As we’ve reiterated over and over again on RCUK, tyre choice is a really important and often overlooked part of setting up your bike. Think about it. The only point of contact between your bike and the floor is the tyre. And along with the forces at work, the ability of your tyres to grip the road is one of the key factors in make sure you ride, not slide, round a corner.
Cheaping out on tyres might seem like a cunning way of saving a few pounds, but it’s definitely a false economy – although, like with most things bike, there’s definitely a sweet spot where returns diminish quickly for the average rider when the price starts to kick up. But if you employ some tricks of the pro mechanics – like filling in small nicks in your tyres with super glue – you can prolong their lifespan which definitely justifies a little extra spend.
On top of that, there are certain places you’ll ride that require a different choice of rubber than your average weekend spin. One such place is Flanders, and when I decided to head off with a friend to repeat our E3 Harelbeke/Gent-Wevelgem trip from last year – taking our bikes for plenty of riding too, of course – it was the perfect opportunity to put Challenge’s Paris-Roubaix tyres, that I’d been riding for the previous month, to a proper test.
Challenge are an Italian brand with a reputation for making quality tyres across the spectrum. They have a huge range, with everything from sub-£20 clinchers up to £110 track-specific tubulars. They’ve been around since 2003 when Max Brauns and his son Alessandro created their own brand. Brauns had been involved in cycling since the mid-80s and worked with names like Vittoria and Clément before deciding to start his own company.
The Paris-Roubaixs are an open version of Challenge’s eponymous tubulars and weigh in at a reasonably hefty 325g per tyre, slightly over Challenge’s claimed weight. But you don’t stick these on your bike if you have pretensions of riding up hills fast. Unless said hills are short, steep and cobbled, of course.
They rock a hefty 300 TPI (threads per inch) and a double layer of puncture protection which all helps to explain the high overall weight. Unlike their tubular siblings which have a 75-175psi range, Challenge don’t recommend running these at lower than 90psi. I ran them right at the lower end for the whole trip to Flanders and the only puncture I had was from a piece of glass nasty enough to punch through the hull of a battleship, despite riding on damp roads most of the time and the tyres constantly picking up all manner of detritus. With that being the only puncture I suffered while testing, I can’t fault them on that side, and they even managed to withstand a downhill detour through some muddy woods in an attempt to find a quick route back to the bottom of the Koppenberg.
The bigger tyres were definitely more comfortable, too. I’ve ridden the same routes both in Flanders and the UK on 25mm tyres and the 27s are just better. A bigger contact patch with the road, better grip and definitely better at absorbing road buzz. It why the pros will switch to rider rubber for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Downhill, you just get a greater degree of confidence riding them. They stick to the road superbly well, and the added comfort makes imperfections in the surface feel far less worrying than they would do on narrower rubber. In fact, you’ll find yourself actively avoiding poor road surfaces a bit less frequently on these, simply because after a few kilometres you won’t feel the need to.
One of the factors that’s difficult to objectively quantify during a review is rolling resistance. From a theoretical point of view, larger tyres can actually have a lower rolling resistance than narrower tyres. This is because wider tyres will absorb any breaks in the road surface more easily as the larger size gives more room for said absorption, while the wider tyre has a shorter and fatter contact patch, rather than a long and narrow profile. Anyway, from a purely subjective review when riding, sticking a set of these on your bike will in no way compromise straight line speed or rolling resistance. In fact, I felt that the bike rolled better on a set of these, having ridden the same roads on both 25 and 23mm tyres in the past, and would be tempted to run them on any bike with the requisite clearance.
On first mounting, these took a lot of patience to get sorted properly. I first tried them on an old set of Shimano Dura-Ace C35s and they went on after a good few minutes and more than a bit of swearing combined with a full range of Tommy Voeckler-esque facial expressions. Wanting to see whether it was just that the combination of the tyres and those specific rims that didn’t make life easy, I took them off and stuck them on a set of Bontrager Aeolus 5 clinchers and had the exact same issue. It was far from impossible, but it definitely wasn’t easy. So it’s safe to say that the first time you mount a set of the Roubaixs, expect it to take a little while longer. Having said that, by the time I punctured on them the tyres had stretched themselves out to the point where I barely needed tyre levers to get them back on again, so if you don’t want to use them right away it might be worth your while to let them stretch out on a spare set of wheels for a while.
The other thing to make sure you check before you drop £100 on a set of these is your bike’s clearance. I tested them on a Trek Domane which coped with room to spare. My CAAD 10 also fitted them with adequate clearance but when I tried them on a Ridley Helium would they fit? Hell no. Also keep in mind that just because the tyres technically fit, it doesn’t mean you should use them. The tighter the fit the higher the chances of road muck getting caught between tyre and frame and causing a puncture. It shouldn’t be a problem when you’ve got a fair few millimetres to spare, but if you’re squeezing them on and can barely see daylight between frame and tyre, you’re asking for trouble.
The last enjoyable feature is a purely aesthetic one: the look. Tan sidewalls are such an old-school look for road bikes, and personally I’d like all my tyres to have them. This bit’s definitely personal taste, but they give any bike the classic look and are definitely more pro,if you’re worried about that sort of thing. Of course, riding tubs is even more pro, but riding tubs and puncturing without a team car and having to call someone to pick you up is most definitely not pro in the slightest.
If you’re thinking of going big with your tyres, Challenge’s Paris-Roubaixs are definitely a set to consider. They might not be cheap at £52 a go, but they’re high quality and made to last. There are tyres out there that’ll offer more puncture protection, but these are definitely on the right side of adequate and the conditions we tested them in, coupled with the fact that we only had one puncture, suggests that you won’t be stopping every few kilometres to make repairs. Ride quality is excellent and the 27mm width couples comfort with high grip in a quality package that’ll give your ride a real sure footing on the road.