left my memory.

I’ve checked it over and it works fine, brakes are good, wheels and spokes are fine.

I’m going to change out the saddle.

My question is about tyres. They are brittle and shot with a couple of holes / tears.

So I want to replace with modern tyres that will be good for gravel riding (mostly single track / compacted / or semi loose shingle with a bit of grass and mud where I live).

Can anyone give me a steer on what make / model / size of gravel tyre to buy? Do I need inner tubes or can I make these old rims run tubeless? If tubes, again what make and size?

I’ve photographed the info on the current tyres to hopefully allow some insight into what’s currently on. Also any steer on psi - I’m 92kg.

I’ll be pulling apart the front headset to regrease etc and general checks; but overall surprised how good condition it’s in :grin:

Any other tips on what to watch out for on these older bikes gratefully received :+1:t2:

Thanks in advance :+1:t2:

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New tires for sure, new tubes if you can source them (even if they appear to hold air, currently). Butyl 26" schraeder tubes aren’t rare, but they might be in short supply currently. If your shifters are still smooth, you’re in good shape, if they’re really tight, go to YouTube and see if you can find a video on your specific shifters. Internal grease from that era might be old and crusty, in need of a full clean out.

As far as selection on new rubber for gravel, 26" stuff might be limited, but you should be able to find something a little smoother and lighter. Look for the legacy brands who still have loyalists for their old-school sizes: Maxxis, Continental, etc. For gravel, I never needed much tread, I relied on volume so something pretty smooth would work, and something a little too aggressive will wear down to perfection in a few dozen long rides.

I wouldn’t F around trying to get OEM rims from a 199x bike to run tubeless.

New tubes may be in short supply like the rest of the bike world, but those aren’t rare. If you ride enough and want to try it, start looking for a rim brake 26" QR wheel set designed for tubeless… Or contact a bike shop that builds wheels for this kind of thing.

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Awesome - that’s a super helpful reply.

Definitely looking to minimise hassle so will steer clear of tubeless :grin:

Thanks for the insight on the gears etc - I’ll make sure I look over that aspect. :+1:t2:

I’ll update back once I’ve managed to source and fit some tyres and tubes as suggested.


Depends on how gravelly your gravel is but I run Schwalbe racing ray/ralph combo on my mtb that works nicely on loose gravel and doesn’t roll too badly, even on roads. If you want something for harder packed gravel , have a look at the Billy Bonkers tyre.

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Tires and tire pressure are one of the most impactful changes you can make to change the character of a bike.

Tires for 26” wheels are hard to come by. You will need to first see what is available and then pick from that. I heard Maxxis just delivered an order to the US.

Since the bike has 2.1” (53 mm) tires on it already, you should be able to fit pretty much any gravel tire. Because you are a beginner, I suggest at least 44 mm wide tires, if you can find them. Wider tires are more confidence inspiring and smooth out the ride more, if you run the right pressure.

Tire pressure is really important. If your pressure is too high the bike will ride rough and have poor traction. If it’s too low you risk getting pinch flats. The wider the tire, the lower the pressure you need (by a lot), but higher weight and tougher surfaces need more pressure.

Unfortunately, it’s not simple to recommend a pressure because of those factors plus most tire pressure gages on bike pumps aren’t very accurate. However, there is a simple way to find a pretty good pressure. Adjust tire pressure until the tire sags (deflects) by around 15% when you sit on the bike. To estimate the 15% you can look at the tire from the side first and identify where that is relative to the knobs, then watch the knobs when you sit on the bike.

I also encourage you to not even attempt tubeless on those wheels. It’s likely hopeless.

Final thought, since you’re new to this, it’s best to have an (older) mechanic give the bike a tune up. They may find something else wrong that may change your plans.

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Thanks - solid advice. I’m reasonably competent on general stuff relating to more modern road bikes (rebuilt my cannondale synapse from bare frame last year) but agree I know little about older stuff so this is a really sensible and good tip :+1:t2::+1:t2:

I converted a Ridley cx bike to use for gravel. Put carbon handlebars and thick tape (Fizik) to dampen road shock, a set of Hunt tubless wheels with 38mm Gravel Kings (great all-round tire, fast on asphalt), and a Red Shift suspension seatpost (worth the weight it added)

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Honestly, I think the only “non-CX” thing is the suspension seat post. I think you “optimized” the current setup for gravel. No shame, but not terribly applicable to the old-school rigid 26" bike we’re talking about here.

This all depends on how crazy you want to get. The advice above is solid…but if you’ve ridden it a bit and want to experiment, it’s often possible to convert these old mtb’s to a drop bar with 700c wheels. I did that a few years ago with an old Gary Fisher Cronus and it’s a blast to ride


Nice :sunglasses: - drop bars (I have a spare set) and potentially (cost permitting) a move to different shifters and brake levers is a definite ‘phase 2’ consideration once I’ve got some seat time on the current setup.

700c wheels is a nice idea but cost wise I’d rather spend the ££ on a set of aero rims for my road bike :joy:

Also - the lugs for the rim brakes on the frame are located as 26 inch specific so there would be a lot of ‘fiddling’ to make it work (potentially).

Thanks :+1:t2:

Lovely :sunglasses:

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The brakes were my biggest challenge. The front was set up to do canti’s pretty easily. I found some long-reach V brakes from China that set me up in the rear. Thankfully I had a set of Ultegra wheels already, so getting set up tubeless was painless.

uhhh it looks like that bike is already perfectly capable of handling gravel roads…


Yep - except the tyres are completely shot and the saddle has a crack / split.

At this stage what I’m doing is:

-Gravel tyres & tubes
-New chain
-Replacement saddle (old one I have spare)
-different pedals
-Good clean / lube / tighten bit & bobs & check over

Reckon she’ll be good to go by the weekend :+1:t2:


Tyre choice made:


That looks perfect for a 26" on the types of gravel I’ve ridden. Let us know how it rides once she’s up and running. My 26" townie has only seen townie duties, so when the OG Bontrager muds wear out, I’ll keep this in mind.

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1990 Rockhopper. :slight_smile: Sized down, but it is a 56 ETT with a 17" Seat tube, so it’s a bit odd looking. A proper sized MTB of that era would be too long to be usable.

running barcons, 105 triple converted to 42/28 double. Tektro RL520 levers. Nitto Randonneur handlebar (don’t recall which one), Nitto dirt drop quill stem. Generator hub with front and rear lights.

Tires, I’m using the Compass Rat Trap Pass (now called Rene Herse Rat Trap Pass).

Primarily a commuter, but used it for some gravel bits. I have a different gravel bike I use that’s more modern.

Some tires to look at

  • Kenda Small Block 8 (not sure if this is still made)
  • Panaracer Gravel King (small knobs)
  • Schwalbe Billy Bonkers (small knobs)
  • ReneHerse Rat Trap Pass (slick, but has amazing traction even on single track)
  • ReneHerse HumpTulips Ridge (knobby)

There are some CX sized tires, but I would opt for more volume.

The HumpTulips looks good, kind of like the old Bruce Gordon Rock and Road tires.

I do see you already picked tires, but I opt for larger tires on these bikes.


Just need to swap out the pedals and add the new chain. Nearly done :grin:

Cleaning, greasing and tightening up and adjusting things took a while but worth the effort.


All done, can’t wait to try it out :grin: