How wide do your tires need to be for that next race or gran fondo? Nowadays, with more people riding dirt, gravel, and — dare we say it — groad, companies have tons of tire offerings from 23 to 45 millimeters wide and beyond. The thing is, as you go wider, tires usually get more robust with puncture protection and heavier casing. This is great for those of us worried about getting stranded on a rough, remote road, but a race-worthy clincher tire at around 28 millimeters width is a bit hard to find.
If you’ve been searching for rubber to fit this niche, Specialized’s new Turbo Cotton 28 tires fit the bill, although you’ll pay a premium for the performance.
The 28mm tire is the big brother to Specialized’s Turbo Cotton 24- and 26-millimeter tires. We know and love these narrower options for their fast rolling speed (some of the fastest we tested in the lab a few years ago) and supremely smooth ride thanks to the 320tpi cotton casing. Happily, the Turbo Cotton 28 tire is very similar to its predecessors, sharing that supple casing and light weight, 260 grams for the new model. There are a couple key differences, however. The 28s have a wider tread — 40mm, which is 8mm wider than that of the smaller tires. Plus, this tread has a textured center, while the 24mm and 26mm tires have smooth centers. Like the smaller options, the 28mm tire uses Specialized’s Gripton rubber compound, which is said to have an optimal balance of rebound (for quicker rolling) and damping (for better grip). We aren’t materials scientists, but on the road, Turbo Cotton tires have always been reliable under hard cornering.
We rode the Turbo Cotton 28 tires on everything from pavement to rough dirt. After close to 300 miles of spring riding, we’ve yet to flat these tires, despite our best efforts, riding blindly in the bunch at a local “Roubaix” race that had plenty of bumpy dirt roads. While the tire doesn’t have any construction that’s specifically intended to avert flat tires, Specialized says that wider tread, which wraps farther down the tire’s sidewall, helps protect the cotton casing. Braking power and control were good on loose surfaces, although we can’t say if that is attributed to the textured center tread, or simply the rubber compound.
As you can probably tell by this point, we loved how fast and supple the Turbo Cotton 28s felt. Most of the time, we ran these tires at around 80-90psi for a good blend of cushion and supportive feel. Thanks to the wider casing, we didn’t pinch the rim on bumpy roads, but if you want to push the limits with even lower pressure, a tubeless road tire might be a better option.
Specialized’s Turbo Cotton 28 is versatile, but it has the heart of a race tire. As such, it comes at a steep $80 per tire price. If you want fast tires for racing on rough surfaces (or simply the luxury of having fast tires), these find a balance in the width/speed equation. However, if you’re not so demanding, and want a puncture-protection belt for that extra peace of mind, something more affordable, such as Clement’s LGG, might be better for your daily doses of dirt roads.