Elk Pass 26″ road tire (32-559)
Compass Bicycles recently introduced a new 26” x 1.25” (32-559) tire, the Elk Pass.
I purchased a pair to see if they would live up to my expectations. After riding them for over 700 miles on paved and dirt roads, I can honestly say the Elk Pass is the best tire I have ever ridden.
The Elk Pass has a very light casing and a sticky tread. Actually, there is no tread in the traditional sense— this is a slick tire. At 178 g (6.3 oz), it is also a very light tire. Compare it to the 32-559 Panaracer T-Serve and 28-559 Schwalbe Durano used on the Coto Doñana Tour and Coto Doñana Vagabond. These tires weigh 260 g (9.2 oz).
I mounted the Elk Pass on Velocity Aeroheat wheels. The fit was excellent, as I would expect from Panaracer (who manufacture the Elk Pass) and Velocity: two companies known for the quality of their products. I used the Schwalbe SV12A inner tube, which is a perfect fit in the Elk Pass — not too big and not too small. On 24 mm Aeroheat rims, the width of the Elk Pass measured 28 mm.
The first clue that this tire was very special came as I walked my newly shod bike through the house on the way to its maiden voyage. It seemed to roll effortlessly. Once I was on the bike, I understood what it means to ride a superbly comfortable tire. The supple sidewalls soaked up road vibration the point that I almost felt like I was riding on a glass surface. Acceleration was immediate because of the low weight of the tires. I really didn’t want to get off the bike. For those of you who wondered where I was for most of October…well, I was riding my bike!
But the most interesting revelation was how the tire affected the feel of the bike. I admit that the Coto Doñana Tour has always been a little stiff for my light frame. I would not describe this bike as one that “planes” for me. But the Tour’s personality changed with the Elk Pass. The bike felt like my Coto Doñana Vagabond and Gale Force — two bikes which definitely plane.
So what’s the catch? Well, the Elk Pass is a lightweight tire. Suppleness comes at a price. It is less puncture resistant and more prone to wear. I wiped the tires regularly while riding. After each ride, I wiped the tires down and checked for nicks. The front tire is in mint condition — the mold marks are still well defined and there are no blemishes. The rear tire has suffered four small cuts. I gently pried out the offending flints. The mold marks have started to fade. No surprises here — the rear tire takes the brunt of the ride.
I weigh 90 pounds. A heavier rider may find the tires wear more quickly. Jan Heine, the owner of Compass, recently rode the 700C x 32 Extralight Stampede Pass tires on tour. Jan weighs a lot more than I do, but reports that the tires performed very well. That says the tires weren’t made just for featherweights like me. But ride them for what they are: a tire that is designed primarily for comfort and efficiency, not for puncture resistance. At first, I wasn’t sure I would want to make this tradeoff, but after 700 miles on the Elk Pass, I’ve changed my tune.
A Reader Asks: “How narrow a tire should I use to get a benefit from lower rolling resistance?”
Tires are one of the most fascinating aspects of the bicycle. They can make or break the comfort and efficiency of the ride.
Common sense used to have it that the narrower the tire was and the higher the pressure in the tire, the lower the bicycle tire rolling resistance would be. Which led us all to run the narrowest tires we could find with the pressure pumped to the max. Assuming you were riding on roads as smooth as glass, that might have made sense.
Truth be told, all things being equal (like pressure and tire construction), a wider tire has less rolling resistance. Huh? How can that be? Well, it’s all about the physical deformation of the tire. It’s that deformation that causes rolling resistance. When more of the tire deforms along the circumference of the tire, rolling resistance increases. Maybe a picture will help. Here’s how the patch size is determined. Imagine the bike tire is on a sheet of glass. You’re looking up from beneath it:
Here’s an exaggerated view from the side:
Now, some people really don’t want to give up their narrow tires for wider ones. I mean, it just wouldn’t look cool. So, the makers of bicycle rims have come to the rescue — they are now making wider rims! This allows the tire to “relax” (as in, “aahh, that feels better”), which makes the contact patch shorter and wider, just what’s needed to reduce rolling resistance.
Another source of rolling resistance comes from rough road surfaces. With the pressure pumped up to the max, the bike bumps around and its forward motion is hindered. Solution: lower the tire pressure so the tire works as a shock absorber, reducing these “suspension losses”. Jan Heine has a neat blog about some testing he did to find out how much more power a cyclist exerts to overcome the bumps.
The Gale Force bicycle uses Velocity’s A23 rim for just this reason. With a wider rim like this, not only is the contact patch optimized, but the tire can be run at a lower pressure so it absorbs road shock. This is because the tire’s sidewalls don’t distort as much as they would with a narrower rim, hence, the tire is a little “taller” and less prone to pinch flats.