Challenge Grifo First Impressions

The whole reason I spent my hard-earned money on my Neuvation T1 tubulars was for ‘cross season.  I was waiting for Specialized to get the Tracer tubular available, but it wasn’t happening soon enough.  So I ordered a set of Challenge Grifos through the LBS. It took me a while to get the old glue off the rims and get the Grifos mounted, but I’ve had several opportunities to ride them.  I can’t give long-term results, but here are some first impressions.

There was a sense that the Challenge tires had a proven tread design and manufacture that made them very desirable.  The Challenge website declares, “Cyclocross World Champion for years.” Cyclocross Magazine said, “The knobs are relatively low-profile, creating a fast tire on grass and hardpack, but sufficient for mud and all but the loosest surfaces.”   So look at the tubular itself:

I have to say, I don’t really appreciate the natural rubber sidewalls.  They don’t seem to be very durable either.  When I rolled the rear tire during a practice race, I roughed up the sidewalls pretty badly.  The Tricross isn’t the world’s fanciest looking ‘cross bike, but rather than looking “classic”, it looks old and cheap with the Grifos on.  Okay, enough about looks.  How do they ride?

My first ride, I had them rolling at about 35 PSI each.  This felt okay.  I bottomed out about once per lap on a rough and rocky course.  I certainly wasn’t falling behind because of straight-line speed.  I did notice a lot of slippage and drifting on the corners though.  This, upon reflection, has everything to do with the shoulder knobs (or relative lack thereof). Seriously, look at those round little nothings.  When you lean this tire over, it lets go quickly.  If you’re okay with that, they might fit the bill for you.  If your course has lots of twists and turns, you will probably be very frustrated.

The first ride ended, as I mentioned, when I rolled the rear.  Six to ten inches of the tire rolled off the rim, basically because I did a terrible job gluing it.  For the most part, the base tape didn’t come anywhere need the middle of the rim — it was only attached on the sides.  I reglued it and things seem fine so far.  My biggest disappointment with the rolled tire what that I had started to get more comfortable with the drifty nature of the the turns during the 40 minutes we were riding.  Maybe there’s hope for me yet.

The second time I went out and rode them was for a little skills session.  I was practicing barriers and turns to try to learn how to handle the tires in the corners and how low I could run the pressure.  I dialed it down to just about 30 PSI, which made the tires feel a little too squirmy.  I was playing around at trying to bunny hop the barrier, landed and almost got bucked off the bike by a front end that was acting like it was goosed.  I was consistently frustrated going into hard turns, as the front tire just gave up and slid on the dry grass.  I began dreading the “shhhhhhhhfff” sound of rubber sliding on grass.  Eventually I rolled an inch or two of the front tire (for the exact same reason I had rolled the rear) and went home to reglue.

I’ve got another practice session tonight in more typical ‘cross weather and a race on Saturday.  These will be the real test for the Grifos (and my gluing technique).  I may learn to love the Grifos, but I’m not counting on it.  We’ll see what happens though.  I’m not likely to replace them unless they fall apart (which, according to reviews I’ve recently read, is quite likely).

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