Enduro Allroad Bikes Are Taking Off

Enduro Allroad Bikes Are Taking Off

The big story of last weekend’s North American Handmade Bicycle Show were Enduro Allroad bikes – road bikes with tires wider than 45 mm. These bikes are great on paved roads, but their true element is gravel. Even on smooth gravel, these extra-wide tires roll better than narrower ones. On loose and rough gravel, there simply is no comparison. Instead of grinding through the gravel, you float over it! It’s amazing what ultra-wide, supple tires can do.
The idea for the Enduro Allroad bike came during the 2014 Oregon Outback (above), where even my 42 mm-wide Compass Babyshoe Pass tires sank deep into the soft gravel. I hunted from the left side of the “road” to the right, trying to find firmer ground. I could see the tracks of the rider ahead of me, Ira Ryan, who won the race. He was fishtailing all over the place (below).
As I tried to keep up the pace on this difficult stretch, I realized there was a solution: A wider tire would float on top of the loose stuff. It would be much faster and also make the bike easier and more fun to handle. The idea of a road tire that was even wider than my 42s was definitely pushing the envelope at the time. The big makers were still trying to figure out whether the ideal gravel tire was 28 or 32 mm wide.
The idea was good, but there was a problem: Nobody in living memory had ridden an extra-supple tire that wide. The closest thing in existence were the FMB tubulars that professional cross-country mountain bike racers use – but not on pavement. (Making a tire that wasn’t supple would have defeated the purpose of the exercise. After all, the goal is more speed and comfort, not less.)
Before we could commit to making tire molds, we had to make some prototype tires. But without molds, you cannot make tires! We found a solution to that problem. Panaracer made a few mountain bike tires with our Extralight casing. Then Peter Weigle shaved off the knobs to create ultra-wide slick tires. Talk about hand-made tires!
We tested these prototypes extensively. On gravel (above), we could not believe the new tires’ performance. Just as importantly, the sidewalls held up to the abuse of riding over rough ground at ridiculously high speed.
But the big surprise came on pavement: The new tires offered incredible cornering, because they put so much rubber on the road. And on the straights, the ultra-wide tires rolled extremely well, too. Whoever was riding the Enduro Allroad bike had no trouble keeping up with the riders on narrower tires.
Any drawbacks? Tire pressure becomes much more important. Whereas I can ride a 42 mm tire anywhere between 35 and 65 psi without trouble, the 54 mm tires require more careful pressure adjustments. Put in too much air, and the tire starts to bounce a bit on some undulations in the pavement. Let the pressure drop too low, and the sidewalls begin to collapse during enthusiastic cornering. For me, the pressure range on pavement was between 25 and 30 psi. Fortunately, that range worked equally well on gravel and on pavement, so at least there is no need to adjust the pressure in mid-ride with tires this wide.
As a result of this research, we introduced the first two Enduro Allroad tires last year. The Rat Trap Pass is a 26″ x 2.3″ tire (54 mm wide). The Switchback Hill (above, named after the first climb of the Oregon Outback) is a 650B x 48 mm. Our customers’ reaction was surprisingly positive, considering that this was a product that nobody had expected. The idea of the Enduro Allroad bike appealed to many riders.
Not quite a year later, the Enduro Allroad Bike is entering the mainstream. Last weekend, WTB introduced their new “Road Plus™” 650B x 47 mm tire (above). It’s interesting to see others follow our lead: The WTB tire even uses a tread pattern that resembles our Compass tires. (The “chevron” ribs are designed to interlock with the road surface as you corner.) And there finally seems to be a consensus that a knobby tread is of little use when riding on gravel. (The rock “layers” move in relation to each other, rather than the tire slipping on the top layer of gravel.)
The WTB tire may look similar to our Compass tires, but it doesn’t duplicate our efforts. At 515 g, it’s about 100 g heavier than our Switchback Hill, and it seems to be intended more as a utility tire.
With more tire choices, more Enduro Allroad Bikes will be built. Above is MAP’s “Rambonneur” with our Switchback Hill tires.
Masi, Miele, Rawland and Brodie have announced new models designed around 650B Enduro Allroad tires. It’s taken less than a year for the new concept to enter the mainstream. That also attests to the inherent appeal of the idea. It’s not something that needs marketing. Anybody who’s ever crested a deserted mountain pass on a gravel road, before launching into an exhilarating descent, understands.
Last autumn, I tested the Elephant NFE for Bicycle Quarterly (above). On the loose gravel of the Iron Horse Trail, I appreciated the extra floatation of the big tires. Where riders on narrower tires were struggling, I felt like I was on a road ride. The road may have been gravel, but the sensations were still those of a road bike. The “Road Plus™” name is not inappropriate, but since it’s trademarked to one company, it’s unlikely to catch on.
We chose the name “Enduro Allroad” to show that this type of bike is a logical extension of the “Allroad” bikes we’ve been riding for years. The new bikes are more geared toward gravel and rough stuff, whereas standard Allroad bikes with their 38-42 mm tires are better on pavement. Both categories overlap on smooth, hard gravel, where they offer similar performance. The new bikes don’t replace our existing ones, but the two categories complement each other.
At last autumn’s Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting, I was surprised how many riders already were on Enduro Allroad bikes. Above is BQ‘s Hahn Rossman on his converted Bontrager (with a new fork and disc brakes) with our 26″ Rat Trap Pass tires, in front of Denny Trimble on a Soma Wolverine.
I am not in favor of segmenting the bike world more than necessary – one bike for all purposes remains my dream – but I know that when I return to the route of the Oregon Outback, I want to be on an Enduro Allroad bike!
Photo credits (Hunter and MAP): www.theradavist.com, used with permission.

