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?
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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