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.