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Comments (75)

  • Kurt Sperry

    Still no good fenders available for these tires? That’s a pretty significant downside if so.

    February 28, 2016 at 8:48 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We use Honjo’s smooth 650B x 60 mm fenders for the 26″ tires. The diameter works out just right. Fenders wider than that hit the chain… For the wide 650B tires, we don’t currently offer fenders. Most bikes, like the Elephant NFE, accept them only without fenders (at least if you want adequate fender clearances for gravel riding).

      February 29, 2016 at 3:15 pm
    • Frank

      It appears the ‘Rambonneur’ above has got fenders for the 48 ‘switchback hill’ … and they look like they fit great.

      March 3, 2016 at 1:00 am
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        Mitch used the Honjo 650B x 60 mm fenders from Compass Bicycles. However, the clearances are too tight for our taste. For safety and reliability, there should be at least 20 mm between fender and tire. So even though we sell those fenders, we cannot recommend this combination.

        March 3, 2016 at 7:38 am
  • randonneefolle

    Congratulations to you, Jan, and the team behind the BQ/Compass research on wider and more supple tires. It must feel great to see more riders and even major manufacturers embrace that concept.

    February 28, 2016 at 11:43 pm
  • Micah

    Any chance of a 700c version of that tire?

    February 29, 2016 at 6:07 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      A 700C x 48 mm tire would be very large. Not only would it be difficult to make a road-style bike that fits the tire, but the handling also would be too stable for a road bike. You’d basically end up with a 29er, which relies on its suspension to go over bumps, rather than nimble handling to go around them.
      However, if riders who have 29ers want a more road- and gravel-oriented tire, then this might make sense. Or they could use a 650B wheelset (29ers have disc brakes) and thus not only make their bikes faster, but also more nimble…

      February 29, 2016 at 6:48 am
      • Matthew J

        A few years back I tried a Schwalbe Big Apple 700×2.15 on a tour bike with a lot of room for tires..
        All that air definitely ensured suspension. Handling was awkward.

        February 29, 2016 at 7:54 am
      • Bigschill

        not hard at all. I’ve got a low trail custom built by Bantam that fits 700 x 48mm tires (WTB Nine Line’s). It’s a blast to ride and I’m running a 103 mm BB with MTB cranks. My favorite ride of three low trail bikes. I had to go another 15 mm longer on the top tube to minimize TCO but handling is great with a 9 cm Nitto Pearl.

        February 29, 2016 at 8:51 am
    • Philip Williamson

      I put 60mm Big Apples and a rigid fork on a Fisher hybrid. http://www.biketinker.com/2011/projects/gravel-roadster/
      There is a new Schwalbe tire called the “Big One” that replaces the Big Apple/Supermoto, and is reputedly Schwalbe’s tire with the lowest rolling resistance ever.

      February 29, 2016 at 9:19 am
      • Robert S

        He estimates tubeless Big One RR to be 9.3 Watts (18mph 42 kg load):
        , which is right up there with the best road tires. Ever thought of sending this guy a Compass tire or two to see what he comes up with?

        March 1, 2016 at 9:44 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The problem with tests on rollers is that they don’t measure the suspension losses, which occur as the bike vibrates. This means that stiffer casings give artificially good results. An extreme example would be a steel railroad wheel. It would score best on a smooth steel roller (that is why railroads use steel wheels). On a real road surface, a steel wheel is extremely slow.
          Adding texture to the roller doesn’t solve the problem. Much of the suspension losses occur in the rider’s body – muscle and other tissues rub against each other, and the friction converts energy to heat. That energy must come from somewhere – it’s taken from the forward motion of the bike, like any other friction. To make a drum test realistic, you need to simulate the body of the rider. I don’t know of anybody who has even attempted that.

          March 1, 2016 at 9:53 pm
  • Roger

    Are rim brakes compatible with these large tires? Our does the width push riders to disc brakes? Were you involved in the design in any of these forthcoming bikes you mention? I wasn’t familiar with them but it looks like Rawland has implemented some of your findings like low trail and light steel?

    February 29, 2016 at 7:28 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Cantilever brakes work fine with these large tires. Mountain bikes used “fat” tires and cantis for decades. On gravel, your brake forces are lower (less traction!), so you don’t get the twisting of the fork blades that occurs when you apply cantis hard on the road.
      I was involved in the early stages of the Rawland, but the other bikes seem to have been inspired by what we do, without our direct involvement. It’s neat to see 650B make a breakthrough on the road, not just mountain bikes.

      February 29, 2016 at 8:08 am
      • alliwant

        Hi Jan,
        What is the maximum tire and fender size that the compass centerpull brake can accomodate? I’m interested to know how wide I could fit tires with the Rinko brakes.

