Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Cross Tires

Or as I like to refer to it, the reason I have no money and a garage full of old tires I don't use, but won't give away.

So I’m putting my thoughts about the tires I’ve used over the years in one place. It seems to get some comparative info, you really need to search through the threads to get what you want. I’ll start off with the clinchers and work my way up to the tubbies. Now, I haven’t run some of these in a few years, so I’ll try to give the best recollection I have of them.

First a little breakdown on the type of terrain I ride in and then the type of rider I am. I ride my cross bike a lot of places. During the bulk of the year, it gets used as a commuter and gravel road explorer. Later on it gets turned into the full on cross racer rig and goes round and round in the slop and mud every weekend. Both uses have two very different needs.

Our dirt and gravel roads come in two types. One is the sweet and smooth decomposed granite that only gets sketchy late in the year as it gets looser and looser. In August, think of about a half an inch of kitty litter over a cement floor. The rest of the year it’s pretty nice, fast and smooth. The other type of gravel is the typical shit they put down on logging roads. Sharp, sometimes loose, and always sketchy and power sucking if it’s been freshly graded. Sometimes you find yourself suffering in the washboard tracks the cars leave because it faster and has better traction.

The local cross races are on pretty hard pack dirt and gravel that bakes up hard, unless the rains come and then it turns to sticky gumbo. One course has a fair amount of grass and real mud made form actual dirt so clearing shit from the lugs isn’t too big of a deal, but the grass gets really greasy. The clay gumbo is a real power suck and a wider tire works best.

The Portland races are your typical cross type courses that have grass and mud and some dirt and pavement mixed in. If it’s not too wet, the organic material mixed in the mud can clog up a bike pretty good. If it gets really wet, then your tires will usually clear the crap, but say goodbye to your brake pads and chain. You’ll have a fine grit of sand scum up your crack that hurts like hell to scrub off and takes two washings to get out of your chamois.

I’m the type of rider that prefers to remain fairly upright in my corners and I tend to sit and power a slower cadence instead of standing. I’ll stand, but at 6’4” and 195lbs., I start getting in the red pretty quick if I have to support my body off the bike. I save the standing for resting my junk and accelerating. I think my height makes me want to keep the bike upright and not lean into the corners too much. I’ve got a taller center of gravity and if I get a 15 degree lean into a corner, it’s farther away form the tire’s contact patch than someone 5’8”.

So as far as tires go, I tend to prefer something with a round and predictable profile and while I like a wide tire, I really want it to be tall and cushy. It needs to roll fast and corner confidently. I also like it to have a fairly supple casing. I hate it when you ride a tire that feels like it’s made from a garden hose.

Geax Blade- 700x32c
I really wanted to like this tire. I thought the fairly open tread would shed mud and roll quickly, which to be fair, it did. However, it’s smaller than listed so I had to run the pressures pretty high to combat pinch flats and the tall knobs give a squirrelly feel when transitioning in to the corners. They also tended to break free a bit unpredictably. They did pretty well on the loose granite and they rolled fast on the pavement, so they were a good tire for late summer exploration rides. I think they would have been better if the tread was lower and the casing was bigger.

Panaracer CrossBlaster- 700x31c
A new tire made in the old school cross philosophy of narrow and light. They are so light it makes it hard to put anything else on the bike if you have a scale handy. They were impossible to clog with mud, probably due to their low and widely spaced knobs. They were a nice round profile and had a supple casing, but due to their small size, you had to run the pressures way up there to keep from pinching. Not a very durable tire, but did I mention they were light? Probably the perfect clincher tire for running in the super deep mud where you are looking for the tire to cut to the hard stuff and you’ll probably be carrying your bike a lot. Otherwise it’s too specific to make a good cross tire.

