Monday 17 June 2013

Choosing your tread for cyclocross tubulars

The most common question I get asked about 'cross tubs, at races, in emails and on twitter is....

What's a good all-rounder tread to get?

Or a derivative thereof.

It's a good question - most people asking it are just starting off with tubulars, or only wanting to invest a modest amount and are therefore looking for one wheelset, on one bike to cover all conditions.

Unfortunately, it's a bit like the question 'how long is a piece of string?'. There are so many variables to take into account - rider style, weather, soil type, frequency of use and so on. However, I've tried to put together a handy guide to get you thinking about how to choose your first or sole pair of tubulars, with a few recommendations to start you off. You will doubtless pick holes in my reasoning, find exceptions, struggle in snow and want a clincher alternative to boot. You're probably right on all counts but life is too short to cover it all.... unless you want to buy me a pint and make your pitch.

Rider style:

Mountainbike background? Roadie? BMXer? The higher your confidence in your bike handling skills, the less critical the choice is in many ways. I'm not the best bike handler so make up for it by getting tread choice and tire pressure absolutely right for the conditions. In really slick conditions, I've been outridden by better bike handlers on a less than optimal tread choice ie their only choice, but at least stacking the odds in my favour keeps me moving forward. If you are not blessed with ninja skills then err on the side of a more mud oriented tread as you will struggle less in the mud than you will lose in the dry.


I always laugh at London-based 'crossers. No, not because they are in London (well a little bit) but because they seem to be using general tread choices long after we North-West riders have switched to mud treads. Last year, in the NW of England, we started on muds and that's how it stayed all season. Most of the recent seasons have been like that too. Even in Summer Cross, us Northerners are using muds most of the time. If where you live is not the rainfall capital of the country then perhaps a more general tread is the best one-shot choice. If you live in NW England, then just get muds and be done with it, for all year use.

Soil type:

I have a twitter acquaintance (@philipglowinski) that studies geological maps of new race venues to get clues about the likely soil type. Most people would probably scoff but I'm a bit geeky too and thought that was brilliant. Either way, the point is soil type can make a big difference even given the same rainfall as on a differing type elsewhere. Case in point, Sutton Park, much loved as a classic venue for National Champs, was usually pretty fast and dry given the sandy soil. Heavy rain rarely turned it into a complete mudbath, unlike Peel Park, Bradford which only requires a light sprinkling to become pretty tasty for the mud lovers. South East soil types tend to be different to NW soil types to South West soil types etc etc Check yours out - is it essentially a faster drying soil type, or more loamy, or clay based. It'll give a starting point at least.

How often are you racing?

Most treads wear reasonably well these days, but more aggressive treads do by definition wear more when used on frequently on harder surfaces. Thus your mud tread specials might look a bit worse for wear if you blast around on hardpack surfaces a lot in between the odd mud race. Worth thinking about as tubs of any description are not cheap these days.

So what do I rate?

Predominantly muddy races/NW England/Yorks - FMB SuperMud or Dugast Rhino

You won't go far wrong with a mud tread like FMB SuperMud. Designed as a direct competitor to the imperious Dugast Rhino, I've written about them here, and rate them as better all round than the Rhino which is still pretty damn good. They work well in drier conditions too as they are not quite as aggressive. Comprehensively pre-sealed and double stitched by Francois at FMB, they will last you a few seasons too if looked after.

FMB SuperMud

Dugast Rhino

Recently a lot of folks have been impressed with the Challenge Limus - it has a great tread, a good supple casing and seems to shed well. Perhaps struggles a bit in quicker conditions due to the aggressive tractor style tread but nonetheless a good choice and more available than exotica from FMB or Dugast.

Challenge Limus

Alternatives worth looking for - Clement PDX (super aggressive tread). Vittoria XM (robust, reasonably agressive tread)

Intermediate conditions - not too many mudbaths, drier soil types

The benchmark for years has been between Dugast Typhoon and Challenge Grifo. Both great, both proven. But... there are new interlopers in the scrap.

FMBs SSC is similarly styled to the above, in terms of tread but the knobs are a little taller and a little more aggressive - like a Rhino on the edges. Therefore, it handles muddier conditions just that little better whilst still rolling fast in the dry. I've used them and really rated them.


The new kid on the block is the Dugast Small Bird - my test pair are about to arrive so I can't yet say what they are like, but the idea is sound with them being essentially a revamped Rhino style tread, busier like a 'small block 8' type mtb tread for the dry, lower central knobs with a harder compound in the centre and softer more aggressive side knobs. Best of both worlds job hopefully and they could maybe be the ultimate one-job tread.

Dugast Small Bird

Alternatives worth looking for - Schwalbe Racing Ralph (light, supple casing, bit low on volume in the casing), Gommitalia Magnum (see Grifo), Vittoria Evo XG (robust, bit sketchy in mud), Challenge Fango

Summer Cross

If you live in the North West or Yorkshire - see mud tires.