        March 1, 2016 at 3:58 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          It’s designed for tires up to 43 mm wide, with sufficient clearance for fenders. Without fenders, you can fit 48 mm tires with adequate clearance. You could run wider tires by reducing the clearances, but we don’t recommend it.

          March 1, 2016 at 4:02 pm
    • Conrad

      I was all ready to order a Rawland Ravn, but they changed the specs and decided not to offer a frameset only and it was designed for discs. I am not necessarily against discs, but I have found that V brakes paired to Cane Creek V brake levers work really well and are inexpensive and lightweight, and don’t force you to beef up the fork for discs. I think V brakes and 26 inch wheels are a really good way to go for an enduro allroad bike. The market at large, not so much I suspect. The problem with V brakes is that they get in the way of a front rack attachment at the fork crown. There should be a relatively easy way to work around this. I use an aftermarket rack that attaches at the cantilever posts and fork dropouts. Drawback being that it is a heavy and not all that stiff. Traditional cantilevers are okay but lacking in power, and if you want to avoid brake chatter you have to use a fork crown mounted cable stop- which again gets in the way of front rack attachment.

      March 2, 2016 at 9:39 pm
  • Dr J

    Interesting how you write about it:
    “Instead of grinding through the gravel, you float over it! It’s amazing what ultra-wide, supple tires can do.”
    “On gravel (above), we could not believe the new tires’ performance.”
    With your experience, should it be quite obvious that wider tires roll better over loose sand and rough gravel? There is a reason mountain bikes don’t roll on 28mm rubber.

    February 29, 2016 at 8:02 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Yes, emphatically so – wider tires roll better on rough stuff. When we tested different setups on rumble strips, we found that wider tires roll way faster on rough stuff, because they can run lower pressures. That reduces the suspension losses.
      I think the early gravel riders came from a road background, and to them, the narrowest possible tires seemed like the best choice. Now we know that the widest tires you can fit between your road cranks are the fastest on gravel. And on pavement, they appear as fast as narrower tires. So you win on gravel, but don’t roll significantly slower on pavement.
      We hope to do some controlled testing soon to see how well the wider tires really roll on pavement. But just riding them, we notice when we switch bikes that the bikes on the widest tires perform as well as those with narrower tires. (When we switch, the faster riders remain faster by the same amount, so it’s the riders, not the bikes, that perform differently.)

      February 29, 2016 at 8:14 am
  • Denny Trimble

    Hi Jan,
    Echoing the request for a 700C x 50ish tire, I would love to see that!
    I’m the rider behind Hahn in the photo above. I was on a Soma Wolverine, running Schwalbe Rocket Ron 29 x 2.25 up front, and Schwalbe Thunder Burt 29 x 2.1 in the rear. Both are tubeless on WTB KOM i23 rims, and they push the limits of clearance in that frame. I liked the knobs for the #Randuro nature of that ride.
    Right now I’m running the 700 x 38 G-Ones with fenders, also tubeless. There’s a big hole in tire availability for this type of riding above 700 x 38!

    February 29, 2016 at 8:12 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Sorry I misidentified the tires of your bike. I’ll correct the blog post. There were so many Switchback Hills at the meeting that I thought you were on them, too. A wider 700C tire does make sense…

      February 29, 2016 at 8:16 am
  • Sarah

    Would love to have had this type of tire while bike touring New Zealand. The Rainbow Track and Nevis Road offered a wide variety of gravel conditions. I suffered on my 32mm tires!

    February 29, 2016 at 9:14 am
  • Roger the Ridemonger

    I was able to attend nahbs and was impressed with the many wonderful bicycles and their builders.
    I was also impressed how many bikes had compass tires. The ideas and indeed ideals that have come out of your tests and products were everywhere and BQ was being referred to in many conversations.
    Other companies are certainly following with wider smoother tire offerings. Stopping by the Pannaracer booth I spoke to the fellow about the differences in the Compass tires and a new offering of theirs. I loved his comment. “Jan doesn’t care about puncture resistance, he just wants supple, if you get a flat it’s just bad luck”.
    He explained that they(Pannaracer) sell products to a larger more general riding public and so they incorporate more thread count and a thin layer of puncture resistance from bead to bead which does firm up the tire some. The tires still felt pretty playable though.
    I need to order some Rat Traps…

    February 29, 2016 at 9:44 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It’s not that we don’t care about puncture resistance. It’s just that we’ve found that wide tires don’t need to be so firm, since they are soft enough to roll over debris that gets hammered into narrower, harder tires.
      Ask any rider on Rat Trap Pass or Switchback Hill tires about flats. Most probably haven’t had one since they put the tires on their bike. I average about a flat every 4000 miles (6400 km) on my 42 mm Babyshoe Pass Extralights. Almost all of them are from steel wires that will work their way through any tire, no matter how much you reinforce it.

