Compass Tires: Standard vs. Extralight

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Compass tires are available in two versions: standard and extralight. What is the difference between the two?

The difference is in the casing. The standard casing is already quite light and supple, but for the Extralight, we worked with Panaracer to push the envelope further. These tires use a casing material that is also used on high-end tubular tires, and not usually available for clinchers. Here are the differences between the tires:

  • Comfort: The standard casing offers exceptional comfort, but the extra-supple Extralight is yet another step closer to “Tire Nirvana”.
  • Speed: While we haven’t tested these tires under controlled conditions, the Extralight appears even faster than the already-fast standard version.
  • Puncture resistance: Both versions use the same tread rubber and thickness, so the puncture resistance is comparable.
  • Sidewall cut resistance: If the Extralight casing has one drawback, it’s that the sidewalls may be easier to cut on sharp rocks. Even so, I rode the Oregon Outback 360-mile gravel ride on Extralights without a flat or any damage to the sidewalls.
  • Weight: The Extralight casing is significantly lighter. Depending on the tire model, the weight difference is 25-35 g (10-15%).
  • Cost: The Extralight costs more.
  • Color: Both models are available with tan sidewalls. Only the Extralight is available with black sidewalls.

So the Extralight is more comfortable, faster, lighter and available in more colors. The standard model is less expensive and less likely to suffer from sidewall cuts. Both offer the same puncture resistance.

I ride the Extralight on all my bikes, because I love their feel and comfort. If you are on a budget or ride on rocky trails a lot, the standard version may be a better choice.

Note that the narrow 700C versions (26 and 28 mm) are only available with Extralight casings. For the standard casing, we recommend the very similar Grand Bois Cerf in the same widths.

Click here for more information about Compass tires.

What about the photo? Hahn took it at the 2014 Washington State Championships, where a rider on Compass 28 mm tires took 3rd place in the (very competitive) 50+ age category. The good placing was due to his legs, but it’s nice to know that his tires didn’t hold him back.

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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42 Responses to Compass Tires: Standard vs. Extralight

  1. Bruce Jacobs says:

    I currently run Conti 25’s on my bike, but am strongly considering giving your Compass 26’s a try. I know there are tons of variables, but do you think the width/height difference between the two would be significant? Unfortunately, I can’t go much larger on that bike, but am looking for something a little more supple than the Conti’s. I very seldom leave pavement on that bike.

    By the way, BQ is one of the very few bicycle publications that doesn’t languish in a pile on my desk until I can get around to reading it — I dig into my BQ right away! Keep up the excellent work!

    • Both of these tires are very round, so I don’t think the width-to-height ratio will be very different. The Compass measures between 25.5 and 26.5 mm wide, depending on your rim width.

      • Tamaso says:

        Jan– Have you ridden the new Schwalbe “One” tires? I have not tried the Compass in ‘narrow’ 700c widths, but the Schwalbe One 28 is an excellent combination of supple, grippy, and relatively durable. It would be interesting to see those included in any future ‘roll down test’ updates. A feature on tubeless tires would also be interesting, if you have not done one already– I believe several folks (Fred Blasdel, Peter Weigle?) have run the GB & Compass 650b tubeless…

      • I haven’t ridden the Schwalbe “One” yet. In the past, all Schwalbes I’ve tried have been harsh-riding, but the One does sound promising.

    • Matt says:

      Measure your Conti 25’s. My set measured up at 27mm. They too are supper supple (assuming you’re talking about the GP4000SII), sticky, and fast. Going to the Compass 26 might actually reduce your air volume over the 25s you have on there now and I’d be very surprised if even the Compass Cycle tires are faster or smoother, but would welcome data that proved otherwise.

      • I like the challenge! We should test that. In the past, Conti tires always were harsh-riding, but I haven’t tried the latest ones.

      • EB says:

        I might do a rolldown test comparing 700x28mm GP 4000 SII versus the 700x32mm extra light and 700x28mm extra light Compass tires. My seat of the pants has told me 700×25 Continentals are a little faster but less comfy than the Compass tires for sure. The Compass tires are way, way more comfortable than the Continental 4 seasons in 700×28. I just got a set of the 28mm Continental GP 4000 SII tires and have a hill close to me that is used for soap box derby races and it is fairly shielded from the wind. It would be a perfect venue to test tires. How to statistically power the test. Protocols. Replicate after replicate. Independent reviewers. Data analysis. Sounds like a ton of work. In around 8,000 miles almost exclusively on the Compass EL tires, I sort of got my first flat in more than a year the other day….on the Continental 4 seasons! I went out to ride and the front tire was almost flat….a speck of glass made its way in. It was a slow leak and the tire was not completely flat after prehaps 24 hours….is my flatless streak alive?

