Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. He is also a keen cyclist as well as being a lover of the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District.
The Best CX Tire for Muddy Conditions
There comes a time in every cyclocross season where you feel like it's rained consistently for the last week or more and your current mixed or dry conditions cx tires will send you squirming into corners at your next race. That's when you bring out the 'big guns'. And by big guns, I mean your mud weaponry.
Aimed at cx racing in the mud, the Vittoria Cross XL pro is a newcomer to the marketplace. Italian tire powerhouse Vittoria rarely brings out a new tire, so when they do there's bound to be some good reasoning behind it. Here's a review of my experience with these tires.
A Rare Occasion: Vittoria Debuts a Brand New Tire
It’s rare for Vittoria to bring out new tires, as much of their tire line-up has been pretty stable for years. The addition of a new tire to their range immediately caught my attention as their range seems exceptionally well thought through and after previous winters of sliding around, I thought it would be a step forward for my racing.
For the last few years, I have loved riding Challenge Grifo tires but having seen the Cross XL Pro selling for half the price of a set of Challenge Limus or Fango tires despite a similar specification, I thought it was a good opportunity to change.
Vittoria XL Pro Tread Pattern and Grip
At first glance in some of the pictures I'd seen I thought the tread pattern looked very similar to a Clement PDX or Dugast Rhino tread pattern but on arrival, the tread seems a lot more aggressive. They have the predominant central line of tread to the Clement and Dugast but the tread seems a little more spread out to allow better mud clearance.
On the trails and tracks, I found the Vittoria Cross XL Pro offered fantastic grip in soft conditions. They felt at home when I headed the few hundred metres from home and turned off onto the old colliery slack heaps which at present look like winter has come early. At this time of year, the trails are usually hard-packed but at present, they resemble a quagmire. When cornering in the mud I genuinely feel I have some control and during quick accelerations, I didn’t feel like the wheels were simply going to spin out beneath me.
On gravel and on hard-packed trails their performance is adequate without being confidence-inspiring. I wouldn’t class them as an all-around performance tire but they can do a job when needed in all conditions. These tires excel in the mud and for me, that’s when I would use them as I have other tires I fit for early season racing.
As I rolled out of my house there was definitely more tire squirm on the road than I’ve previously experienced so I’ll certainly keep to the woods and softer conditions for riding. It’s very clear that whilst these tires are awesome in the mud, I will steer clear of doing many road miles on them.
Recommended pressure range is a pretty standard 45-90 psi. The fit was pretty tight on my trusty Mavic Ksyrium rims; although that gives me some reassurance I will potentially be able to continue rolling on the rim for short periods if I do puncture whilst racing.
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Tire Longevity and Puncture Resistance
As a performance-driven cyclocross tire, I wouldn’t expect these tires to last long if I’m using them for anything but racing and cross country rides. Road use will certainly have me needing to replace them and they certainly wouldn’t be a good option for commuting unless your ride to work is over glutinous farmer's fields.
The Cross XL Pro features Vittoria’s PRB 2.0 puncture protection. In two weeks of use I haven’t experienced a puncture but having some form of resistance is always going to be a bonus when you could find yourself in the middle of nowhere whilst out training.
Tire Weight and Size Options
Vittoria offers two sizes for the XL Pro: I’ve been riding on the 33 mm version and a 31 mm variant of the tread being narrower to slice through the mud. In honesty I’m happy to finish mid-pack in local league events. It doesn’t make me any less demanding in terms of performance but I felt the extra size of the 33mm XL Pro would help give me a little more control on local courses which have an insanely high number of vicious tree roots which I’ve often had the feeling I’ve been bouncing off.
Tire width preference will differ based on your own priorities and in some cases the mud clearance within your frameset.
The weight for my 33mm version is 440g per tire; the 31mm version tips the scales at 10g lighter. These weights seem pretty standard for a performance cyclocross tire and it’s that all-important mud traction these give which is their priority, not their lightweight.
Racing in the Mud on the Cross XL Pro
After a season of racing the XL Pro's, I've been very happy with their performance in anything but dry and grassy conditions. They're a specialist cyclocross race tire for the mud and therefore should be kept away from the road wherever possible as this will greatly reduce their longevity.
Straight-line performance is great in all but the thickest of peanut butter-type mud. The treat pattern sheds mud well and offers good handling when conditions change to a little loamy. There's much more 'bite' than the Maxxis Mud Wrestler tires that came on my second cyclocross bike which will be replaced for a more uniform set-up next winter. I'm very happy with these as cyclocross tires for muddy conditions.
Cornering is assured in soft conditions with enough bite to give what a rider needs. I just need to be a better bike handler myself now as I can't put blame on my equipment, especially the tires.
The Verdict: A Great Tire for Muddy Conditions
The XL Pro is a great cyclocross racing tire for when conditions get muddy. They offer excellent grip and reassuring cornering at a price that won’t break the bank compared to other manufacturers too. An additional bonus for riders is the potential for these tires to be used with tubeless systems thanks to Vittoria’s TNT (Tubes-No Tubes) technology.
The only real downside is their weight alongside competitor tires like the 100-gram lighter Clement PDX or Michelin Mud 2. Their weight is the only factor that lets the tire down against their competition.
The CyclingFitness Verdict
What's Your CX Tire Choice in the Mud?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Liam Hallam