Grand Bois “Extra Léger” Tires


Grand Bois tires are hard to improve, but that hasn’t kept us from trying. The result of years of research and development are the new Grand Bois Extra Léger (French for “extra light”) tires. This special casing is usually reserved for Panaracer’s top-of-the-line tubulars, and now is made for Grand Bois in a classic tan color. The result is a tire that is even more supple and comfortable, significantly lighter, yet gives up nothing in road feel.

Of course, I was skeptical when I received a set of 700C x 32 mm samples from Japan, with a note: “Try these!” How much better than a standard Grand Bois could these be? Well, I was surprised. Small bumps suddenly vanished. All the roads in Seattle felt like they had been repaved overnight. Even smoother. Even more comfortable. And yet giving up nothing in road feel.

Then I got the first Hetre “Extra Léger” tires. I put them on my bike and headed out for a two-day adventure in the mountains. My goal was to find out how durable these tires were.


Before I could determine their durability, I had to get to the mountains. A “transport stage” in the wee hours of the morning had me marvel at these tires’ speed on paved roads. It seemed that I was in the next-higher-gear-than-usual most of the time. (I may just have had a really good day…) By mid-morning, I reached the foothills of Mount Rainier, where the real test would start.


My goal was to explore a new route from Eatonville to the Nisqually Valley, by going over the hills instead of through the valleys. Finding my route was not easy, as many new logging roads had been built. Through trial-and-error, I eliminated one after the other.


These new roads were steep and rough. Coarse gravel had been put down, and the logging trucks had only started to create a smooth surface. The uphills were a good test of the casings’ strength under high torque.


The downhills tested the tires’ resistance to rough gravel at high speeds. (The photo was taken with a tripod and self-timer, so the speed wasn’t high. But I can assure you that I did not risk overheating the brakes on the steep descents. I prefer to let the bike fly.)


After arriving at numerous dead-ends, the process of elimination finally worked, and I found the elusive “8-Road” that led me to the Nisqually Valley. Now that I know the roads, this route will be a useful alternative route without traffic.


My adventure wasn’t over yet, as I tackled three more mountain passes during my two-day ride, facing rain and even snow. You can read the full story of the ride in the Winter 2012 issue of Bicycle Quarterly.

The tires performed great during this ride. At the end, they were dirty, but otherwise in great condition. I almost forgot to mention that I didn’t have any flats, but since riding Hetres, flat tires haven’t really been part of my cycling experience any longer. (Riding the standard Hetres, I have had 2 flats in about 16,000 km/10,000 miles, both on tires that were very worn.)

Returning home after two 17-hour days and about 500 km (320 miles), I rode on the level road along Lake Washington. There, I encountered one of those radar trailers intended to discourage drivers from speeding. I wasn’t speeding, but I still was surprised when the readout showed: “Your speed: 18 mph” (29 km/h). For me, that is a pretty good speed at the end of a two-day mountain ride.

Of course I am biased, because we are selling these tires, but still I am in awe of a tire that can take me on rough gravel roads, yet perform like a high-end racing tire on smooth asphalt.

The Grand Bois “Extra Léger” tires are now in stock, in three models:

  • 700C x 23 mm, Col de la Madeleine “Extra Léger,” 181 g.
  • 700C x 32 mm, Cyprès 700 “Extra Léger,” 232 g.
  • 650B x 42 mm, Hetre “Extra Léger,” 357 g.

According to Panaracer, who makes Grand Bois tires, the ultralight and ultra-supple casings are very difficult to work into tires, and quantities are limited. We hope that these wonderful tires will become part of the regular Grand Bois tire program. Click here for more information.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
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53 Responses to Grand Bois “Extra Léger” Tires

  1. They sound great Jan. I look forward to trying them after recovering from some long injuries.

  2. bfd says:

    Thanks for the review, it sounds like a good tire. However, maybe in future batches, can you consider making a 700×25 tire? I prefer that size over 23s for my bike that won’t fit anything larger. Thanks!

    • We will consider other sizes in the future. For the first batch, each of us got to choose a size. The Japanese chose 700C x 32, Cycles Alex Singer chose 700C x 23, and Compass Bicycles chose 650B x 42.

      • Jason says:

        I would sure love to see a 650b x 38 with the Hetre tread pattern.

      • The Grand Bois Lierre 650B x 38 mm has a different tread pattern, but functionally, it is very similar. It’s a lovely tire as well.

      • Greg says:

        I would second the request for an EL version of the 700 x 26. That is the practical max. that will fit on many, many current and vintage ‘race’ bikes….
        Also, can you list the ‘regular’ vs. EL weights for each of the three tires? Are we talking very significant amounts of weight, in addition to the suppleness factor?
        Finally, I vote for no black sidewalls (ever!).

