Ritchey Design 700 X 40mm Speedmax WCS Tires: Getting Rolling

Ritchey Design 700 X 40mm Speedmax WCS Tires: Getting Rolling – by Guitar Ted

Image of the Ritchey Design Speedmax tires in retail packaging on a cement slab
The Ritchey Design Speedmax WCS 700 X 40mm tires.

Ritchey Speedmax tires were developed, according to the Ritchey Design website, for the 1996 Olympics. Of course, this wasn’t for gravel riding. No, the heritage of Ritchey designed tires comes mainly from mountain biking. And Ritchey tires stood out from the crowd due to their unique look. Any Ritchey off-road tire design, at least, has a hint of that unique “Vector Tread” which is iconic. If you were riding trails in the 1990’s and you saw that unusual pattern in the dirt, you knew what tires that rider was using immediately. The same holds true for the 2020’s and the Speedmax WCS tires we have here on test. The tread pattern is very unique and says “Ritchey” without any need for a tire side wall hot-patch to tell you this.

I’ve never ridden a Ritchey Design tire, so I was pretty excited to check this pair out. Would that iconic “Vector Force Analysis” tread idea translate over to gravel riding? This and other questions will be addressed in this review.

The Speedmax comes in cyclo cross ready 700 X 32mm and 700 X 35mm sizes, but for the chunky Mid-Western gravel I asked for the largest Speedmax tires, the 700 X 40’s. These are the tubeless ready, WCS level tires with the Stronghold casing. Let’s dive in for more details…..

Close-up of the Speedmax WCS tread design mounted on a wheel.
The WCS Speedmax has a very iconic tread pattern design which says “Ritchey” without any need for branding.

What It Is: The Speedmax was originally designed as a grippy, but fast rolling cyclo cross tire. The Speedmax has those characteristic “Vector Force Analysis” tread designs to inform its look and performance. These ‘VFA” designs were first conceived of by Tom Ritchey in the mid-1980’s and were put into production on mountain bike tires in 1988. They were the first directional, front and rear specific tread designs ever made for bicycles.

The Speedmax WCS tires on test have these VFA style tread blocks on the outer shoulders of the tread which evolve into triangular and rectangular low block and ramped shapes in the center section of the tread, So, one would assume this means a higher traction capability in corners when leaned over and in deeper grounds, but a faster tread in the middle of the tire for speed but having some grippier characteristics. More so than the minimalist tread tires like the American Classic Kimberlite and the Goodyear County tires also currently on test.

Ritchey says that this tire has the following characteristics, a remarkable ride quality and low rolling resistance, this all-rounder tire is the perfect choice for all-terrain exploration. (From their webpage for the Speedmax Cyclocross tires) The tire features the “WCS” treatment, which is Ritchey’s highest level in their tire range. These tires feature premium casings with an eye towards light weight, but not at the sacrifice of durability. The “Stronghold” technology is Ritchey’s version of a bead to bead puncture protection belt. The casing itself is a 120TPI casing. the rubber compound here is a single compound- no softer rubber on the shoulders here for cornering grip.

Ritchey Speedmax WCS tires are tubeless ready, of course, but also are tube compatible as well.

The Speedmax 700 X 40mm tires are not available in a skin wall. Black only here! Also, all WCS level Speedmax sizes are not recommended for hookless rims, so be aware of that as many newer carbon wheels are coming out hookless now. Ritchey claims the 40mm tire should weigh around 517 grams. The Speedmax WCS level tire sells for $89.95 USD and is available direct from the Ritchey site.

First Impressions: The tires came out of the box and my first impression was that they looked pretty aggressive compared to the minimalist treaded tires currently on test here. Then the feel of these tires was also different. The casings felt slick, a bit stiff, and almost plastic-like. Those unique and iconic VFA tread knobs were there alright, but the center section is a very unique looking complex set of angles, ramps, and even a bit of negative space which looked grippy but was low in height. Interesting!

Okay, on to the “Scales of Truth” you go then! I came up with a weight of 532/537 grams for the pair. That’s a bit higher than claimed, but within reason considering manufacturing tolerances. No biggie…

A close-up of a digital calipers on a Ritchey Speedmax WCS 700 X 40mm tire.
A measurement taken immediately after mounting this tire. After settling in, the Speedmax measured a bit over 44mm in width!

Tubeless set up was…..difficult. Due to the Stronghold casing, the tires want to be stiff and this makes mounting them a bit of a challenge as the bead kept wanting to pop off the rim after you would get one part seated by hand. Chasing this a bit became a bit tedious, but after a few minutes more than normal, I prevailed. Then getting them to air up was a bit more difficult than normal as well, due to the same stiff casing. I managed to do it with my SILCA floor pump, but a quick shot of air from a compressor or tubeless specific pump should get you where you need to be. I used the HED Eroica GP wheels we tested a while back, (now called “Emporia” wheels), which have an internal width of 25mm. The tires seated and held air quite nicely once I was able to get the beads to take a set.

At 40psi, after 24 hours of sitting and a bit of a test ride, the Ritchey Speedmax tires measured out to slightly over 44mm! Ah…..that’s a bit of a surprise there. I’m always up for more volume for my local roads, but this raises a concern due to the fact that many buyers will be thinking these will fit ‘no problem‘ and perhaps find out that they have less clearance, (or no clearance at all), than they had hoped for. Of course, it is possible I have an anomaly here, but this should be noted if you are interested in these tires.

Other than the surprise extra width in the casing, these tires immediately reminded me of – what is now an ‘older gravel tire’- the WTB Nano 40, which has an aggressive tread design as well. However, what was most notable for me was the casing shape. The Nano 40 has a tallish, flattened crown shape to its casing, and the Ritchey looks similar to that.

I’ve done a roll-down test and tooled around the neighborhood so far on these, so I cannot give much feedback on ride performance just yet. The roll-down test revealed a so-so pavement performance and an above average roll-down on the gravel sector. I’ll have more on the ride feel and performance in my next update.

Ritchey Speedmax tires mounted on Guitar Ted's Black Mountain Cycles MCD bike.
Stay tuned for a ride report in the “Checkpoint” update.

So Far… The Ritchey Speedmax WCS 700 X 40mm tires have an iconic look, an aggressive looking tread pattern, and seem pretty stout with their Stronghold casing. The surprise so far has been that the casing width on my 25mm internal width rims is 44+mm wide. This puts the Speedmax in the category of the larger gravel tires instead of the more racy, and more popular 38mm-42mm range. I’m thinking this is a tire that compares to something that is like a WTB Riddler, some of the wider Teravail models, and tires like the Pirelli Cinturato. More ‘adventure’ oriented perhaps.

Stay tuned for the “Checkpoint” update where I will have more on the riding performance of this tire.

Note: Ritchey Design sent over the 700 X 40mm Speedmax WCS tires to Riding Gravel for test and review at no charge. We were not paid, nor bribed for this review and we always strive to give you our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.

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Author: Guitar Ted

Guitar Ted hails from Iowa. Home of over 70,000 miles of gravel and back roads. An inaugural member of the Gravel Cycling Hall of Fame and Co-creator of Trans Iowa in late 2004- Guitar Ted has been at the forefront of the growth of gravel events and riding since then. Creator of Gravel Grinder News in 2008, he produced the premier calendar of gravel and back road events. GT joined forces with Riding Gravel in late 2014.

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