The Best Cyclocross Tires – Tubulars, Tubeless & Clinchers for Every Condition

Choosing the right cyclocross tire can be intimidating, and even longtime cyclocross racers struggle to choose the perfect tread for race day. Why is that? Well — A cyclocross race can be dry and hardpacked, grassy and corner-heavy, sand-blown, snowy, and of course — muddy as hell  (sometimes all on the same day) — there are hundreds of tire options and combinations available.

Marianne Vos CX bike

Photo credit: Alex Hays

It’s not over once you’ve chosen a tread — now you need to debate the merits of tubular, tubeless, or clincher tires. Luckily, our crew is more than a little cyclocross-obsessed, and here, we’re sharing our favorite tires that have stood up to years of use and abuse.

We’ve divided this guide into five sections:

Most of us are running a mix of tubulars and tubeless tires, depending on the conditions and budget. Almost every modern clincher cyclocross tire is now tubeless-ready — so you can find a tire and performance combo that matches your demands. If you’re unsure which way to go, how to set your tire pressure, or have other questions, scroll down to check out our Buyer’s Guide and FAQ sections!

Jordan Villella doing some tire testing at his local cyclocross course. Photo: Shawn Geiger

We’ve personally tested and raced every single tire in this guide, and as new tires roll out, we’ll update it if we find a new favorite!

2021/2022 Cyclocross Album, last CX retrospective coffee table photo book by photographer Balint Hamvas, Sluitingsprijse, Oostmalle

Photo: 2021/2022 Cyclocross Album, last CX retrospective coffee table photo book by photographer Balint Hamvas, Sluitingsprijse, Oostmalle

Best Tubular Tires for Cyclocross

All the tubulars you could need, but what’s the right tread for the day? Photo: Jordan Villella

 Best All-Around Tubular: Dugast Typhoon 

A. Dugast is the first and last name (literally) in cyclocross tires. It’s impossible to talk about CX tires without acknowledging Dugast, founded by—you guessed it—André Dugast in the seventies. Dugast tires were some of the only options for serious cyclocross racers for many years. The tradition has continued, and we love the Typhoon’s cotton casing for a supple ride capable of winning on World Cup courses and your local track.

The classic Tyhoon tread sits high on the tire and offers predictable cornering and suspension-like suppleness. Recently purchased by Vittoria, Dugast Tires will be widely available and not just on the European market. As a nod to the changing times, unlike many cyclocross tires that are only manufactured in 33mm sizes, Dugast added wider options for riders looking for more comfort on their bikes or might want a gravel tubular option. (Find out more about tire width in the buyer’s guide below.)

  • Type: Tubular
  • Style: All-around
  • Sizes: 700 x 32, 33, 34, and 38mm
  • TPI: Not listed
  • Weight: 380 grams for 700x32mm
  • MSRP: $110

PROS: Unparalleled casing quality and a tread that can race in many conditions successfully.
CONS: Pricey, and the squirm of the Flying Doctor casing might be too much for some riders.

 Best Mud Tubular: FMB SSC Super Mud 

Another historic French company, FMB, has been around for a long time in the cyclocross space. We love the handbuilt SSC Super Mud for the muckiest of races. Casual racers likely won’t mount a mud tire as their primary tubular tire, but if you live in an area with a lot of mud, using these as your main racing tires or mounting them on a spare wheelset is a smart move.

Mud tires like this have stronger, deeper treads with plenty of space between the lugs, and we’ve found that the SSC Super Mud sheds it better than any other, thanks to the lightning-shaped lugs that help the mud fly off. The tires use a natural cotton casing to make them more malleable to provide ample traction in corners. The SuperMud tire is also available in an “open tubular,” though we have yet to test it. From the initial public reception, though, most signs point to a great clincher counterpart with less low-pressure ability.

