Written by Ed 650B Braley
Monday, 22 October 2007 00:00
Product Reviews -
Bikeman's Product Testing
There's a wide range of tire options for a cyclocross bike these days, and the right tire for the conditions or for your intended use can make a world of difference in how the bike performs. At the high end of the spectrum, many cyclocross riders are running traditional tubular tires on tricked-out modern wheelsets.
I'm an old school roadie, and I still ride tubular tires on a few of my road bikes. The tubular wheelset will typically weigh less than a clincher setup, so they accelerate quickly and reduce the overall weight of the bike. And it's nearly impossible to get a pinch flat on tubulars, so you can run them at lower pressure when the conditions warrant it. It's also a sensory thing; I love the way tubulars feel on the road, the lightweight and supple casing makes the bike come alive, and it really goes when you jump on it. And good tubulars make a subtle, charming ringing/singing sound as you cruise along. The downside is the time and effort that it takes to stretch them, and glue them on the rims. Not to mention the potential mess you can make with the cement ;-) And very few people bother to repair a tubular once it's punctured since it's difficult to get the tube out and patched, and harder still to sew it all back into the casing without getting it lumpy and crooked.
But there is an alternative that is very nearly as good; it's the "open tubular" design. Yes, it's still a clincher tire, and the open tubular wheel setup probably won't be quite as light was the best sewups, but it's so convenient to use and maintain that this type of clincher is very attractive. An open tubular is essentially a sewup type tire without the encased inner tube. They typically have the same supple, high-thread-count casing, and they always have a folding bead. And, like a true handmade tire, the tread is a separate band of a different rubber compound bonded to this casing. A true handmade tire such as this is more expensive to produce because they're each assembled on rims, with the tread bonded over a fully inflated casing. By doing this, the tread will be relaxed on the inflated tire, and the casing will have a uniform tension at pressure. This is the key to handmade, open-tubular tires, and what makes them so close to true sewups. And this is what makes the Grifo Cross unique in the realm of clincher cyclocross tires - it is an open tubular.
I wanted to try the Grifo Dry Conditions Cyclocross Clincher tire to see how it rode and performed as an all-around tire for sport riding on one of my cross rigs. So I got a pair and installed them on my Litespeed Appalachian. It's a beautiful tire, the polyester fabric casing and tread are the same high quality as those used on their tubular counterparts. They mounted easily and seated true on my rims, although I did notice a bit of run-out when the wheel was spun. This is common for handmade tires which are individually made rather than molded by machine, and this run-out isn't noticeable when you ride the bike. These tires measured 32mm wide and just under 30mm tall on Mavic Open Pro rims, so they're a good mid-sized cyclocross tire.
The tire states an inflation number of 5/6 bar or about 75-85 psi, but I think that's too firm for a 32mm tire, especially at my 150 pound rider weight. Initially, I found them to be reasonably comfortable and fast on hard surfaces at 60 psi, but they felt too firm on softer terrain, so I've since reduced them to 45 psi. At that pressure they're still fast, and yet more comfortable, and they work better on the softer wooded trails and over grass at that pressure.
The coarse file tread in the middle, and the small knobs on the edges provide a good mix for use on hard packed surfaces, with just enough bite for when the tire sinks into a loose patch or is leaned over to turn on gravel. They're a little more aggressive than the Victoria Cross XN Pro tires I've been using, and they hold a little better when you turn the bike in the loose stuff, so you can confidently push them a little harder. And the Challenge tires make that familiar tubular ringing sound as you cruise down the road. These tires work very well for my intended purposes. I can ride the bike on the pavement to the dirt roads, trails and fields where I want to do a little exploring or play crosser. And they feel pretty fast, everywhere. It's a good all-around tire, I like it!
You'll want a more aggressive tread design if you always ride on loose surfaces, there's a knobbier version of this same tire for that. But if you ride in the dry hardpack environment, and you want to experience the closest thing to a tubular tire without the hassle of tubulars, then the Challenge Grifo Dry Conditions Cyclocross Clincher is a tire worthy of consideration. It's a lovely tire, and it'll give you a teasing taste of what we tubular riders find so appealing. Yes, with lightweight tubes on light wheels I think that this is about as close to riding a tubular as you can get. Rated:
| || ||$64.95 || ||Buy / Details || ||Challenge Grifo Dry Conditions Cyclocross Clincher: The same super supple casing and low profile file pattern for dry, fast courses as the Grifo Dry Conditions cyclocross tubular now available in a clincher! Train on the same tire you race on or use your swank clincher wheels for cross. Kevlar bead, 32mm width only.... |