Bontrager CX0 Tire Review

I’ve been riding Bontrager CX0s for a few years now, and literally have thousands and thousands of miles on them.  I burned through two sets of 700x38c tires on the Vaya (both sets going completely down to the threads, after rotating front to rear), and have burned through 2 front tires and 3 rear tires on my Moots (I’m now on my 2nd front tire and 3rd rear tire on it), and closing in on my 4th rear tire.  On the Moots, I run a 38c up front and a 34c in back.  All told, I’ve gotten into 5-digit total mileage on these tires, which is saying something.

In all that time, I’ve only really written about them once, now nearly 2 years ago…so with the amount of time that I spend on them, I thought it was time for an update and a proper review.

This front tire has about 1,500 miles of gravel on it, and still looks relatively new.

The rear tire has about 2,000 miles on it, and is starting to get that telltale slick stripe.

I’ve run them set up tubeless for nearly all of my mileage (the Vaya does have a tubed set on it right now, as it doesn’t see riding as often), and all of it has either been on Stan’s Crest rims or ENVE 29XC rims, both with Stan’s sealant.

If I had written this post a week ago, I would have told you that I had never flatted…even after pounding tire-first into a hard concrete lip during a creek crossing…but I flatted last Saturday.  A nasty little stubby drywall screw went right through the tire.  The Stan’s tried to seal it, but I hadn’t refreshed the Stans in about 6 months, so I limped home, thew some fresh sealant in (through the valve-stem), pumped it up and was good to go.  Had I been doing regular sealant replacement, I wouldn’t have had any issues.  (The Stan’s has now sealed and has been problem free for the past 100 miles).

With my current 38/34 setup, I vary pressure based on conditions.  Up front, my pressures for wet or mud / gravel / road would typically be 30-35 psi, 40-45 psi and 50 psi, respectively.  In the rear, it’s pretty similar, but usually 3-5 pounds higher than the front.  Most of the time, I run 40 psi up front and 45 in the rear.  I weigh about 150#, plus bike and gear.

Tire wear on these varies greatly by location.  Up front, with the 38, the front tire will last several thousand miles and will outlast 2-3 rear tires.  (When I was running 38/38 on the Vaya, I could rotate and stretch both tires out).  In the rear, depending on conditions, they’ll last typically around 2,000 miles, and up to about 3,000 miles.  Riding higher pressures on road wears them much faster.  What I typically see is a very significant amount of wear in the first 500 miles, as the center tread on the rear wears quite rapidly, and then slow, even wear from then on in.  I’ve been riding the Moots on a lot of surfaces lately, getting ready for some anticipated long rides next spring, and the pavement miles show with the stripe down the center.  You can run lower pressure and even out the wear on pavement, but they’re not quite as responsive then.

These are, in my opinion, the best tubeless gravel tires on the market.  For pure mud, I’d pick something more aggressive.  For pure road, I’d pick something with a continuous center tread for better treadlife.  But for a combination of speed, traction and durability, the CX0s are my favorite.  There are tires that are longer-lasting, certainly.  I’ll take the tradeoff of a little faster wear, in exchange for how light and quick rolling these are.  In terms of durability, as noted above, other than an errant screw, I’ve never had a flat.  They’ve been perfect running tubeless, and have never let me down.  That includes doing some drop-bar single track, riding really rough gravel, and riding a lot of other varied conditions.

Even as the center tread wears, the side lugs are very helpful on loose gravel and sand/mud.  In soft conditions where the tire sinks in, those side lugs help the tires self-clean and dig through to something solid.  These are 38/34mm wide, so they’re not floatation tires, but at low pressures, they acquit themselves admirably under soft conditions, and show good conformity to uneven surfaces.  Even at low pressures, the casings are durable enough to resist flatting or problems.  I will say that on hard surfaces, at low pressure, the side lugs can get a little squirmy and cause some handling irregularities.  That issue can be solved by either running appropriate pressure, or by backing off a bit in corners when running super-low pressures.

I can’t really say that there’s anything I’d change about these tires, nor is there a reason I’d try another tire.  They’ve proven to be bomb-proof for my riding.  They’re incredibly fast-rolling and efficient.  They’re great in a wide variety of conditions, which is what I’m looking for in a tubeless gravel tire (because I’m not swapping out tubeless tires for different conditions).  Would it be nice if they were longer wearing?  Absolutely…but I wouldn’t want to sacrifice how fast they are or how good of traction they have in the name of longer treadlife.  If I want maximum miles, I’ll run some Schwalbe Marathon Mondials…but on my Moots, I want something faster.