      February 29, 2016 at 9:55 am
      • craigsj

        I’ve been using Switchback Hills since they became available, have destroyed 3 and had countless flats (including 3 on one ride). Far from “haven’t had one”, they are only robust compared to other Compass tires. Better than the 42mm but still fragile.
        The big disappointment for me is that the bead is so stretchy. They set up tubeless nicely but will blow off a rim in short order. I’m sure they’d be OK tubeless at <30 psi but I'm too heavy for that. Too bad since tubeless tolerates the kinds of flats these tires are vulnerable to. Maybe the WTB offering will be better. I'll point out that it's only 35g heavier than the standard Switchback Hill. I guess I can tolerate "utility".
        I test rode the new Schwalbe Big Ones in the 700c size and they are glorious. I'd like to see some range in sizes but they are worth the trouble. Can't wait for the narrower tires in my rear view mirror along with the prejudice that says that 42mm is as big a tire as you can run on 650B, an attitude that came firmly from Jan not long ago…

        February 29, 2016 at 10:30 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I am sorry you had so many flats. Riding styles and environments differ, but your experience seems to be an outlier. You may need sturdier tires!
          Regarding the stretch of the bead, again, many of us and many customers have run the Compass tires tubeless – without any problems.
          Finally, it still is true that a tire wider than 42 mm, especially in a large wheel size, will entail compromises. That is one reason we make the 26″ Rat Trap Pass – you preserve the handling of a “road” bike by keeping the rotational inertia the same. It’s not just keeping the wheel diameter the same: A bigger tire weighs a bit more, so you reduce the diameter to compensate.

          March 1, 2016 at 9:22 am
      • Roger the Ridemonger

        I took the Pannaracer fellow’s comment as a positive!
        I have over 800 miles on Baby Shoe XL’s riding horrendous Sonoma county roads with zero flats so I totally understand why there’s little concern for pictures in the wider, more supple, at lower pressure camp. I also ride serious gravel and some single track and have about 200-300 miles on Switchback XL’s with no flats(I’m not even nervous about saying it, knock on wood).

        February 29, 2016 at 10:51 am
      • Frank B.

        Roger, country roads are not where people get a lot of punctures anyway (unless on narrow tires that lead to snake bites). It’s the city, that’s dangerous because of debris like glass or nails. I get a lot less flats in the city with utility tires like the Pasela. But the ride feeling is not as nice, so I switch to Hetres when going out of town like on the weekend.

        March 1, 2016 at 2:35 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Utility tires may provide more protection in some situations. It really depends where you ride. I prefer to ride in the traffic lane, and not hug the curb where all the debris accumulates. Riding Hetres and Babyshoe Pass tires, I have had one flat in the city in the last 5 years – a huge nail as I was getting onto the sidewalk to stop at a business.

          March 1, 2016 at 8:25 am
        • Roger the Ridemonger

          Hi Frank B.
          As a long time mtn biker I tend to ride farther to the left, in the debris collection zone, than many “roadies”. I ride paved and un paved cycling/walking paths and all manner of city streets as well as off road. I rechecked mileage and I’m up to 1300 on the 42’s with no flats. I’d say unless you get frequent punctures there’s no reason not to increase comfort and speed on “real world” roads with a set of compass tires. As big as your bike will accept!

          March 1, 2016 at 8:52 am
      • Frank B.

        That’s basically what I’m saying: If you ride, where no debris is (like middle of road, rural roads,…) you won’t get many flats with Hetres. But you also wouldn’t be able to collect meaningful data about the puncture resistance of a tire.

        March 3, 2016 at 9:44 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The best evidence is my friend Ryan. With 25 mm tires, he seemed to get a flat every other ride – at least 2 a month. On 42 mm Babyshoe Pass tires, he gets about three flats a year. So his flat frequency, on the same roads and with the same riding style, has gone from about 24/year to 3/year. Even if there is some noise in the data, over a few years riding, that starts being meaningful data, especially since it matches the experience of most other riders.

          March 3, 2016 at 10:13 am
      • Frank B.

        I think, we all around here agree that narrow tires get more flats than wide tires. Ryan’s experience is a perfect example, probably even proof for this.
        I am more concerned about tires of a similar and of “sensible” width, especially with 650x42B. In this size only recently some tires were (re-)introduced that offer more puncture protection than Hetres, while at the same time being decent to ride. Before the arrival of the 650B Pasela or the new Marathon Supreme, there only were 650B tires that were either more flat-prone than Hetres, like the Pari-Moto, or on the other hand uncomfortable tanks like the original Schwalbe Marathon.
        The new Pasela PT and the Supreme however offer a pretty nice alternative in the middle ground for riders who frequently flat on Hetres.

        March 5, 2016 at 12:58 am
  • jasonmongue

    What’s that little leather wrapped sack under the seat in the first photo? Looks cool

    February 29, 2016 at 11:19 am
    • Jakob

      Looks like a tool roll tied to the saddle rails with a toestrap.

      March 1, 2016 at 8:21 am
  • Stan Pun

    How do these wider tires compare with 700 x 2x on club rides, “sprinting for the county line”, and ride with lots of long climbs especially at the pressures you mentioned? Do they feel squishy at those pressures? Basically can a cyclist with these tires keep up their with roadie friends with 700c bikes on these tires?
    Thanks for your efforts in trying to improve our options out there.

    February 29, 2016 at 1:40 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Even the really big tires feel surprisingly “normal”, despite their low pressures. We usually ride 42 mm-wide tires, and those feel totally normal. Since they are 650B, the rotational inertia is about the same as a 700C x 28 mm tire. If you win city line sprints on a road bike, you’ll still win them on an Allroad bike.
      Check out this photo from last year’s PBP. I had no trouble staying near the front of the group and setting the pace on the climbs during those hectic first 100 km.

