Dillon writes “I’m starting to race cyclocross this year. Can you give me a general overview of what types of tires work best on what types of terrain?”
Regardless of whether you ride road, mountain, or cyclocross, selecting the right tire for the right application is never easy. And because we’re not all pro racers with unlimited wheel and tire choices, we’re much more limited in what we are able to use.
There’s the everlasting debate of tubular vs. clincher tires and wheels in cyclocross racing, but for the majority of us who aren’t professional and don’t have bottomless wallets, clinchers are the best option to use. They’re easy to install, much cheaper than tubulars, and can easily be changed in the case of a puncture. For those wanting next level performance out of their tires without going to tubular tires and wheels, many tire companies offer “open tubulars,” which mount like a standard clincher but are made out of more supple materials with higher thread counts for better performance.
Let’s first simplify tire selection by dividing cyclocross tires into two separate categories: mud, or “wet” tires, and dry, or “file tread” tires.
Mud tires, or “wet” tires, are usually very aggressive and have large, tall knobs spaced widely apart. This allows the tread to dig deep into mud for more traction. Mud specific tires also sport widely spaced knobs so that mud doesn’t get clogged up in the tire’s tread. For these reasons, mud tires shine best in any sort of loose, deep, or slippery conditions. Some examples of this are loose over hard pack, courses with lots of sand, and of course, mud.
However, if the conditions end up being dry and hard packed when you planned on wet, mud tires usually feel a bit sluggish because of the extra rolling resistance . Another thing to note is that when cornering on hard surfaces, the tall, flexy knobs of a mud tire will feel squirmy.
Most dry tires feature a diamond-tread center with small shoulder knobs that help maintain cornering traction without negatively affecting rolling resistance. Dry tires, also known as file tread tires, are a great choice for drier conditions like grass courses, as well as dry or hard-packed dirt. If the course is sure to stay dry, you’ll be well equipped with your dry/file tread tires.
If the weather forecast is questionable, you might want to consider playing it safe with mud tires because file tread tires are so condition-specific. For those of you that have your bases covered and are looking to add another arrow to your wheelset quiver, file-treads can really shine with the right conditions.
Because tires are one of the fastest, easiest, and least expensive ways to upgrade your bike, consider investing in a couple different sets of tires and simply experimenting with different setups on different courses to find what works best for you. Thanks for watching and see ya next week.