Continental Grand Prix 4000 S II Tire Review (700c x 25)

Over the years, I’ve run quite a few different road tires.  I’ve run Vittorias, Michelin, Schwalbe, Bontrager, etc.  I’ve spent a lot of time on Bontragers over the past few years.  I had a set of R4s that came on my Madone (they lasted less than 1,000 miles), and I’ve spent a lot of time on R3s, both on the Madone and on the Ridley.  R3s have served me admirably, and I usually get 2-3,000 miles out of a set, rotating front to rear, and usually wearing out when the rear gets a flat band down the middle.  I had heard good things about the Continental GP4000s, but would never consider moving to them, because they’re heavy and slow rolling.  That, and I would never switch from a 23c tire, because my ENVE wheels are set up for maximum aero effect with 23s.

Never say never.

It turns out that the weight difference between the Contis in 25c and the R3s in 25c is about the weight of a third of an ounce of water.  As in 1/70th of a bottle of water.  So there goes the weight argument.

As for 23s versus 25s, I had some friends convert to 25s and talk about greater comfort and traction.  I figured they were full of it, but tried it out anyhow.  Because I’m a sucker for trying things out.

At my weight (about 155# right now), I run about 90psi front and rear with 25s.  With 23s, I ran about 100psi.  I probably could have run the 23s with a smidge less, but the 25s look really happy at 90psi, and 23s just didn’t.  Whether that’s the construction of the Contis versus Bontragers, whether that’s the tire size difference, or whether it’s all in my head, I don’t know.  In any event, the Contis are happy at 90.

The difference in ride between 25s at 90psi and 23s at 100 psi is HUGE.  Honestly, for a high-modulus carbon frame, the Madone rides ridiculously good.  It takes the edge off of hard jolts in a very satisfying, very premium-feeling way.  Running 25s on it at 90psi feels even better.  I’m amazed at how well it has tamed chipseal and other crappy road surfaces.  So score one for lower pressure and wider tires.

If there is an aerodynamic difference, I can’t tell it.

For rolling resistance, I didn’t have any complaints about the R3s, but if I had to guess, the lower pressure on the GP4000s contributes to lower rolling resistance on road surfaces that are less than perfect.  They feel faster on chipseal, for example.

For cornering on dry surfaces, I can’t tell a difference, beyond the bump absorption.  A mid-corner pavement crack is far less likely to upset the bike with 25s at 90psi.  (From here on out, if I say “with 25s”, read that as “with 25s at 90psi”).  99.9% of the time, there’s no difference.  That other 0.01% of the time, there may be a difference.  I hit a corner hard a couple weeks ago, and hit gravel mid-turn.  The bike skidded on the gravel and I thought I was going to low-side.  It skidded over the gravel, caught dry pavement, regained traction progressively and predictably (so I didn’t high-side), and kept tracking around the corner.  Impressive.

For wet surfaces, there is a palpable difference.  This year, we’ve had a ton of rain in Illinois, and I’ve been riding in it.  There is absolutely no question in my mind that there is a quantifiable, objectively measurable difference in wet road traction, coming from R3s to the GP4000s.  It’s a pretty significant difference.

As far as wear goes, I’m closing in on 800 miles on the GP4000s.  The front tire still has a small casting ridge down the center.  The back looks perfect, with no casting ridge.  I look forward to seeing how they wear, but thus far, it’s pretty impressive.  The GPs have 2 neat little wear indicator holes that tell you how much useful rubber is left on them, which I greatly enjoy.  By comparison, the R3s would have the start of a flat band down the rear by this point in time.

Flat resistance has been fine.  I don’t ordinarily get flats.  I had one flat with my last set of R3s (small nail), and I’ve had one flat with the GP4000s (construction staple).  I attribute those to living in a neighborhood with construction, more than to the merits of either tire.