So if you write me and ask for a recommendation for a gravel tire, if you need something in the 34 or 38c realm, this is where I will point you.  They’re truly a fantastic tire.

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The Chase

You’re there.  All in.  You’re pushing a big gear, spinning hard.  Your legs are burning.  Your lungs and heart are maxed out–doing all they can.  There’s the subtle whir of a chain in the background (maybe I should have lubed that before the ride) and the crunch of gravel beneath you.  There’s the sound of the wind in your ears.

Your headlight vibrates with the crunching gravel, and the usually crisp edges of what it illuminates shake with reverberation from the uneven surface below.  The darkness closes in on the round ball of light in front of you, as you focus on putting everything you have into the pedals, and as you start to reach beyond your abilities, the darkness closes in just a little more, as the edges of your vision start to get cloudy.

You’re going too hard, it isn’t sustainable, you can’t hold on.  You start to see the ground below you lighten up, as headlights start to get closer to you.  What are you riding from?  Why are you riding so hard?  It’s your friends behind you…but that’s not why you’re in the saddle.  You’re riding to burn away the tension of your day.  You’re riding away from the ghost in the details of your work, or the frustration of an unsolved problem.  On a good day, you might be riding on a euphoric wave of accomplishment…but tonight, you’re riding to vanquish an unseen enemy.  You no longer hear the wind or the chain or the gravel, thoughts of chain lube have passed, and the burn of your legs is moderating.  You barely feel the vibration of the rough terrain below.  It’s just the thumping of your chest, the narrow circle of vision in front of you, and darkness all around.

As your legs start to falter, the headlights behind you grow stronger, as does the whir of their tires, and eventually, you get passed.  They’re riding as a team, which would have been a smart tactical move, but you have to ride this night alone.

They pull past, and you realize how Quixotic your attack was.  No–that’s too high of praise; at least Quixote had actual windmills.  You’re tilting at an invisible specter.  You throttle back and start to feel the burning of your legs and chest.  Paradoxically, the burning becomes worse as you start to take it easier on your pedal strokes.  What were passing headlights are now taillights, receding in the distance in front of you.  You take the luxury of a deep breath, a swig of water–a few drops run down the side of your face and you uneasily paw at them with the gritty, dirty back of your gloved hand.  You don’t know if you won or lost, because you can’t see your competition and can’t tell when you’ve passed the finish line.

You do know that the guys up the road will have to wait for you if you continue to dawdle. They don’t know that you’re lost in the moment, and they’ll start to think something is wrong.  So you ignore the burning and wheezing, and you pull hard against the handlebars as you push all of your force into the pedals.  Between their soft pedaling and your hard pedaling, you rejoin the group, and work in unison to get back to town.

At the end of the ride, there’s not a word about the attack, or the chase, or the aftermath. There’s just talk of the great ride.

Continental Grand Prix Classic Review

I’ve put a few hundred miles on the Grand Prix Classic tires on the 770 of late.

The Grand Prix Classics are a 700x25c tire with modern construction techniques, but with a classic tread pattern and a gumwall sidewall.

The center tread is relatively smooth, with classic chevrons along the edges.

Chevrons and Gumwalls.

Being Continental tires, of course they are…

They’re fantastic looking tires, and on a classic bike such as this, the aesthetics are perfect.  They were picked in part because of their look–and on that front, they’re fantastic.  I had never ridden these particular tires before, and was a bit nervous about how they’d ride…if they would feel lethargic or unresponsive.

I’m happy to report that they ride as good as they look.  With the smooth center section, they roll incredibly well.  If I was blindfolded, I’d have a hard time telling these apart from the Bontrager R3s that I run on the Madone, when these are pumped up to 90 psi and I’m putting my all into them.  The nice thing about these tires, however, is that I can run them at 80 psi and they take some of the sting out of the 770’s frame without compromising rolling resistance.  Around  80-85 psi seems to be the magic point where the tires remain fast rolling and responsive, but still have enough cushion to take the edge off of sharp jolts in the pavement.  Riding the tiny handlebars on the 770, any little bit of cushion helps.

The 770 likes to corner hard–the geometry is perfect for aggressive turn-in, and for powering out of corners.  Under such circumstances, the Grand Prix Classics excel.  They reward hard efforts with responsiveness, and even when I hit a little gravel or grit mid-turn, they respond predictably.  The early morning frost and dew on the road of late has not been an issue–the Classics have done a great job of taming whatever surface I ride.  I’ve done a little bit (little–maybe 5 miles) of tame gravel on them, and they were up to the challenge, but the 770 is not a gravel bike, so don’t expect much more of that.

