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Grip or no grip? Testing Challenge Chicanes

I first became aware of the Chicane tread when Belgian-based UK ‘cross star Helen Wyman first started appearing at races in 2013 with a strange black and white set of tubs. In classic rider-led innovation, she had had made for her a set of prototype Chicanes, fashioned by cutting the middle out of some white Grifo XS file treads and surrounding it with the side knobs from a set of Limus mud tyres. Cue a hybrid, fast rolling tub that could handle some corners as well.

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Pic: www.cxmagazine.com

I have to say that I was skeptical at first – the Dugast Pipisquallo had already been on the market for a bit but had a pretty narrow operating range, particularly given the production versions had much less aggressive side knobs than on Marianne Vos’ (Rhino-esque) proto versions. It was, all in all, a bit of a disappointment, despite the hype. Still, the Limus tread on Helen’s test versions looked chunky enough, if it made it through production…

And it has, pretty much. The side knobs are still the same shape and still chunky, but have been spaced slightly closer together (than when in Limus form) on the production version to give a  constant level of tread right round the edge of the tyre Available in normal tubular, Team Edition tubular with cotton sidewalls and the highly successful Open Tubular (ie clincher) versions, I set about testing the normal tubular version in a variety of situations ranging from dry summer cyclocross to sodden wooden singletrack.

First impressions were less than positive. At lower pressures, on the hard surfaces on the way to my favourite ‘cross circuit they felt really sketchy and I nearly lost the front wheel in slow, tight turns as grip from the files suddenly evaporated and the side knobs skittered. But tarmac is hardly a fair test for a cyclocross tread so I soldiered on and got stuck in to more suitable terrain. And then as I rode more surfaces ranging from dusty trail to light mud, and at higher speeds, I realised how they needed to be ridden. Assertively.

It seems obvious really, that the light file tread might not have too much grip but that changes when the Limus bit gets stuck in, and that’s exactly how it is. But you Dear Rider, have to be the one to do it. In other words, lean in assertively and get those Limus bits to do what they do well. Think about it, half-commit to it, don’t lean the bike in enough or go really slow and it can be somewhat unnerving as the level of grip you want isn’t there. At least not until you slide slightly alarmingly enough to get at an angle when suddenly your Limus advantage kicks in. Turn in positively, at speed and even in quite slippy mud there is a lot of grip. Faff and it’s not so fun. Keeping your speed up in the corners has never been so important.

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Overall, once I had learned to work the tyres, the level of grip was in excess of what I had imagined possible. Of course heavy mud overwhelms them, particularly in terms of grip on climbs or through really boggy sections. But in the kind of conditions you would run an intermediate tread like  Dugast Typhoon or Challenge Grifo for cornering traction alone, they feel faster and just as grippy. I even went out onto some offcambered, and recently wet grass assuming I would quickly find their limits but not so. The limit was there, but at a level way beyond what I had expected.

The requirement that you ‘work’ them and exploit rather than politely explore their operating ‘window’ means they may not be suitable for everyone, and particularly those not used to how low pressure tubulars squirm amd move beneath you. But, spend a bit of time learning them, commit to going fast on them when conditions are less than dry and you will find a tread that has a surprisingly large operating range from bone dry grassy summer ‘cross to early season winter races and even perhaps colder, icy and snowy races where conditions are slippy but not full on modder. Worth investing in as an alternative to your default mud tubs if you are a UK rider.

 

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