Sunday, 17 January 2016

Choosing Tyres for the Dirty Reiver- Continental Cyclocross Speed

The Search for All-Round Tyres for a Gravel Event

I've had a bit of a quandary recently , after signing up for the Dirty Reiver, one of the UK's first gravel grinder events. Gravel Grinder events are popular in the USA where vast areas in some states feature dirt roads. A little like what we see in Europe at races like the Strade Bianche in Italy as featured below. The Dirty Reiver promises a 200 kilometer gravel road event around Kielder and potential across the Scottish border in an area where there will be plenty of climbing. What tyres should I ride?

The USA has Gravel Grinder events popping up all over although the Dirty Kanza is one of the oldest and arguably one of the best of these events. A 200 mile gravel epic over some of the rural gravel roads of Kansas. The roads are rugged and the racing tough. Events like these have started to spawn the Gravel Bike industry although as gravel riding has been around for years many people will tell you that you can adapt a bike relatively easily for gravel racing.

My big quandary has been tyre choice for a gravel riding event and what bike to use. The options really have been between the 29er hardtail or the cyclocross bike and based on the length of the event I'm inclined to go for the cyclocross bike which I can happily ride for extended periods of time and I feel quicker on when I'm hitting the fire roads around Sherwood Forest. I seem to keep appearing on Strava leaderboards for sections I never knew existed around the local tracks and trails so either the local mountain bikers aren't particularly fast on certain sections or the cyclocross bike must have the edge because put me in a cx race and I'm nowhere near the front.

Over the last couple of years I've mainly used my old Planet X Uncle John cyclocross bike as more of a winter do it all bike to explore the local trails which Sherwood Forest has aplenty. As well as being able to do a 40-odd mile round trip including a lap of the 'red' route at Sherwood Pines overtaking the odd mountain biker and giving them a shock along the way. I recently replaced an old Challenge Grifo Pro tyre with a spare Specialized Houfalize but my worry has been that they might not be ideal for the Dirty Reiver with the organisers recommending a minimum 33mm tyre. 200 km of gravel roads demand some longevity and something quicker rolling judging by a lot of American gravel riding websites. I love the Houfalize and still may put a spare in my rucksack to take with me as a just in case. They do most things well unless it starts to get gloopy. I love them for riding in the woods throughout summer and most of winter.

Eventually a narrowed my choices down to the Schwalbe CX Comp (Good value for money, semi slick profile and a kevlar bead though on the heavy side) and Clement MSO (Awesome tyre for gravel apparently but friggin expensive for a one off event in my eyes) and Challenge Gravel Grinder (Which Planet X were selling for £15 up until the day I got paid!) However after a recommendation from the ridingagainstthegrain blog I've opted for the Continental Cyclocross Speed tyre.

Continental Cylocross Speed Tire- A tyre that should work well on gravel roads

Why the Continental Cyclocross Speed?

I mainly use my cx bike as a bit of an all-rounder and with my current winter bike starting to creak, shudder and coming across like it's on deaths door after 8 years of harsh British winter riding the plan is to turn my Planet X Uncle John into my winter bike. Unlike many cyclocross bikes it has bottle bossess and braze-ons for mudguards whilst I feel comfortable riding it over the rough stuff in the forest which should make riding it for distances on the road a breeze.

The Cyclocross speed looks to be a good summer do-it-all tyre. I picked up 2 tyres for less than £20 so if they only last me a summer of riding I've not really lost out. My current favourite commute home from work is on some cinder type paths and rugged rural bridleways which I believe a semi-slick tyre should cope well with and once the ground dries out I should be able to throw them around on the local singletrack too as I'm hoping to race some cyclocross in 2016.

For £8.75 a tyre I've picked up a fast, dry conditions cyclocross tyre that should be ideal on the local trails with little mud. The 35mm width should take off some of the edge on the rougher stuff- I'll likely try it out up at the Sherwood Pines Red Route when it dries off as it presently needs some more significant grip to get around. If someone is look for gravel event or race tyres they are also available in a 42mm wide format if your frame has the clearance. I wasn't sure my Uncle John has that much room so went for the 35 mm version.

The Continental Cyclocross Speed Tread Pattern

Whilst I can't find details online about puncture protection level of the Cyclocross Speed but having a triple ply casing means there's three layers of protection. Weight is a reasonable 420 grams per tyre in the wire beaded version with 350 grams for the folding variety.

How did they perform at the Dirty Reiver

Pretty well with the exception of a couple of sections of muddy bridleway and rough downhills that were crying out for something with a little more casing size. The 35mm wide profile was adequate for the majority of the conditions. 

I had one puncture during the Dirty Reiver. I was running around 50 psi as a trade off between comfort and speed but hit a rock ledge hard on a rugged downhill section after about 40 miles of the course but there were a lot of punctures on course. I found a track pump available at the next pit stop and promptly went up to 60 psi as a precaution.

The semi-slick tread rolls quickly on roads and forest tracks whilst the outer tread has enough to dig in on slightly loose corners. Having used the Cyclocross Speed's over the course I'm not sure I'd have been any quicker with a different tyre although maybe a slightly bigger casing would have given some more comfort over the 200km course.

Back at home they've been a great summer cx play tyre. Absolutely adequate for a summer blast round the red route at Sherwood Pines or Clumber Park. They're also perfect for the local canal towpaths and fire roads too.