Cyclocross season is upon us and many will start to build up new bikes and tune up veteran machines. One of the biggest build choices for Cyclocross racing and training is what tires to use. Depending on the type of track you’re on or the weather you’re expecting, tire choice can be critical.
For this guide I’m going to group the tires into the categories of File tread, Intermediate tread, and Aggressive tread. Based on my experience and the experiences of my friends I intend to give you a quick guide for the best go to tires for your riding situation.
Aren’t Tubulars The Only Way To Go For Racing?
It was once thought that tubular tires were the only way to go when it came to racing Cyclcocross. That isn’t necessarily the same thought these days. Some companies have stepped up their game and made clinchers that ride close to the way tubulars do. Some clincher models have very high TPI (threads per inch) values that make them more supple like a tubular. You can run much lower air pressure than years ago and tubeless offerings are becoming more popular.Pro Tip: Air pressure is key to making clinchers feel the best. The difference of a 1 to 2 PSI can make a big difference in handling. When you come to track make sure you dial in your tire pressure by riding like you would during a race. Don’t baby your bike. You want to flat a tire in practice and find out your pressure is too low than do it during a race.
What Is Good About Clincher Tires Over Tubular?
While the feel and traction of tubulars is nice, some riders don’t want to deal with gluing them on or the hassle of changing tubulars if they are damaged or you want to run a different tire for varying conditions. Clinchers are very easy to change tires and are often less expensive. You can use the same tires you train on to race on, which is much less hassle and not always possible if you want to race on tubulars. Running a latex tube helps get a good feel out of your clincher tires as well. When sealant is used, clinchers are also incredibly less prone to pinch flats and thorns.
Clement LAS Tire
The Clement LAS is named after the Las Vegas airport in relation to the CrossVegas event they hold there eachÂ year. I really like the LAS because it’s a file tread tire that also has shoulder lugs (which are similar to their more aggressive PDX tire). You can easily ride off camber sections with these tires without them sliding and losing traction. The cornering is better than a lot of other file type tires because of the larger side knobs. You can simply lay the bike into a turn and they get grip, allowing you to keep more speed and momentum through corners. I have also found that even though these are rated at 120 TPI they ride much more supple. You can air their pressure down quite a bit as well.
Much like the LAS this tire has nice shoulder knobs that allow you to really get decent grip when the bike is cornering or off camber. These Kenda tires have a dual tread compound that is harder in the center and softer on the sides. The harder center section allows these tires to fly on dry hard surfaces. I think the transition from the file tread to the shoulder lugs is a bit more gradual with these tires, making them a bit more predictable.
The XN Pro is a pure bread file type tread pattern. It does not have very big side lugs and is best on tracks that are smooth and dry. It however is a blazing fast tire that has no rolling resistance.
The Speedmax tire design has been around for a long time. It’s performed well over the years and hasn’t changed. The 32 and 35 versions differ a bit in their tread design. I’ve used both and like them both for dry and fast courses but can work as a good intermediate tire in a pinch. They are well known for their mud shedding ability which can come in handy as a course changes throughout a race. These tires have nice side knobs that offer good traction like a few of my other favorites above. The Speedmax makes for a great rear tire combo’d with a more aggressive tire up front.
The MXP is an updated version of the classic Grifo tread design. I personally think the update is well designed with more flex in the tread thanks to extra cuts and more depth to the tread. I feel they have better traction than the old design. The MXP rolls well on hardpack and has a lot of traction on loose conditions and mild mud. You’ll notice the knobs transition gracefully to the shoulders allowing for really confident cornering.
Grifo Tread Tire
Here’s a golden oldie. The Grifo tread design is one that almost all ‘crossers are aware of. The tried and true design works well in a lot of situations where a file tread tire isn’t good enough. Cornering with this tire can be an interesting affair. I’ve used the term “sketchy” before to describe them. Fortunately, it is a fast tire that doesn’t have much rolling resistance.
I have been enamored with Schwalbe’s tires for a long time. They have some of the best tread designs, rubber compounds, and weights in the cycling business. The Racing Ralph is a design that has been updated several times since it came out. The latest version is by far the best. It rolls faster and still grips well. The Pacestar compound is harder in the center and softer on the sides to aid in minimizing rolling resistance while still offering traction when leaned over. All of the little blocks offer a ton of traction on grass, dirt, and loose over hardpack but tend to pack up a bit in the mud.
Small Block Eight Tire
The Small Block Eight from Kenda is similar to the Racing Ralph in that it has a lot of knobs for traction. The closely placed knobs work extremely well on hardpack and offer a lot of grip in dry and loose conditions. When it is wet however, they don’t hook up so well. Mud packs in these tires pretty badly and wet grass is a joke to ride on.
You’ll notice I really like the small knobby intermediate tires. I think they work so well in varying conditions that I’ve tried quite a few. The design of the CycloXKing is quite even across the tread so they have a consistent feel. Continental’s Black Chili compound is by far the most tacky while still being durable and rolling well. You can really tell the tires have a ton more grip just thanks to the gooey compound. It has a slightly higher TPI value as well which helps with offering a more supple ride.
The PDX works great for me in intermediate to muddy conditions. The wide spacing of the lugs allows for the mud to evacuate the tread but the central pattern of the tire rolls nicely. The outside lugs of the PDX are nicely shaped to dig in well on corners and off camber (hence why they got put on the LAS tires). I find the compound of the PDX tread to be nice and tacky. It grips well adding better traction. The PDX tire I’ve found is also really durable and stronger than other CX tires out there. PSI’s on these tires can be aired down relatively low in the mid-lower 30’s depending on the course and your weight.
The Limus is a great muddy course specific tire. The tread is aggressive and open to dig in and get the mud back out. If anything this tire is more known for doing better the deeper the mud is on a course. It just shines in bad conditions. I like that the tread as a good amount of coverage of knobs across the tire because it gives a consistent feel like some of my favorite intermediate tires. You don’t get that lull in traction as you wait for the tire to bite when it’s off center.
Rocket Ron Tire
As I mentioned before, I love me some Schwalbe tires. The Rocket Ron a is very aggressive tire that looks very close to its mountain bike counterpart. The tread blocks are designed to dig in and grab traction. This is not a fast tire on hardpack or pavement but when things get loose and soft the tire turns into a course shredder. You can rail corners with confidence and tear up slippery slopes.
The Mountain King CX is another mountain bike tire translated over to cyclcross. I like this tires because of the Black Chili compound the most. The compound is so tacky and durable that they give more grip than you really think they should. The tire clears our mud pretty well and has moderately closely spaced lugs that roll faster than some mud tires.
Mud 2 Tire
The Mud 2 is one of a lot of riders’ favorite tire. While it isn’t as aggressive as a lot of newer tires it does work well in muddy and intermediate conditions. The tread design is open and has good aggressive lugs. It’s most at home in in-climate riding conditions but nothing super thick and deep. The tread isn’t as deep as other tires out there.
XM Pro Tire
While a lot of the other tires I really like are designed to rail corners like they’re dry, sometimes I (and others) enjoy a bit more of a drifty feel. That is where the XM Pro’s from Vittoria come in. They have a paddle-like tread that works really well in mud going in a straight line. They climb and brake well and shed mud very easily. When you take corners with these tires though the horizontal tread will slide a bit if you’re not careful. It can make for a fun day on the bike.