All-Road Bikes are the Road Bikes of the Future

All-road bikes with wide tires are the hottest trend in cycling. There is a level of excitement that we haven’t seen since the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s: These new bikes bring new people into the sport, who are enticed by the idea of cycling on small roads, away from traffic. The new bikes combine what people love about road bikes – effortless speed – and mountain bikes – go-anywhere ability – without the drawbacks. These bikes have the potential to transform the bike industry.

Like most trends, this one didn’t start within the industry. Bike manufacturers only reluctantly adopted wide tires on performance bikes. Even then, they called them ‘gravel bikes,’ in the hopes of selling one to every cyclist, in addition to the ‘road,’ ‘mountain,’ and ‘cyclocross’ bikes they already owned. But ‘gravel’ was too limiting a term for something that is much more than just a bike for the special condition of riding on gravel.

Recently, bike companies have adopted the name ‘all-road bikes,’ a term we coined way back in 2006, when we realized the potential of wide tires on performance bikes. It’s great to see cycling luminaries like Richard Bryne (founder of Speedplay) say: “The potential of this bike category cannot be underestimated.” He predicts that all-road bikes will “dwarf the previous road and MTB categories in scale and relegate them to the two margins of the market spectrum.” 

In other words: All-road bikes will becomes the go-to bike for most cyclists. Racing and mountain bikes will move to the fringes of the market, used for very specialized applications where all-road bikes reach their limits.

Bryne is not the only one to feel that way. Gerard Vroomen, the founder of Cervelo, sold his company – famous for its narrow-tire racers – to start two all-road bike ventures. Together with Andy Kessler, he started a new company, Open, and introduced the iconic U.P. (for ‘Unbeaten Path’). And he bought the former handlebar maker 3T and introduced the company’s first bike, the all-road Exploro. These bikes take the performance of modern carbon racers and add the ability to run ultra-wide tires. And both have had more influence on the bike industry than any other bike of the last decade. Vroomen’s characteristic dropped chainstay – to create room for wide tires between narrow road cranks, he moved the chainstay out of the way – has been cropping up on bikes from many mainstream manufacturers. The Open web site exclaims: “Go anywhere fast!”

We said similar things back in 2006. Our tire tests had shown that wide tires could roll as fast as narrow ones – provided they used a supple, high-performance casing. At the time, a road bike with wide tires seemed like a ludicrous idea to most. The very definition of a road bike was that it had narrow tires!

And yet, we became convinced that road cycling’s future rolled on wide tires. We coined the name ‘allroad bike’ (at first without a hyphen) to explain our vision: a new type of bike that was a road bike, but designed to go on all roads, not just smooth, paved ones.

The problem back then: There were no high-performance bikes designed for wide tires. Not even the tires themselves existed: The only wide tires on the market were heavy, stiff touring models – a far cry from the supple high-performance tires we envisioned. Our first task was to make the tires available. Then we asked the industry to build all-road bikes around the new tires.

Road Bike of the Future?

That was the title of our test of the Tournesol (above) in Bicycle Quarterly. We wrote: “Our test bike this month may well be one of the first of a new breed of ‘Allroad’ bikes: road bikes with wide tires that ride as fast as racing bikes on paved roads, and faster than cyclocross or mountain bikes on unpaved roads.”

That was in Autumn 2006. The first ‘allroad’ bike had a titanium frame, 650B wheels, and its disc brakes presaged the future. The brand itself was a short-lived collaboration between BQ reader Douglas Brooks and Seattle’s Steve Hampsten. With updated colorways and components, this 13-year-old bike could pass for a current all-road bike. Put some modern rubber on it, and its performance would be very much up-to-date, too.

And yet it’s not like we came up with something that had never existed before: We may have coined the name ‘all-road bike,’ but high-performance bikes with wide tires weren’t a new idea, even in 2006. Our research was inspired by mid-century constructeurs like René Herse – above on his amazing 7.94 kg (17.50 lb) bike during the 1938 Concours de Machines. Wide, hand-made tires; bags strapped bikepacking-style to a superlight rack; flared drop handlebars – Herse’s bike wouldn’t look out of place on a gravel adventure today.

