Challenge Tires Strada Bianca 36 Tires: Getting Rolling
Challenge Tires, probably best known for cyclo cross tires, has recommended a few of its models for gravel riding. The Almanzo 30 and the Gravel Grinder 38 are tires Challenge has actually designed for gravel riding. The Strada Bianca has always been in the line, and in its original 30mm width, a tire recommended for rougher riding with road bikes. However; Challenge also recognized that many riders don’t do gravel or dirt exclusively with their gravel bikes, but have a large amount of miles ridden on paved surfaces as well. These bikes can typically fit a larger volume tire. This is where the Strada Bianca 33mm and 36mm tires come in.
Challenge has sent over three sets of Strada Bianca tires, one in each size available, for test and review. We have two sets in the hand made, “Open Tubular” style, and the 33mm set is in the vulcanized, 60TPI version which Challenge has available also in a 120TPI “Race” version. All tires feature the “PPS” puncture protection system, but the Open Tubulars have the “Double PPS” which is supposed to be even more resistant to punctures. This protection runs under the tread area only, by the way.
So, What Is The Difference? – Challenge Tire uses an “Open Tubular” versus traditional vulcanized tires as a way to gain a ride and traction advantage over their competition. Traditionally, tubular tires, which must be tediously glued on a special rim in a process which used to take days, was the way to go for racing bicycles. Those tires were made on handmade silk or cotton casings with a glued on rubber tread and an encased rubber “tube” to hold the air. The resulting supple nature of tires made in this manner allowed cornering traction and comfort to be maximized and all that with a light weight.
So, what’s not to like? Well, as said before, the tubular tire type requires lots of special, manual labor to set up. That along with the difficulty in repairing tubulars led to the vulcanized clincher type tire most of us know well. Vulcanized tire casings start out as textile casings, but the beads are added so the tires will “hook” or clinch into a special hook beaded rim. Tread is essentially “cooked” on to the casing, which results in a durable tire, which is easily repaired, and is tougher. However, this comes at the sacrifice of the tubular’s superior flexibility which gives those tires a great ride quality and better traction.
Challenge Tire champions a technique which uses traditional manufacturing techniques used in hand made tubular tires, but with a bead to hook into a clincher rim, and have dubbed this “Open Tubular”. You get the benefits of a tubular in an easy to use and repair clincher format. The best of both worlds? Well……about that.
The original Almanzo 30 gravel tires, amongst some other Challenge tires made in the Open Tubular method, showed signs of delamination for some riders. This has been addressed by Challenge Tires and they feel confident that they have overcome the issues. The following is taken from Challenge Tire’s FAQ information page on their site:
Making handmade tires is a difficult process and we pay constant attention to each step and detail along the way. Nevertheless, rare situations may occur that are imperceptible during production and that may also pass the QC (quality control) inspection.
The tread is applied manually and as with any manual operation slight, involuntary human error may at times occur. These are rare cases that occur less than 1% of the time and we are constantly striving to bring that number to zero.
The most common case is when the side of the tread isn’t properly adhered to the casing. This is a rare case of human error during the production process. If a worker touches the side of the tread improperly when applying it to the casing, his fingers may have taken off a spot of glue, causing adherence problems. In this event, the glue may appear well adhered in the QC check , but the problem becomes more perceptible later during use, because of that ‘weak’ spot.
With three sets of tires here we are using three different test riders. The 30mm tires will be mostly tested on various paved surfaces, the 33 vulcanized versions are going to be tested on multiple surfaces, and I will be tilting the balance of the new 36mm versions toward gravel more than pavement. The 36mm versions are so new that they are not even listed on the Challenge website. We have weighed the 33mm and 36mm tires, and oddly enough, they weigh roughly the same, with all four tires coming in between 350 and 360 grams. (Note: We did not weigh the 30mm tires, but obviously, they are a lot lighter.) The Open Tubular tires we have are 260TPI for a super supple ride and you can expect to pay $70.00-$80.00 a tire depending on where you get them from
Mounted up, both the 33mm and 36mm tires are at claimed width, or a tic wider. We will get in to the ride characteristics in our follow up post dubbed “Checkpoint”. Mounting of the vulcanized 33mm tires is fairly straightforward, however, the hand made, Open Tubular type tires require some special work to get mounted. Challenge Tires hand made Open Tubulars are actually flat hoops of rubber when you remove them from their packaging. Challenge recommends that you mount them by first slipping the flat tire over the rim with the beads hanging off either side of the rim. This will require some stretching, but fear not. The natural rubber the tires are made from stretches far easier than a vulcanized tire will. From there you set one bead, then insert a tube, and then set the remaining bead. It is a process that takes longer, but it isn’t hard to do if you follow Challenge’s recommendations. By the way, talc powder on the tube is highly recommended for ease of mounting and results in a safer, easier airing up of the tire.
So Far……. Challenge Tires Hand Made Open Tubular Strada Bianca tires are a unique product in the marketplace and promise a smooth, supple ride. They are a bit fussy to mount up, but the natural rubber stretches to finally allow a good result. Stay tuned for ride characteristics and more in our next post in a few weeks.
Note: Challenge Tires sent over these Strada Bianca tires at no charge to RidingGravel.com for test and review. We are not being bribed nor paid for this review and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.