      February 29, 2016 at 3:12 pm
    • Dustin

      I love my tubeless Bon Jons when riding solo or heading off pavement. And I know Jan says they’re just as fast as skinnier tires…but, that’s not my experience. I’ve done faster group rides with them, and it’s noticeably more effort to stay with the group when things get fast. I’ve got two sets of wheels, alloy wheels with the Bon Jons, and some 36mm deep carbon wheels with tubeless Schwalbes that measure a bit over 26mm. I don’t know for certain if it’s the lighter weight, improved aerodynamics, or a rolling resistance difference, but the carbon wheels with skinny tires are my choice for faster group rides, they spin up faster and it’s easier to maintain speed. I suspect it’s mostly the lighter weight and better aerodynamics, not so much rolling resistance, because the Compass tires roll great. But, when average speeds are in the 20mph range, the skinny tires/deeper wheels make it easier. IMHO, YMMV, horses for courses, etc.

      March 1, 2016 at 9:33 am
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        Thank you for sharing that observation about your 700C x 35 mm Bon Jon Pass tires. It’s unlikely to be the lighter weight/lower rotational inertia. Otherwise, there would be an easy solution: Use smaller wheels!
        That is the reason the UCI mandates a minimum wheel diameter of 550 mm. Interestingly, all pros ride 700C wheels, which measure closer to 650 mm. So if the difference was significant, then you’d expect the pros all to be at 551 mm to max out that advantage. Especially sprinter wouldn’t want to give up that little bit!
        In fact, many have tried – Cinelli, Colnago and many small builders have made bikes with 650C wheels that should, in theory, give an advantage like you describe. Pro racers have tried them, but they didn’t adopt them. How do we explain that?
        When I raced in the 1980s, David Levy of Ti Cycles raced a bike he built with 650C wheels. It didn’t seem to have any huge disadvantages, but also no significant advantages.
        Perhaps we should study aerodynamics of deep-dish rims in the turbulent air of a peloton? More likely, if you are sprinting out of the saddle, then rotational inertia does matter, because your lateral acceleration (throwing the bike from side to side) is actually quite large. So a bike with bigger tires will feel totally different when you ride out of the saddle, unless you reduce the wheel diameter.

        March 1, 2016 at 9:43 am
  • Alexander Fine

    Very cool to see the mainstream market produce this sort of product. I also like the sort of utilitarian aesthetic of the Mitch Pryor design. The tires look fantastic.
    My most recent mixed surface ride was on a road, then into Forest Park, on a packed dirt trail with bits of scattered gravel, puddles, and quite a bit of mud. I was using the 35mm stock tires on my bike and despite their narrow width, I felt great. Some believe the narrower cross tires are good in the mud, and I felt very confident digging a line through the mud, without that feeling of sliding over it. There is a slight negative tread on the shoulders and a slight positive texture between the negative treads, while the center is essentially slick.
    Any thoughts on mud tires?

    February 29, 2016 at 4:03 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Mud is perhaps the most difficult surface (apart from ice, which should be avoided!). You need knobs on mud, but even they offer only so much traction before they clog. (Loamy mud is worst!) In cyclocross, we used to believe that narrower tires cut through the mud – I raced on 25s or so in the 90s, but today I am on the maximum width my Alan allows me to run (34 mm), and it’s way better in all situations. Unfortunately, a good mud tire (widely spaced knobs to get good self-cleaning) is an awful road tire (noisy and slow because the knobs deform as the tire rolls). Trying to combine the two gets you a tire with too many knobs to be of use in mud, yet still too knobby to offer good performance on the road.
      In the end, you have to choose: If most of your ride is mud (like a ‘cross race), accept sub-par performance on pavement. If your ride is mostly paved, accept that you’ll spin your rear wheel a bit more than ideal in deep mud.

      February 29, 2016 at 11:18 pm
      • Paul Barer

        Avoid ice!!!??? I would be off the bikes fore several months each year. (Riding indoors is way too boring.) Between studded snow/ice tires and goretex cycling clothes, it is possible to ride year-round comfortably but not fast. I am looking forward to some supple snow tires in the future. The rolling resistance difference between 1000 gram 35 tpi studded tires and the Compass Barlow Pass tires is truly amazing.

        March 3, 2016 at 6:37 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          You are right, with studded tires, ice doesn’t need to pose a problem. Around here, ice is too rare to warrant studded tires, and my point only is that while water and mud can be dealt with on standard tires, ice cannot. You risk a crash, no matter how skilled you are. Either get studs or stay off the road on icy days!

          March 3, 2016 at 6:48 pm
  • Nelson

    Hi, Jan
    I use Conti 700×38 on my 29er on the road, and would be nice to have the option of a tan extralight 700×50 for both road and gravel !

    February 29, 2016 at 5:45 pm
    • Stefan

      Try Schwalbe Super Moto. They are all black with supple walls.

      February 29, 2016 at 11:44 pm
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        The Super Motos are nice tires, but I wouldn’t call them supple. Just to give you an idea: We ran the 57 mm Super Motos on Bicycle Quarterly‘s Jeff Jones test bike at 16 psi with no problems, but the 54 mm Compass Extralights – almost the same width – need 26 psi to prevent collapsing in corners. That shows you how much the stiff sidewalls of the Super Motos hold up the bike and rider. And the Compass tires are still more comfortable (and probably faster) at 26 psi than a stiffer tire at 16 psi.