René Herse wasn’t the first to discover wide, supple tires, either. Way back in the 1890s, bicycles became popular once pneumatic tires revolutionized their speed and comfort. The change was so profound that old bikes with narrow solid rubber tires were henceforth called ‘Boneshakers’! The whole idea behind putting air in your tires was to run wider, more supple tires. The first pneumatic tires measured about 43 mm wide – not very different from the tires many of us run on our bikes today!

So fast were the pneumatics that you couldn’t win a race without them. During the first Paris-Brest-Paris – back then still a professional race – all of the first three riders were on pneumatics, even though the technology was still brand-new! Never since has a change swept through the cycling world with such speed.

Why did tires become narrower over time? Already in the 1920s, Vélocio, the editor of the magazine Le Cycliste, joked about the ‘pneu crayon’ that most racers used: narrow, made from stiff rubber, and pumped up to the highest pressure possible. Even on the rough roads of the Tour de France (above), racers used tires that measured little more than 28 mm.

Vélocio brought back wider tires for a while, but by the 1950s, most riders were on narrow rubber again. That trend continued until recently. Why was the joy of riding on a supple cushion of air forgotten time and again?

I think the answer lies in a powerful placebo effect: Pumping up your tires harder makes your bike feel faster, even if it isn’t. Here is how it works: Your bike vibrates as your tires hit road irregularities. The faster you go, the more bumps your tires hit per second – the frequency of the vibrations increases. This experience conditions us to equate higher frequencies with more speed.

When you pump up your tires harder, the frequency of the vibrations also increases. You get the same effect as you do by going faster, except your speed is the same – but you feel faster. Conversely, a wide tire at low pressures feels slower because the vibrations that we equate with speed disappear.

In a group with well-matched riders, you realize that even though wider tires may feel slower at first, they actually aren’t. In fact, racers were among the first to put Bicycle Quarterly‘s research into practice: Soon after we showed our test results to a technical advisor who worked for several North American pro teams, the (Canadian) Cervelo team started riding on 25 mm tires. Other North American teams followed suit, and a few years later, even the European teams started to race on 25s. Now many are moving to 28s…

For racers, it’s easy to check speed. If you can hang with the group, even though you’re riding wider tires, you know that the wider tires aren’t slowing you down.

For the rest of us, the placebo of ‘high pressure = high-frequency vibrations = high speed’ can be unlearned. I no longer feel any slower on my Firefly with its 54 mm tires (above) than I do on a racing bike with 28s.

That brings us back to the original question: Are all-road bikes just a trend? Will their time come and go, like so many other bike categories that were hot for a while before the next big thing dropped? Will the joys of riding on supple, wide, high-performance tires be forgotten again?

I don’t think so. Unlike in the past, this time, the ‘wide-tire revolution’ is backed up by solid data. We won’t be tricked by placebo effects any longer! Smart people like Bryne and Vroomen are putting their money and effort into all-road bikes, because all-road bikes are transforming cycling as we know it. At Bicycle Quarterly and Compass Cycles, we are proud to have contributed at least a small part to make this happen.

More information:

Posted in A Journey of Discovery, Tires | 17 Comments

Bon Jon Pass Review: “An Exceptional Tyre”

“An exceptional tyre that will make you faster and happier.” That was the verdict when the British web site http://www.road.cc tested our Bon Jon Pass tires recently. When we hear positive feedback, whether it’s from a professional tester or a customer, it makes our day.

I smiled when I read the calculation of the weight savings. It appears that, on average, spending a British pound ($1.28) will make your bike 1.91 g lighter. Based on that metric, the tester explained that choosing “the Compass Bon Jon Pass Extralight over the Schwalbe G-One Speed was ‘worth’ £157 of savings elsewhere. Ergo, at £67 RRP, the Bon Jon Pass is a ridiculously cost-effective weight saver.” I’m not sure about the math, but it does show that lightweight tires are the easiest way to shed significant weight, especially with wide tires where the weight differences can be quite large.

