Although road tyres haven’t ballooned to fat-bike-like widths, 700c rubber is trending wider. For this season we have perhaps more strains, variations and mutations of what a road tyre is than ever before.
At the Sea Otter Classic in California, tyre brands showed everything from narrow 22mm aero tyres with angled piping molding into the tread, to burly 32mm carcasses intended for the rigors of gravel, to tubeless-ready models of various sizes. And the proud talk of rubber compounds and casing spec rolled around many a booth as well.
Here are a few of the best tyres for 2014 that we saw. But first, a quick primer…
What do TPI and compound mean?
The commonly used "TPI" designation refers to a casing’s "threads per inch." Nylon threads, shown here at 120tpi, are quite thick. Woven cotton threads are much finer than nylon, and thus can lend a more pliable, supple ride as the casing requires less rubber compared to a nylon casing. Generally speaking, the higher the thread count, the better the performance and the higher the price.
The more space between threads (120tpi nylon above), the more rubber you have to add, often losing suppleness in the process
“Compound” refers to the particular formula of rubber that makes up the part of the tyre on which you ride. Along with casing construction, the tyre’s compound has a huge effect on how the tyre performs. Some compounds (and tread designs) are blended for better traction in the wet; others are made for pure speed. Tyre companies are often very guarded about the ‘secret sauce’ in their particular compounds.
The venerable German tyre brand is offering a rainbow of colour options in its new Grand Prix 4000s tyres. The S designation on the well-regarded Grand Prix 4000 clincher designates an improved Black Chili rubber compound that Conti says is "stickier, tougher and faster." The US$69 clincher comes in 23, 25 and 28mm widths in five colours.
The Grand Sport Race is a US$40 folding clincher, one of Conti's first tyres to come out of its new wholly-owned Asian factory. It uses a new compound called Pure Grip that is quite similar to the Black Chili blend — the primary difference being where it is produced. This tyre has a Nytech breaker for flat protection, and with a 120tpi casing, is a good deal for US$40. US Continental distributor Brett Hahn says the Grand Sport Race is effectively the same as the not-so-old Grand Prix 3000.
The Grand Prix 4 Season is not new by any means; and Continental has offered this model in a beefy 28mm width for near a decade. Just something to keep in mind for your friends who tell you wide road tyres are new. BikeRadar and a group of other media put about 80mi on a pair of Four Seasons last week on rocky dirt and choppy pavement roads. Despite high-speed turbulence strong enough to rattle water bottles from their cages and chains from their chain rings, the tyres passed with flying colours without a single flat across at least six riders.
BikeRadar has already told you about the relatively new One series of clincher, tubeless and tubular tyres from this German brand, but the Ironman TT/tri tyre is also worth a mention. It features aggressive piping on the tread for a claimed aerodynamic benefit similar to the dimpling on a Zipp wheel or the ridges on Reynolds or Xentis wheels.
Before settling on the 22mm width, Schwalbe tested a variety of tyre widths in a wind tunnel, from 20-25mm, and found the 22mm to be the sweet spot for the wider aero rims popular today.
The Schwalbe Ironman comes in a 185g clincher (US$85), a 295g tubular (US$135) and a 260g tubeless option (US$85).
For 2014, Hutchinson has a 25mm Fusion tubeless tyre as well as its 23mm model.
The Hutchinson Fusion comes in 7 colours and a choice of 23 or 25mm widths.
Hutchinson did rolling resistance tests on the 23 and 25mm tyres and found the 25mm to go further, said the company’s North American representative Richard Goodwin. “In the roll-down test, the 23mm tyre went 500m, and the 25mm tyre went 660m with all other factors the same,” Goodwin said.
With the Fusion, Hutchinson sought to create a quality race tyre with a triple compound (center, shoulder, sidewalls) and a Kevlar Pro Tech liner for puncture resistance.
The Challenge Gravel Grinder is a gargantuan (38mm!) and hugely tough tyre from the brand known for its cyclocross and road tyres. Challenge spokeswoman Emily Zinn said that while the brand’s expertise in ’cross and pavement tyres came into play, the company had to really fortify the Gravel Grinder for the brutal conditions of riding all day on sharp rocks. Instead of natural rubber, Challenge went with a synthetic.
The Gravel Grinder comes in 36mm-wide 410g tubular (US$119) and 355g open tubular (US$83) options with a 300tpi “SuperPoly” casing, as well as a 38mm vulcanized clincher in both 120 (US$47) and 60tpi (US$37) nylon casings.
For riding and racing on gravel, Challenge (and most others!) recommends lower pressures than normal, with the Gravel Grinder’s suggested pressure being between 23-90 psi for the tubular and 45-80psi for the clinchers.
The Gravel Grinder clinchers will be available globally in June and tubulars and open tubulars will come in July.
Another storied tyre brand, Vittoria is largely staying the course with its tyre line-up for 2014. The Open Pave tubular has long found favor in the pro ranks for rough-road days. Now it comes in a 25mm instead of a 24mm as well as the 27mm.
The Open Corsa CX is well known; the SC, with its less-protected but more-supple sidewalls, not as much. It comes in 23 and 25m tubulars and open tubulars (clinchers)
Vittoria also has a new cyclocross tyre, the Cross XL Pro, for nasty and muddy conditions.
After years of being a clincher-only company, Maxxis stepped it up for 2014 with two road tubulars. The US$74 Forza is a 60tpi training tubular while the Campione, developed with sponsored US road team United HealthCare, is a US$115, 120tpi race tubular.
If you missed the earlier post, you may also want to check out the current Michelin road tyres line-up, released last year.