  • Type: Tubular
  • Style: Mud
  • Sizes: 700 x 30 and 33mm
  • TPI: 330 TPI
  • Weight: 431 grams for 700x33mm
  • MSRP: $77

PROS: You’ll get the best traction in the worst conditions, be relatively affordable, and sheds mud no matter what the consistency
CONS: Very specific tread, so it’s a commitment to use a mud tubular

 Best Sand & Snow Tubular: Challenge Dune Team Edition 

Adam Myersons’ Challenge Team Edition Dunes on Built by Jerry WCX Tubulars. Photo: Myerson

The Dune is aptly named since it was designed with the classic World Cup venue in Koksijde, Belgium, in mind. The infamous Koksijde course is covered with sand dunes and huge swathes of loose, soft sand that requires fitness and handling to make it through successfully… and exactly the right tires.

Myersons’ Challenge Team Edition Dunes top tread. Photo: Myerson

File treads, like mud tires, are pretty darn specific, but if you race in an area with a lot of hardpack or sand, like Southern California, they’ll be the fastest option. We love the Dune for its ability to blaze through straight sandy sections, then hit a corner and get enough traction from the side lugs to make it through without sliding out. The side lugs are just part of the equation, though. The 320 TPI casing, natural rubber tread, and latex tube inside help the tire fold and mold to the shape of the ground as you hit those turns.

Minimal or no glue on the rim is the sign of a professional glue job, and the red Challenge casing is another pro-only feature. Photo: Myerson

Here’s what’s crazy: It also works great on hard-packed snow and ice. Why? because it puts more rubber on the ground, and the pyramid-shaped nubs grab better than bigger (but fewer) lugs on regular tires. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s common practice among pros and amateurs alike, and we’ve found them to be the absolute best type of tread for frozen ground.

  • Type: Tubular
  • Style: Sand / Hardpack / Snow / Ice
  • Sizes: 700x33mm
  • TPI: 300 TPI
  • Weight: 420 grams for 700x33mm
  • MSRP: $90

PROS: Super fast and predictable on sandy and dry courses.
CONS: Pricey, only available as a tubular tread

Runner Up Best Sand/Dry Conditions: Dugast Pipistrello/Pipisquallo

If you’re looking for a mix of super supple and fast, the Pipisquallo/Pipistrello should be in your tire arsenal. Be warned — this tire combo is for high-speed tracks. The tread perfectly complements sandy subsoil and pedal-heavy grass sectors. The open diamonds in the middle provide just enough ground contact for grip and super low rolling resistance. 

The extra side grip on the Pipisquallo gifts control and assurance in slightly damp or loamy conditions and is a great front tire with a Pipistrello rear. Those running Typhoons on fast courses would be confident with a Pipisquallo rear and Typhoon front combo. The Pipisquallo tread is available up to 38mm widths, so those looking to add some comfort and extra speed on their gravel rig. 

  • Type: Tubular
  • Style: Sand / Hardpack / Snow / Ice
  • Sizes: 30, 32, 33, 34, 36, 38mm, 26” & 700″
  • Weight: 340 grams for 700x33mm
  • MSRP: $120

PROS: Extremely fast on dry and sandy terrain, unmatched suppleness
CONS: Pricey and could be hard for some riders to control with minimal side knobs on the Pipistrello

What about glue?

Tires can only be fast if they stay on your wheels, so you need glue. Not just any tubular glue will do for cyclocross; ask your local retro grouch. For cyclocross, you need a strong bond between the base tape and the rim that allows you to run super low pressures and take a dry-off camber plunge as it attempts to rip your tire off. For most, this means a combination of glue and tape.

Cyclocross tires must endure many conditions, tons of pressure washes, and stay on the rim. Photo: Cory Benson

We found that a combination of Vittoria Mastik and CX-Tape works magic. Now this magic can’t be rushed; gluing takes some zen-like moments in a well-ventilated area and lots of patience. If you achieve tubular zen, your tires will stay nicely attached after thin layers of glue, tape, and tire meet.

The Specialized tubular glue comes with gloves and a brush, in case you’re not prepared. Photo: Villella

What if my shop is out of Mastik? If you can’t find Vittoria Mastik, the Specialized (red) glue is strikingly similar and works well. If you can find Mastik tubes, those are nice to have as well but remember they are very temperature sensitive, so keep them out of a hot car or in your ‘cross-box. If you’re looking for other options, the Continental carbon glue works well, but you need to make sure you have light layers of glue when applying — more doesn’t always equal better when applying layers of tubular glue.