      • You’ll find all the information on the Compass Bicycles web site. The weights are:

        700C x 23 mm – Extra Leger: 181 g; Standard: 220 g
        700C x 32 mm – Extra Leger: 232 g; Standard: 290 g
        650B x 42 mm – Extra Leger: 357 g; Standard: 412 g

        So the differences are significant, but more significant is the difference in ride comfort and feel (and potentially speed, but we haven’t measured this yet).

  3. Christopher Grande says:

    Where does this casing save weight? Is it more on par with a Pari-Moto or or a shaved Hetre in that the tread is thiner? In which case does that mean it does not last as long as their traditional Grand Bois counterparts? (The Col de la Madeleine, Cypres, and Hetre respectively.)

    Pretty cool either way.

    • Christopher Grande says:

      Ah, I see in the sales page it says the tread remains the same. Are there any downsides to this tire then? Or are the former Gran Bois tires now obsolete, save price?

      • I wouldn’t call the standard tires obsolete. All Grand Bois tires are wonderful. The Extra Leger are even nicer, but also more expensive and potentially a bit more fragile (we’ll find out over time). We plan to continue offering both, so that riders have a choice.

  4. Ron M H says:

    These sound great, Jan. it’s a shame that they have beige/tan sidewalls. The combination of aluminum rims and riding in the rain equals stained and filthy tan sidewalls. Please consider a black sidewall Grand Bois tire; especially in smaller widths.

    • We are thinking about this. I find that a wide tire, like the Hetre, looks too massive for my taste when it’s all-black. But for a 32 mm tire, the all-black look is fine.

    • Conrad says:

      I have applied tent seam sealer to the cotton/poly casing of my Challenge tires. It helps keep them looking nice and maybe keeps them from rotting in this climate of ours. Shouldn’t affect the pliability of the casing. Not sure if it would work with Grand Bois tires?

    • Kevin Solsten says:

      With respect, it is not a shame that they have beige/tan sidewalls for those of us who
      love that look, stains or not.

      Kevin Solsten

    • Daniel Mayeri says:

      First, I really feel for any person or company who releases a great and well-received tire; the flood of requests for every commenter’s pet size makes it impossible to satisfy everyone. The comment section on the Schwalbe web page is my primary example.

      That said, I just got my first 650b bike (a used Boulder All Road that had been ridden approximately three times!), and immediately purchased a set of 650bx42 Hetres. They are wonderful for all the reasons you have described, but I WISH they came in a black sidewall (and while I’m wishing, with a reflective stripe!). My reasoning has nothing to do with aesthetics – on every pair of tan sidewall tires I have ever owned, the sidewall has failed well before the tread due to UV damage. This goes back to the 26″ Tioga City Slickers I used to ride on my rigid mountain bikes in the 90’s, and was recently repeated with a pair of 700c Panaracer Paselas. I know the answer is to keep the bike out of the sun when I’m not riding it, but this isn’t always practical. I would take the reflective stripe on either color of sidewall, given the chance. It completely changes the visibility of the bike from the side at night.

  5. Dave Ross says:

    I would love to see this tyre in a 26″ (559) size. Years ago I managed to convince one of the best frame builders in England, George Longstaff, to build a 26″ wheeled touring frame for me. He selected thin-walled, but oversized Reynolds 853 and it is a stunning machine to ride and it’s done everything from cycle-camping to 600km brevets. However recently upon reading Bicycle Quarterly and this journal I realised I had been missing out on something that makes this machine even better – top quality, supple tyres. I’m now running Panaracer Hi-Roads in 26×1.75 (42mm). The thought of an even lighter, more responsive tyre is very, very appealing.

    • Try the Compass 26″ x 1.75″ tires. They don’t have the superlight casing, but use the standard Grand Bois casing. Even so, they are a bit step up from what you currently ride.

    • Heather says:

      People don’t like the gumwall? Goodness, the only request I would dare make is that at least the cypres 700 and 650b come in beech for those whose bikes won’t allow 650b hetres. The beech tires just look so much fun. I bought an older beautiful longstaff frame that is too big for me, but will fit with 650bx32 tires. Would your longstaff frame take 650b? My frame was definitely designed for narrow 700 tires, so 650b is going to be a stretch. I had the narrowest 26″ paselas on my surly lht which I enjoyed but the quality and ride pales in comparison to grand bois tires. Had I kept the surly I might have tried the compass 26″ tires.

  6. Herr Karl says:

    Slightly off topic: I noticed that on your bikes (and on most of the testbikes) the dustcaps of the valves are missing. What is the technical or aesthetical reason for this?

    • Good observation. The dustcaps don’t serve any real purpose. I first learned this when I started riding with my high-school friend in France. Since then, I usually have left them off. I guess you could argue that it saves time when you fix a flat… but more to the point, why carry something on your bike that doesn’t serve a purpose?

