Long known for making supple road, cross, then gravel tires, Challenge was a little slower to fully adopt road tubeless for fear of losing the smooth ride of their high-TPI handmade tires. Now the launch of a Handmade Tubeless Ready Tire range puts that to rest, combining the ride quality of 260tpi & 300tpi with an airtight casing & ETRTO bead for Challenge’s most popular road and gravel treads. Oh, and don’t forget even smoother rides from new tubeless tubular tires that are gravel-proof and work with regular sealant.
Challenge Handmade Tubeless Ready (HTLR) road & gravel tires
Challenge debuted tubeless ready tires last summer, but they were vulcanized like pretty much every other road & gravel tubeless tires on the market. That’s not to say that all vulcanized tires are all bad – the high temperature process does result in a durable tire – but they lack the supple ride feel of the handmade, high thread count polyester tires that Challenge is known for.
HTLR Tech details
Enter the Challenge Handmade TubeLess Ready clinchers for road & gravel bikes. The tires share much of the same construction as Challenge’s standard handmade clinchers (including the aramid puncture protection under the tread), and then add two new bits of tech – a new tubeless-ready folding bead that conforms to the new ETRTO tubeless standard (more on that soon) and a unique butyl inner coating.
That thin black bead-to-bead butyl layer is key for keeping the tire sealed, but also in maintaining suppleness. The liner layer is an all-new material for Challenge, a special liquid butyl rubber that is coated to the completed casing (similar to being painted on, for example) and does not require the high temperature of vulcanization for a secure bond that typically results in a stiffer tire.
Gravel & Road pricing, sizes, and availability
The final result claims to be the comfort & grip of a handmade tire, and the performance & durability of a tubeless tire. Challenge is launching the unique new Handmade Tubeless construction with a single herringbone road bike tread in three widths and in a couple of gravel bike tires.
The road tires include the 300tpi 25mm Strada (255g), 300tpi 27mm Paris-Roubaix (280g) & 260tpi 30mm Strada Bianca (305g), all of which sell for $80 / 70€ a piece and should be available in November 2019.
For gravel riding you can still pick that slick Strada Bianca in an even wider 36mm version (385g), or the file tread Almanzo with its small Grifo side knobs in 33mm wide (390g), or the file tread Gravel Grinder with aggressive Limus side knobs in 33mm (405g) or 36mm (425g) widths. All of the gravel tires get 260tpi casings and the same $80 / 70€ price, and the same November expected delivery.
What about Handmade Tubeless Cyclocross you say?
As much as Challenge likes to differentiate gravel & cyclocross to show the breadth of their offerings, the Almanzo is essentially the old Grifo XS and the Gravel Grinder is a Chicane (minus less than a mm of tread width.) Both gravel tires are offered in UCI-friendly 33mm widths, but Challenge knew they wouldn’t have the new supple tubeless tires ready in time for this year’s CX race season, so they figured they should go forward with gravel first. That said, expect Handmade Tubeless Ready cyclocross tires to debut in time for CX season 2020/21. We had a quick talk with cross mechanic Stefan Wyman, and he said the low pressure performance is finally offering real competition with cross tubulars.
Challenge Handmade Tubeless Tubular (HTLTU) road & gravel tires
Speaking of tubulars, Challenge is still refining the tech behind the tire of choice of pro road & cross racers. Without the bead interface and the pinch-flat potential that comes with it, tubulars just deliver a more supple ride feel (even if testing seems to prove higher rolling resistance.) A big obstacle to regularly riding or racing on tubulars (besides a finicky gluing process) has been the threat of punctures out on the road. Challenge gets at that with a handmade tubeless tubular construction, too.
Here there kinda still is a tube, but it is permanently bonded to the inside of the tubular tire casing. It is an ultra thin latex ‘liner’ that is fused to the tire at lower temperature than vulcanizing to retain suppleness. That means that you can use a latex-friendly sealant inside, and if you get a larger puncture it can be patched with a normal tubeless tire repair plug.
While it may seem a bit wild to think of riding gravel on tubulars, this setup was actually developed to race the Dirty Kanza with double layer puncture protection and the virtual elimination of any risk of pinch-flatting.
The gravel HTLTU tires include the Strada Bianca in 30mm (385g) or 36mm (495g), a 33mm Almanzo (450g), and the Gravel Grinder in 33mm (465g).
All of the tubeless tubular gravel tires sell for $100 / 87€ and will be available in November. Cyclocross HTLTU tires (beyond the Almanzo & Gravel Grinder) are expected to be introduced in time for next year’s cross racing.