Joining the dots – race report from Stadt Moers

Pic: Dave Haygarth

More racing action from Alan Dorrington, including in-race tread testing…

“I noticed last weekend, racing the slightly sinister named Stadt Moers round of the NW Cyclocross Association, that sometimes racing ‘cross feels like an elongated session of joining the dots. By that I mean that some courses have specific points that require concentration and commitment at a technical level, separated with sections of much more straightforward (if considerable) effort such that you seek out the next ‘dot’ and progress round the course in that manner.

Not some creation of a former Eastern European regime, but an innocuous Country Park near St Helens, Stadt Moers is usually gratifyingly muddy for its late Autumn slot on the calendar, and one of my favourite events as a consequence. The muddy sections provided the dots, with the 3 tarmac sections and couple of paths in between providing relief technically, though not physically. It made for fast big-ring racing, rather than a slow grind round, and despite my love of all things boggy, was hugely enjoyable as a result.

 

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Pic: Chris Meads

What the mud lacked in depth, it made up for in stickiness. The need to change bikes (as one of the lucky ‘two-bikers’ there) also gave the opportunity to test head-to-head some FMB SuperMuds with the new kid on the block from FMB, the Slalom. Whilst recce laps were completed on Slaloms, I started on SuperMuds for extra security in some of the sweeping, muddy corners and maximum traction up one tricky little riding climb. Run at super low pressures they were bottoming out on a couple of stony paths and the odd root and felt grippy at all times. When offered a bike change from teammate Dave H who wasn’t racing, I fully expected to find the Slaloms a bit more of a handful in the mud.

It was, mostly the exact opposite. The Slaloms (even at slightly higher pressures) felt faster in all but a couple of sections where even if grip was slightly less than with the SuperMuds, it was still more than adequate and didn’t hamper my progress at all. In fast, flat but slippy sections they felt more planted than the SuperMuds and when hitting the paths and the tarmac they felt appreciably smoother and faster. All of which comfirms my feeling that Slaloms are the go-to tread choice for all general mud conditions, only needing to be swapped out for SuperMuds when conditions turn really wet, sloppy and off-camber laden.”

Product Review: FMB SSC Slalom cyclocross tubulars

Given that full slopfest conditions are not actually that frequent, the type of conditions where Rhinos or SuperMuds are imperious, could the Slalom be the one-stop solution for riders looking for an all round tubular tread that can perform across the widest operating window?

 

Whilst the mud has been a little slow coming in the North West of England this season, mainly due to an unusually warm and dry late summer/early autumn, enough opportunities have presented themselves to test FMBoyaux‘s latest tubular tread offering in a range of training and race situations and report back. And by way of disclaimer, Fluent in Cross have of course recently started selling Slaloms on this site so cannot claim to offer an unbiased opinion. But, in the rarefied world of artisan tubular tyres, Francois Marie who is FMB does not supply tyres for review so the pair reviewed were bought with the writers own funds prior to stocking them on the site.

 

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The SSC Slalom was designed in a collaboration between with World Cup crosser and US Champion Katie Compton. Katie has for a number of years, been one of the most high profile cyclocross professionals riding on FMB tubulars, though that number is growing now amongst both the women pro field as well as the mens, with Jeremy Powers also switching to FMB. The Slalom has notionally been designed for fast rolling on technical courses, but with enhanced lateral grip as it borrows some of the elements of the phenomenally grippy SuperMud. Here’s what Mark Legg, Katie Compton’s husband/mechanic/manager had to say on twitter:

“Basically it has more drive and cornering traction than intermediate tires like Typhoon, Grifo”

With this in mind, I set about exploring how far this is true. As a regular user of FMB SuperMuds, Grifo-treaded FMBs and the previous (original) incarnation of the FMB SSC, I have a reasonable benchmark of treads with which to compare the Slalom.

As a side note, before looking at their performance, it’s worth mentioning the superb quality that is standard with FMBs, even compared with other ‘hand-made’ cotton tubular offerings. The full cotton casing is treated with a water-proofing substance meaning that no sealing with Aqua-Seal or Seamgrip is necessary, and your creamy sidewalled tubs look fresher for much longer, and last for more seasons of use. Moreover, Francois sews in an extra layer between basetape and cotton casing, reinforcing this vulnerable area against rot and prolonging the life of the tyre still further.

 

On their first ride, on dry and smooth grass, the Slaloms felt noticeably quick – quicker than a SuperMud in the same conditions. There is a fair amount of flat rubber in contact with the ground, and this contributes very positively to their low rolling resistance on harder surfaces. The ride is sublime – comfortable and supple. as you would expect from handmade offerings with a very high tpi count for the casing. This same feeling of speed and comfort translates onto muddier surfaces too – they just roll really well. I was curious to see then, how they fared in the corners when the mud started building, and things got slippier.

Their first real test came at the first day of the Rapha Super Cross series at Broughton Hall, Yorkshire. Both myself and Morvelo Test Team rider Bruce Dalton observed how the Slalom seemed to ball up less than a Super Mud in the quite sticky conditions, and their grip felt more than adequate in off-camber corners that were becoming slippier as the day wore on. This repeated the results of testing (including against Grifo treads and also Dugast Small Birds) I had done on my local ‘cross circuit where I found the Slaloms to have considerable and predictable grip on greasy corners in the wet. Further racing at Waddow Hall in the NW League event there confirmed both these aspects – the Slaloms seem to clear better and ball up less than a SuperMud in sticky though not horrendous conditions, and their grip is on a par with the SuperMud in these type of conditions.

Where they do fall down a little in comparison to a SuperMud is in outright traction – in other words up a short and steep muddy climb. The central tread that attracts less clogging also doesn’t dig in as much and grip levels are lower than for a SuperMud. I suspect that they will not perform as well as the SuperMud in really wet, sloppy mud where the more aggressive tread will outperform the Slaloms. But here is the interesting bit – their grip in mud that stops short of a full modder slopfest is, for this writer undisputed but they also perform brilliantly (and better than a Grifo) in more intermediate conditions and on a variety of corners and conditions. Given that full slopfest conditions are not actually that frequent, the type of conditions where Rhinos or SuperMuds are imperious, could the Slalom be the one-stop solution for riders looking for an all round tubular tread that can perform across the widest operating window?

 

I personally feel the Slalom is that tread – more versatile than the already well regarded Grifo tread, particularly when the conditions take a turn for the worse, but still able to run fast in Summer Cross conditions or drier races. If you have more than one wheelset and can keep a dedicated pair of mud treads back for the truly horrible days then you will always benefit from that arrangement. But, if your default, or only wheelset is shod with Slaloms, you’ll not be giving much away when things turn nasty and will still be able to handle all the other conditions ‘cross throws at you with ease.

 

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