        March 1, 2016 at 9:25 am
      • Robert S

        Jan: I thought the 57mm Super Motos were 29″, whereas your 54mm Extralights are 26″ tires. You put 26″ wheels on the Jones??

        March 1, 2016 at 10:01 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Sorry for the misunderstanding. We didn’t put the 26″ wheels on the Jones, but on another bike. However, the bikes and rider weight were similar, and so was the width of the tire. Yet the minimum rideable tire pressure was quite different, because one tire was so much stiffer than the other.

          March 1, 2016 at 10:06 pm
  • alliwant

    Hi Jan,
    I sent Velocity a link to this post. Their new 700C rim design would be ideal in a 650B or 26″ version for one of these bikes. It’s the Quill, and according to their specs it is fairly wide (21 mm clinch width), light (415g) and strong. Looks like a good fit for a performance allroad bike if they make the required size.

    February 29, 2016 at 7:40 pm
  • sporobolus

    thanks for illuminating the progression
    i’m just another person wanting wider 700c tires — not “29er”, and definitely not 29+ — i have a Paké C’mute frame that maxes out with Big Apple 700×50, but these aren’t especially supple tires; perhaps there aren’t a whole lot of “road” frames that can fit 700c tires this wide, but there also aren’t many slick 29er tires that narrow, so i’m in a pickle; it’s making me feel like giving up and going back to an old 26″ MTB frame

    February 29, 2016 at 10:56 pm
  • Stefan

    I’ ve been riding Schwalbe SuperMoto foldable (befor Big Apple) both 26″ and 29″ on different multi purpose bikes vor more than 5 years. I have no Idea why I should ever go back to sth. narrower but the looks. Changed a lot for me in cycling. You can simply go anywhere except slippery mud. “Oh….a small track….lets try it…” Like this!

    February 29, 2016 at 11:12 pm
  • Stefan

    I’ ve been riding Schwalbe SuperMoto foldable (befor Big Apple) both 26″ and 29″ on different multi purpose bikes vor more than 5 years. I have no Idea why I should ever go back to sth. narrower but the looks. Changed a lot for me in cycling. Even more than getting rid of the speedometer…:-) You feel like you can simply go anywhere except slippery mud. “Oh….a small track….lets try it…” I like this!

    February 29, 2016 at 11:39 pm
  • SmoothestRollingBike

    Jan, please make 622×60 tan tires with Extralight casing. I find Schwalbe Big One the best tire ever created. It is really light – 440g as 622×60 tire, supple with 127 tpi and the best Schwalbe OneStar rubber. Unfortunately I fall in love with tan sidewalls, when I saw this titanium bicycle:
    In my opinion it is the best combo: custom titanium frame and your tan extralight supple tires, but please make wider 622 tires. I know all about cons your talk about: not nimble, q-factor, but it is one thing which I never give away:
    There are possibilities to make 622×60 tired bicycle more nimble: ultra light carbon rims (290g for 29″) with disc brakes and ultra light spokes like Sapim Super Spoke. Q-factor is also possible to narrow a little bit with custom made dedicated frame and appropriate crankset and cranks.
    Jan, there are many people who would like wide, supple 29″ tires. Could your give us a present this year?

    March 1, 2016 at 5:14 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We’ll consider making a wider 700C tire in the future.


      We (and others) tested how well different wheel sizes roll over obstacles – at least small ones like you commonly ride over on gravel roads. There was no difference between 26″, 650B and 700C. When you look at the differences in approach angle, it’s very small. (The truth is that 700C is only 6% bigger than 650B.)
      I don’t doubt that the feel of a larger wheel is different. We tested that, too. The rotational inertia of the front wheel varies greatly, which may result in less deflection as you hit those obstacles. So I understand the preference for 700C wheels on mountain bikes, but it’s not because they roll better over obstacles.

      March 1, 2016 at 8:40 am
  • SmoothestRollingBike

    Thanks Jan for your answer.
    I can feel big difference especially on curbs, roots between 26” and 29” tires. Maybe 6,5% difference between 650B and 700C is smaller, but for me every percent counts.
    By the way:
    Schwalbe Big One LiteSkin 622×60 has 13,6W rolling resistance at 35psi
    which is lower then
    Continental Grand Prix 4000S II 622×25 – 13,7W rolling resistance at 80psi
    as tested by Jarno Bierman at Bicycle Rolling Resistance website
    The ‘knobs’ on the Big One are very small with a height of just 0.5 mm at both the center and edge of the tire. The total measured thickness of the tire excluding the knobs is just 1.1 mm, so it’s just 1,6 mm altogether. The tread of compass tires is 3 mm thick, so it will last many miles more https://janheine.wordpress.com/2014/02/22/introducing-the-full-line-of-compass-tires/
    I will wait for wide, tan 700C tires with extralight casing.

    March 1, 2016 at 9:37 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Interesting results, but unfortunately, measuring rolling resistance on steel drums doesn’t really allow you to compare knobbies with smooth tires. Tire buzz will result in suspension losses that the steel drum method doesn’t measure… When you ride those “fast-rolling” knobbies on real roads, you notice that they roll surprisingly well, but they still are significantly slower than a good tire with minimal tread. And then there is cornering…

      March 1, 2016 at 4:06 pm
  • David Pearce

    Those tires of yours just look so fine!!

