You’ve trained hard and done lots of short, punchy intervals, the kind that make you taste breakfast again. Your custom team kit is hot off the press and looks flash. You’ve invested big in equipment, including a new rig tailor-made for the ’cross course: tight angles, tall bottom bracket, etcetera. But all that time and effort can be undone if your tire choice isn’t right. A few square centimeters of contact patch can be the difference between chasing and being chased, between bragging rights and unmerciful heckling—so get the cross tires right.
￼VITTORIA CROSS EVO XG
To tubular or not to tubular? It’s an easy choice if you are a pro on the UCI circuit, because a mechanic is the one doing the ripping and gluing to ensure your tubulars match the conditions on race day. But what about the rest of us that want to shave the clincher weight and run ridiculously low tire pressures? Grab the Cross EVO XG tubular from Vittoria. With a super-supple 320tpi casing and latex inner tube, the EVO XG makes the most of its well-spaced, fairly aggressive knobs by matching the terrain like a puzzle piece. This helps the EVO XG straddle different conditions incredibly well—from dry hard-pack to nasty mud. If you only plan to glue up one set of tubulars this season, make them Vittoria EVO XGs. Vittoria also makes a 150tpi tubeless version it calls a TNT tire.
Available in 31mm (390g) or 33mm (410g). $100; vittoria.com
MORE VITTORIA RUBBER: Riders wanting a more aggressive hookup should look to the Cross EVO XL. The tread does wonders in mud,and Vittoria has found that many mountain bikers, used to aggressive tread, transition nicely to ’cross on the EVO XL. For dry weather, or even gravel racing, the EVO XN with a diamond-tread-file pattern and larger shoulder knobs is the go-to tire. Both these tubulars use the same 320tpi casing as the EVO XG, pioneered on the road circuit for decades.
PELOTON TIP: How low can you go? If you aren’t kissing the rim once or twice a lap with a tubular you are riding too much pressure. Watch the Euro aces. They run pressure so low it looks like a flat tire in the hard pack, but sticks like glue in the corners.
The UCI may be married to its decades-old 33mm max-width rule, but you’re more likely to have to pee in a cup than get your tire width checked at your local ‘cross series, so why not go big? Ritchey asked itself the same question and decided to reintroduce the MegaBite as a 38mm-wide ‘cross and gravle tire. This is the tire made famous as the first scientific approach to bike-tire-tread design. Ritchey created a process that started by analyzing tread wear to determine where material was needed the most and dubbed it Vector Force Analysis. This new incarnation uses slightly lower knobs and the center treads have been hollowed out, which helps the tire conform to the ground as well as shave weight. As the name implies, it is all about traction and does well everywhere but sticky clay. With 120tpi tubeless casing, the Megabite sets up quite easily and is yet another nail in the tubular’s coffin for the amateur rider.
Available as a 38mm (410g). $50; ritcheylogic.com
MORE RUBBER FROM RITCHEY: If you carry a UCI license, you probably don’t need our advice or pay for tires, but the SpeedMax remains in the lineup. For a fast, hard-pack tire, the Shield Cross in 35mm uses the same tubeless-ready casing as the Megabite with shallower, Vector-Force-analysis-designed knobs.
PELOTON TIP: The Ritchey guys have tried all the sealants and landed on Orange Seals as their ￼favorite. And when they are on the road and out of tubeless tape, a run to the hardware store for Gorilla Tape does the trick. They go 3-inch so they can tear it down to the perfect width.
Bontrager CX0 TLR
If you love racing in the heat, love a dry, hard-packed course or just want to enjoy your beer hand-ups more, you are probably thinking: “Global warming? So far so good!” Bontrager has heard you loud and clear and the CX0 TLR is your tire. This tire is all about rolling fast while offering a touch more bite more than a pure file tread, because we all know course designers are an inventive bunch and will find someway to make your life hell despite the dry conditions. Low, staggered knobs in the center give way to bunches of progressively rising tread on the shoulders, all made of soft 50A durometer. To get the most out of these tires, run them tubeless and take your pressure down to tubular levels. You’ll notice the consistent and tight fit at the bead as well as the Hard-Case Lite casing upon mounting, especially if you run Bontrager rims, but that work pays off on course where the CX0 TLR simply does not burp, no matter how many times you bash the rim.
Available as a 32mm (395g). $65; trekbikes.com
More Bontrager Rubber: If you tubeless rims and a UCI official is not hovering over you with calipers, the CX0 can be had in a non-tubeless clincher. At 34mm and 38mm widths, it’s an ideal ‘cross/gravel, do it-all-tire. When more traction is mandatory, but the benefits of TLR are still craved, the CX3 TLR is the Bontrager tire to grab from your service course.
PELOTON TIP: To ensure all the low pressure, no burp, no flat goodness that TLR has to offer, Bontrager recommends recharging your sealant halfway through the season. It’s okay to run a bit less than 45ml of the recommended sealant if you do this. With a Bontrager rim you can run your TLRs in the low-20psi range for major traction with no issues.
SCHWALBE X-ONE ALL-AROUND
Schwalbe jumped into road tubeless in a big way last year, and its ’cross lineup benefited as well. The new X-One is Schwalbe’s entrant in the all-around ’cross category with a tread pattern reminiscent of the old Onza Porcupine tires. Schwalbe’s OneStar triple compound—yes, OneStar but three compounds—uses a base compound to adhere properly to the casing, a center compound with low rolling resistance and a soft sticky compound at the shoulders. Thanks to Schwalbe’s MicroSkin construction and confident low-pressure performance, those three compounds can deform to the course surface, providing traction when needed and low rolling resistance when it’s not, and allowing the X-One to outperform many dedicated dry or wet tires in those tire’s ideal conditions. MicroSkin construction ensures the X-One mounts up more easily than any tubeless tire on the market, holds the bead as well as any tire, and does it all at a lower weight.
Available as a 33mm (370g). $70; schwalbetires.com
MORE SCHWALBE RUBBER: Schwalbe has also created a natural sidewall X-One for the 2016–17 season, adding some traditional style to the latest tubeless technology. When the conditions are apocalyptic, go for Schwalbe’s X-One Bite with even bigger tread, which still echoes the round knobs of the X-One.
PELOTON TIP: Changing tubeless tires on race day based on conditions can be nerve-wracking, so practice ahead of time. Schwalbe recommends some form of bead lubrication, and you’ll find that the X-One tires mount and inflate more easily than many tube-style tires and you won’t fear a pre-race tire swap any longer.