Best Tubeless Tires for Cyclocross

These are just a small offering of the tubeless cyclocross and gravel tires available for racing. Photo: Villella

 Best All-Around Tubeless Challenge Grifo TLR

Photo: Villella

The tubeless tire revolution has gained popularity in nearly every facet of cycling, the last holdout being cyclocross. But recent tubeless tech and experience have given birth to a new breed of tires. Challenge is one of the companies leading the charge with its new line of H-TLR tires, handmade tubeless tires with a cotton casing (similar to their base tubular line) that ride similar to a tubular and comes in all your favorite Challenge treads.

We spoke with US Cyclocross legend Adam Myerson about his long-time admiration of the Challenge Grifo tread:

“I’ve ridden a lot of different tires, treads, casings, and widths over the 30+ years I’ve been racing ‘cross, and I have to say that the thing I’ve enjoyed most about being back on Challenge this year is getting to ride the classic Grifo. There’s a reason it’s universal and that no one’s been able to improve on it. It’s not just an all-conditions tire; it’s also an “any-conditions” tire. There isn’t a setting where it doesn’t work, and if I could only ride one tire, it would be the Grifo. It has enough traction for pedaling and braking, and the knobs are an ideal and consistent height, so it’s predictable when you lead it over for a turn, but they’re low enough that it’s still fast in hard-packed conditions.”

The Grifo tread is a staple in any cyclocross racer tread quiver; it’s fast, offers solid pedaling traction when it’s slightly moist, and overall, it’s predictable. The Challenge H-TLR version of this iconic tread delivers on all levels and can take the low pressures needed to let the cotton casing sing.

Photo: Villella

For those without a truck full of tubulars and treads to choose from each race, the Challenge H-TRL Grifo is a great do-it-all option, especially for those racing in the early morning, where dew is always a factor. The H-TLRs can be a challenge (see what I did there?)  to get on, but we assure you, the struggle is worth it, as these tubeless tires have yet to burp on us and are hookless compatible.  The 33mm width measures spot on when mounted on most conventional road wheels, so for those looking for a viable UCI tubeless option — this is it. If paired with a slightly wider “gravel” focused wheel, the tread plumps up to 34-35mm with little to no tread distortion.

  • Type: Handmade- Tubeless
  • Style: All-around
  • Sizes: 700x33mm
  • TPI: 300 TPI
  • Weight: 360 grams for 700x33mm
  • MSRP: $80

PROS: The closest ride to a tubular that we’ve found in a tubeless tire and hookless compatible.
CONS: It can be hard to install initially.

 Runner up: Best All-Around Tubeless: Donnelly PDX World Cup (Tan Sidewall) 

Photo: Villella

Donnelly tires might be made in Europe, but they’re named after American airports of cities that share the same qualities as their tires. We love the PDX—named for the Portland airport—for an all-around tire, though the mud is where it shines. Still, this is a great option if you only want to mount one pair of tubeless tires.

Photo: Villella

Unlike many tubeless tires, this one uses a softer-than-normal rubber on the sides of the tires, so they mold to the terrain around tight corners…they feel like they’re grabbing onto the ground. They’re relatively easy to mount as tubeless and can also be used as clinchers if you just don’t have time or energy to set up tubeless (though we recommend doing so to ride with lower PSI!). The lugs are tall, so you won’t love this tire on the road or gravel, but on any off-road terrain, this tire flies.

  • Type: Tubeless
  • Style: All-around
  • Sizes: 700x33mm
  • TPI: 240 TPI
  • Weight: 360 grams for 700x33mm
  • MSRP: $80

PROS: Great price point for such a supple tire, minimal rolling resistance compared with grip.
CONS: Not ideal for gravel riding when not racing

 Best Mud Tubeless: Challenge Limus H-TLR 

Photo: Villella

As Challenge is quick to note, Limus means mud in Latin. And it is truly one of the best mud tires on the market, regardless of which style Limus you get. We love that it’s available as a tubular and a tubeless option, but it shines as a tubeless tire. It’s aggressive, it sheds mud and muck like it’s coated in PAM spray, and it’s just a ton of fun on mucky courses.

