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IRC's Boken Plus multi-surface tyre is a lot more versatile than you might expect at first glance. It looks like it'd roll well on tarmac, and it does, but it's surprisingly capable on much rougher terrain too.
The Boken Plus is a semi-slick tyre, with a solid centre tread that gets increasingly open the further you move from the centre line. There's a herringbone section either side of the middle, and then two sections of blocks on the shoulder. The idea is that the middle section will roll well on smooth surfaces, and then the more open tread comes into play when the bike is cornering, and when the surface is uneven and the tyre deforms over obstacles. It's built around a tubeless-ready carcass.
I've used these tyres on a variety of rides, and I have to say I'm impressed with the levels of grip they offer. Most pertinently I completed a two-day bikepacking trip from Barnstaple back to Bath that included rough technical descents and climbs, graded gravel, woodland singletrack, grassy slogs over the moors and tarmac sections, in both wet and dry conditions. There's no one tyre that you'd say was perfect for all of that, but the Boken Plus rarely put a foot wrong.
It wasn't a surprise that the tarmac sections were a breeze: the unbroken centre strip makes them nice and quiet on the roads, which immediately makes you feel faster, but at cruising speeds they're also stable and predictable through the turns. They're reasonably heavy tyres, but if you're carrying gear for a two-dayer that's not an issue. On an unloaded bike they don't feel sluggish either.
More impressively, the Boken Plus rubber coped with loads of varied terrain with very little fuss. They're great on graded gravel, but they're also really good on steeper, rockier stuff. With the pressure reasonably low (I was mostly running around 35-40psi), once they start to deform over the surface of the trail they really bite, offering up much more grip than you'd imagine the design would provide. IRC says that it uses 'Ultra-Gummy Compound for Insane Bite', and the edge blocks are hollow so that they'll deform more for extra grip. It works: short of wet roots, where any tyre would struggle, I rarely wanted for grip.
Obviously, any tyre has its limits. These Boken Plus tyres struggled in a couple of situations. Where there was loose gravel on top of a hard surface, say a tarmac corner, there's not enough tread for the tyre to grip or enough roughness for it to deform, so they tend to marble across the surface. And on tightly cropped grassy descents you'll be doing a fair bit of skidding at the rear wheel, although there's enough grip to manage your speed.
The 47mm carcass gives plenty of air chamber, so you can run the pressures low without worrying about bashing your rims, especially when set up tubeless. I've taken them as low as 25psi (I'm 92kg) without any issues, and off-road grip gets even better although of course the road performance starts to suffer.
Talking of tubeless, they're excellent: they went up first time with a track pump (onto Hunt rims) and they hold air better than nearly any other tubeless tyre I've tried. Some of that weight is going into making sure that carcass is properly air tight. I didn't suffer any punctures that required any plugging in the 500km or so I've run these tyres for, either.
At £55 an end these aren't the cheapest multi-surface tyre you can get, but they're a similar price to some tyres that I'd consider to be a direct competitor, such as the WTB Byway. The excellent Schwalbe G-One Allround is a bit cheaper, and in fact I stripped a pair of large-chamber G-Ones off my gravel bike to fit this Boken Plus rubber. Back to back I prefer the IRC tyres: they hold air better, they're quieter on the road and they're as good if not better on the rough stuff. As an all-purpose tyre, they're really good.
Really good mixed-surface tyre that's a lot better off road than its profile would suggest
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road.cc test report
Make and model: IRC Boken Plus gravel tyre 650B
Size tested: 650x47B
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
From The Cycle Clinic: 'The Boken+ is a 650b multi-surface tire with a four part tread for smooth riding performance on any road. Boken+ tires are tubeless-ready, offering the flexibility to run with a tube or without. Running tubeless allows for lower pressures which provides better grip, faster rolling over rough surfaces, and a more comfortable ride.
'The 650b size preserves the handling characteristics of your bike while giving you the tire volume to tackle any surface.'
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
The Cycle Clinic lists:
Smooth Center Tread For Speed on the Tarmac
Inverted Micro-Diamond Pattern For Wet Traction
Hollow Centers on Blocks Give Maximum Flex and Grip
Ultra-Gummy Compound for Insane Bite on Nasty Obstacles
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very well. A great choice for a mixed-surface trip.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Roll well and grip well on most surfaces, comfy, easy to set up tubeless.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
They're nearer the top end of the market than the bottom; a similar price to the WTB Byway, but a bit more than the Schwalbe G-One Allround.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
No one tyre can do everything, but these are excellent as a mixed surface choice.
About the tester
I usually ride: whatever I'm testing... My best bike is: Kinesis Tripster ATR, Merida Scultura, Dward Design fixed
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.