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Cyclocross Tires Explained

Imagine it’s a Friday night in November.  You’re pulling into your driveway from work, clearing out all the garbage from the week, and getting your brain ready to RACE.  Yes, it’s cyclocross season, and it’s time to strap up with those skinny knobby tires and go see how hard you can push yourself before you either pass out or cross the finish line and don’t remember how you got there.  But it’s Friday night and you’re still wrestling with one ever important decision.  In an increasingly panicked internal voice you’re asking yourself: WHICH TIRE DO I USE?  WILL IT RAIN?  IS THERE A SAND PIT?  HELP!  Well, the staff of Tree Fort Bikes comes to the rescue once again with this review of 5 of our choicest cross tires.  Enjoy!

Challenge Grifo (Tubular)

PROS: This is the go-to tubular for those racers looking for the edge given by this kind of tire.  The medium tread and handcrafted construction of the tire give it a classic look, and great low rolling resistance for quick spin ups and tight cornering at low PSI’s.

CONS:  Tubulars are high maintenance.  Installation requires a lot of skill and practice, flats are costly (they require replacing the whole tire), and normal wear and tear becomes a big investment.  Also, handmade tubulars have a propensity to have slight separations in the tread and tire body, which, if not spotted, can be dangerous.

Bottom Line: Choose this tire to throw on your race wheelset, and run it only on race day.  This tire has a long pedigree, and will be a great addition to your bike, but the cost makes them prohibitive for everyday training or pleasure rides.

Vittoria Cross Evo XN (Tubular)

PROS: A great tubular for fast courses where the conditions are dry and grassy.  An extremely low tread profile gives just enough grip to keep you upright, while letting you push higher speeds than standard knobbier cyclocross tire setups.

CONS: These tires are good for a very specific type of course, one that isn’t often relevant to a sport that’s often going on in rainy, snowy, icy, windy conditions.  These tires don’t do much good for your traction if things get soupy.

The Bottom Line:  If you get lucky enough to race on a beautiful fall day on a grass and hard-pack course, glue these babies on! Otherwise, stick with something with a few more teeth.

Ritchey SpeedMax

PROS: This is an excellent all around tire for times when you’re not sure what tire to use, and a favorite here at Tree Fort.  With a low profile but grippy center it has larger knobs as you go down the sidewall. This makes the Speedmax fast across the flats but super tight in the corners.

CONS: The center tread, even though it grips well most of the time, really won’t cut it for muddy conditions, deep sand, or steep loose ascents.

The Bottom Line:  The SpeedMax is a great all around tire with excellent cornering and speed on dry to damp conditions.  When the rain starts making things muddy, you might want something with bigger treads in the center.

Michelin Mud2 Cyclocross

PROS:  Very grippy tire for all types of conditions.  Relatively higher tread profile and widely spaced knobs to prevent soil caking and help shed dirt make this an ideal tire for really muddy conditions (as the name might suggest).  Also works OK on mixed surfaces, but excels in the nasty stuff.

CONS: If you’re looking for a fast tire, look elsewhere.  The design of this tire makes it ill suited for courses that recommend higher speeds and come along with drier conditions.

The Bottom Line:  For looser conditions where you know you’re going to need some help from your equipment, this tire is a great choice.  It’ll still roll smooth-ish and fast-ish on hardpack, but for really fast courses stick with something that has a lower profile center.

Kenda Small Block Eight Cyclocross

PROS:  This is a fast rolling tire, with tread a lot like the Vittoria Cross Evo XN.  This tire is great for a dry grass course, or something with a large on-road percentage.  If you’re not racing, this tire can be a great choice for dirt road riding too since it’s a lot less tready than many other tires.

CONS:  If things get hairy, this tire doesn’t have a lot of tread to save the day if you start to get  a little more horizontal than you had originally planned.

The Bottom Line: A tire designed for dry conditions only, whether on dirt roads or on the race course.  If you’re looking for something super grippy and aggressive, probably best to steer clear.

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