Challenge excited a lot of cyclocross racers when it announced the new Chicane tire, built with the ultra-fast center tread of the Grifo XS but the aggressive cornering knobs of the mud-specific Limus. As promised, it's a fantastic weapon on race day but you've got to give it a lot of trust to extract the most potential – and even then, it'll still occasionally bite you in the ass.
Visually speaking, the Chicane is a dramatic-looking, two-faced tire, with its fine diamond tread down the center and the radically aggressive shoulder knobs. At least in this case, you really can judge a book by its cover – it's truly a case of WYSIWYG on race day.
Not surprisingly, the Chicane is gloriously fast in a straight line, with very low rolling resistance thanks to the barely-there tread, latex inner tubes, and relatively supple SuperPoly tubular casing. It's perfectly suited for quick starts on pavement, closing gaps in high-speed sections, or even when just trying to conserve energy on less technical sections of the course.
Cornering performance is also confidently secure, thanks to those stout Y-shaped shoulder knobs. We found they dig tenaciously into a wide range of ground conditions – including dry and wet grass, sand, hardpacked dirt and snow. As those knobs are directly borrowed from the mud-specific Limus, it's also no surprise that the Chicane actually holds on reasonably well through peanut buttery turns too.
The Chicane is a cross between Chicane's Limus and Grifo XS tires
Actual weights are just about spot-on with the 415g claims – our test pair weighed 432g and 439g – and the 33mm measured casing width is exactly as stated on the label. While the casing isn't as supple as a high-end cotton one, it won't rot when it gets wet either.
- Pros: Fantastic straight-line speed, reasonably supple ride, secure cornering grip in a wide range of conditions
- Cons: Lack of a transition zone makes for sketchy turn-in, all-or-nothing demeanor
So what's not to like?
Challenge may have been mostly successful in melding the key attributes of the Grifo XS and Limus but what's lacking is any sort of intermediate zone between the two, as the vestigial transitional knobs that were unceremoniously hacked down when the tires' molds were combined have virtually no support remaining to keep them from folding over when loaded.
While the Chicane is awesomely fast when upright and confidently grippy through corners, it feels nervous when initiating a turn unless you're really aggressive in leaning the bike over straight away. In anything other than predictable dirt, we found that riding the Chicane on the limit was like doing intervals of slide-and-catch – not the most reassuring way to make your way around the course, but certainly a fast one.
There's no intermediate zone between the two types of tread
Unfortunately, there are limits to that trust. The Chicane may be two-faced indeed but there's also little warning when it transitions from Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde. We found cornering on greasy peanut butter mud to be the Chicane's Achilles' heel. That surface typically favors a smoother and gentler technique that allows you to predictably slide through to the exit. With the Chicane, sometimes it would catch us – and sometimes it wouldn't.
Straight-line braking and climbing on loose ground also reveal chinks in the Chicane's armor but that's fair enough because the tire isn't intended for those conditions. Off-center wiggle on the hand-glued tread and casing dimension variation is about what we expect from a handmade tubular – in other words, not perfect but not bad.
Seasoned 'cross racers with good handling skills are most likely to be able to extract the Chicane's fantastic performance potential but its dramatic behavior probably won't suit riders who prefer a more reassuring feel. Ultimately, we'd rather see Challenge develop a dedicated mold from scratch that builds on this concept but with a more progressive build-up from center to shoulder.