More importantly, the tester liked the supple casing and the excellent grip and comfort in the real world of the Scottish Highlands: “I hardly noticed broken patches of chip seal, or small gaps and lips of manhole covers. I found myself thinking up tests for what I could and couldn’t feel through the bike’s contact points.”

Negatives? Tubeless setup with supple tires is inevitably a bit trickier – the fit between tire and rim must be ‘just right’ and the thin casing is more likely to leak air until it seals. And his riding partners apparently weren’t always happy: “I realised I wasn’t signalling road surface irregularities as much as I should be to my sub-30mm-shod brethren following behind.” Until they switch to supple, wide tires, too…

No bike test would be complete without commenting on performance – “These are fast tyres, period. World-beatingly fast.” – and price – “I believe they are worth every penny.” 

There isn’t much we can add. We developed our tires because we wanted faster and more comfortable tires for our own bikes. When others enjoy them as much as we do, it makes us happy, too.

Further information:

Posted in Tires | 2 Comments

Ultralight Handlebar Bag Pre-Order

How do you make an ultralight bag? That was the first question when the Concours de Machines announced that the weight of the bikes included the bag.

Peter Weigle worked very hard to get his fully equipped bike down to just 20.0 lb (9.07 kg), and we wanted to make sure the bag was also as light as possible.

Gilles Berthoud bags already are among the lightest bags available today. Even so, we knew savings were possible without compromising its size or performance. The result is on the left in the photo above, with the standard bag on the right for comparison.

Together with our friends at Gilles Berthoud, we decided to use the same canvas fabric and leather as on the standard bags: Thinner materials wouldn’t last as long.

The first step was to remove the outside pockets. We gave up a little capacity and convenience, but gained significant weight savings. Next, our friends at Gilles Berthoud reduced the leather reinforcements to an absolute minimum.

They examined every part of the bag to see where weight could be saved. Above are studies for the attachment to the rack backstop. In the end, they replaced the strap with a short sleeve that slips over the rack backstop and also anchors the hook for the closure. It’s by far the lightest and simplest solution.

We thought about eliminating the map pocket, but I felt that it was essential. The goal with this project wasn’t to create the lightest bike at all cost, but a no-compromise machine that will be ridden hard for many years. How about reverting to the older style of map pocket that is open on the side, rather than using a Velcro closure? That is a small compromise, and it saves valuable grams. There are a few other weight-saving details, but we also added a little piece of leather with the Gilles Bethoud logo to the front of the bag. It may weigh 3 grams, but those who created this amazing bag deserve credit.

The result? The entire bag weighs just 266 g. That is less than half the weight of the standard bag (which is already very light). And this is the GB28 – the largest size – which holds a whopping 13 liters. I can’t think of any other adventure-sized handlebar bag that comes close to being this light.

The bag has lived up to its promise. I’ve used it quite a bit in all kinds of weather – that is why it no longer looks brand-new in the studio photos. Since the fabric and leather are the same as the standard bags, it should last as long. (My very first Berthoud bag, which I bought in 2000, is still going strong.)

And it’s as waterproof as the standard bags – the cotton fabric swells when it gets wet, and even after hours in the rain, there is no water inside. (I place my notebook and other moisture-sensitive items in a Ziploc bag as a precaution.)

There is one other modification we made compared to the standard bags: Since there is so little leather, the ultralight bag is less stiff than the standard model. So we made a very lightweight aluminum stiffener that attaches to the decaleur and to the small inner flaps with Velcro. (The large flaps keep the contents in the bag on really rough terrain, so we kept them, too. The flaps also allow you to overstuff the bag, which is useful during long events. Plus they keep out the rain.)

