Rhyno (left) and Fango (right) When you are chasing Giants you need some bite
Good god could there be a more cliched header that that? I am totally fried after 3 teacher conferences/curriculum meetings in 2 days. Frankly my brain is about to explode after trying to play nice with other parents and all these so-called respectable members of society....This whole mr mom thing gets a bit hectic from time to time but back to the vocation at hand...Cyclo-cross!
I got bit by the tubular bug three years ago. And since that fateful ride at Sucker Brook I have become a complete tubular addict. They really are like crack...once you have tried them there is no going back. Tubulars are the single biggest performance advantage you can give yourself racing cross. Everything else is bullocks. Seriously. Fancy brakes? Whatever, who needs good brakes to race cross. If you are using your brakes you are going too slow and going too slow will not bring you cross glory I promise you. Carbon wheels? How about you just write me a check for $2,000 and I'll light a match to it because that's what you are going to do to those fancy pants 1,200 gram deep section carbon wheels after a season of cross.
The cross game is all about speed and carrying that speed around a course. And nothing carriers speed, corners better and flats less at low pressure than tubulars. Forget tubeless, forget clinchers nothing is better than tubies. They are race proven, the treads are optimal for what we are racing on and it is tradition damnit....
But seriously the biggest "headache" is glueing them up. I have an easy solution for that find a mechanic you trust and have them do it. It is not rocket science but it takes someone who has done it over and over and has been paid to do it, to do it right. That may seem like a cop out in our DIY culture but trust me call Aaron at Landry's in Norwood his track record is zero rolled tubulars in three seasons. There is not a home mechanic on the planet with that record.
Ok onto to what really matters. What tubular to pick right? All I know about tubies I have learnt from one person...Molly Cameron. Molly is pretty much my source for all things tubular. She brings a crazy palmares to bear on this: World Cup racer, Shop owner (Veloshop in PDX), Bike Studio owner (Portland Bicycle Studio) mechanic, team manager, Rock Star...ok maybe she's not really a rock star but I think she is...anything I know about tubies (and its not much mind you!) I owe to her tutelage and patience. If you have any questions you really owe it to yourself to call her or send her an email. Sooo on to the show...
The FMB SSC 34
My first tubular tire ever. Gorgeous tire. Meaty, beety, big and bouncy. Francois runs a one man shop in France. He handmakes arguably the most beautiful and well made tubulars on the planet. His tires come already aquasealed (not sure if its actual aquaseal or another brand) for added sidewall rot protection. I have had zero problems with FMB tires from a quality control standpoint. The SSC is a great all around tire. It is pretty fast for an aggressive tire tread handles everything well and doesn't do anything crazy when you don't expect it to.
Its two weakness in my mind are greasy mud-for some reason I never felt totally in control when it got real greasy and it is a bit slow for an all-arounder on the grass and pavement. What it does do really well is sand, bumpy grass and it corners on rails. I have tried this in a 32 as well and liked the 34 better.
Dugast Rhyno 32
The Mjolnir of cross tires. Mjolnir would of course be Thor's Hammer that he used to destroy Giants. Make no mistake the Rhyno is a Giant killer. When the course gets heavy, the mud is hub deep or the terrain turns nasty this is the ONLY tire to bring to battle. I have held the track when riders are shooting off in all directions into the tape with their tires so packed up with mud they lose complete control of their machine.
That said they are slow. Especially on the rear tire and especially on grass or paved speed sections. On grass you can literally feel the speed getting sucked right out of you through the rear tire. And Dugasts are the most fragile tire on the market. Quality control is crap. I have had brand new Dugasts self-destruct after one race. I went through 3 Rhynos last season alone. Why do I continue with them? Because like any addiction once its in your blood you need more. So you have been warned. Aquaseal the sidewalls, take care of them and maybe, just maybe if you are real lucky they'll last a season. But if its muddy and you love the heavy courses like I do you won't give a rats ass if the tire lasts because you'll rail through the mud with confidence that you've never had before in your life.
FMB Sprint 32
Ok now these tires....wow. The file treads giveth and the file treads taketh away...These tires are so fast even someone as slow and old as me can give the appearance of being fast. Last year at Sucker Brook I spent too much time chatting up my teammates and ended up literally in the last row of the 35+ 3/4 race. I ended up 9th. That is ridiculous because I am not fast at all. But these tires on a course like Sucker Brook (grass, super fast, with lots of 180 turns and pavement) are like Jets.
Ok so that was the good. Super fast, sexy as hell. In my mind if you are going to get file treads these should be your only choice as they do have a working edge that gives you some grip on offcambers and such. I get the lust for white Pippistrellos and the Challenge XS oh I really do...but they can't compare to the FMB. Ok now for the bad. They have been responsible for cracking a certain World Cup riders ribs and they have been responsible for ripping the flesh off my palms at G-star last year. Speed can be a hungry and evil mistress. She will want blood eventually and you are going to have to be prepared to offer it up.
Challenge Fango 32
This tire is kind of THE tire for me right now. Molly doesn't like this tire. She is a huge fan of the grifo. Lots of the really fast riders are. I haven't tried a grifo but would worry it wouldn't corner well enough for my crappy bike handling skills. For me cornering traction is the holy grail. A Rhyno obviously corners like its on rails but is wayy to slow on a fast track.
The Fango to me is the best of both worlds. Its not perfect. It doesn't have the most aggressive tread in the world, but what it does have are these crazy half-moon side knobs that dig in real nice. They slip once and a while but its predictable. But what they might give up a bit in traction they gain ten-fold in speed. This year I have tried a kind of franken-tread version of the Fango. Basically Francois of FMb cuts the tread off a Fango and glues it on one of his supple cotton casings. In theory it is a great marriage.
The only complaint I would have so far is that the rear tire feels a bit out of true. This happens with handmade tubulars from time to time. And realistically it isn't going to slow you down but it feels weird on pavement. Recently Francois has been getting the tread direct from Challenge so he doesn't have to cut off the tread. This also ensure there is not any extra casing still glued to the tread bottom. I am curious to try the next generation of these tires to see if perhaps they run a bit truer. That said the original Challenge Fango is superb.
That is my two cents of what's out there. Tubies are fragile and even if you take great care of them they will get messed up eventually, luckily there is an outfit called Tire Alert in Florida who will fix them real cheap. They repair flats and base tape at criminally low prices. I have no idea how they make any money off it to be honest.