The gravel boom is full of contradictions; using a stiff bike to ride uneven surfaces, fitting the widest narrow tyre you can get, going as fast as you can on slow rides, being as comfortable as you can on an uncomfortable bike. Compromise is central to the whole idea. Inappropriateness is the draw.
Most gravel rides in Ireland aren't really gravel rides. They start with a road ride to a forest or trail centre, where they become trail rides with hardpack climbs that may, in parts, contain gravel. Until now the choice was easy; get knobbly or prepare to eat dirt. But for the Lakeland Gravel Grinder there was going to be actual gravel, and lots of it. Small- to medium-sized chunks with a fair amount of hard-packed dirt was on the menu. Width was clearly going to be desirable as well as some kind of thread so that cornering wasn't impossible, but considering the distance there wasn't really all that many brake-worthy bends. So with that brief off I went in search of goldilocks rubber.
Even as a self-confessed tyre nerd, I had never heard of Ere as a brand. But when I saw the Tenaci they were what I had been looking for: a 12mm (ish) file tread in the centre with modest shoulder knobbles to grab when things get deep or (less likely) banked over in the turns. 38mm and 42mm options were on the shelf in B2R and my CX bike's clearance made that choice for me (a 42mm Continental Contact cost me quite a bit of paint a few years back). What surprised me was the cost; €49 each is verging on budget-level if you’re buying from a shop. I was mildly concerned.
Seating the bead evenly on the rim took two attempts with the front and three with the rear (about average for me with the help of Schwalbe Easy Fit). I had two previously used bog-standard butyl inner tubes inside. The narrowness was a cause for mild concern and if anything they came up slightly narrow on Mavic Aksium Disc and Shimano RX wheels (17 and 19mm internal width, cheap, clincher only). But they did look fast. And we do like fast.
I'm not one for endless tyre pressure debates. I guessed at 37 and 40psi (ish) front and rear on the day (it had rained but was looking dry). The old hand-squeeze test gave a bit of squish-room but nowhere near cyclocross level. I was content.
The ride (let's call it a race for the first 20km) started on a road that was almost entirely uphill. Having started around the middle of the 800 strong bunch. I had a lot of moving up to do. Differences in fitness and goals for the day aside, I was flying past people. Really flying. I wondered if I had gone far too slick, too narrow, too high-pressure. If I did, it didn't matter. We turned on to the start of what would seem like endless steep gravel climbs, and the tyres did what it continued to do for the entire 4hrs and 16minutes: it surprised me.
The most noticeable aspect was the grip on steep climbs. Once I stayed in the saddle the rear tyre just didn't budge. Time after time a patch would be looser, wetter, more lumpy, steeper (and it got very steep) but I was in near disbelief that my 38mm semi slick was actually winching me up these bergs. Compared to the Schwalbe X-One All-Round 33mm I’d been using on the same bike, there was equal if not more grip.
The second most impressive element was the number of punctures. In consideration of the cost, width, terrain and pressure I ran them at I would have considered myself genuinely lucky to get one puncture across the often quite fast 108km. But I didn't. A few marks on the sidewall showed the Fermanagh stones had done their best but there was no damage noticeable.
Cornering grip is a funny thing to try to compare and I often squint when I hear reviewers talking about being "glued to the road" or a tyre "hugging the bends". You either slide or you don't on a corner, and if you do it's unlikely you can really tell whether another tyre would have done any better. I would confidently blame my off-road skills for any distancing experienced on descents rather than the tyres, and I did at one point take a tighter line than another rider who ran wide on a full-suspension XC bike, so let's call it even.
Conscious that the “buzz of the day” (see "relief to finish the day") could have muddled my judgement, I took the eventually cleaned bike out for a local lap of some more typical (slippery) Wicklow forest roads. I tried to find the limit; accelerating in the saddle on steep climbs the rear wheel just would not spin (still 38-40psi). The limit was found on a damp section of narrow single track, but at that stage I was really beyond the line of what the bike, tyres and rider were ever going to be comfortable with. That loop has claimed many an inner tube with a very fast loose decent but still, the air stayed the right side of the rubber.
On the road
Now don't get me wrong, if you show up to the group ride and expect to roll through with roadies on actual race bikes, you're getting dropped with the Ere Tenaci. The line seemed for me to be around the 28kph mark. To go any faster even on the smoothest road required unreasonable effort. That might seem a deal breaker if you ride roads to get off the road, but it really shouldn't be. The way the tyres pick up speed after climbs and out of corners when you are on hard packed gravel or dirt is genuinely grin-inducing. It’s also a massive improvement from the Schwalbe’s in this regard. The 20-25kph range is where these tyres really sing. On my 90 minute loop at a moderate push I averaged 22kph. If you're not Darnell Moore it's unlikely you're going substantially faster on your weekend rides.
An undeniably crucial quality of any tyre is wear rate (Vittoria Corsa owners will be well aware), so it's a bit early to declare the Ere Tenaci the GP5000 of gravel. More adventurous off-roaders may well find the tyre wanting for grip on wet muddy corners or single-track, and that's to be expected. On terrain where your handling skills aren’t being tested the Tenaci is comfortable, fast, and has more grip then it has any right to. You can't have everything, but with the Tenaci you can have a lot of fun. If you believe that mountain bikes still deserve to exist, and that certain terrain is realistically just not a good idea on a drop-bar bike, then where you ride will almost certainly be well met by the Tenaci.