For those elsewhere, FMB Sprints are pretty awesome in the dry, AND pretty awesome in light mud too. With a surprising amount of grip from the stipples, the really aggressive side knobs keep you upright in most light mud conditions, and even on greasy, rain-slick, previously sun-baked grass. Just.

FMB Sprint

Alternatives - Challenge Grifo XS (more an out and out dry tire than the Sprints)

Everybody has their own favourite, their own opinion. Feel free to take me to task in the comments below and add your bit. I have ridden most of the treads outlined above but not all and there are some out there that I haven't mentioned that are worth a look too.

Gruff but friendly Nottingham importer John Holmes does great prices on Dugast tubulars as well as FMB - mention my name when you call him on 07946 461972.

Fangoso should soon also be able to hook you up with some FMBs.


Philip said...

Great post Alan and thanks for the mention. This is the link to the interactive geological map:

Another popular all-rounder, at least in the South East, is the Specialized Tracer. Seems to roll nearly as well as a Grifo but clears mud better and is more predictable at the limit. One downside is thta they only come in all black and so don't have that "tub" look.

Also worth considering is running different front and rear treads if you know what you like.. It doesn't seem to happen much with CXers but MTB riders have been doing it for years

Philip said...

Great post Alan and thanks for the mention. This is the link to the interactive geological map:

Another popular all-rounder, at least in the South East, is the Specialized Tracer. Seems to roll nearly as well as a Grifo but clears mud better and is more predictable at the limit. One downside is thta they only come in all black and so don't have that "tub" look.

Also worth considering is running different front and rear treads if you know what you like.. It doesn't seem to happen much with CXers but MTB riders have been doing it for years

Unknown said...

Really enjoyed this article. It seemed pretty aligned with my experience up here in Yorkshire. I was interested to read the bit about FMB super muds being slightly less aggressive than Rhinos. I've got a pair of both and was convinced the Rhinos were better when it was super slick (derby trophy last year).

The next step for me is experimenting with a rhino front and grifo type rear for the courses where traction isn't critical, the Fast Bird might be good too....

crossjunkie said...

Philip - I too have ridden and rated the Tracer - well worth a look for more intermediate conditions.

Smalesy - I've experimented with differing front and rear combos to good effect. Mountain bikers do it a lot and I'm surprised that more cross riders don't do it, though it does require a 'quivver' of wheelsets to really experiment :-) To that end, I've seen Euro pros mix and match a bit - but they have multiple sets of wheels to play with.

Dave Haygarth said...

Great stuff. I think Challenge will continue to grow as a viable option even for snobs. Their sidewalls are set to improve as Helen Wyman's been proving with her newer samples used last season in Europe. We badly need someone who can cope with demand a bit better than the artisans - despite us loving something that's rare and hard to come by, it's no guarantee of quality, sadly. Complaints still abound with the newer, more robust Dugast sidewalls and basetapes. FMB still hard to secure an order unless through chains of middle men in the UK. As a marketing person I find it amazing that there's virtually no guaranteed supply of any brand still at the moment. Maybe the market still isn't large enough.

Unknown said...

has anyone had any experiences with the Vittoria Cross XL - looks like a direct copy of the Rhino

Unknown said...

Has anyone had experiences with the Vittoria Cross XL? looks like a rhino copy

crossjunkie said...

Looks a bit more akin to a Limus than a Rhino - chunkier blocks than a Rhino which might make it slower on smoother sections or tarmac. The big difference for me would be the normal problem with Vittoria tubs, the low tpi count. It's only 150 so will be nowhere near as supple as a Rhino or even a Challenge Limus which is 300 tpi.

Wonder if others have used yet?

Philip said...

They do look interesting and are available at a 320 TPI casing according to this:
Even the newest non TE Challenge tubs are "only" 300 TPI.

crossjunkie said...

With a better tread count than the one I saw advertised, they're definitely worth a look then.

Unknown said...

what are people saying about the Fango? this or the grifo for an all-rounder at NW races

crossjunkie said...

Just returned from hols Craig - I'm running Fangos in clincher at the moment for Summer riding but having used them before feel they struggle in mud. Grifos run low have a surprising amount of grip really, even when mud is quite bad. TBH though, for me an allrounder at NW races is a mud tread. Global warming or not, races seem to be muddy from Sept onwards and there is little to be lost from running mud treads in intermediate conditions, but more to be gained over general treads in the mud.

Unknown said... race team have been using the XL tubulars for the last two seasons. They are in our opinion superior to Rhinos in that they equal in terms of traction but are superior for lateral grip. They are 320tpi and have coated sidewalls, hence they do not rot. Yes, we get support from Vittoria, however we would not compromise our riders by using anything that didn't perform. Very, very impressed with these!
Steve Smales