So in short, after ~800 miles, the GP4000s have equal or better traction in dry, better traction in wet, appear to have better longevity, have better riding comfort, possibly lower rolling resistance (subjective), and no noticeable change in aerodynamics.  So for someone who would never go to a heavy, 25c tire, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that the GP4000 S II is not heavy, and is pretty fantastic as a road tire on my Madone.  I can’t see going back to either 23c tires, or Bontrager R3s after this experience.

And so you’re saying, “you went to a wider tire and lower pressures, and you’re praising the tire for all of these benefits?”

Well, yeah.

The Bontragers couldn’t be run at 90psi.  I had tried them.  No bueno.  Too much flex–handling started feeling funky, and the sidewalls didn’t look happy.  Because I wanted to have something of a fair comparison, I tried running a set of my old R3s at a little lower pressure, in the rain, to see how they felt, and to ascertain whether pressure was the factor leading to better wet traction.  It wasn’t.  The R3s still didn’t perform as well in wet weather.

In fairness, I haven’t tried R3s in 25c, but I have compared my GP4000s to R3s, mounted on similar wheels, and I think the GP4000s might be a smidge wider than R3s, comparing 25c to 25c.  And after seeing the benefits of the GP4000 in terms of wear and wet traction–which I attribute in significant measure to tire design, rather than pressure, I think the GP4000 is a superior tire.  And I’m pretty darn happy with it.  I don’t see going back to any other road tire at this point.

As one final point of comparison, prior to running Bontragers, my favorite tires were Schwalbes.  I preferred Schwalbes to Vittorias, for example.  I’d rate Schwalbe tires as being relatively comparable to Bontragers (all clinchers)–for example comparing R3s to the Schwalbe One, and comparing R4s to the Schwalbe Ultremo.  I don’t have any good stories about Vittoria clinchers, and don’t count them in the running.  So as of the present, my preference is for the GP4000 S II, then Bontrager R3 or Schwalbe One, and then Bontrager R4 or Schwalbe Ultremo (with that last group being offered only if you like changing tires a lot).

Good tires.  Recommended.


Trek Fuel EX 9.9 Project One Update

I’ve previously shared my thoughts on my custom Fuel Ex 9.9…

Saturday, we did a 40 mile road ride (on the Madone, of course), which I’ll write about separately at some point…and in the afternoon, I headed up to Kettle Morraine with a good friend, to do a lap on the mountain bike.

I was pretty hammered after 40 miles on the road, a significant chunk of which was spent rocking at full speed, with a strong group of riders…but the weather was beautiful (80 and sunny), and I couldn’t wait to spend some more time on the Fuel.

I have to tell you, it may be the greatest bike I’ve ever ridden.  It is so incredible to ride–so confidence inspiring–it’s amazing.  The Madone is a great bike.  But honestly, the gains in speed I have on the Madone over previous road bikes I’ve had were marginal–if you’re looking at the gains solely attributable to the bike.  My Moots is a great bike–but again, compared to previous gravel bikes I’ve had–marginal gains.  Marginal gains do make a huge difference over a full day in the saddle…and even if the gains are marginal, I’m in no rush to go back to earlier bikes I’ve had.  But there’s something truly different about the Fuel.

It makes me a better rider.

I ride at a comfort level on the Fuel that I’ve never had on any previous mountain or fatbike.  Unless you’re in sand (more on that below), the grip seems endless.  I’m running about 30psi in the tires (tubeless), recommended pressure in the shock based on sag, recommended pressure in the fork based on weight, and the bike just shreds.  The harder I push, the tighter it turns.  It’s the perfect bike for my mountain biking.

The XTR 1×11 drivetrain is perfect.  For midwest climbs, plenty of gearing.  Shifting is perfectly intuitive–think about a gear change and it’s already happened.

The XTR Trail brakes are literally braking perfection.  The levers are perfectly shaped for one-finger braking, the brakes work consistently on every stop from first to last, they don’t squeal, they don’t fade, they don’t change consistency.  They don’t require bleeding, they don’t warp, they don’t do anything bad.  They just do everything you ask of them, perfectly.

