Big Tires are so in right now — at least I hope so…
When it comes to big tires for the road, the only limiters on size these days are your frame and fork. Because tire selection and pressure can dramatically improve or detract from your bicycle’s handling characteristics, choosing wisely can make or break your next ride.
I’m a fan of big tires, both for road and off-road use. I don’t see much mud where I ride offroad, so the benefits of a narrow tire are a bit lost on me. On the road, whether paved or groomed dirt, I love the cornering confidence that a bigger tire gives me. They’re more comfortable and less prone to punctures.
Challenge calls their Parigi-Roubaix tire (parigi is Italian for Paris) a 27mm open tubular (clincher). The rims that I used for the test, DT Swiss RR 415s, are 19.4mm wide and on them, the Challenges inflated to 80 psi were a massive 29mm wide! They barely fit inside the Enve fork on my Harvey bicycle.
The Roubaix tires were very difficult to install. My hands were pretty tired once I managed to get them on and for those that don’t pay careful attention, a pinched tube is likely. So take your time.
Luckily, the tire bead does stretch after they spend some time inflated on the rim. During my two roadside punctures changing a tube was significantly easier than the first installation.
Challenge publishes the weight of the Parigi-Roubaix as 260 grams. Both the tires I tested weighed a bit more at 285 grams. That isn’t bad actually; a Continental Gran Prix 4000 in a 25 millimeter size tips the scales at 240-grams. But if you’re overly worried about tire weight, you probably won’t be riding tires this big.
One more detail: with an oversize tire like the Parigi-Roubaix, it’s important to set up your brakes so that you can get your wheel off! The quick release on my SRAM Force brakes doesn’t open enough for the tire to pass through the brake pads. So I use the barrel adjuster to get a bit of extra cable slack.
Just like you’d expect from a 29-millimeter wide, 260 tpi casing tire, the Parigi-Roubaix rides like silk (though it’s a ‘super poly’ casing). The balloon feel of the tires is welcome on dirt roads and over chip seal surfaces; joints in the road are absorbed almost completely by this supple tire.
Because the file tread wraps the wide casing, cornering is a real joy. Traction is incredible and allows for late braking. The wide diameter of the tire and round cross section mean that cornering transitions are nice and predictable.
I’m no Sean Yates when it comes to going downhill, but I can hold my own. With the Parigi-Roubaix tires though, my bike simply felt superior. Braking and traction were improved to the point that I found myself grinning with delight as I dove inside ride companions on downhill switchbacks.
Just as suspension helps in mountain biking, the bigger tires let me take lines I’d normally avoid just to see how the tires would handle them. Cornering on inconsistent surfaces was much less jarring than a normal 23-millimeter tire. Simply put, these tires rock!
But nothing’s perfect. I had two punctures during my test period. The first came on my second ride, a short jaunt in the rain with some friends. A small piece of glass found its way into the tread and quickly punctured the tube. My second flat came after miles of dirt/gravel roads on a ride with my girlfriend. A small piece of rock was the culprit this time.
I understand that I ride on less than perfect surfaces, but so do many of you readers. And of course, these tires are named after the fabled cobbled classic in France. They should be up to the task. The problem is that Challenge doesn’t put any Kevlar or other reinforcing belts under the tread. This is both good and bad. Good when it comes to ride quality, bad when it comes to puncture resistance.
The Parigi-Roubaix tires may not be the fastest tires I’ve ever ridden, but they certainly are among the most fun. The tan sidewall adds a classic look to any bike and the ability of the tires to handle bad roads means that your road bike is instantly converted into an adventure bike once they’re installed. I even rode some singletrack with them.
Vittoria’s Pavé CG tire is another favorite of mine and while I prefer the reinforced tread of it, the 24-millimeter size just isn’t as comfortable or as supple as the Challenge. That’s the give and take of tires. A puncture-resistant tire won’t ride quite as nicely, but then you won’t be stopping for flats.
If you’ve never ridden a set of big road tires, give them a shot. If you want a guarantee against flats, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a good time (and don’t mind the occasional puncture), give your local Challenge dealer a call.