    • Daniel M says:

      In place of one of the dustcaps, I often keep a presta-to-schrader converter on the valve stem. If I get a slow leak and can limp to a gas station to change the tire, I can save so much time and effort refilling with compressed air. Now, what is the going opinion on the tiny round nut that threads onto the valve stem itself?

      • The nut is useful when first inflating the tire, or if you ride with almost no air after your tire develops a leak. It prevents the valve from going inside the tire/rim. In normal operation, it’s not needed. In fact, high-end Michelin tubes used to come without it, and the valve stems were unthreaded. That made it much easier to remove a Silca pump head from the valve stem after inflating the tire.

  7. Franklyn Wu says:

    The Extra Leger sounds great, especially if longevity in terms of tire wear doesn’t suffer. I was wondering about tire width. Tires tend to expand slightly as they age and the casings get more broken in. Since these tires have more pliable casings, will they be wider than standard GB tires as time goes on?

  8. James says:

    If a black Hetre looks too large you might consider a brown wall version. I’ve never used a brown wall tire and can’t say if it would look better with aluminium slurry stains or clean up more easily, but I do like the idea of a brown wall tire. A brown wall tire might look quite good on a dark blue or dark green bike.

  9. nishiki83 says:

    Beautiful photograph of the rainbow, by the way.

    I hope all those new logging roads will not be used for clearcutting, but responsible harvesting. Such majestic landscapes–I would like to get out that way and ride for a few days some time in the not too distant future.

  10. rfj1862 says:

    Just FYI regarding tire width expansion: My Col de la Madelaine tires, nominally 23 mm, are 24.5 mm when freshly mounted on Enve 3.4 rims; I’d imagine they are a bit wider now, but my calipers are packed away somewhere and I can’t confirm.

    • The Enve 3.4 rim is listed at 26 mm wide, so it’s not surprising that the tires are a bit wider than usual on that rim. I am sure it gives you a very nice ride!

      • rfj1862 says:

        I’m actually quite pleased that they are wider than advertised. Just thought it was a useful data point for people who want an Extra Legere 26 mm. The Col de la Madelaine comes close!

      • Greg says:

        Yes, 26 mm is an extremely wide 700c rim. I’m not sure why someone would want to put a 23 mm tire on a 26 mm rim. I think this shows the huge factor that rim width plays in mounted tire width. Most 700c rims are more like 19-20 mm wide, especially vintage ones….

  11. Willem says:

    I think these extra light tyres cry out for extra light tubes as well. I have now been using the wide xxlight Schwalbe 26 inch tubes on my loaded tourer and the xlight on my commuter bike with 32 mm Paselas for quite a while, including rough trips, and I have not been disappointed. I once had a mechanical problem with the (car) valve on my tourer but that had nothing to do with the rubber. The only puncture I have had over the last few years was last Spring with a Pasela 26×1.75 TG on the rear tyre of my loaded tourer. It was from a big screw that would have punctured almost any tyre, and certainly any tube.

    • I’ve been using Schwalbe tubes for 19-28 mm tires in my 32 mm Grand Bois Cypres. High-quality tubes have uniform thickness and stretch. With inexpensive tubes, you can have weak spots in the walls, with failures as a result.

      Maxxis has a very nice featherweight tube for 26″ and 650B tires, but they can be hard to find in the U.S.

      From our testing, it appears that the tubes don’t make that much of a difference in the comfort and speed of a tire as one might think. Still, there isn’t much reason to carry around extra weight…

      • rfj1862 says:

        You can get 28 mm to 32 mm latex tubes (when they are available, usually in the late summer before cross season). I’m not sure if latex improves ride quality, but they do seem to puncture less often, and they are substantially lighter.

        By the way, Jan, the regular versions of Grand Bois tires are great, I’ve been using them for years and they are as good as Vittoria’s offerings. But a true 25 mm extra legere Grand Bois–if it is even better than the regular version–would have the potential to be the best “racing” tire available. Consider making them in this width.

        I know you like wider tires, but the fact is that many people ride bikes that fit 25 mm at most. I’m sure the 26 mm version would fit in many of the forks that nominally accept only 25 mm tires, but a lot of people wouldn’t buy it for fear of it not fitting. And although I prefer tan sidewalls, black sidewalls would make it an even more attractive proposition for those who ride racing bikes.

      • Latex tubes improve the ride quality, but they actually roll a tad slower than butyl tubes. Not sure why, but two studies (including the one in Bicycle Quarterly) have found this.

        I hope the Extra Leger will become a standard feature in the Grand Bois program, with more sizes to come. However, knowing how long it takes to go from design to final product, don’t hold your breath.

      • Greg says:

        The GB 700 x 26 runs right about at 25 mm wide (fully inflated) on a typical (20 mm) rim. It’s a great ‘max. width’ tire for many ‘race’ bikes.

