Hyro, my TCX, came equipped with Giant’s S-X2 wheelset with 19 mm internal width. This is a good match for the 35 mm Schwalbe Super Swan mud tires it also came with.
However, when repurposing him for the road, slick tires are better. I encountered some concerns with the relatively wide internal rim width. As per ISO 5775 by the European Tire and Rim Technical Organization (ETRTO), the narrowest tire they recommend mounting onto my rims should measure 28 mm wide…which is a relatively hard to find size here.
After my first set of slicks, a second-hand 28 mm pair of Specialized Espoir Sports, wore down to the carcass threads after lots of riding, I decided to continue with the same width. Fortunately I did have some locally available options, and I ended up buying a pair of Continental’s Ultra Sport II folding-bead clincher tires from the guys at Built Cycles in Parañaque – one of the few local bike shops that really cater to cyclocross bikes.
The Ultra Sport II is the second generation of Continental’s entry-level road slick tire, meant for commuting and training. The original model had a nasty reputation on bike forums for attracting punctures, but that was feedback from around five years ago. Let’s see how the successors fare.
- “PureGrip” compound for all-round durability and grip
- Available widths: 23 mm, 25 mm, 28 mm, 32 mm
- Construction: 3/180 threads per inch
- Folding Kevlar bead
- Recommended pressure: 80-115 psi (max)
- Weight: 340 grams per 700C x 28 mm tire
Out of the box, these tires have incredibly tight beads. They can be frustrating to mount onto rims for the first time – and I pride myself on being able to mount and dismount tires using just my hands. Best to use dedicated tire levers on them; if you use those that come with a multi-tool you can snap them clean in half, such is the stubbornness of these beads. And I thought folding-bead tires were supposed to be easier to mount than wire bead-ones?
As basic tires, the Ultra Sport IIs don’t contain any puncture protection features. (I think the slightly pricier GrandSport Race is essentially the same tire with an anti-puncture belt.) With the gruntwork of initial mounting, I was worried when I got a puncture on these and had to swap out the pierced tube. Once they’ve been mounted and have held air for a while, though, the folding beads become much more compliant, and they can be dismounted and remounted with greater ease. Yes, even without any tools.
That said, the above was my one and only puncture with these tires. The puncture gremlins of the original Ultra Sports have been exorcised. I was even able to finish my maiden 200 km randonnee ride on them with no flatting at all.
Mounted on my 19 mm rims and inflated to 85 psi, they actually measure 30 mm across on my tape, benefiting air volume and compliance.
Considering these are bottom of the barrel for Continental, grip itself is pretty good. They ride slightly better than the old Espoir Sports, which were decent to begin with, but these also roll more effortlessly with less resistance. I can lean pretty aggressively into turns and confidently carry a fair bit of speed…if you’re riding on asphalt or concrete roads. They’re well-behaved in the wet, too.
Carry too much speed into shiny, polished concrete parking-lot driveways when turning, and you can hear the tires groaning as they lose grip. To be fair, even the tires on my car understeer on such low-grip surfaces, and the Ultra Sport IIs lose traction in a progressive, predictable way, with enough warning given for corrective action.
Similarly, another weakness for the Ultra Sport IIs is dusty, gravelly surfaces. There’s not much of a pattern on the tread area, so they lack the bite for aggressive cornering on loose dust. Best to take such stretches riding as upright as you can.
While Continental recommend running the 28 mm Ultra Sport IIs with pressures of 80 to a maximum 115 psi, I find they still ride well with as low as 65 psi of air in them. Usually I put 85 psi and ride all week without topping up, and they support my 85 kg weight and ~7 kg of loaded panniers well. Still, the carcass retains a bit of ride firmness, which will be desirable for racers in training.
They’re not quite the last word in grip or ride quality, but the Ultra Sport II tires do very nicely as an all-around durable tire. At PhP920 a pop, they’re also excellent value.
That said, I’d love to see a softer-riding version of these tires with better puncture protection. Both areas would be addressed by tubeless technology, and I’m rather confident my wheelset is ready for it. Sadly, Continental seem to be firmly against road tubeless tires for now.