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?”
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.