Let me just go ahead and spoil the review right here: I don’t like them. Matt Pacocha and I might be the only people on the planet who don’t care for the Grifos, but I’m okay with that.
After the rear tire died during the first of two pre-Thanksgiving races, I was in one of Cyclocross Magazine’s “Top CX Shops” and mentioned that the natural rubber sidewalls had peeled off such that you could see the bright red latex tube through the threads and I was going to need a new tire sooner or later. I asked where they had their tubulars and the nice lady behind the counter pointed me to their display. (You have to give them credit for actually having multiple tubulars in stock!) The owner, a very cool, knowledgeable and eccentric guy, asked me what I had been running, and upon hearing my response, he said, “Don’t change. Best tire we’ve found.” Another good guy from the Twitterverse, Tony Steward, posted a loving tribute to his Van Dessel Gin and Trombones ‘cross bike, including a superior recommendation for the Grifos. It makes me wonder what I’m missing.
So why don’t I like the Grifos? I detailed some of the reasons in my First Impressions post. After riding them for a while, how did my feelings change (or not change, as the case may be)?
First, a little about me to put it all in context. I have raced ‘cross off and on for four years, but only relatively seriously in the last two years. I come from a mountain bike background, so I know how to handle my bike off-road. I am aggressive in corners but rely on my tires to pull me through when my talent fails. On the ‘cross course, I am an ambitious Cat 4 with hopes of being a relatively competitive Cat 3 someday (and not dreaming any higher). I raced the tires on my Specialized Tricross, mounted on my Neuvation R aluminum tubulars using Panaracer glue. My racing philosophy is to win in the corners and survive the straights. This year has taught me over and over that my strength lies in the technical areas of a course and that I just need to keep riders behind me when we hit the flat, straight bits.
And that, fundamentally, is why I don’t like the Grifos. They lack any kind of meaningful cornering knobs. Go hard into a grassy corner and SHOOF, the tire slides. Usually, I can recover from those. But, go hard into a wet corner and SHOOF, you’re picking the bike up off the grass. Go hard enough into a gravelly corner and SHOOF, the bike slides out and you’re scarred for life. (Literally. My arm and pinky finger will bear those marks forever, it appears.) The tires are great in a straight line. They roll fast and still manage to give traction on any climbs you want to try to ride instead of run. It is still very possible to overwhelm the tread when you slam on the brakes (even 3-year old finicky Avid Shorty 4’s), but that’s the exception rather than the rule. Try any corner, besides a gentle sweeper, at high speed and I can pretty much guarantee you’re going to be wishing you hadn’t.
The lousy cornering is not my only gripe with the Grifos. After 2.5 months of riding (including some pavement), the rear tire showed considerably tread wear. The sidewalls were very fragile. The natural-colored rubber flaked and rubbed off very easily. I didn’t really like the look of those sidewalls when they were new, and liked it even less when they got dirty and worn. The base tape started to pull away from the carcass of the tire too, with the tape staying firmly glued to the rim. While some have said that treating Challenge sidewalls with Aqua-Seal isn’t necessary, I would tend to disagree. They also didn’t seem to sit well on the Neuvation rim either. It seems like there wasn’t solid contact between all of the base tape with the rim. It was still a pain to get them off once the sidewall ripped.
There are still some redeeming features of the tire. They performed similarly on wet grass, dry grass, dry dirt, sand and mud. They are definitely an all-conditions kind of tire. Speed in a straight line is great. I never felt like I was trying as hard as my competitors to cruise down straightaways on pavement, dirt or grass. Compared to a lot of other tubulars, they have a much lower price point. (Cyclocrossworld.com has the Grifo for $80, while the similarly treaded Dugast Typhoon is $120, a Vittoria XG is $125, a Clement PDX will set you back $130 and even the budget Specialized Tracer is $100.)
Is there a place for the Challenge Grifo? Yes. If you have way more natural cornering talent than I do, if you’re willing to spend a bunch of money on tires only to spend more to keep them from dying, if you have fairly gentle CX courses (lacking rocks and other nastiness) and win your ‘cross races by crushing people on the straightaways, then go buy the Grifos. But if you’re like me — aggressive in the corners, regularly riding in rocky conditions, not particularly pleased by the aesthetics of natural rubber sidewalls — you’re better off looking somewhere else.
As for me, I’ll be looking in a different direction when I eventually replace the Grifos. The shop discount makes the Clement PDX an attractive option, but I’ve long been a fan of Specialized tires. You can be sure that no matter what I pick, I’ll blather on about it here.