The RS-1 fork took some getting used to–you can’t set pressure based on sag.  (Pressure ends up way to low).  But if you use the weight chart, it’s just buttery perfection on every surface.  My RS-1 is laced up with Sapim CX-Ray spokes to an ENVE XC rim…and it’s like having a surgical scalpel.  Wherever you think about putting your front tire, it’s there.  The level of detail and precision in the handling is amazing.  That surgical steering precision is combined with buttery shock absorption that is disconcerting at first–but when you get used to it, it’s just amazing.  It’s the best fork I’ve ever ridden–made better by stunning wheels.

The DRCV shock does its DRCV thing in a totally transparent fashion.  You just use the travel on the bike–no sagging, no hopping, no bottoming out.  It just crushes whatever obstacle you ride over, and you don’t feel anything averse from the saddle.

The dropper post took some getting used to, and some effort to get properly working, but now it’s fine.  Honestly, I don’t really use it much.  I have it set so that at full height, I’m at full cycling extension (road bike saddle height).  I tend to drop it about 3/4″ from there, and just leave it set.  That gives me enough leg extension for comfort and power, but enough saddle clearance to move around and get in front of or behind the saddle.  For my purposes, a carbon post would be lighter and less complex.  But it’s on there, and it works, so I’m not changing anything just yet.

I spent years screwing around with Ergon grips, and getting hand cramps at the end of a long day of biking.  On the Fuel, I have a set of ESI Chunky foam grips.  Stupid simple, stupid cheap, stupid comfortable.  I’ve chewed up the ends a bit from some narrow trails, but when they need replacement, it won’t be a shock to the bank account.

In short, this bike allows me to ride faster, and more comfortably, than any other mountain bike I’ve ever owned, or test-ridden…and that’s quite a big swath of bikes.  It just shreds.  I brake less, carry more speed, feel more comfortable.

I suck in sand.  I can’t figure out how to ride it, and Kettle has quite a bit.  My front wheel pushes, I steer more, my front wheel grabs, and I oversteer off the trail.  Or my front wheel pushes, I try to hold a steady line, and I understeer off the trail.  I’m not sure if that’s technique, tire pressure, tire or a combination of all.  I suspect it’s technique, but trying different things (more weight up front, less weight up front) didn’t seem to help.  I have some reading to do there.

This is a rare circumstance where I can definitively say that I would be slower (and less comfortable) if I was on a different bike.

I continue to question the wisdom of those who do not ride full-suspension bikes.  My good friend was on a new Trek Stache 29+, but even with 29×3″ tires, there were areas with roots and such where he had to get out of the saddle to pedal, or just to try to ride over stuff.  In many instances, I was able to stay in the saddle, pedaling in comfort, letting my bike do the work for me.  I had better traction and greater comfort, and in those areas, I made up ground on a faster rider because of my rear suspension.  And this is such an incredible rear suspension.  ABP helps prevent brake jack, and whatever the anti-squat geometry built into this thing is, it just plain works.  The Superfish avoided squat by having very little travel.  The new Spearfish and (Horsethief, and all of Salsa’s other FS bikes) uses the Split Link rear suspension.  Every brand has their own thing.  The Trek rear suspension is simple in design, simple to maintain, elegant, and it just plain works.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

I know.  I’m not a former BMX’er, and I just don’t get the hardtail life.  C’est la vie.

With the possible exception of the seatpost, if I was ordering a new all-purpose mountain bike tomorrow, I would change nothing about it.  Nothing.  It’s just perfect.

If I was moving to the Rockies tomorrow, I’d throw a 2x XTR drivetrain up front, and change nothing else.

If I was doing an XC race, I’d change nothing.

Really–it’s an incredible bike.

The Best Ride I Ever Missed

Saturday was the Rapha Prestige Midwest ride, which was hosted by Axletree.  An amazing Rapha event, held locally, and hosted by my group.  Knowing my love of riding and my love of Rapha, you’d expect me to be there, but I wasn’t.