Does a superlight handlebar bag make sense when its contents will weigh more than the bag? Like the trunk of my car, my handlebar bag rarely is filled to the brim. It just gives me options. I can start a ride before sunrise, dressed for chilly temperatures, and then shed layers as it warms up. I can bring a camera and take photos when the mood strikes. I can even swing by the farmers’ market on the way home and pick up some fresh vegetables for lunch. A superlight bag makes sense in the context of a fully equipped bike that offers the performance of a racing bike with the versatility of fenders and lights.

In addition, I want a bag like this for long-distance events like Paris-Brest-Paris or the Raid Pyreneen, where I count every gram before the start. I plan my stops carefully, and I carry enough supplies to limit my off-the-bike time to the absolute minimum. A superlight bag is among the easier ways to save weight on my bike. (For cyclotouring where a few minutes make no difference, I definitely recommend the standard bags.)

We are now offering the ultralight Concours de Machines bag in a limited, one-time production run. It will be available in three sizes, and it will incorporate a few small changes based on what we’ve learned from the prototype. It will include the stiffener that is designed to attach to a decaleur. The rear sleeve fits on a rack with a backstop no wider than 48 mm – perfect for our Compass/Rene Herse racks.

If you would like one of these bags, please pre-order by January 15. The bags will be delivered in March, so you can use it in this year’s 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris.

More information:

  • Pre-orders will close on January 15 at midnight, Pacific Time.
  • Bag includes aluminum stiffener.
  • Available in three sizes: GB22, GB25 and GB28, with gray fabric
  • Bags will be delivered in March.
  • Click here to pre-order ultra-light bag.
  • Peter Weigle’s ultralight bike for the Concours de Machines
  • Click here for more information about all Gilles Berthoud bags.
Posted in Racks/Bags | 17 Comments

Remembering Lyli Herse’s Birthday

Today would have been Lyli Herse’s 91st birthday. And last Friday has been a year from her passing…

… and the 111th birthday of her father, René Herse. They continue to inspire us in so many ways. Today, we just want to remember their smiles and their passion for cycling in all its forms.

Lyli was a friend for so long that it’s hard to believe she’s gone. Until the very end, she rode her home trainer, but she told us that she dreamt of cycling in the mountains.

We miss her! She passed on her family’s legacy to us, and she told us that her father would have been happy to see so many people passionate about rides and adventures again. Together, let’s keep their spirit alive!

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Myth 16: Higher Tire Pressure is Faster

This used to be one of the first things you learned as a cyclist: If you want to go fast, make sure your tires are pumped up to the maximum pressure. The harder your tires are inflated, the faster they roll.

We now know that this isn’t true. The realization that tire pressure does not affect performance is the key to the revolution that has swept through the cycling world in recent years. Without this new-found knowledge, all-road bikes and their supple, wide tires would make no sense at all. Here is how it works.

Tire resistance is determined by two factors:

Hysteretic Losses: With each turn of the wheels, the tires flex. You can see that in the photo above: Both tires flatten where they touch the road. Flexing the tires takes energy – imagine squeezing a tennis ball. Energy on a bike can only come from one source: the rider’s power output. Reduce the energy lost to flex, and you’ll go faster.

The easiest way to reduce this energy loss: Inflate the tires more, and they’ll flex less. Less flex means less energy is converted to heat as the tire casing deforms under the weight of bike and rider.

You can also reduce the losses by making the tire casing easier to flex. A supple casing is easier to flex than a stiff one, so it absorbs less energy for the same amount of flex. Imagine squeezing a marshmallow instead of a tennis ball.

So we want a tire that is supple and runs high pressures. That means we have to make it narrow. Why can’t a wide tire be supple and run at high pressures?

Pressure is force per surface area. For example, PSI stands for Pounds per Square Inch. The larger the tire’s circumference (more inches), the more force will act on it (more pounds). Imagine the casing as a chain, with the pressure as an elephant standing on each link. If the chain is ten links long, it has to support the weight of ten elephants. Make the chain twice as long, and you’ll have twenty elephants standing on it. The chain has to be twice as strong. Or you have to reduce the weight of each elephant. Back to tires, this means that a wider tire either needs a stronger (read: stiffer) casing, or you need to reduce the pressure.

