Most of your equipment choices in cyclocross are made months before the season even starts. What frame you’re on and the components you use is a given come race day. However, one choice that even the top professionals leave to sometimes minutes before the start of the race is tire selection. This is because tire selection is very condition dependent.
For any given tire company, there are basically three different tread patterns to choose from (fortunately not more). These include file treads (minimal traction, minimal rolling resistance), all around (medium traction and rolling resistance), and mud (maximum traction and rolling resistance). File treads are designed for sand or very hard packed conditions, which ends up being a specialty tire, and it’s rare that pros will use them. One common mistake is that file treads work well for all conditions that don’t involve mud, even for very loose, dry, and dusty courses. However, those conditions actually require far more traction than a file tread can offer. The medium tread is the original tread pattern that’s nearly unchanged from the start of cross racing in Europe. Back then, the tire choice was easy, since there was only one. And today, it’s still the tread of choice 90% of the time. When the conditions get really wet and nasty, the advantages of a true mud tire are unrivaled. However, it doesn’t have to be pouring buckets for you to choose a mud tire. There can be small sections of the course that you could gain a few seconds per lap because of better traction, like a tight turn on a steep downhill or a steep, loose climb that you can ride up instead of needing to dismount.
Since we all want to go as fast as possible in a race, we want the tire with the lowest rolling resistance, while not losing traction on technical sections of the course. To choose which tread will be best, you have to take into account what your personal strengths are, and also consider the type of course that you’ll be racing. Say you’re really strong and fit, but lack technical skills. If the course is really twisty and turny, you’d want an aggressive tire to help you out as much as possible in the technical sections, because overcoming the additional rolling resistance won’t be a problem for you. Or in contrast, if you’re always getting dropped on the pedaling sections, but the turns are easy for you, try a file tread to help increase your top speed. Another thing to consider is your budget, because maybe you can’t afford three sets of tires and the wheels to mount them on. In that case, going for the more aggressive mud tire is most likely going to be a better option. You may be a couple seconds slower on the non-technical, straight, and fast courses, but when the conditions turn for the worse, you can be well over a minute ahead of someone with the wrong tire.
Read more tips by Jamey Driscoll
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