The other thing I’ve done is push the Classics beyond their limits.  I like to know how a tire is going to respond if I have an issue, so when I’m testing new tires, I’ll do a hard corner (at a relatively low speed) and intentionally jab some rear brake to break loose the rear end and see what happens.  In a perfect world, when you release the brake, the tires regain traction progressively and predictably.  Some tires regain traction in an unpredictable fashion, and snap the rear end into line (which can be hard to control under the best of circumstances, and can high-side you off the bike in the worst of circumstances).  I’m happy to say that the Grand Prix Classics are predictable and progressive–slide recovery was easy (and dare I say fun).  I’m not necessarily encouraging a lot of drifting through corners, but it’s good to know how your tires (and bike) will respond when something goes amiss mid-turn.

The Classics also respond well under hard braking.  This morning, I was approaching an intersection on a street with no stop sign, and there was a car on the cross-street, stopped at a stop sign.  As I approached, I made eye contact with the driver of the car and signaled a left turn, to turn on the street that the car was coming from.  The car could have made its turn (and I would have turned behind it), but inexplicably, the car waited until I was halfway through my turn and then started to drive directly into me.  I hit the brakes hard, on a wet road, and the tires hauled me down to a stop admirably.  The driver rolled down her window and apologized profusely, indicating that she didn’t know why she started pulling forward when she did.  (?!?!?)  In any event, the tires did their job.

It’s too soon to talk about longevity, but with a few hundred miles under their belt, the nubbies are still showing.  I will also say that these tires seem to hold air better (and longer) than my R3s, even running the same tubes.  I can’t quite explain that one.

Thus far, the Grand Prix Classics are perfect.  I’ve been very pleased with all aspects of their performance, and highly recommend them, if you have a bike that would benefit from their aesthetics.

Moots and Steamboat Rides 2014

I’ve been struggling with how to convey what amazing rides we had in Steamboat when we went out for the Moots Factory Tour.  I thought about doing a separate post for each day of the ride, but ended up deciding to just do a photo-chronicle.  It was amazing–each and every ride was amazing.  I rode a mountain bike better than ever before, and with better fitness than ever before, and with amazing friends.  We had great rides with Jason from Moots, great rides with Tobie and Chad and Bobby, and some fantastic rides with just Aaron and I.  The bikes were great, the terrain was awesome, the scenery was breathtaking.

At the end, we were all like:

USA Cycling Fatbike Nationals

If you’ve not been following the world of fatbike news lately, USA Cycling has announced that it is going to have a sanctioned USAC Fatbike National Championship in February of 2015.  My post on this topic will be relatively brief.

There are some in the fatbike world who want fat bikes to remain a niche–a novelty market with secret handshakes and ironic disregard for all things mainstream cycling.  Just last week, there was a gent on the Fatbikes on Facebook page who was decrying the adoption of any technology for fat bikes, and wishing that things would stay with rigid, steel frames and limited drivetrain options.  I’m all in favor of technology, and having seen the merit of fat bikes across so many varying conditions, I hope that they continue to be embraced and become more popular.  (Frankly, more buyers will mean more options for those of us who ride fat).  It should be understood that I’m in favor of popularizing fat bikes, for a myriad of reasons.

That said, I’m disappointed to see the USAC “Fatbike Nationals” race, and the reason is simple.  I don’t think this is USAC supporting fat bikes or being progressive.  Rather, I believe this is USAC being reactionary and seeing the growth of grass roots fatbike racing events like Blbbrbk.  USAC hasn’t announced any thoughtful innovation or format…they’re just trying to squeeze this type of bike riding for a few more registration dollars, and trying to marginalize “unsanctioned” races, just as they’ve been doing since they declared war on unsanctioned races last year.  Could this have been a great thing?  I don’t know–perhaps.  Perhaps if it had been thoughtfully approached.  Perhaps if it didn’t require adherence to USAC’s “USAC race only” attitude.  Or perhaps if it was an innovative series of races that expanded the format of the sport instead of just expanding USAC’s wallet.  But as it stands, I see this as a money grab and nothing more…and I suspect it will be harmful to the grass roots races that are out there right now.

Trek 770 Update

I’ll get some better pictures in the next week or two and get them posted, but I’ve been riding the 770 a bit lately.  I took it out to North Central Cyclery for a couple weeks, to have them do a few things for me.  First, because it’s a 30 year old bike, I wanted to have a more experienced set of eyes look it over and assure me that it wouldn’t explode under me.  The frame is in great shape.  Second, I wanted to get some new bar tape on it, and notwithstanding my various skills and abilities, a good bar-taper I am not.  Third, while they were at it, the bike needed some new cables and housing.  That’s firmly within my wheelhouse, but they had the bike and the housing I needed, so why not.  Fourth, and most importantly, wheels.