Summary: The best way to reduce hysteretic losses is to use supple tires, make them narrow, and inflate them hard. With wider tires, you either can have a supple casing or high pressure, but not both. Either way, wider tires will have more hysteretic losses. If you only look at hysteretic losses, ‘wide high-performance tires’ seems like an oxymoron.

That was the accepted wisdom when we started looking at tire performance way back in 2007. It’s not incorrect, but it overlooks a second factor that also affects how fast a bicycle rolls – and tire pressure works the opposite way there.

Suspension Losses: As the bike vibrates, energy is lost. Most of that energy is absorbed in the rider’s body, as soft tissues rub against each other. Decades ago, the U.S. Army studied tank seats and found that the discomfort we feel from vibrations is caused by friction between our body’s soft tissues. This friction consumes energy that is turned into heat. (Rub your hands against each other to see how friction creates heat.) The more uncomfortable the vibrations, the more energy is lost.

Mountain bikers have known for a long time that bouncing makes your bike slower. The fastest mtb is the one that absorbs shocks best. Road cyclists used to think that we had to ‘tough it out’ to go fast. We endured the discomfort of narrow high-pressure tires because we thought that they rolled faster. We thought that pavement was too smooth for suspension losses to matter.

At Bicycle Quarterly, we started to test the performance of tires on real roads in 2007. At first, we also assumed that higher pressures rolled faster. However, as long-distance cyclists, we suspected that there was a point of diminishing returns. Our thinking was this: In a short race, we may endure all kinds of discomfort if it makes us faster. But we can endure discomfort only for so long before it affects our power output. In a ride as long as the 1200 km (750 miles) of Paris-Brest-Paris, we might give up 5% in rolling resistance if we gain 20% in comfort. What we wanted to know: Where is this point of diminishing returns?

Back then, tire resistance was tested on steel drums that measure only the hysteretic losses. On steel drums, there is no doubt that higher pressures produce better results – as shown by all tires in the table above. Take the Vittoria Rubino Pro (second from bottom): At 60 psi, it requires 40% more energy than at 120 psi. I mention this tire, because later on, you’ll see how it performs under real-world conditions.

Drum tests also suggest that high pressure is more important than a supple casing: In the table above, the slowest tire at 120 psi has less resistance (13.4 W) than the second-fastest tire at 60 psi (13.9 W). That is why tire makers used to make their wide tires with stiff casings, so they could withstand high pressures. A wide, supple tire – limited to a low pressure rating of, say, 60 psi – would perform poorly on the steel drum. That is why they didn’t exist – who would want to make a slow ‘high-performance’ tire? It all made sense – if you test tires on steel drums.

Imagine our surprise when we found that in the real world – on real roads – tires perform very differently. We tested numerous tires, with two different methods (roll-down and power-meter), and always found the same: Higher pressures don’t make tires faster. And the advantages of supple casings are much larger than the steel drum tests suggest.

Why? Because the suspension losses are significant even on very smooth roads. And both lower pressures and supple casings reduce the vibrations of the bike and thus the suspension losses. But you cannot measure suspension losses unless you have a rider on the bike. That is why earlier studies (and many since) failed to give meaningful results…

Above are the real-road results for three Vittoria 700C x 25 mm tires, including the Rubino Pro. We tested on brand-new, ultra-smooth asphalt. For the Rubino, there is no difference in speed between 80 and 11o psi. It’s clear for all tires: Higher pressures don’t make them faster.

(Note that the Watts are for the entire bike and rider, not just for one tire. That is why the power measurements is so much higher than in the drum tests.)

What happens is this: As tire pressure increases, the tire flexes less, and the hysteretic losses go down. However, the tire also vibrates more, and the suspension losses increase. The two roughly cancel each other, and that is why there is no clear trend in the table above.

Before we continue, it’s important to mention that we made sure these results are statistically significant. This means that we are seeing real differences in performance, not just ‘noise’ in the data.