    March 1, 2016 at 4:35 pm
  • Reuben

    What are those front bags? are they big enough to carry a 13″ laptop? I’m looking for alternatives to the rear pannier…

    March 1, 2016 at 6:06 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The photos show a variety of bags, both by Gilles Berthoud (which Compass sells) and Swift Industries. They aren’t big enough for a laptop. You really need a porteur rack to carry a laptop.

      March 1, 2016 at 8:08 pm
    • Denny Trimble

      Swift Industries Ozette XL will fit a 13″ laptop, and it fits perfectly on a Haulin’ Colin Porteur rack.

      March 1, 2016 at 8:48 pm
  • thebvo

    While living in Japan for 3 years I was exposed to the randonneur bikes I read about in BQ and made me dream of making my own bike in the Rene Herse tradition with the rinko system I used to get on the train. However, after I made a plan to ride through the Andes in South America I knew 650B wouldn’t be a good choice and the new tires from Compass made it all the more attractive to braze a frame around 26″ super wide tires. As we get ready to leave our base here in Medellin, Colombia I’m excited to see how 26×2.35 tires will absorb the rough roads that lie ahead. Eventually I’ll try out the Compass tires, but I’m not sure they could handle loaded touring on gravel roads for thousands of miles. I’m hopeful that my bike frame also holds up! Either way I’m happy that BQ is pushing the revolution and continuing to inspire me and other adventurers and frame builders alike

    March 2, 2016 at 7:17 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I’ve toured over thousands of miles on gravel roads, using the 42 mm Compass Babyshoe Pass tires with Extralight casings, without any problem. Here is a photo… With even more air, the Compass 26″x2.3″ tires should be fine, especially if you choose the standard model, which has more cut-resistant sidewalls.

      March 2, 2016 at 7:33 am
      • thebvo

        Multi month Expedition kits weigh quite a bit more than lightweight rando setups for shorter trips. The related wear and tear is something that must be considered during such a long and isolated (from modern bike shops) tour. Having a tire last longer is a consideration worth making a compromise in a LITTLE bit of speed and efficiency. Would you ever consider there being a reason for more (it doesn’t need to mean that compass tires are weak) durability? The law of diminishing returns has been asked about how wide we can go without giving up something else and your results have showed, to my delight, that big ol tires can be super fast in addition to comfy, safe, and nearly flat free, but there might be other parts of the story you haven’t delved into with the same “law” applied.
        But I’m not trying to sound oppositional : Viva la gordo tire revolución!

        March 2, 2016 at 7:13 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I certainly don’t think our tires are for everybody. We make it quite clear: If you gets lots of flats already on your current tires, ours may not be for you.
          What I was trying to say: Touring is a lot less hard on tires than most riders imagine. Yes, if you haul 40 kg (90 lb) and rattle through pothole after pothole, we don’t really know what will happen. But the fact that our tires have performed great on tandems on very rough roads suggests that you’ll probably be fine, if you choose a tire that is wide enough for the application. (If you tour through Bolivia on 28 mm tires like some old-style tourists did, all bets are off, no matter which tire you use.)
          That said, going for a multi-month tour in remote places may be a good place to ride a sturdy tire. Or take a spare… Fortunately, with 26″ tires, you’ll be able to procure a spare almost anywhere.

          March 2, 2016 at 7:34 pm
  • Chris V

    My current gravel bike is a steel production bike that I’m running 700×35 Compass tires on it with trp drop bar hydro brakes. I could see myself getting into a 650b tire for gravel riding, but as of now I’m pretty happy with my ride unless I encounter deep gravel that is loose and unpacked or high winds that push me off my line into the soft stuff.

    March 2, 2016 at 7:54 am
  • Artur

    It seems that the current state of your research is that it’s hard to go too wide with tires – you mention issues with bike geometry or handling, but no issues directly affecting rolling resistance. But my impression is still that on smooth surfaces a 28mm tire at 8 bars is noticeably faster than a 40mm tire at 6 bars (or less). I would say the difference for me is about 1-2kph at about 30kph.
    I was thinking about what could cause that and an MTB suspension fork came to my mind. Most of them have a lockout mechanism. Why? On hard surfaces when the suspension is unlocked, there’s a feeling that power is being used to “pump” the fork. The effect is especially strong when going uphill. And indeed when the suspension is locked there’s feeling that power is no longer wasted. (the felt differences are pretty strong – when riding with friends having suspension forks, we make sure the lockout is enabled when surface is hard).
    What could explain it? It must be forces triggered by a rider’s body, that when represented as a horizontal and vertical vectors, must have a significant horizontal vector directed towards bicycle’s direction of movement. The suspension dwarfs the forces so some power that would help move the bicycle forward is lost.
    It looks like a wide front tire must work like a suspension fork – you are “pumping” the tire instead of a fork when your body moves.
    Generally, the mechanism that makes a wide tire faster on rough surfaces is that it dwarfs the forces that are opposite (or have such component when represented as perpendicular vectors) to the direction of movement. But the same mechanism dwarfs forces that are directed towards the direction of movement.
    I don’t know if your tests involved checking how body movements influence the resistance. I bet it could change the game (there are too wide tires, or not inflated enough). Of course, that would mean that a bicycle geometry, riding style and training (I think professional racers are trained to minimize body movements) affect the issue a lot.