The Limus isn’t a great “sorta wet” conditions tire; it’s a grip-and-rip design for the worst conditions. The nice thing about tubeless is if you know the rain is coming, you can swap your mixed out for the mega-muds the night before. The tread is great at finding grip in the most unlikely places, and the tall knobs are more than enough to paddle through the slop when it’s actively downpouring.

Photo: Villella

Look for Limus at the start line for most racers when the real cross weather hits and when the risk of falling is greater than the rolling resistance penalty of a heavy tread.  For those looking to round out their tire quiver, the Limus is a tire that might not see a lot of use, but when it does, it’s worth its weight in gold.

  • Type: Tubeless
  • Style: Deep mud
  • Sizes: 700x33mm
  • TPI: 300
  • Weight: 350 grams for 700x33mm
  • MSRP: $80

PROS: Great for the worst muddy conditions, the new H-TLR casing creates a tubular-like ride and grip experience.
CONS: Higher rolling resistance than most in semi-wet conditions



 Best Dry Conditions Tubeless: IRC Serac Edge CX 

If this looks like a typical file tread tire, look again. The triangle lugs are slightly taller, with a bit more spacing between them, which sets this tire apart for dry, grassy, and sandy courses. They’re low enough to roll fast but with a bit extra bite to prevent the tire from spinning out on standing climbs and sprints. The small side lugs aren’t aggressive, but they manage right the ship if you lean too much upright on fast off-camber traverses.

The IRC Serac Edge CX is one of the officially approved tires of The Belgian Waffle Ride. What does that mean? If you’ve ever ridden a BWR, you know flats are common, and so are long gravel sectors. The IRC Serac Edge CX has low rolling resistance to chug on the sand/gravel and enough integrity to fend off sidewall cuts and punctures — both will ruin a cyclocross quickly.

For those looking to keep a tire for fair weather cyclocross and gravel, the IRC Serac Edge CX is a great option and comes in a lightweight race version and an X-Guard option with added cut/flat protection.

  • Type: Tubeless
  • Style: Grass / Sand / Hardpack
  • Sizes: 700 x 32
  • TPI: 182 TPI
  • Weight: 380 grams for 700x32mm
  • MSRP: $80

PROS: Fast, grippy, supple, and great for gravel-cross double duty
CONS: Narrow 32mm single option may have riders looking toward its wider 36mm IRC Boken brother.

 Best Mixed Conditions: Vittoria Terreno Mix Tubeless TNT 

Photo: Villella

We’ve found that the Vittoria Terreno Mix TNT is perfect for exactly what the name implies… Mixed conditions. Maybe it’s a little wet in spots, dry in others, damp or rocky, or rooty elsewhere: This tire can handle it. The tightly spaced center knobs help it roll fast, and the micro knobs on the outer edge boost off-camber traction at the extremes.

Photo: Villella

We also appreciate that a 38mm option is available, making it comfier for the masters’ racers who prefer more cushion. At $60, it’s a great price for a long-lasting tubeless tire that’s easy to set up. And even cheaper options are available, so if you’re truly on a budget, they offer a standard Terreno Mix as a non-tubeless clincher for just $46.

  • Type: Tubeless
  • Style: All-around / Mixed conditions
  • Sizes: 700 x 31, 33, 38mm
  • TPI: 120 TPI
  • Weight: 420 grams for 700x33mm
  • MSRP: $60

PROS: Great price point, good all-around performance, leaning towards the mud side of a mixed tread
CONS: A little heavy and feels more like a mountain bike casing, but that’s not always a bad thing.

