Gear

Cyclocross tire review: choosing the right tire for the course

Matching your tire to a course’s conditions is a key to achieving the best possible result. There are currently three major tubular tire manufacturers that design, manufacture and produce complete tire lines: Challenge, Dugast and Tufo. Each manufacturer’s line is made up of three models — file tread, all-condition and mud — in a multitude of sizes.

By Matt Pacocha

The three-tire quiver: The author racing in Colorado earlier this season.

The three-tire quiver: The author racing in Colorado earlier this season.

Photo: Rob O’Dea

Matching your tire to a course’s conditions is a key to achieving the best possible result. There are currently three major tubular tire manufacturers that design, manufacture and produce complete tire lines: Challenge, Dugast and Tufo. Each manufacturer’s line is made up of three models — file tread, all-condition and mud — in a multitude of sizes.

Challenge offers 32mm and 34mm sizes for its XS file tread tire, 30mm, 32mm and 34mm for its Grifo all-rounder and 32mm and 34mm sizes for its Fango mud tire. The Italian brand, which manufacturers in Thailand, also offers the Grifo in a 32mm size with a silk casing.

Dugast, the king of European cyclocross competition tires, offers multiple casing materials and the best size range of any manufacturer dispersed amongst its three different tread patterns. Its file tread is called the Pipistrello; its all-rounder is the Typhoon and its bar-setting mud tire is called the Rhino.

Tufo has a completely new line of tires for 2009 that builds upon its excellent Flexus all-condition tire, which the brand has manufactured for three seasons. Each of the new tires bears the Flexus monikers, which refers to Tufo’s premier 210-tpi casing, but are further designated by name and tread pattern to fit in to the three categories we’ve listed. Tufo’s new file tread tire is named the Flexus Dry Plus, its all-rounder is the Flexus Primus and its new mud tire is the Flexus Cubus. All three of Tufo’s new Flexus tires are available in 32mm and 34mm sizes.

Once you’ve converted to tubulars for racing cyclocross, the next objective should be to build the perfect quiver tire for your local conditions. A quiver allows you to select the right tire for a day’s specific course. Usually first-time tubular users will start with an all-rounder, generally in a 32mm size because it is the most versatile. 32mm tires sometimes offer the best footprint, because manufacturers make the treads to specifically fit the 32mm casing since it’s the size they sell the most.

It’s unfortunate, but generally, 34mm tires are built on a larger casing that’s fitted with the same tread used on the 32mm tire. This doesn’t always translate well because the larger casing may change the orientation of the knobs from the design’s intended placement. Of course, the larger casing offers a larger footprint, more flotation and more cushion than a narrower tire can.

This tubular tire test is intended to help those of you ready to take the next step to expand your cyclocross tubular tire quiver. Because tire selection is so condition-based, the findings of this piece are somewhat skewed to the arid courses of Colorado, that’s not to say that I haven’t taken a few of these tires mudding— just not all of them.

Building the perfect quiver

You could buy all of these tires, in all of their sizes, and put them to good use but there should be some rhyme and reason as to how you build the best quiver for the conditions you race in most often.

Wheelset One:
Always start with the tire you ride most, pick an all-round categorized tire from one of these manufacturers. This is the tire you would buy if you could only have one: Challenge’s Grifo, Dugast’s Typhoon or Tufo’s new Primus.

Then you need to pick your size. Challenge and Tufo tires are readily available in 32mm and 34mm and Dugasts are commonly available in 30mm, 32mm and 34mm.

So where do you ride? Are the courses you race on smooth and loamy or are they hard and bumpy? Answering these questions makes the choice easy: 32mm for the former and 34mm for the latter.

I’d reserve the 30mm size only for the mud, or for those of you with older frames that lack tire clearance. For example: I do the majority of my racing in Colorado where the conditions are generally loose, dry, dusty and bumpy. I have found through this test that the best choice for 85 percent of the races is Tufo’s Flexus Primus in a 34mm size. It offers great traction and bump absorption, but the key feature that trumps both Challenge and Dugast’s tires is its durability and repair-ability — I’ll offer greater detail in the tire’s review. Keep in mind if I lived in the East or Pacific Northwest, my first choice would undoubtedly be a 32mm tire with a suppler casing, likely Dugast’s Typhoon.

Wheelset Two:
Ok, you have your primary race tire, where do you go from there? There are two things I can suggest: If you have a spare bike and the conditions are consistent, that is not changing weekend to weekend or race to race, it’s probably worth investing in a second set of the same tires, though, you can size up or down based upon the first choice.

If you chose a 34mm Typhoon, you might consider adding a 32mm Typhoon, which can also get you through a muddy day, or vice versa.

If the conditions are variable and you see more mud than we do in Colorado, then the best option for your second wheelset is likely a mud tire. This is also the way to go if you can only afford to add a second wheelset. While mud tires aren’t perfect, they work well enough in dry conditions to sit on your bike in the pit for that dry-day emergency and on a muddy day you’ll be glad you have them.

Of the three manufacturers represented here, Dugast’s Rhino still holds the title of the ultimate mud master. Even though its casing is delicate, it excels in the wet and would definitely be my choice if I could only have one mud tire. I’d choose the 32mm size, since it’s most versatile; the 30mm is for sticky mud that packs and the 34mm is for really thin soupy mud that flows. The 32mm makes compromises but can best handle both.

A Third Choice?
If more than half of the races you do are mudders and you have and frequently use two bikes to race, then without question you should have two sets of mud tires in the same size, so that both your A and B bike are best equipped. If you race in arid conditions, only have one bike, or find yourself more frequently racing on grass or sand as opposed to mud, then you might consider a file tread tire. File treads are extremely fast on pavement, grass and hardpack, but offer less of a safety net than the all-round tires provide.

If I were to pick a file tread for our conditions in Colorado, I’d go for a big 34mm tire. A 34mm file tread can be the perfect tire for sand or the super bumpy grass courses we frequently race on. Citing durability, and though I’ve only ridden Tufo’s Flexus Dry Plus in a 32mm size, I’d probably select it in the 34mm size for my third wheelset for racing in the tire-shredding terrain of Colorado.

Of course you can go overboard with a selection of tires for cyclocross, making sure you have every option for both your A, B and even C bikes — like the pros, you know — but we’ll stop here as the point of how to pick a tire for your specific conditions should be clear.

Check back next week for a nine-tire shoot out that reviews the file tread, all-rounder and mud tires from Challenge, Dugast and Tufo. After a season of racing most of them, I can offer some helpful advice as to which are worth your hard-earned cash.