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CX Tire Review: Challenge Team Edition Red H-TLR Tires & 38mm Grifo Tubular

Challenge Tire Red SE TLR close up
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If you’re a cyclocross maniac, you’re already posting about how #crossiscoming. Those utterly obsessed with the sport are also already building a tire coffer for the upcoming season. Challenge Tires knows better than anyone that August is ‘cross-prep month, and what better time to show off some brand-new designs while everyone’s stoke is at the max?

Challenge Tire Red SE TLR on bike

New Challenge CX Tires?

Challenge Tires is giving something to the elite-performance racer and the master blasters with an assortment of new tubeless race (red) tires and 38mm clinchers/tubulars.

Challenge Tire Red SE TLR close up

First is the new tubeless clincher version of the famous “team only red” tubular tires. Unlike the red team tubulars, these new Team Edition (H-TLR) tires are available for everyone.

Challenge Tire Red SE TLR all TLR

What makes them different than the tan-walled cotton tubeless tires? Well — they are red, and red is fast. Seriously though — when Challenge has a red sidewall tire, that usually denotes “team edition” or top of the heap.

Challenge Tire Red SE TLR box

In this instance, it’s the all-new Challenge Handmade 320TPI Team Edition (H-TLR) tire. These are the same tires we reported on back at Sea Otter Classic, but now we’ve had some training and rides and can give a full report (more on that later).

Challenge Tire Red SE TLR tread close up

What makes the red side-walled tires slightly different is the casing. The new Team Edition Challenge H-TLRs use a 320TPI pre-sealed cotton casing. This slightly higher TPI (the tan walls are 300TPI) moves the ride slightly closer to a tubular feel while keeping the ease of tubeless protection.

Challenge Tire Red SE TLR logo

The tread is Challenge’s own SMARTsoft Compound, the same tread compound found on the tubular version but it should be more active when paired with a higher TPI casing. The H-TLR RED Team Edition Cotton Series tires are available in the all-arounder Grifo tread and mud master Limus models for $99 per tire. We received both for our product review but spent most of the time on the Grifo since mud season is also coming, but not here yet.

Challenge Tire Red SE TLR

Challenge TE Red H-TLR — Setup Impressions

The only thing I don’t like about the Challenge H-TLR is the setup, more precisely — mounting the tires. The bead is tight, and Challenge sells a tool to help users ease their mounting woes. But it’s a callous process; I found it less of a bear with the Challenge Gravel tires, but still; rough. Mounting the Team Edition (H-TLR) Grifos was no different than the first H-TLR experience.

Like most challenging tasks, though, the reward is worth it. My past version of the H-TLRs has yet to burp, and I’ve run some questionable pressures in the mud, so I guess the tight bead works. All of Challenge’s H-TLR cross tires are hookless rim compatible.

Challenge Tire Red SE TLR rear tread

Challenge Team Edition (H-TLR) — Ride Impressions

Since this is a race tire, I tried to be respectful and keep my pavement time minimal. I like to ride to our local cyclocross course, which would be a great time to work out any possible tire issues.

On the road and limestone trail to the ‘cross course, the tires rolled fast, with a spring to them. I say this, having just come from the H-TLR version of the Grifos on the same wheelset. The Team Edition H-TLR tires have slightly more give and suppleness under the same 35 PSI as the standard H-TLR.

Challenge Tire Red SE TLR full bike

My first sessions on the course were dry and dusty. I kept the tires slightly higher in pressure (around 25-27 PSI) and felt confident in the corners and over roots/rocks. This was the sweet spot for my riding style and the slightly rocky features of the course.

When I dropped the pressure slightly (23-25 PSI), the tires felt more tubular-like but hit the rim more often. The tires did not go flat or puncture after rim dings. The Team Edition Grifo H-TLR tires are more pressure-sensitive than their tan wall counterpart.

Challenge Tire Red SE TLR logo 2

When riding the Challenge 300tpi H-TLR tires, I would do a few course recon laps and pressure tests, give a “that as good as it gets,” and roll to the line. With the Team Edition Grifo H-TLR, you can drill down and find that just-right pressure, though it will take a bit like an excellent tubular.

I rode the Team Edition Grifo H-TLR tires in a proper mixed-condition session and was very happy with the tire feedback. The Challenge Team Edition H-TLR tires are the closest you can get to a tubular feel. The softened and suspension-like feel of the tire is very close to a tubular, and the rolling sensation is right on the money.

Challenge Tire Red SE TLR

Product Details — Challenge TE Red H-TLR

  • Size 700×33 / 33-622, UCI-legal
  • Color Red casing, black tread
  • Treads: Grifo, Limus
  • Weight 390-392g
  • Retail Price $99.99
  • Available: Now
Challenge Tire 38mm tubular

Challenge H-TLR and Tubular 38mm Tires

For those outside the UCI — 33mm width only rule, Challenge has released a dedicated 38mm H-TLR and 38mm tubular version of their Grifo and Limus tires.

The construction and tread are identical to the 33mm version, with about 31mm overall tread coverage. The only real difference about this product is the 38mm size offered. Challenge Tires is one of a select few making a dedicated 38mm cyclocross race tire, especially in a 38mm tubular.

Challenge Tire 38mm tubular hunt hweels

I still abide by the 33mm tread width rule, but I couldn’t help but wonder how the 38mm tubular would handle out on a twisty cyclocross course. Yes — 38mm and wider gravel tires are used to race cyclocross, but a tubular has a slightly different feel.

Challenge Tire 38mm tubular trails
Ride photos by Shawn Geiger

I frequently train and race gravel on 38mm tires, but I was intrigued by the thought of a 38mm tubular, especially in the Grifo tread. The 38mm plus sizing is popular with riders looking for extra cushion, surviving bumpy courses, and doubles nicely as a gravel go-to.