 Best Snow Tire: Vittoria Terreno Dry 

 

 

vittoria terreno dry cyclocross tire

Don’t let the model’s “Dry” moniker fool you; there are a lot of top-level riders racing the Vittoria Terreno Dry cyclocross tire on the snow and ice. The hexagonal “fish scale” center tread blocks make this tire unique on the market. Each one is slightly ramped, giving it better braking traction while still rolling fast. And, combined with transitional side knobs, those micro edges help improve cornering grip.

No tire will work miracles on ice and snow, but this one puts more rubber on the ground than a file tread, and when run at low pressures, it somehow grabs what little traction is to be had and makes the most of it. They offer regular clinchers, too, so make sure you get the “TNT” versions to set them up tubeless and gain extra puncture and sidewall cut protection layers in the casing.

  • Type: Tubeless
  • Style: Hardpacked snow and ice
  • Sizes: 700×31, 33, 35, 38mm
  • TPI: 120 TPI
  • Weight: 410 grams for 700x33mm
  • MSRP: $60

PROS: Great traction on ice and snow, relatively affordable and widely available
CONS: The square-ish shape of the tire profile could be a turn-off to some purists.

Photo: Villella

What about sealant?

For those new to tubeless tires, the sealant is a must. The sealant creates an airtight bond between the tire and the rim, and it will seal punctures when/if they happen. What sealant is best for cyclocross? We find that most mountain bike sealants will do the job and do it well. Products like Stans, Orange Seal, MilkIt, and the newer WTB Sealant are our favorites.

Photo: Villella

What if I want to swap tires at the race?

One of the advantages of running tubeless tires is the ability to change tires without peeling a tubular from the rim. Sometimes, getting the tire to sit on the rim can be challenging with a standard floor pump, especially at the race venue. One of our favorite little helpers is the new tire seating tool from MilkIt. You charge the canister by pumping into it with a traditional floor pump. When you reach the desired pressure, you can pull the pump off and prep the tire for a burst of air to seat the bead. Pro Tip: Removing the valve core before using the MilkIt charger will help with airflow from the charger and seat the tire.

 Best Budget Cyclocross Tire: Challenge Grifo Clincher 

Fair warning, this one is NOT tubeless ready, but if you’re tight on cash, grab the Challenge Grifo Clincher, made with vulcanized rubber. The Grifo tread has been around for a decade and remains one of the best all-around tires on the market. While you can get more supple tubular options with a cotton casing, we’ve been super-impressed by the clincher version, which still provides plenty of traction and comfort on grassy and muddy courses.

Want something more supple but not ready to commit to tubular or tubeless tires? You can upgrade to Challenge’s handmade clincher options, though you’ll pay $25 more per tire. We think the upgrade is worth it for the better cornering and the classic yellow sidewalls, but this version is great for beginners to get a taste of what a good tire can do!

  • Type: Clincher
  • Style: All-around
  • Sizes: 700 x 33
  • TPI: 120
  • Weight (700x33mm): 395 grams
  • MSRP: $50

PROS: Great all-around tire at a low price with a world-class tread and excellent training option.
CONS: Requires tubes, not as supple as tubular or handmade clincher options

Best Gravel ‘Cross-over Tires

 Best Gravel/CX Combo: Pirelli Cinturato Gravel Mixed 

Photo: Villella

We like a tire that can do it all, and the Pirelli Cinturato Gravel Mixed tire is a fantastic option for someone who wants to jump into a couple of cyclocross races but still prefers to spend most of the time riding on gravel and exploring country roads. Made with a triple-layer fabric casing topped with a bead-to-bead Aramid puncture protection belt and Pirelli’s Speedgrip Compound, it’s not the most supple tire on the market. But it can hold its own in pretty much any condition and hold up to the worst road surfaces and debris without flatting.

Photo: Villella

Even with tubes, it can run at relatively low PSIs and hooks up well in grassy corners and sandy berms. And we appreciate that it comes in plenty of sizes, from 700 x 35, 40, and 45mm to 650b options in 45 and 50mm. The only downside is that it won’t pass muster for a UCI elite cyclocross race, which requires tires to be under 33mm.