You see, a few weeks before Rapha decided on that date, I bought tickets to Taylor Swift for my daughter, and told her I’d take her.  And then the RPM date was announced, and I went into a moral crisis.  Take my 7 year old to her first concert and miss an amazing cycling event, or go to the cycling event and break my word to my daughter?  Yeah, I know.  I know.  When you phrase it that way, the answer is pretty clear.  So with a bit of a heavy heart, I decided I had to go to the concert.

When Dana and I were expecting our child, we both knew it was going to be a boy.  I mean, we didn’t find out from the doctor–we just knew it.  We were completely confident. We were so confident that when Lu was born, I did a double-take.  I was pretty sure something was missing.  In her first few days, I spent some time wondering if I was going to be a good “girl’s father.”  I mean, I knew I was going to try as hard as I could, but it seemed like a lot of my interests were more boy oriented.  As a kid, I spent a lot of time outside with my brother, or working in the shop with my father and grandfather.  We didn’t really do sports, but we spent a lot of time doing activities that are stereotypically man-centric.

The universe has a way of working things out.  With the passage of time and accrual of some small amount of wisdom, I’ve come to realize that there are no activities that are man-centric or mans-clusive.  And I’ve come to realize that I was destined to have a daughter.  An amazing, wonderful, brilliant, curious, enthusiastic, courageous daughter.  A daughter who does everything–from working in the garage to hitting the American Girl Doll store.  And so, as I held her tiny hand in mine and we walked into the Taylor Swift concert on Saturday night, the RPM ride was the furthest thing from my mind.

I’m not ashamed to admit that this is a new leaf for me.  Honestly, a few months ago–or even a year ago–I might have made a different decision.  I might have justified it to myself by saying that my daughter is only 7 and there will be more concerts.  Or I would have gone to the concert and been bitter about missing the ride.  For all of my angst about Dirty Kanza, and for all of the mixed feelings that it’s given me about cycling, it has been a rebirth of sorts for me.  It has reminded me of the things in life that are more important than cycling.  This has been a tumultuous summer.

So my congrats to the ladies and gentlemen that rode and finished RPM.  Personally, I think that if you weren’t screaming Shake It Off at the top of your lungs Saturday night, dancing with a 7 year old, you’re the one that missed out.

The Worst Best News.

Those who read this blog know that I’m a fervent supporter of Local Bike Shops, and that wherever possible, I buy locally.

I’m sharing this news with a heart that is both heavy, and happy.  It’s both broken and open.

North Central Cyclery is Seeking New Adventures and New Owners.

Tobie’s post over at NCC does a better job of describing what’s ahead than I can.  Tobie is a very good, very close, personal friend of mine.  He’s in that inner sanctum of brothers from other mothers.  I am indescribably excited for the next chapter in his life, as I’ve been indescribably happy to see his growth over the past six or so years that I’ve known him.  For me, the past six years have been full of change, of growth, of sickness and health.  Of finding myself, and finding who I’m not.  Tobie has been a vanguard in my journey of self-discovery, and a trusted friend and confidant.  I will miss having him at the shop, and I’m not going to go into it beyond that, because my feelings aren’t capable of being transcribed into a blog.

I met Tobie at NCC.  I wanted to check out the Big Dummy that they had in the window, when I was driving by.  That was a long time ago.  Through Tobie and NCC, I met Chad, Jeff, Paul, Aaron, Brendan, other Chad, Beth, Ross, Lenny, Mike, Jeff…I could keep going.  The list goes on and on.  I met the people who have formed the core of my non-family relationships.  I met my best friends.  (Heck, it also formed the basis of many of my e-friendships, like Eric, and Chris, and all of the other keyboard commandos out there).