The graph shows a few more things:

  • Really low pressures make a tire slow, because it flexes way too much: the hysteretic losses are huge. The extreme is a totally flat tire – very slow. At some point, the tire has enough air to avoid excessive flex. Above this ‘break point,’ hysteretic and suspension losses start to balance each other.
  • Hysteretic and suspension losses are non-linear, so they balance differently for different tires and different pressures.
  • CX Tubular: A tubular tire sits on top of the rim, so it can flex around its entire circumference. It can run at very low pressures without excessive flex. The break point is low (80 psi).
  • CX Clincher: A clincher rim constrains the tire around about 1/3 of its circumference, so higher pressure is needed to avoid excessive flex. The break point is a bit higher (87 psi).
  • Rubino Clincher: The Rubino’s stiffer casing is harder to flex: The hysteretic losses for the same amount of flex are higher. The stiffer casing also transmits more vibrations, so low pressure doesn’t reduce the suspension losses to the same amount. This means that the break point is higher than for the more supple CX (95 psi).
  • All three tires roll slowest at moderately high pressure: The tire is already too hard to absorb vibrations, so suspension losses are high. However, the casing still flexes, so hysteretic losses are also high. It’s better to run low or very high pressures, at least on the very smooth asphalt of our test track.

Summary: On real roads, even smooth ones, higher pressures don’t roll faster.

We tested many tires – above from our first tests in 2007 that measured the time for a roll-down on a carefully chosen test hill – and we always found the same: Above the break point, increasing the tire pressure doesn’t make you faster. The break point is higher for stiffer tires. For the tubulars, the break point is lower than the pressures we tested.

I wish we had done this testing when I was still racing. Back then, I ran 21.5 mm Clement Criteriums at a bone-rattling 130 psi. I would have been faster – much faster – on 28 mm Campione Del Mondos at much lower pressures.

The above results were on ultra-smooth pavement (Vittoria) and relatively rough, but not bumpy, pavement (others). Does the road surface affect a tire’s break point?

To test the extreme, we ran various tires on rumble strips, which are a good stand-in for cobblestones. (Unlike real cobblestones, rumble strips are very regular, so we could obtain repeatable results.) We also tested each tire on the smooth pavement right next to the rumble strips.

On the smooth pavement (left), the Compass 26 mm tires roll as fast at 75 psi as they do at 95 psi. This confirms what we’d found before: Even on smooth roads, tire pressure makes no difference.

On the rumble strips (right), higher pressure was slower: The 26 mm Compass tires used 20% more energy at 95 psi than they did at 75 psi.

Summary: On really rough surfaces, higher pressures roll slower. Wider tires roll faster on rough surfaces because they can handle lower pressures.

So now we know that higher pressures don’t make your bike faster – whether on ultra-smooth asphalt, on rough surfaces like cobblestones, or anywhere in between. For supple tires, the break point – even on smooth surfaces – is close to the point where the tire becomes unrideable, because the sidewalls collapse under hard cornering. On rough surfaces, it’s hard to reach the break point – the tire pinch-flats before its performance deteriorates.

Conclusion: If you want to go fast, you need supple tires. That is all. Pumping them up harder won’t make you faster. On rough surfaces, it actually makes you slower.

When we saw these results, we realized that this could revolutionize bicycles: If we didn’t need to high pressure to go fast, we could make wide tires with supple casings, run them at low pressure, and still roll as fast as we did on narrow ‘racing’ tires. With these wide, supple tires, we could go on roads and trails that wouldn’t be much fun on a traditional, narrow-tire racing bike.

We envisioned a new breed of bike – racing bikes with ultra-wide, supple tires – and we called them ‘Allroad Bikes’ (still without a hyphen). That was way back, in 2007.

The first step was to make the tires needed for these all-road bikes. First we worked with other manufacturers, but in order to get exactly the tires we wanted, we introduced our own Compass tires in truly wide widths (above). It’s taken the bike industry a little while to get on board, but now our ideas are generally accepted: all-road bikes are the most important segment in the performance bicycle market.