      • Tire testing is a lot of work. The main things apart from many repeats of the same setups is to make sure there is no wind, and that temperatures are constant. And of course, the rider position must be constant. We tested that one in the wind tunnel before heading out to the hill. We found that at least our test riders can adapt the same position with great repeatability.

    • Andy Sutterfield says:

      If you’re coming from Conti gatorskins like me, you’ll find the Compass tires to be so much nicer to ride. They’re smoother and grippier, and the ride quality is a lot better. I haven’t done any direct speed comparisons, but they seem faster than the gatorskins. I switch between Compass and Gatorskin 700x32s on my general purpose bike for special events and commuting/training respectively, and I keep a pair of Compass 26mms on my race bike. On that bike I think the rims are about 21mm, and the tires measure 26mm or a tad under.

  2. Harald says:

    Are you still planning on actually testing the performance of the whole line-up of Compass tires? It would be great to be able to compare them with the many other models you have previously tested.

    • We do plan on doing more testing. We are waiting for the new tires – being able to test tires with the same casings in widths from 26 to 54 mm is going to be very interesting!

      • Harald says:

        Great, I’m very much looking forward to this! Two suggestions: Could you please consider including some more recent popular models from the big manufacturers that have done well in roller testing, for example the Conti GP-4000S II, if only to show how much speed you lose by putting your faith in bad lab test protocols. It would also be really interesting if you would consider collaborating with someone using the virtual elevation method discussed in previous comment threads. I share some of your reservations about the method, but also have the feeling that there is potential there. I believe that at least some of the virtual elevation method findings match your roll-down/constant power findings anyway, and it might be enlightening to use both methods on the same tires to see what happens or maybe even come up with an improved testing protocol.

      • We always try to replicate our results with different methodologies – that is why we tested tires both with rolldown tests and with power meters on the track. We’ll look into the virtual elevation method.

  3. Jon Gehman says:

    I just started riding your Stampede Pass Extralight tires 3 months ago and really believe they do everything you advertise. They seem faster to me and certainly are the best riding and most uniform tires I’ve ever used in a larger size and they grip better than ANYTHING else I’ve ever used on a roadbike. I’m trying the 38mm Barlow Pass tires next and hope for them to be even better. If these extralights prove to be even moderately durable I’ll be using them on my other non-tubular wheels as well. Great tires.

  4. Andy Stow says:

    When are the new sizes appearing in the store? I believe I saw a 700×35 or so mentioned in the first few pages of the current BQ issue.

    • The new Compass tires will be available this summer. Hopefully early summer, but production schedules are hard to predict. It seems that everything tends to run late!

      • Paul Richard says:

        I was very happy to read in Issue 51 about the 55-559 Compass tires. I absolutely can’t wait to try them. My Compass 26 x 1.75 Compass ties have been wonderful, but I.ve long dreamt of a wider tire with even more supple construction. Perfect for the all-road riding I love!

  5. Nick Bull says:

    Rode the Babyshoe Pass EL’s on all the really long rides (600,1000) last year. Fabulously comfortable, and fast. For shorter events I stuck with my Hetre’s, which are just fine. When they wear out I’ll probably replace with the regular Babyshoe Pass for riding shorter events.

  6. marmotte27 says:

    The only downside to the Compass tires seems to be that the tan sidewalls get dirty quite quickly with aluminium and rubber abrasion from the rims and that this dirt does not come off easily. How would you advise to clean the sidewalls?

    • I am glad you are riding in the rain! I haven’t found the magic product to clean tire sidewalls – maybe somebody else here does. I know George at Il Vecchio used Pedros Bikelust or something like it, and it was amazing. Or you could use black sidewalls. They still get dirty, but you only notice it when you touch the tire.

      • Matt Sallman says:

        I used Fast Orange hand cleaner and it made my tan Babyshoe Pass ELs look brand new. They had been showing black stains from wet rides.

      • marmotte27 says:

        Thanks. Haven’t you tried out George Gibbs product yourself then? I thought he was something of a guru for you? I will try pedros bike lust when I get my hands on a bottle.

      • I am not that concerned about the appearance of my tires… On mine, the gray is pretty uniform, so they just change color over time.

  7. René says:

    my Barlow Pass extra light tires come with a sidewalk warning not to exceed 75psi. I’m a heavy rider. How much higher than this limit can I go? According to the tire pressure calculator, I’d have to go much higher, but I know it’s not that accurate on either extremes of rider weight.

  8. Steven Rinky says:

    Hi

    Do you ship to the UK? Is there a UK distributor?

    Thanks for a great blog and a great magazine!