Michelin Mud- 700x30c
There is no way these are a lowly 30c. They look like a 34c and have the nice round and tall profile I covet. The original green treaded tire that everyone still uses as a comparison when referring to mud performance. They’d pack up a little if there was a lot of grass and other organic material in the goop, but otherwise a fine tire. Michelin used a weird inner casing that made booting a cut next to impossible so you had to watch it in the rocks, but you could generally run a lower pressure than any other clincher. They didn’t roll all that fast on the hardpack and pavement, but then that’s what the Sprints were for.

Michelin Sprint- 700x30c
See above for comments on size and shape. These things were the best. They were the semi-slick version of the Mud. They rolled faster and could find way too much traction for the amount of tread or lack thereof. Most guys ran this on the rear with a Mud up front, however it was not unheard of to run Sprints front and rear. Some guys would even do this in the mud so there was no chance of gumming up the tread. This was the first tire that clued me in that casing size, suppleness and tire pressure have as much, if not more, to do with traction as the knobs do. One of my all time favorites.

Michelin Mud2- 700x30c
The replacement for the original. Slightly different tread and no longer green. Same casing and same Michelin adherence to a completely wacked sizing scale. Still works great, but some would say the green tread cleared mud better at the expense of wear.

Michelin Jet- 700cx30c
The replacement for the Sprint. Michelin did away with the diamond tread and changed it to some weird diagonal file tread that had a tendency to give a funny sound when run at speed on pavement. Not as predictable as the Sprint, but it saw way more spec on bikes, probably due it coming in black instead of the green silica compound. Good tire, but not great. By the way, you can still get the Sprint tread from Michelin, but it only comes on their commuter tires with black tread, heavy casing, and fewer TPI. Don’t fall for it. The Jet is a much better tire.

WTB CrossWolf- 700x32c
WTB’s cross racing clincher. It rolls fast and feels nice and grippy in the corners, even when leaned. I just doesn’t clear mud from its transition and corner knobs. If it was a little bigger and had a little more open tread design this would be a great tire. I bet this thing rocks in the Bay area and Santa Cruz races. It’s not a bad commuter or exploration tire, but not as good as the one coming up next.

WTB InterWolf- 700x38c
Buried way in the WTB lineup, almost hidden in their commuter division is the InterWolf. It measures out closer to an actual 35c and its profile is round and tall. The casing simply rocks. You can run lower pressures than you think, and it rolls like a high-end road tire. The tread lasts forever and it’s reasonably light. It’s replaced the Sprint as my favorite clincher for everything except for mud. It’s another tire that works way better than you’d think

Tufo Diamond TC- 700x30c
Tufo’s weird attempt at the clincher market. Imagine a tubular with hard rubber wings just outside the base tape. Those wings snapped into the clincher beads and were held in place by the air pressure of the expanding casing pushing them out. They were an absolute bitch to install when new and tended to pop off when the got older. They had no way of patching them, so you had to rely on this liquid latex sealant. Not very inspiring when out in the boonies. This one was the diamond tread and the cheap but tough casing. They actually were pretty good commuters. With about twice as much sealant as recommended you didn’t have to worry about thorns and you could get away with lower pressure than a regular clincher. They still rode about like a garden hose.

Tufo Elite LPS TC- 700-30c
The sucker tire for all of the guys who wanted tubulars, but were afraid of glue and spending money on a dedicated wheel set. I think these things were a false economy and wound up costing you more. You’d get addicted to the ability to run low pressure and when you’d finally had it with the shitty tread that only worked when not leaned over at all and beads that would pop off the rim under slightly hard cornering efforts you’d finally pony up for some tubulars because you couldn’t stomach the thought of going back to clinchers. Except maybe the Michelins. But by that tine you’d drawn your elitist line in the sand and crossed the Tiburon in to tubbie town. I’d go back to racing clinchers before I ever went back to these. The last I heard, Tufo stopped making them. Go figure.

To be continued with the follow up on tubulars.


A said...

Thom, you simply rule.....

more more more please.

Come up and play w/ the "Crusade" when you have a chance.


ale-jett said...


you simply rule.

more more please.