    March 2, 2016 at 9:53 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We really want to test extra-wide tires in a controlled setting with PowerMeters. We’ve shown that 32 mm tires use as much power as 25 mm (anything narrower is slower), but we haven’t gone beyond 32 mm yet. However, on the road, we have no trouble keeping up on our 42 mm tires, and even if one of us rides a racing bike with narrower tires, that rider isn’t any faster. Even if we switch bikes to eliminate the influence of the rider… So on the road, there isn’t a noticeable performance difference between 28 and 42 mm tires. Wider than that, and we just don’t have enough experience yet.
      One issue is that often, you aren’t comparing the same bikes. A racing bike with performance-optimized frame flex characteristics will always be faster than a bike with a stouter frame. Add to that the differences in tread (Q factor) between road and mountain bike cranks, and you have a lot of reasons why your fat-tire bike might be slower than the skinny-tire machine.

      March 2, 2016 at 5:37 pm
      • Artur

        I appreciate your tests and I was thinking what could be different in my setup. I ride a hybrid bike with a flat bar (I’m only changing tires/wheels). This means that my position is more upright and center of mass is located further to the front wheel, compared to road bikes you are using. So the forces that a front wheel receives from body movements are greater.
        A different take on illustrating my hypothesis: imagine a sprinter throwing a bike forward near the finish line. If big, squishy tires were used, they would absorb some energy during that movement – in that situation you want hard tires that will not deflect.

        March 3, 2016 at 12:38 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I agree, if the tire squishes a lot, you’ll lose some energy. Fortunately, wide tires don’t squish noticeably – sprinting on a 42 mm tire at 40 psi, the bike feels “normal” to me. I think a bigger factor is the inertia mentioned before – with fenders, rack and handlebar bag, the bike doesn’t feel like a racing bike when you throw it from side to side. And that extra force required to rock the bike of course will be lost from the forward motion.
          If you want a “racing bike” feel with wide tires, you need to reduce the wheel diameter. Then the bike feels the same as one with larger wheels and narrower tires.

          March 3, 2016 at 7:41 am
  • Have Good Get Give (@Dunch_1310)

    Without going custom the only existing frame (not counting the new Rawlands since they won’t be sold as a frameset) I can think of that I could build around the Rat Trap Pass’s would be the Elephant NFE. Am I missing any others?

    March 3, 2016 at 2:19 pm
    • Reuben

      Probably a salsa vaya would work…

      March 4, 2016 at 3:48 am
      • Chris V

        I’m certain the surly offerings would work (cross check & straggler). I’ve seen a 2.0 29er tire ran on a cross check. It was a very tight fit, but it worked.

        March 4, 2016 at 12:02 pm
  • Gerard

    Going back to your tyre tests/suspension losses for a second (rumble strip specifically), could increased distance travelled (due to little ramp up to top of strip and little ramp down) be a variable that should be factored into your testing? If over 100cm of distance there were 25 bumps, and each involves say 1cm of sloped climb at say 45 degrees and 1cm of sloped descent (so each strip may introduce 8mm of ‘extra road’ length – forgive me if I have calculated my triangle incorrectly), that would add up to an extra 20cm travelled?

    March 5, 2016 at 4:30 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The grooves cut into the pavement are longer 4 cm (meaning fewer bumps per meter), and they are steps, not ramps. So the extra distance traveled in a horizontal direction is zero.
      Most of all, the differences between the smooth pavement and the rumble strips was huge. It took more than twice as much power to ride on the rumble strips. That cannot be explained by tiny amounts of extra distance…
      Also, remember that we compared different equipment choices under the same conditions, so if we found that wide tires roll better on the rumble strips, it was comparing the narrow tires in exactly the same environment.

      March 5, 2016 at 7:19 am
  • Willem

    I have recently fitted the Rat Trap Pass to my m-gineering loaded touring bike. I like them a lot: they are clearly very comfortable, a bit faster on tarmac than the 26×1.75, and unbelievably faster on gravel (they are only a litle slower than on tarmac).
    As for clearance issues. I had no problems fitting them in my frame with 135 rear spacing (Rohloff) hub) and the uniquitous 59 mm Long Shen fork crown. Fenders are the 60 mm Gilles Berthoud ones, and they are wide enough. Brakes are the sadly discontinued Magura HS66 hydraulic rim brakes, and there was enough clearance for those as well.
    As for tyres for the winter: I am more than happy with the Continental Topcontact WInter ii tyres. These use car winter tyre technology (different tread and different rubber) and are very sticky indeed for all those situations where ordinary tyres do not give enough grip and when spikes are overkill. They are reasonably fast and comfortable (the rubber does nog get stiff at lower temperatures), and feel similar to a normal touring tyre, but with spectacular grip. They also have a mild tread for when there is more muck on the roads,a nd some kevlar puncture protection such as I do not need in summer, but is reassuring in the winter. Real size is quite a bit smaller than nominal size. Of course, these are not for really hard conditions.

    March 6, 2016 at 12:03 pm

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