      • djconnel says:

        I’ve seen the Bicycle Quarterly test data, but in contrast Al Morrison’s temperature-compensated roller data with Michelin latex tubes showed the latex tubes with significantly lower rolling resistance: see the “latex versus butyl” table here:

      • I know that it has been “known” for decades among racers and randonneurs that latex tubes roll faster, and yet there are two roll-down tests that show them to be slightly slower – ours and a rollout test in a dorm floor that I read about years ago.

        I don’t know how to reconcile this discrepancy, but if all these studies are real, then there must be something that makes latex perform better without vibrations than with vibrations. We found something similar with hard rubber compounds, which perform great on steel drums, but comparatively poorly on real roads… Of course, in that case, it’s pretty obvious why this is the case.

        Interesting in the study you linked, going from thick to thin latex tubes didn’t change the performance at all.

  12. nishiki83 says:

    I just received my winter edition of BQ. You mention running tire pressure about 10% higher with the EL Hetres vs the standard. Does this mean the tire will be run “harder”? Or is the sidewall deformation the same as it would be with 10% less in the standard? If so, where/how does the “increased suppleness and comfort” come into play? I know I’m missing something!

    • You get the same tire drop with 10% more pressure. Imagine the tire sidewall like a spring. The air inside the tire is another spring. The effect of the springs adds up.

      A sturdy tire will work like a harder spring, so you need less air inside. I once rode an inexpensive Chinese 650B tire that felt hard even at 18 psi.

      The Extra Leger tires have very supple sidewalls, so they don’t act as much as a spring. So you need a little more air. At 18 psi, the Extra Leger Hetres would be close to unrideable.

      The comfort and suppleness are better the more of your spring is air, and the less of it consists of the tire sidewall. So the Hetre Extra Leger at 55 psi is more supple and absorbs shocks better than a standard Hetre at 50 psi, and the standard Hetre at that pressure is more comfortable than the Chinese tire at 18 psi.

      One thing to remember about Frank Berto’s charts is that they provide average values. Having seen the raw data, there is quite a bit of difference in tire drop between individual tires…

  13. Allan Folz says:

    Jan, why don’t you run tubulars? Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I thought the whole point of clinchers was cost and convenience. Given the amount of riding you do, and the effort you put into building your custom Herse, it seems cost and convenience wouldn’t be particularly high considerations. Thanks.

    • I used to run tubulars in the cross-state races for years, and never had a flat. Then came the day with two flats, and one of my two spare tubulars didn’t hold air. I was lucky that the race organizer came by and lent me a wheel. We still won the race, but I never used tubulars for long rides again.

      Fortunately, with wide tires, you don’t need tubulars – they give you a little extra cush, but if you just add 10% to the width of the tire, you get the same sensations.

  14. Scott Snelling says:

    Has anyone tested these tubeless? I imagine they would feel good.

    • Greg says:

      The thought of tubeless bicycle tires makes me very nervous, performance-wise, but I’d love to see some real-world data on them also. So far, they make me think of the ‘run-flat’ car tires that are becoming the ‘latest thing’ at some luxury brands (with initials like ‘BMW,’ for example, but I won’t name any names…), which are apparently truly awful tires, in several regards.

      • Run-flat tires by definition have to have very stiff sidewalls, the opposite of what we want in bicycle tires. Cars came onto the scene too late to remember what it was like to ride with the cushion of air that a pneumatic tire provides. Cyclists should remember, but there are some bicycle tires that do essentially qualify as a run-flat model.

        Tubeless is very different from run-flat, though. Cars have had tubeless tires for many decades. All you do is seal the sidewalls and the rim/tire interface (as well as the spoke holes for bicycles) so that the air no longer escapes. Eliminating the tube makes the tire more supple, not less.

  15. Paul Glassen says:

    I am amazed to see such a lightweight tire being ridden over all that course rock. (Of course, slender Jan is probably not as stern a test as we heftier fellows would be.) What ever happened to the idea that tough tires are needed for poor surfaces? Of course, pro-cyclocrossers are riding very light, and very expensive, tubulars; now I believe in 33mm. widths.

    • Professional mountain bikers also race on hand-made tubulars. Running a wide tire at low pressures not only protects bike and rider, but also the tire itself. If I ran a lightweight 32 mm tire on those roads, I would have to pick my way carefully between the larger rocks.

  16. rodneyAB says:

    The extra leger version looks great, and in the hand, the casing, at the sidewall, feels more supple than the black parimoto. Too my eye, the casings of both tires appear the same or very similar. Panaracer’s website indicates several Tubular casings, and IIRC, the black parimoto is 120 TPI, so out of curiosity more than anything, I wonder what the TPI on the extra leger is. Today for the first time, I saw my set of built-up PL23’s with mounted standard Hetre’s, and I saw the effect of spoke tensioning. It’ll be at least a month before I can ride this wheel set.

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