Challenge Tire 38mm tubular muddy grifo

Unlike a clincher, the tubular has a specific width to which it will inflate and a dedicated glue base tape to which the rim will adhere, making it 38mm and no larger. Challenges use the same base tape for the 38mm tubular tires as they do for the 33mm version.

I understand this decision, as there are no super wide rims to glue a wider base tape onto. The only ones that come to mind are the Shimano XTR Tubular MTB Wheels and the now-defunct Vittoria Tubular MTB wheels (both excellent). Maybe we will see more emerge with the hopeful popularity of 38mm race tubulars.

Challenge Tire 38mm tubular grifo

For the wheels, I settled on one of my favorites, the Hunt Tubular Race Wheels with a modern 25mm width for the 38mm tubular Grifo review rides. The tire wasn’t too big for the rim, and the base tape was a perfect fit.

There was nothing out of the ordinary about getting the 38mm Challenge Tubulars set up and rolling. The tire needed a day of pre-stretch, and mounting was straightforward and required minimal adjustment.

Challenge Tire 38mm tubular riding

Challenge 38mm Girfo Tubular — First Ride Impressions

I took the Challenge Grifo 38mm tubulars out on our regular training circuit for some laps with the crew. The tire boasts all the suppleness of a tubular (duh), and the 38mm size soaked up much of the bumpy, freshly cut track.

Pressure-wise, the 38mm width can take some time to fine-tune. I was running around 23-25psi in the mud and could balance the squish of the casing, and the excellent feel of suppleness and grip. Regarding turning, the front wheel has a slightly different feel but nothing that would be hard for most riders to adjust.

Challenge Tire 38mm tubular

The tread sits very high on the casing and doesn’t wrap around like most tubular treads. This is likely from the 33mm and the 38mm using the same tread. The high tread doesn’t interfere with the performance; it looks like a Dugast Typhoon and performs just as well as the 33mm.

Yes – there is a slight weight penalty (485g for the tubular and 427g for the H-TLR), but the ride quality definitely balances that out. I’m excited to race these at some masters races this year, especially on bumpy tracks cut the day before. I can see 38mm tubulars making a big impression on those leaving the 33mm bubble and moving from the UCI fields. The comfort and planted pedaling sensation is enough to give them a try; just make sure you’re bike will accommodate.

Challenge Tire 38mm tubular hunt hweels

Product Details — Challenge (H-TLR) and Tubular 38mm

  • Size 700×38 / 38-622 (non-UCI legal) 700×38 tubular
  • Color: Black tread, tan casing
  • Weight ~ 427g Grifo / 422g Limus / 485g Grifo Tubular
  • Retail Price $84.99 HTLR / $99.00 Tubular
  • Available: Now

For more info and to purchase, check out ChallengeTires.com

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nooner
nooner
9 months ago

After a two year absence we now have Cross racing back in socal. For help mounting those suckers maybe try liquid dishsoap around both beads. You can also get bead lube specific products from auto supply stores Fight the urge to muscle it on with an oversize tire lever like the Pedros DH lever or you might warp and distort the casing and get a wobble. The new Park Tool TL-6.3 work well. These new Challenge tires look great, let us know how you get on with them Jordan.

Kevin Capo
Kevin Capo
9 months ago
Reply to  nooner

Where?? I moved to OC and have been looking for CX races.

Paul Bayne
Paul Bayne
9 months ago

Please review the Dugast wide tubulars. They are available in many widths and with wider base tape.

Ashok Captain
Ashok Captain
9 months ago

Great review. Thank you for taking the time and effort of dialling in different pressures. All tyre reviews should be so thorough. Cheers.

Andrew
Andrew
9 months ago

Thanks for the review! Glad to hear that you thought favorably of the Team Edition Grifos – especially since I ordered a pair last week! The biggest question in my mind has been whether to run them with inserts (Tubolight) or not… On one hand, I find that with these super-supple tires it provides some additional security if you decide to run them low pressure (especially on a low-depth tread like the grifo, where this might be more likely)……BUT it might make the tires impossible to get on/off 😛

Thoughts anyone?

Thomas
Thomas
9 months ago

“I understand this decision, as there are no super wide rims to glue a wider base tape onto.”

That is actually not true. There are 29″ MTB Tubular rims. Yes, they are quite rare as are the MTB tubulars but they do exist. I used a set once for cyclocross and had the opposite issue, the bed was a bit too flat for 33mm tubulars. It still worked great as it was the mud wheelset that would see the lowest pressure. With 3 layers of glue both on rim and tubular tire the tubular never had enough pressure to be able to regain a completely round shape, in some way maybe my 33mm FMB’s wouldn’t have been exactly UCI compliant when tested with calipers but they were never tested.

Thomas
Thomas
9 months ago

The major ones are definitely out.

Appart from openmolds, Czech brand Remerx still has some in its catalog. Mine were Ambrosio but they aren’t listed anymore. I found shops who still have XTR M9000 tubular wheels in stock.

But yes, they are slowly but surely going the way of the dodo. The good thing with disc brake rims is they aren’t consumable like rim brake ones so they can last virtually forever.

Last edited 9 months ago by Thomas
Paul Bourcier
8 months ago

Do the 38c tubular tires provide more traction than the 33c tubular version? I recently started training on the TLR 33c and I am amazed by the traction they provide over Typhoons especially on off camber. They are the vulcanized version which appears to have slightly taller knobs and they are also being stretched to 35mm width on one set of wheels and 37mm on another. Thanks

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