    Steve

  9. Craig says:

    I know it’s not an exact science, but how many miles could I reasonably expect out of the 700×38 Extralight Barlow Pass for touring on asphalt roads? I weigh 140 lbs and carry about 25 lbs of gear distributed evenly front and back.

    • Wider tires last longer because you distribute the wear over more surface area. I weigh a bit more than you, and I get at least 4000 miles out of a set of Babyshoe Pass 42s. So I’d expect your mileage to be similar.

      • Matthew J says:

        Speaking of touring, have you received any feedback from customers who have tried the Extralight tubeless with Stans or similar product? I know Peter Weigle had good results doing this with Hetres.

        While I imagine the ride will be somewhat less plush than with good tubes filled with air, seems there is a possible balance between the tourist need for flat resistance and the cyclist desire for a plush ride.

      • A number of riders have set up the wider Compass Extralight tires tubeless. As long as you keep the pressure under 50 psi, it seems to work well. (Of course, since the tires weren’t designed for tubeless, we cannot officially recommend this.)

        Comfort improves with tubeless, since there is no tube that has to flex with each wheel revolution. Flat resistance also increases, since the sealant seals most minor holes. However, the wider tires get very few flats, especially when touring on backroads. If you tour on the debris-strewn shoulders of busy highways, then you risk more flats. But one of the advantages of wide, supple tires is that they make backroads so enjoyable, desptie their often rough surfaces.

        A number of customers have written to us after their tours on Compass tires (both standard and Extralight casings), because they were so enthusiastic about the tires.

    • Tim says:

      Would the recommended tire pressures be similar tubeless, or would the lack of sidewall stiffness require a bit more pressure?
      Oh, and do the blackwall tires have any protective benefit or is it just cosmetic?
      Thanks – looking forward to them!

      • Hahn says that he runs the same tire pressure tubeless and with tubes. The blackwalls are just a different color – the materials and amount of rubber on the tire are the same (within the variations of the production runs).

      • John Duval says:

        I find that the tan sidewalls tend to dry out and crackle fairly quickly (purely a cosmetic issue) where the black walls never seem to degrade. I have read that smog can affect them (I live in the Los Angeles area), but it could also be riding near the beach, bike cleaner, the lack of rain leaving chemicals on the road, or even the nature of the sun around here.

        As I said, it is purely a cosmetic issue, the casing seems to stay perfectly intact, so I still buy the tan when it looks better on the bike anyway.

      • That is an interesting observation. We get plenty of smog in Seattle (unfortunately!), but I haven’t noticed this. Could it be that you are talking about the first-generation Grand Bois Extra Legers? Those had very little rubber on the sidewalls. We added a very small amount to the Compass tires to give the casing more protection.

      • John Duval says:

        I have always lived in the LA area near the beach, and have had the exact same experience between Black and Tan with every brand I have ever tried. The tan rubber crackles and flakes off, while the black is completely intact. It seems to be a local issue.

      • Charlie says:

        Maybe stronger and more plentiful sunlight.

      • Sunlight is strongest in the high mountains, and riders in Colorado don’t have any problems. Rubber degrades in the presence of ozone, and there is little you can do about it. Ozone is a part of what forms smog, so if you have a lot of smog, all rubber will tend to disintegrate. Another source of ozone are electric motors, so if you park your bike next to a fridge or a heating furnace (with an electric blower), you also risk deterioration.

  10. Andy Warrior says:

    I too have just put the Stampede Pass Extralight tyres on my bike. All I can say is WOW!! Now I know that I took off some 32mm Marthons so some of the difference is just in the weight but they really do feel fast AND comfortable. I took 6 minuets off my local hill route on Weds. night!! Playing around with the pressures to get the right balance. If the puncture resistance is similar to Conti 4 Season’s 28’s that I’ve also used…..I’ll be a convert. Expensive tyre but so far worth every cent.

  11. Michael says:

    I just installed Compass Loup Loups on my Grand Bois rims and they bead seated right up nicely. Can’t wait to ride them!

  12. Allen says:

    Question for you about tire wear: These supple tires seem to get lots of cuts over time–not quiet penetrating thru to the tube (so the tire still held air), but a nasty looking gash. My last pair of tires (Challenge Eroicas) got so many of these cuts that I looked at them and just had to change–even though there was some tread visible left/right of center. They performed fine, but it was too scary. So my question to you is how ugly are you willing to let a tire get before you change it?

    • I think the Challenge tire treads get more cuts than most. It’s not the supple casing that is the cause of the cuts, but the tread rubber (and thickness). Compass tires use Panaracer’s best rubber compound, which in my experience is the best in the tire industry as far as dry and especially wet-weather grip is concerned. It also resists cuts well. Our tires don’t have an excessively thin tread, so they shouldn’t look any worse than any other tire.

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