All-road bikes are more than a passing fad, because they finally correct one of the shortcomings of traditional performance bikes: the need to trade comfort for speed. Now we know that discomfort not only is unpleasant, it actually slows you down. Put more simply:

Comfort = Speed

Cycling has become much more fun on all-road bikes that combine the fun of riding a performance bike with the comfort and go-anywhere ability of wide tires. They are the bikes of the future, and they are here to stay.

As Compass becomes Rene Herse Cycles this year, we will continue to push the envelope beyond what most people think possible. The latest development are our dual-purpose knobbies that roll as well on pavement as many racing tires and offer great traction in mud and snow. It’s going to be a fun ride!

Further reading:

Posted in Testing and Tech, Tires | 35 Comments

Happy New Year

We are looking forward to another great year! We wish all our readers joy, happiness and many great rides in 2019. See you on the road!
—The BQ and Compass/Rene Herse team

Photo credit: Ryan Francesconi

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

What Makes a Good Winter Tire?

Winter riding is fun. The crisp air, the clear skies and the beautiful views. Getting out and breathing fresh air. There are many reasons to enjoy it.

Winter riding requires preparation. The most obvious is clothing – which we’ll leave for another post. Today, let’s talk about what makes a good winter tire.

Cold temperatures make rubber less grippy. There is no way around this. In theory, it should be possible to formulate rubber compounds specially for optimum grip in cold conditions. In practice, many ‘Winter Compound’ bicycle tires offer less grip in cold conditions, rather than more.

With all tires, you need to consider the reduced grip when it’s cold. Especially on familiar routes, it can come as a surprise when the grip suddenly bleeds away, at speeds that are well within the limits when the temperatures are warmer.

Having ridden many tires in cold conditions, I can say with confidence that the rubber compound of our Compass tires is among the most grippy you’ll find anywhere, cold or warm, wet or dry.

The chevron tread of Compass road tires helps to improve traction by interlocking with the road surface – which works regardless of the temperature. Even so, take it easy during cold days!

What about snow? Snow is surprisingly grippy. How much tread you need depends on the temperature: Cold snow requires only a chevron tread, like that of our road tires, to hook up. (You’ll see an imprint of the tire tread on the snow surface.) But when the temperatures are around freezing, the slushy snow is slippery, and you really need knobs to get good grip. (The knobs don’t hurt when it’s colder, either.)

Should a snow tire be wide – to float over the snowpack? Or narrow – to cut through the snow and try to find grip on the ground underneath?

Rally cars use narrow tires in snow. They are heavy and powerful, which allows their tires to dig down to a firm surface underneath the snow.

Snow cats use the opposite approach: Their wide tracks allow them to travel on top of deep snow without sinking in.

For bicycles, wide tires seem to be a better choice. Compressing the snow takes energy, and the less you sink in, the easier you roll. And cyclists don’t have enough weight and power to dig through the snow into the firm ground below.

What about ice? Under most conditions, only studded tires grip on ice. They punch holes into the ice that allows them to interlock with the surface. However, studded tires aren’t much fun to ride on dry roads. I suspect that a supple tire with studs wouldn’t work well – you probably need a stiff tire to push the studs into the (hard) ice.

There is one other issue: When it snows, many communities spread fine aggregate on the roads for better traction. Often, that aggregate contains freshly crushed rocks that can be very sharp and cause flat tires. In our area, we’ve found that the crushed rock will puncture worn tires – probably both because they are thinner and because aged rubber is easier to cut. Running relatively new tires has eliminated that concern for us.

If you live in a place that sees snow, but also dry roads, our dual-purpose knobbies are hard to beat as all-round winter tires. They roll as fast on dry roads as most racing tires. They corner as well as most road tires (above). And yet on mud and snow, they offer the grip of the best knobbies. Available in 700C x 38 and 650B x 42 mm, they are a great choice for rides where you may encounter all kinds of conditions.

Click here for more information about our tires.

Posted in Testing and Tech, Tires | 35 Comments