Iain Treloar tests a wider option from Specialized’s well-regarded road tyre range.
Until recently, the sizing of road tyres was pretty restrictive—700c diameter, and a tread width of 23c or 25c. Only in the last few years has this started to change. 25c is now more popular, with riders and industry heavyweights alike starting to understand the benefits of improved grip, reduced rolling resistance and greater comfort that are the wider tyre’s calling card.
This phenomenon has been further highlighted by the growing ‘adventure road’ category, which encourages an ever-increasing number of roadies away from the beaten—or at least, paved—track. In these more rugged environments, where the focus is more on ‘fun’ than ‘fast’, fatter tyres are of even greater benefit. Because, as quick as they may be, the one thing that heading off-road with 700x23c tyres at 120PSI is certainly not, is fun.
Specialized, one of the mainstream originators of the adventure road category, have recently brought out a new version of the Roubaix Pro tyre, a mid-level folding clincher that has been around in some form or another since last decade. In its latest version, it’s the widest road tyre in Specialized’s well-respected range, measuring in at 700×30/32c. The “/” notation is a quirk of Specialized’s tyre sizing, but indicates a 30c treaded section, on a 32c casing—a compromise that, at least theoretically, should provide the comfort of a wider tyre, without having more rubber in contact with the ground.
The other big change of this latest iteration of the Roubaix Pro is that it’s now tubeless compatible (in Specialized’s somewhat irritating parlance, “2Bliss”). Paired with an appropriate rim and some sealant, this means that there’s a tight enough bead on the tyre to form a seal, removing the need for a tube. Apart from saving a tube’s worth of weight (40g or so, times two), this means that you can run even lower pressures—there’s no risk of a pinch flat if there’s nothing to pinch, see?—and get even better grip and comfort. There are plenty of tubeless-compatible tyres on the market, and you don’t need to run them as such—they work just fine with a tube as well—but the option’s there.
Because I’m a maverick, I ran tubes inside, inflated to somewhere between 40-60PSI depending on surface. They’ve been installed on my commuter, a Specialized Crux cyclocross bike, for the past couple of months. I’ve been pretty impressed.
First things first, I like how they look. Fat tyres look mean, and when I switch back to my road bike the rubber looks dainty and fragile in comparison. The fact that they’re a tan-wall adds a nice touch of visual flair, too.
Comfort has also, predictably, been impressive. There’s no getting away from the fact that a bigger tyre has greater ability to filter out the imperfections of rough surfaces, but the unexpected bonus on the side is that there’s a corresponding change in the way that you as a rider approach these surfaces. On skinny tyres, you’re at least somewhat of a ‘timid and tense’ mentality when potholes or cracked pavement appear in your path. On these, you feel like you can bulldoze over anything. This puts a lot of fun back into the commute.
I was somewhat less impressed with the tyre’s weight, which at 370g is not terribly far off double the weight of my preferred road tyre, the Continental Grand Prix 4000 S II (225g in a 25c, or 260g in that model’s largest offered size, and closest equivalent, 28c). I was also surprised to find the Roubaixs weighed in noticeably heavier than the 33c Clement PDX cross tyres they replaced on the Crux. Rotating mass is more easily perceived and has greater impact on acceleration, so perhaps played a part in some of the sluggishness off the line or reluctance during sharp efforts uphill that I struggled with. That said, I was still able to pick up some PBs on Strava even with these tyres on, suggesting that the real-world impact of their heft was relatively minor.
They’re a pretty grippy little fella as well, using Specialized’s own annoyingly-named Gripton compound. It’s confidence-inspiring, and I’m yet to find the tyres’ limits even when pushing hard around corners at speed. The reasonably high thread-count of the casing (120TPI) helps here too, allowing the casing to conform to the road surface and eke out as much grip as possible.
Puncture resistance has also been impressive, with only one puncture over a couple of months of daily use—which to be fair was a #boulietack, and would have gotten through basically anything. If you are unlucky enough to pick up a puncture in your use of these tyres, though, brace yourself for a bad time; being tubeless, that tight bead is a pain to get on and off (definitely a two-tyre-lever job). There’s also the added issue of getting it seated again properly once you have a new tube in, as the sidewall and bead diligently grip onto the rim, refusing to slide up to the correct position. Post-puncture, there was no way I could get the tyre to sit right from a roadside repair with a hand-pump. Having limped to work with a notably out-of-round tyre—ba-dunk, ba-dunk—it took about five hard’n’fast reinflations with a floor pump to 100PSI+ before the tyre could be persuaded to sit correctly. One workaround you can try at home is a bit of talcum powder on the bead, but in the absence of that, be aware that your results may be a little hit-or-miss.
All that said, there’s plenty to recommend these tyres; you’re getting near enough to high-end performance for a mid-range outlay ($49.95), a nice ride and good grip. If you’ve got the tyre clearance for a 32c on your road or cross bike, it’s worth pushing the envelope on width to its logical conclusion and see whether ‘bigger is better’ holds true even at this size. If your focus is more practical, and you want much of the puncture resistance of a Vittoria Randonneur or Schwalbe Marathon with a lighter weight and significantly less wooden ride quality, these are well worth a look. For quite a range of riders, it turns out the Roubaix Pros are an impressive option.
For dealers, see specialized.com/en-au
Note: for some reason, despite these being available in local stores—on account of I got them from one—this model doesn’t yet show up on Specialized’s Australian website. For technical details, see the US website.