But let me say something else, here.  North Central Cyclery has developed into something more than the sum of its parts.  There is a culture, an ethic, a group of workers and riders, and a brand, that are incredible.  This is an amazing opportunity for someone–someone to come in and take ownership of the shop–work with the amazing staff that they have (including a crew who are ready to assume all of Tobie’s managerial duties–or as much of those as the owner wishes to delegate).  Someone to work with the dedicated riders and community members who support the shop.  I don’t benefit from the sale of the shop in any way–I’m not an owner or employee.  But I am incredibly hopeful that the torch which has been carried thus far will be picked up and carried forward, by someone who has the same vision and integrity that Tobie has.

North Central Cyclery has a bright future, with the right leadership at the helm.  This is an unusual transaction, as the shop isn’t being sold because of death, or because of failure, or because of downturn.  The shop is on a steady, progressive growth trend that has the potential to continue indefinitely.  It has a name and a market that defy its location and size.  It has people from Michigan to Maine to California that order bikes from there, notwithstanding the fact that they don’t sell online.  It has a dedicated, national core of customers.

From time to time, I list something on here that I’m selling, or I’ll link to something that a friend is selling.  That time has come again, today.  This is the opportunity that someone has been waiting for.  I want to continue to be a part of a successful organization in our community.  I want to continue to patronize a local business, and to send my friends and neighbors there.  I want you–whoever you are–to find this opportunity and grasp it.  And so I share this, mindful of the fact that it signals a transition where my LBS manager will no longer be one of my best friends.  But you know what?  Six years ago, I didn’t know Tobie at all.  He was the kind of quiet guy with the earring, at the bike shop that had the weird bike in the window, who kept telling me I could test ride the bike whenever I wanted.  He never pushed me to buy.  It seemed like an awkward, and unprofitable business model.  And it’s carried the shop so far.  So.  Far.  Someone needs to come and be the next chapter.

Hurt so good.

Last night, it was about 60 degrees and raining.  10mph winds that were shifting direction constantly.  A miserable night to ride.

Before last night, I hadn’t ridden in 11 days.  I had been out of town a bit, but frankly, since Kanza, I haven’t had the fuel to ride.  Ordinarily, I’d be riding 4-5 days a week.  Through June, it’s been 1-2.  So I knew I was going to be off my game.  I knew I was going to be riding with a group of guys who were really on their game.  I knew I was going to suffer.

The weather was awful, as expected.  Spray from the road, pelting rain, the feeling of suffocating.  Trying to breath heavily while getting sprayed with a hose of water off of the tire in front of you.  The relief of reaching the front, getting out of the spray, and then realizing that you’re now facing the headwind.

I rode ok.  I got dropped, a few times.  I wasn’t in the money on any sprint.  (I wasn’t really there for the sprints, frankly).  You know how when you overcook a sausage, it stretches out the casing…and then when you cut it, as soon as the knife pierces the casing, it splits open?  That’s how my legs felt…like overstuffed, overcooked sausages.

At one point, coming up to Alp D’Kalb, I was pushing as hard as I could and the main group was pulling away from me.  Feller slowed down a bit and tried to pull me back on.  (Feller?  Seriously?  When did that dude get so strong?)  I was done.  My calves were starting that pre-cramp twitch, my quads were burning, my lungs were burning, my eyes were watering, and my vision was narrowing down to a tiny pinhole in front of me.  And I didn’t make it to join back on.

Coming back into town, I was sore.  I was experiencing the dull pain of fatigue, rather than the sharp pain of a hard exertion.  It sucked.

And I’m so glad I did it.  I’m so glad I rode.  I’m so glad it hurt–it was a reminder of the perils of not riding.  It was a reminder of how good it can feel to ride well.  It was a reminder of all that is good and wholesome about sprinting to the yellow sign.  I was wet, sore, tired, and feeling just this side of water-boarded.  And it was good.  It felt like a baptism back into riding.

My desire to ride has been rekindled, borne out of suffering.  Sometimes, you have to suck, to want to excel.