Road cycling is slowly learning a lesson that cyclocross racers, gravel riders, and mountain bikers have known for years: wider tires are better. The past few years have seen road cycling pros give up their 23 mm tires for a defacto standard 25 mm. In the Spring Classics races, such as Paris-Roubaix, the Strade Bianche, and the Ronde van Vlandeeren, pros will even swap in 27, 28 or 30 mm tires to deal with the gravel and cobblestones of these unique events.
In the past, I’ve pressed 28 mm slick road tires into duty for the majority of my riding, as Hyro came stock with 35 mm knobby mud tires that were just a little too ponderous for cornering on asphalt. I was generally fine with running my 28 mm tires at 80-90 psi, although one road ride back on the 35 mm knobbies did make the case for even wider rubber.
Here in the Philippines, 28 mm tires have been rather hard to come by. It wasn’t until recently that the gamut of choice for this width has widened. When the time came for my worn Continental Ultra Sport IIs to perhaps be relegated to turbo trainer duty, I wondered about my options.
It was then that I saw Clement Cycling offer its Strada LGG line locally in a huge width range – from 23 mm to 28 and even a whopping 32 mm. Even better, they offered almost all these in either traditional black sidewall, or a hipsterrific skinwall treatment. I don’t know about you, but the last time I saw skinwall tires in person was on my dad’s 1981 Peugeot ten-speed which I used to ride in high school.
I got these from Raven Cycles for PhP1200 apiece.
- 60 or 120 TPI casing
- Skinwall treatment available for 60 TPI versions
- Chevron/herringbone tread pattern
- 60 TPI version: 70A durometer single compound
- Puncture protection belt on tread
- Folding bead
- Claimed weight: 335 g
- Pressure range: 40-80 psi for 32 mm
One of Clement’s quirks is to name its tires after the airport codes of cities. “LGG” is the code for Liege in Belgium, home to the annual Liege-Bastogne-Liege bicycle race – another of the Spring Classics.
Having had sketchy moments on the all-slick Ultra Sport IIs when I rode over dusty roads, I began to get curious about how even a light tread pattern would help increase mechanical grip.
Well, one thing in favor of the Ultra Sport IIs, or indeed most road tires by Continental, is their on-road grip is pretty damn good despite the near-absence of tread. Their black art of effective tire compound is most evident when leaned over and turning. For pure road riding, it’s fair to say that Continental’s tires are hard to beat.
By comparison, the Strada LGGs…aren’t as straightforward.
Mounting them to my wheels was very easy and required zero tools, in contrast to the tire lever breakage I got when mounting the Ultra Sport IIs for the very first time. Do note that because of the width, these have much more air volume, and so need a bit more pumping to get up to pressure.
The skinwall treatment does make them look a little chunky on Hyro, but he is a cyclocross bike after all. Knobby skinwall tubular tires are a staple of European cyclocross, so there’s that. They do fill out the SKS P45 Longboard fenders very nicely!
Mounted to a 19 mm internal width rim and inflated to 60 psi, they’re true to size at 32 mm. The photo above doesn’t show it too well as I had to hold too many things to take this photo and the tape measure isn’t straight. I thought the herringbone tread would make a racket when used on a turbo trainer, but that wasn’t the case. There’s enough continuous slick center tread for the trainer’s resistance unit to silently work on, and the tread is on the shoulders for better cornering bite.
So…out on the road, how do they fare? Fundamentally, I was curious about how much comfort gains can be had moving to a wide 28 mm road tire to an even wider 32 mm road tire, and what compromises I should expect. At which point on the tire width scale does diminishing returns set in?
“Honey, does this make me look fat?”
It turns out that was only part of the question. In my first month riding these, I saw that the 32 mm Strada LGGs live and die by the air pressure you put into them. When you get to tires this wide, there’s not much to prepare you for the complex relationship between them and air pressure if, like me, you’re coming from narrower widths. These tires’ characteristics tend to vary wildly and drastically with small changes in pressure. Who knew that just 4 mm of width could give such a massive difference?
One night, I was riding around with these tires softer than normal. I could feel them holding me back and soaking up the watts I was pushing through my legs. It wasn’t until I got home that I found I had just 30 psi in my rear tire. Fair enough.
Toward the other extreme, plumped to 70 psi, the LGGs remained comfortable, rolled much better, and carried a surprising amount of speed when spun up. However, they were not happy at all with anything more than light turn-in. Along a left-right flik-flak along my usual long ride route, I had a sketchy moment as the front wheel lost grip shortly after light rainfall. An hour later, I could still feel the LGGs squirm a bit when making tight U-turns in the dry.
In subsequent rides, I detected the same peculiar slippage on wet patches, even after slight deflation to 65 psi. Clearly, there was still too much air, and the tire wasn’t deforming enough to grip wet asphalt properly.
After some more experimentation, and following Frank Berto’s 15% of sidewall height rule, I felt the LGGs hit their stride at 45 psi front, 50 psi rear. That was a total surprise, counter-intuitive even, given that my body weight doesn’t lend itself to these low pressures, and it’s close to the bottom of Clement’s recommended range. They still rolled well, yet behaved better with cornering forces going through their contact patches, retaining good firmness in the carcass with barely any squirm. Zero punctures, too.
Easing off on the pressure also alleviates their tendency to sniff out little ruts and longitudinal irregularities on the road.
At 50 psi, the Strada LGGs are proving to be happy campers, as grippy as they’re going to get. For people who want to spend long days on the saddle and explore, and are willing to experiment with air pressures, these are just the ticket.
And, to be honest, those fat skinwalls just look really good.