18 thoughts on “Challenge Tires Strada Bianca 36 Tires: Getting Rolling”
It would be interesting to compare these with the similar tires from Compass
Woody, I am afraid not. Challenge would tell you to go tubular. They do make versions of this tire in a tubular as well as the Gravel Grinder, albeit not in wider sizes than 33mm.
GT: I have been thinking about this alot lately. In that, for gravel, it seems the ‘open tubular’ model may be not well suited for gravel. Certainly the suppleness is appreciated on the road, but is it your experience that the casing is vunerable to flats?? I run lower TPI vulcanized (ritchey speedmax 40mm) and have bombed these with narry a flat. Have been thinking conceptually of tubeless but am a bit weary in that for now, considered the higher TPI tires but shy’ed away from them as well and find actually the gravel here in the midwest tends to welcome the vulcanized lower TPI; perhaps due to the heavier and less supple features in fair exchange for peace of mind in cell-phone free zones of nowhere.
I appreciate your thoughts on the open tubulars
Amazing timing on this, just mounted up today a pair or Challenge Paris Roubaix OT 700×27 on my “tweener” bike (gravel and road). The ride quality is amazing! I’m comparing to Paris Roubaix tubulars which I just took off the bike, the OT felt as good if not better (tubular wheels and tires for sale on CL BTW). Seriously thinking about trying to set em up tubeless…..that would be sweet. If successful I’ll be ordering the Challenge Gravel Grinder tires and hookin em up my Niner RLT.
soluer, I have ridden both the 30mm Strada Bianca and the 30mm Almanzo on gravel quite a bit in the past. While “skinny” tires on loose gravel are another subject altogether, I can say that I never had an issue with flat tires from riding them on gravel roads. But gravel varies from place to place, so yes…… In a place like the Flint Hills, I imagine that would be a big problem.
Tires should be looked at as a terrain/regional affected choice in equipment. So, if you have issues with flat tires, perhaps a more voluminous tire with a puncture protection belt, like the Gravel King SK would be a better choice. Then there are others that have finer gravel, less to pinch flat on, and/or smooth, hard packed dirt to ride on. There these Challenge Tires might be ideal.
I look forward to riding these 36mm tires here as that is a good width and the tires should handle better. This will allow me to ride faster and with more control than I could have with those skinnier Challenge models. I look forward to seeing the results.
IMO the tire to beat in this category (fat slicks with tubes) is Vittoria Voyager Hyper (120tpi). I use them in 32mm (actually measure ~35mm on 19/21mm (internal) rims). They are relatively light (~350g), feel great, roll great and have been very durable. I’ve run them as low as 40psi on gravel with no issues. You also give up little on pavement (vs narrower tires) running them ~60psi.
I’d be interested in having you test these tires with both butyl and latex tubes. In my road racing days, I found that the characteristics of standard clinchers became a little more “tubular-like” when using the thinner, more flexible latex tubes.
Chris- I have done just that and I would already agree with you on that assessment.
Is there any hope of Challenge making something “tubeless”? I have been using the Gravel Grinders since they were released and while they are a wonderfully supple tire, it’s hard to consider using them for races because I know that running tubeless will be much more likely to get me to the finish line.
I did try set up the GG tubeless as I’d read on another site that someone was racing on them that way. However, when airing the first one up to 55 psi to get it seated, it popped off the rim (Velocity Aileron) after a few minutes and I decided that I’d just use latex tubes and not risk it.
They make wonderfully riding tires, but it just seems like it shouldn’t be that hard to make a bead that’ll stay seated… I’ve heard they said a few years back that there were no standards, but that doesn’t seem to slow down EVERY other tire manufacturer from making tubeless tires! They really risk getting left behind – which would be such a shame with them making nice tires.
As for telling folks to go tubular… that’s an answer that reflects a narrow and unrealistic view of their (potential?) customers. It almost seems like they have something against tubeless technology.
@Steve- Challenge probably would love to make tubeless tires, but much like Clement, who took a long time to get into tubeless tires, Challenge is a SMALL company. I think when you realize just how small that they are, and how limited their resources are, it starts to become clearer why they haven’t delved into the tubeless thing just yet.
The tubular thing, (that response), I think it is more that they are already doing tubular stuff, and so it is more cost effective and more timely for them to make a gravel type tubular than it is for them to invest into the technology that they are not a part of currently. Added to this would be Challenge Tires preference to not vulcanize their rubber products, as evidenced by their current offerings, which wouldn’t work with a tubeless design.
All that said, I would agree with you that it is a sign of the times to have a tubeless tire in your range for gravel riding, and Challenge risks falling behind if they do not figure out how to become a part of that market. (Not to mention the tubeless CX market) I would think it is on their “to do” list, but that is just my speculation.
Thanks for the thoughtful response. I appreciate the work that Challenge does and enjoy their tires so much that I wasn’t aware just how small of a company they are. All of those factors make sense in that context and I’m glad you took the time to explain it.
Keep up the good work and thanks again!
thanks for useful info. nevertheless it appears that nobody has them on stock at the present time… i mailed to challenge and to other 3 dealers regarding the availability, but no answer…
Do you have a followup to this review now that there are some miles on these three Challenge SB versions?
@SteveJ: I have something in the works. It will be a while longer yet……
Were there any other posts about these?
I want to know as well!
What happened to the follow up? Esp. the 36? By now, they have a tubeless 36 mm version that I am dying to read about. What about it GT? 🙂