  • Type: Tubeless
  • Style: Gravel
  • Sizes: 700 x 35, 40 and 45mm; 45 and 50mm x 650b
  • TPI: 127 TPI
  • Weight: 445 grams (for 700x35mm)
  • MSRP: $70

PROS: Ideal for gravel riders who want to jump into cyclocross occasionally
CONS: It doesn’t come in 33mm sizing, so technically not legal for UCI races

Best Dry Conditions Crossover: Specialized Tracer Pro 2Bliss Ready 

 

specialized tracer 2bliss cyclocross tire

This one’s a tricky recommendation because it’s both a great cyclocross tire and a great gravel tire… except you’d want a different size for each, and the ‘cross-approved 700×33 and 38 sizes are hard to find.

But, if you’re racing hardpack in a place like Southern California, or you’re a gravel rider who may jump into a cyclocross race or two, the Specialized Tracer Pro 2Bliss Ready tubeless tire is a good place to start. This tubeless-ready tire has a wide range of sizes and is designed for ‘cross-curious gravel riders. It comes widths from 33mm to 47mm wide, so if you’re a gravel grinder who wants more cushion, this is a great choice. (But be warned: if you’re jumping into a muddy race, you may slip and slide.)

  • Type: Tubeless
  • Style: Hardpack
  • Sizes: 700 x 33, 38, 42, 47mm
  • TPI: 60 TPI
  • Weight: 365 grams for 700x33mm
  • MSRP: $50-$55

PROS: Fantastic for hardpack conditions
CONS: Low TPI makes it less supple

Buyers Guide for Cyclocross Tires

Know what wheelset you’re using. Not all tires are the same, and in recent years, there’ve been so many additions and new trends in wheels and tires that it’s easy to misunderstand which tire will fit your rim. You also want to ensure that if you want tubeless tires, your rims are also tubeless-ready. And tubulars require tubular-specific wheelsets.

It’s worth pointing out that modern gravel wheels are almost all tubeless ready but have fairly wide inside bead-to-bead measurements that could cause your 33mm tire to measure as much as 35mm…which could technically disqualify you (if they check).

Tubeless versus tubular versus clincher. We go into more detail below, but most top PRO riders generally run tubular tires (tires that have a tube sewn inside and are glued to your wheels). Some are making the switch to tubeless (which uses a sealant to seal air inside the tire rather than a tube). And, of course, clinchers are always an option (with tubes inside), though they require you to run a much higher tire pressure to avoid flatting.

Tread is based on the type of racing you do. If you live in sunny southern California, then your races are likely all on hardpack dirt, and a set of file treads is optimal. But if you live in a wet, muddy area like Oregon, a mud tire might be the best choice. If you have differing race course conditions but can only afford a single set of wheels and tires, opt for an all-arounder. And if you do have the ability to have two sets of cyclocross wheels, we’re fans of having one that generally works for your racing style, like a mud tire, plus an all-arounder so you’re ready for anything.

Double-check size and style. Since tire size and width are both important factors, make sure that you’re getting the right style—tubular, tubeless, or clinchers—since many treads come in multiple styles. This gets especially important if you’re shopping a sale, as less popular (i.e. non-tubeless) tires and sizes tend to get discounted more often.

Determine your budget. You may notice that on this list, tires range from $120 per tire down to $50 and can get as low as $30 if you look for ultra-budget versions (like Vittoria’s Terreno in a non-tubeless clincher). However, the cheaper you go, the less supple the tire tends to be. This isn’t a big deal if you’re riding in a straight line on the road, but because cyclocross is full of tight, fast turns, you want a tire to be supple and malleable in order to mold and deform as you lean into a corner, in order to have better traction.

The pricier tires use different materials to make the sidewall less rigid. And of course, tubulars are pricier because they come with a tube installed inside of them, typically are handmade, and are much less popular than generic clinchers or tubeless tires, so you’re paying a premium.

Frequently Asked Questions about Cyclocross Tires

What are the different types of cyclocross tires?