The bike came from the factory with 32h tubulars on it, and the wheels it had when I got it were not the originals.  They were super-heavy, vintage 36h Wolber clinchers with some old, cruddy Shimano hubs and non-butted SS spokes.  Those wheels were super-heavy, and were an unknown pedigree…given that I plan on riding this bike, I wanted wheels I could trust.  I talked about doing something light and spiffy, and Tobie and Chad insisted on a vintage look for a vintage bike.  We ended up meeting in the middle, with silver Mavic Open Pro rims (32h), some vintage Campy NOS hubs, and silver Sapim CX-Ray spokes.  Unless you look closely, you can’t tell that the spokes are bladed, and CX-Rays are my favorite spokes.  The wheels came out fantastic, and even for 32h with vintage hubs, they’re only about 1600 grams.

I’m running a set of Continental Grand Prix Classic tires…gumwall, 25c, vintage tread design…but coupled with a modern technology casing.

Sorry…click through for the pic.

How does it ride?  Pretty fantastic.  These are initial impressions, and I want to get a lot more miles on the bike before I come to any conclusions, but thus far:

  1. I’m amazed by how zippy it is.  It’s a fast, responsive frame.
  2. It feels like you’re sitting directly over the rear tire.  I want to compare geometry with my Madone, but this feels like the chain stays are non-existent.  I have the wheels as far back in the dropouts as they go, and nonetheless, it handles FAST.
  3. The steel frame is a dream over bumps and irregularities.  It really, really dampens vibration nicely.
  4. That said, the flexibility of the BB is palpable.  Under hard, sprint efforts, you can feel the BB moving (and can objectively measure that movement by chainring rub against the derailleur, timed to downward force on the pedals).  It’s not “flexible” per se…but it isn’t nearly as stiff as the Madone (or the Moots).
  5. Wowsers are the stock bars narrow.  Sprinting or standing up when on the hoods or tops seems like a death-defying action.  Any hard effort means getting in the drops, just for stability.  I’ll perhaps get used to it–it reminds me of what it first felt like to ride a bike with drop-bars.
  6. Also in the realm of unusual is the feeling of the brake levers and their placement on the bars.  From someone used to a nice comfortable grip and brifter, classic brake levers are a change.
  7. I had thought shifting was going to be a problem, but it’s amazing how fast you adjust to down tube shifters.  I can’t quickly shift huge amounts (because of the need to use both hands), so it’s not as easy to sprint as with the Madone or Moots…and if you’re going to sprint, you’re going to give that away when you reach for the down tube…but you get used to the actual shifting quickly.  The shifting isn’t indexed (obviously), but it’s very intuitive to figure out how much to move the lever to shift a single gear.  The front derailleur cage is pretty narrow, so get used to trimming that front chainring, even with a 6 speed rear end.
  8. Speaking of 6 speed rear end…I’m running a 13-21 cassette and 53/39 chainring.  53-21 feels a LOT different than 53-25 or 53-28.  I find myself exploring the little chainring a lot more often.  It’s also funny how easy it is to feel geared out on a gentle downhill with a tailwind or no wind.  53-13 is good for about 29mph at 90rpm and 38mph at 120rpm.  So in reality, I should be good for up to around that 38mph zone under a light load (e.g. downhill, tailwind).  But with narrow handlebars and very fast handling, rolling along at 90+rpm and 30+mph is a surprisingly brave undertaking.  Local “descents” that are non-events on the Moots or Madone at higher speeds are a bit more unnerving on the 770, even at lower speeds.  A significant chunk of that is getting to know the bike and its handling…but I’m surprised at how big of an adjustment that is.
  9. The wheels are fantastic–Chad did a great job on them, and they spin up really nicely.  They also look awesome on the bike.  (Thanks Chad and NCC).  That shouldn’t come as a surprise…Chad has built wheels for me for the Madone, the Moots, the Vaya, the Spearfish and more…and they’ve all been fantastic.

So what’s the preliminary conclusion?  I’m surprised at both ends of the spectrum.  I’m surprised by how ‘fast’ it handles and how narrow the bars feel, but also surprised by how fast it rolls and how modern it feels.  With wider bars and a more modern drivetrain, it could pass as a modern steel racebike.

I’ll keep updating as I ride more…it’s a really fun bike to ride, and surprisingly engaging.