Review – Continental Sprinter Gatorskin Tubular Tyres
When you are out on the road training, enjoying the ride, or racing, you certainly do not want any small misfortunes to take away from the experience. Punctured tyres are one, frequently encountered event that can really be quite an annoyance. Training kilometers outweigh racing ones by a factor of many, therefore putting unique demands for an everyday tyre. Such a tyre should be long lasting and must not require care other than the occasional air top up.
For the tubular tyre crowd, myself included, there is one choice – the Continental Sprinter Gatorskin Tubular. At ~EU30-35 per tyre they are towards the lower price range and at 300g they are not light. When rolled out of the box, the tyre carcass is quite thick and stiff, and even when left to stretch on a rim for a couple of days, they do require some thumb force to get mounted onto a wheel. Folding a spare also requires a pretty decent strap to keep the folded tyre compact.
Ride quality is what you would expect from a tubular – smooth rolling and secure cornering, even in the wet. I have not pushed them too hard in the rain, however, I am careful when it comes to testing my luck on slick roads. In tight cornering during a criterium, the grip is very secure.
The recommended pressure of 115psi is a very good middle ground for conditions ranging from smooth tarmac, to broken asphalt to uneven brick pavement. Anything above is OK only for the smoothest surfaces. On rougher roads the ride is ‘dead’ which is to be expected from the triple layered carcass. Sometime in the autumn of 2012 there will be a 25mm version that should cushion out a lot of the road shock. UPDATE FALL 2012: 25mm rear @ 105-110psi is certainly an improvement in comfort, however, where it really shines is grip and traction. I would never ride anything less than 25mm as a rear tyre. I definitely see the idea behind the Continental Force/Attack tyreset.
In about 1000kms I could see the diamond thread pattern starting to smooth out in the middle so by rough estimates with my 90kg (200lbs) weight and riding style I could reliably get 2500-3000km off a rear tyre. Probably more.
Puncture/cut resistance of these tyres is very good. The thread would start bearing the marks of many kilometers and occasionally I have taken out small pieces of glass embedded in the rubber. I have had 2 punctures (1front, 1 rear) in about ~5000kms, both times in the rain, caused by very thin long pieces of glass. The air leak was slow rather than catastrophic so with a degree of caution I managed to limp home. The first time I was not carrying a spare, the second time I was less than 1km from home. Also these tyres are repairable (Google tubular repair) with your regular patches; you can peel the basetape off, the tyre casing is stitched together, not vulcanized. The inner tube is black butyl, not latex.
The only negative I have with the tyres is quite a significant one. Even the smallest (rear) wheel lock up will leave you NOT with a flat spot but with a ‘bald’ patch.
Actual pieces of rubber will come off the tyre and you will see the threads of the casing. The first time this occurred to me was when I almost missed a turn at a time trial so I had to stop from 40+kph to almost nothing in a very limited distance. I finished the race no problem. I am pretty sure such a skid would have ripped off any tyre, however, the second time this occurred to me was when I got cut off by a passing car. I was already slowing down and barely locked the wheel, leaving a penny sized bald spot at the center of the thread. The tyre is still ride able, however, I know I am pushing my luck.
I highly recommend the Sprinter Gatorskin tubulars for an everyday tyre, even for the occasional race. I would not recommend them for priority races as time trials. The thick construction and flat protection soak up too much energy better used in propelling you forward.