  • File tread: File treads have a very low tread in the middle with knobs on the sides, and are typically used for hardpack, sand, and snow conditions.
  • Mud: Beefier treads with plenty of space between the lugs define mud tires—they’re designed to allow the mud to ‘shed’ off of the tire as you make your way through, with taller lugs to dig into the muck and create traction.
  • All-around: Typically, these will look similar to a mud tire at a glance, but the treads will be a bit lower and closer together, in order to get better traction offroad and in grass, but not feel squirmy on harder surfaces.
  • Gravel: Low treads, usually tightly packed in the center to roll smoother, with maybe some side lugs for cornering. These will be more like a cyclocross/road tire hybrid.

What’s the difference between tubeless and tubular?
Simply put, tubular tires are tires that have a tube sewn inside and are glued to your wheels. Tubeless tires—what most mountain bikers use—require a sealant inside to seal the tire on and keep the air in, rather than using a tube. And of course, clinchers—tires that require a tube inside to hold air—are a budget alternative.

What tire width should I run for cyclocross?
It depends…are you racing for real? Or just for fun? And does your race promoter care? We’ve seen one guy race a fat bike on a snowy course and win, but it kinda defeated the point of ‘cross, which is suffering.

Seriously thought, it depends. If your race promoter isn’t checking it and hasn’t stated rules, then tires from 35mm to 40mm will give you more traction and comfort, but the bigger you go, the heavier they get.

If you’re racing a UCI-sanctioned event, then you’re limited to 33mm wide when mounted to the tire. Remember, some rims will make your tire effectively wider, so mount them early and measure.

tire width rules for usa cycling cyclocross races

USA Cycling’s rules are different. The chart above is out of their 2021/22 rule book, so your maximum tire width depends on the class you’re racing in or your age. Pretty much no races allow tires with any sort of hard spike or stud on them…it’s a safety issue. No one wants to get run over with those!

UCI commissaires checking tire width at 2019 World Championships.

What tire pressure should I run for cyclocross?
We could write a treatise on this, but the short answer is: As low as you can without flatting. Typically, that is around 18 to 33 PSI, depending on your tires (tubular can run the lowest, followed by tubeless), your body weight (the lighter you are, the lower you can safely go), and the course (a lot of small roots or rocks will require higher PSI than a course that’s all grass).

The goal? To maximize traction by letting the tire deform to the ground quickly and easily. As weird as it sounds, if you feel like you’re just on the edge of peeling the tire off your rim on the hardest corner you make, that’s probably the perfect PSI.

For muddy conditions, experiment with slightly higher pressure so your tire bites through the muck to hit harder ground underneath. But for snow and sand, go lower so it floats better without sinking down into the ground so much.

person carrying extra wheels and tires to the pits at a cyclocross race

Can I run mismatched tires?
As with mountain biking, you can run mismatched tires, and some pros certainly will in very specific course conditions. We don’t recommend mixing and matching something like a file tread with minimal knobs with a mud tire, but a mud tire in the front and an all-arounder in the rear is certainly a reasonable combination. Ultimately, it’s experience that will help you narrow down specific tire selections per course and weather, so just start with a good all ’rounder and go from there.

Do I need tubulars?
Absolutely not. At the highest level, tubular tires will help you ride smoother and speedier, but you can definitely start racing with clinchers. Heck, cyclocross is such a welcoming sport that you can race it on a mountain bike to get started! Some of us would even argue that with the modern crop of tubeless-ready tires being so good, the marginal gains to be had from tubulars aren’t worth the extra hassle for most riders.

Can I put tubular tires on any cyclocross wheels?
Sadly, no. You need tires that are specifically designed for tubular tires, so often, the wheels that come stock with a cyclocross bike won’t work with tubular tires.

How do I install tubular tires?
If you haven’t installed a tubular tire before and you want to try it on your own rather than taking it to a local bike shop, you’re going to want to watch some how-to videos before taking the plunge, since these pricey tires require a lot of TLC to get them in place. We like this how-to video from ENVE wheels to get you started:

WTF are “open” tubulars?
Basically, an open tubular is a kind of fancy way of saying “clincher, but with a nicer, more supple sidewall.” Meaning, it’s got a higher end construction that’s similar to how tubulars are made, except they’re for normal clincher rims. Consider Challenge’s Grifo: The handmade clincher option has a super-poly casing and 300 TPI, while the less expensive vulcanized rubber option only has 120 TPI. It may sound like hype, and they’re expensive, but they actually can make a huge difference in a cyclocross race!

