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.

Limus-XS-3-750x420

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.

10501774_771320829643677_9185585101724236974_n

 

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.

 

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.

 

FullSizeRender1

 

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.

 

FullSizeRender FullSizeRender2

 

 

Product Review: TRP HY/RD open hydraulic disc brakes – including set up tips

Until the release (and rapid recall) of the SRAM Red and S-700 Hydraulic disc brake systems, cyclocross riders wishing to emulate the performance of hydraulically braked mountainbikes on their newly acquired disc cx frames were forced into a bit of an ‘ingenious engineering solution’ corner. Or stuck with existing mechanical (cable) systems. A lack of hydraulic road-style shifters on the market spawned technical solutions from Hope (V-Twin) and TRP (Parabox) as well as a couple of keen engineering amateurs. And all worked, up to a point, delivering hydraulic braking in one form or another, but stopping short of a neat and practical solution in the absence of a full system.

Enter the HY/RD into this semi-hydraulic market…. Whereas previous solutions had focussed on taking the cable from the shifter and quickly converting cable-pull into a hydraulic force through a converter unit attached to the stem/handlebars, the HY/RD leaves pad actuation to the last gasp with an individual hydraulic caliper on each brake mount, and a full mechanical cable run leading into it.

And in this simpler solution (dubbed ‘plug and play’ by TRP) lies the strength of the HY/RD system. Gone are the box-type attachments under the stem and the long hydraulic hose lines, to be replaced by full mechanical cable run leading into a neat hydraulic reservoir on each caliper. And very effective it is too.

The older box solutions worked OK, at least on the versions I tried, but lacked feel at the lever, suffering from degrees of sponginess and stiff operation even when well set up. Add in chicken levers on the handlebars (valued by many 3 Peaks Cyclocross racers) and set up required Heath Robinson levels of ingenuity. Plus knowledge of setting up hydraulic hoses and systems, something many new-to-disc ‘cross users, like myself, lacked. NOt so with the HY/RD which simply attaches onto the end of your cable in the same fashion as an Avid BB-7 or similar.