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Road Gear

Wrenched & Ridden bike reviews: Schwalbe Ultremo HT tubular tires

Newly converted to the tubey lifestyle, at least for special occasion rides, Zack Vestal gives the Schwalbe Ultremo HT tires a workout

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Wrenched & Ridden review: Schwalbe Ultremo HT tubular tire
Wrenched & Ridden review: Schwalbe Ultremo HT tubular tire

If you’re a regular reader of this column, you know that despite some 20 years of cycling, I’ve not ridden many tubular tires. I’ve long maintained that really nice, light, high TPI clincher tires like the Vittoria Open Corsa Evo CX II or Hutchinson Atom Comp were nearly as good. Especially when paired with latex inner tubes, clinchers like these are nearly as supple and enjoyable to ride as tubular, yet they have the advantage of easier installation and repair.

But Michelin stopped making latex road tubes last spring, and I’ve done an about-face. I’m late to the tubular party, but I’m now one of the newer and more vocal adherents of tubies for racing and special occasions — even if the special occasion is nothing more than a big Sunday ride.

Schwalbe Ultremo HT tubular tires

MSRP: $147
The Scoop: A handmade, race-caliber 300 TPI tubular tire.
Pros: Durable in all conditions from perfect asphalt to gravel road.
Cons: Pricey.
More info:

It started with the Zipp 303 wheel review and discovering that adding Stan’s NoTubes, Caffelatex, or other sealants to tubular tires with removable valve cores works great in preventing punctures. Then in the August 2010 issue of VeloNews, we compared the difference between otherwise identical carbon clincher and carbon tubular wheels.

Tubular wheels and tires are always lighter, and they ride great. I also discovered that a less rigorous glue procedure than I was taught to be optimal still yields a perfectly safe and secure glue bond. Finally, in the September issue of VeloNews (on stands next week), we assessed six pairs of deep-section tubular wheels. After 12 tubular gluing practice sessions, the whole glue thing doesn’t seem like a big deal any more.

(Related: Four-part video how-to on gluing tubular tires)

So Schwalbe’s timing in sending a pair of the new Ultremo HT tubulars was perfect. After a couple of big rides and races, I’d give them a whole-hearted thumbs-up.

The Wrenching
According to marketing material, Schwalbe worked closely with the Liquigas-Doimo team to develop the company’s first real tubular tire. The tires are handmade in classic fashion but with some modern details.

The tread features multiple rubber compounds, called “Triple Nano Compound.” As you’d expect, the center is built for durability, the sides for grip, and there’s a low-rolling resistance compound underneath. The tread is a diamond file pattern. Rather than sharp peaks, the pyramids of the tread have flattened heads, which Schwalbe says adds contact surface and therefore grip.

The casing is made from 300 TPI polyester for flexibility. Schwalbe’s Race Guard protective belt under the tread is meant to protect against punctures. And perhaps the best feature is the latex tube with a removable valve core. Adding a shot of Stan’s NoTubes sealant is a no-brainer.

I didn’t have any problems gluing the Ultremo HTs perfectly straight. After a day of stretching, they were still really tight. So gluing the Ultremos took a little more muscle than the Vittoria Corsa CXs we used in the aero wheel test, but nothing far from expected.

My test tires weighed just over 250 grams. For now they’re only available in 22mm width.

The Riding

After a few short, local rides to make sure nothing was amiss, I ventured on an eight-hour excursion back in early May. Then I rode the Ultremos, mounted on Easton EC90 SL wheels (still one of my favorites of the year), in the Morgul Bismark road race in late May. Finally, I aired them out for the Centurion Colorado. The 100-mile course includes some classic climbs outside of Boulder, plus a two-mile section of dirt and gravel road.

What can I say? The tires have been great in all conditions. I was especially impressed with their durability as I bombed through the gravel on the Centurion course much faster than I would normally. They’re grippy and supple in corners — during the Morgul road race, I found myself cornering faster than I have in years, but never feeling the tires wander or exhibit any hesitation. During a rain shower on a long training ride, they didn’t miss a beat.

I didn’t have any punctures, despite some significant cuts through the rubber and down to the casing. Even though I have them juiced up with sealant for extra assurance, it seems that the casing is pretty darn solid. There is no hint of the sealant actually having to do its job and seeping through a puncture.

The file tread on the rear is worn down in the center, as you’d expect after about 16 hours of riding. But you could easily expect to get another 15-20 hours on the rear before the tread really flattened out.

I’d venture to say that the casing and tread don’t feel quite as buttery smooth as the Vittoria Corsa Evo CXs we rode for the aero wheel test. I’ve yet to ride Continental, Tufo, or Hutchinson tubulars. The Schwalbes are more expensive than most, at almost $150 per tire.

But as far as I’m concerned, they’re super nice. And since flatting a tubular is a huge bummer, I wouldn’t think twice about spending extra for these durable, race-worthy tubies for my “special occasion” carbon wheels.