What’s the deal with cotton sidewalls?
Cotton sidewalls are, in a word, supple. While they’re a bit pricier than all-rubber options, they will make your tires feel smoother as you navigate the course.

The cotton casing on the Challenge Dune Team Edition

Seriously, why do I want “supple” anything on cyclocross tires?
Supple tire casings and sidewalls allow your tires to conform to the ground as you pedal, particularly in corners. If a tire can slightly fold on itself in a corner, you’ll have better traction between the ground and the side treads on your tires. For that reason, we’re excited about the recently released tubeless-ready FMB Slalom/Super Mud Open Tubulars: The potential for such a high-quality supple handmade CX tubeless option sounds great since most tubeless CX tires still rely on stiff vulcanized construction that can’t match the grip at ultra-low pressures of a premium tubular.

How do I set up tubeless tires?
Again, if you’re doing this yourself for the first time, congrats! We’re obviously fans of learning how to do more with your gear. However, don’t try to figure it out without watching a video or two, like this one from Stan’s NoTubes in order to learn a few tips. And make sure that your wheels are actually going to work with tubeless tires—ask your local bike shop for help if you’re struggling!

Should I go tubular or tubeless for cyclocross?
It depends on what you currently have, and what your level of ‘cross commitment is. Some of us still prefer tubular for serious racing, thanks to their supple construction and rideability at lower PSIs for better traction in corners. But most of us have come to appreciate newer tubeless options since it’s easier to swap them out in different conditions or at the end of the season to make your bike more gravel-friendly. We also like tubeless tires for a set of spare wheels that can be swapped out the night before a race to suit conditions, and for trail riding to work on skills.

What tubeless sealant should I use if it’s freezing?
When temperatures start to drop, you’ll want to use cold-weather sealants rather than your standard Stan’s NoTubes. We like Joe’s NoFlats Super Sealant and Orange Seal’s Subzero options for protection from flats that won’t freeze.

Why do some people bring spare wheels to the races?
Most courses will loop riders past a pit area at least twice per lap. Given the sometimes harsh conditions, you’re allowed to have a spare bike or extra sets of wheels in a neutral zone in case something breaks or you flat. The pros have entire teams pitted there to keep them running on virtually clean bikes for every lap, and sometimes every half lap! It’s absolutely amazing to witness, check the video above.

For most of us, having to pit or change a wheel mid-race likely means our “race” is over, but it’s a way to finish out the day without DNF’ing. And you never know what might happen to the folks in front of you, so just finish it out no matter what. Regardless which tires you choose, remember cyclocross is about all-out suffering for 30-60 minutes and then wanting to do it again 10 minutes after you finish. Just go have (type 2) fun!

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Mischa
Mischa
17 days ago

Spend years on grifos and its a great tire but since i got the challenge baby limus i never looked back. I think its roling faster with the shallow tread in the middle but corners like a champ with the sideknobs of the limus, thats where it really beats the grifo by a Mile.

grodos
grodos
16 days ago
Reply to  Mischa

Agree. The Baby Limus has become a new favorite for all conditions. Especially in the front.

Great article.

Will Ferrule
Will Ferrule
17 days ago

Ah, I remember the bad old days. You mail order from some American company tubular glue imported from Italy. Some several weeks after your check clears, the glue arrives. The instructions on the tube are completely in Italian, but it doesn’t matter anyway – the glue has already dried out in the tube…. 🙁

Antoine
Antoine
17 days ago

Seriously the width rule has to change but thankfully most are not concerned. I am pretty happy with teravail rutland 38 when it’s not too muddy, michelin power 40 when it’s dry but i am searching for a bigger mud option. I think specialized make a 38 tyre with spaced knobs.