Since first fitting Challenge Strada Bianca tyres earlier in the year, I've now put on enough distance on these to get a good idea of what they are like. Firstly, these tyres are a high-end handmade tyre that is larger in volume and supple. The width is stated at 30mm however they measure out at 31.5-32mm approximately once they have be worn in, please note this is on 23mm wide H Plus Son Archetype rims.
The first thing you notice about these tyres is how they come flat in the packet, like a large rubber belt. This is apparently because they are hand glued, rather than moulded like most mass production tyres. This is probably also why they are so expensive, despite being made in Thailand. They are slightly odd to install as the natural shape is flat not round like conventional tyres, however I didn't find it hard as I have read from other people's experiences. I covered the installation here.
They look exactly like tubulars when they are deflated, which gives some credence to Challenge's moniker "Open tubular". It really is like a tubular tyre but with a clincher bead.
The first thing you notice about these tyres is how supple they are, this is probably due to the 260tpi construction and the hand glued carcass. At 75/90psi (5/6 bar) front/rear they felt a little too hard (I weigh 70kg) over ruts and other surfaces, however at 65/75psi (4/5bar) they felt fantastic and just float right over bumps, potholes and other imperfections. They are rated to 115psi (8 bar) however I don't think this would be necessary unless you weight a lot.
The grip in the dry on asphalt is fantastic, the herringbone file tread probably doesn't do too much but the near perfectly round profile allows you to lean into corners at high speed with confidence. They feel very fast on smooth roads, I don't think they really lose all that much compared with higher pressure narrow tyres you would normally see on most road bikes. On hardpack gravel they give good grip and offer a supple ride, however once the gravel starts getting big or there's mud or serious loose surfaces they are no different from slicks and you really should be looking at knobbly tyres.
I haven't ridden a lot in the wet on these, however when I have, they have been good, not fantastic or anything but reasonable. On wet slippery descents like in the Chilterns I did manage to break traction a few times, however I doubt there are any tyres which would keep contact with the pavement in these conditions. They will still slip on metal manhole covers as with almost all tyres.
The downside of the sticky rubber compound is that they cut up reasonably easily, over the course of the last six months they have picked up quite a lot of cuts. However unlike my bad experience with the Challenge Elites the Strada Biancas have a double PPS (puncture protection strip) which is the red band on the inside of the tread in the pictures above. This PPS strip seems to have stopped almost all of these cuts.
Initially I suffered 2 punctures in the first 50km, which initially made me regret spending £45 a tyre. I thought it would be like the Challenge Elites which I had a lot of punctures with. However since then I have not had any more punctures which is good news. There have been many cuts, however the carcass has kept is integrity and the tyre has been doing well.
Admittedly I have mostly ridden these tyres outside of London, I wouldn't be too confident riding these every day for commuting in the city, they are much too expensive to waste on this, they are not intended as a commuting tyre anyway. The tread wear is average, so far I have put about 1000km or so on these tyres and the herringbone tread is still visible on the rear tyre.
Overall I think these are great tyres, I was a bit skeptical about purchasing Challenge tyres again due to my experience with the Elites, however the PPS strip has given the tyres reasonable puncture resistance. The ride of these tyres is fantastic, it floats over ruts and other imperfections in the road whilst still remaining fast and lightweight. There aren't a lot of contenders for high-end fast tyres in the 30mm+ range, however I definitely think these are up there.
The downside to these tyres is the cost, £45 per tyre is quite expensive. I don't see them lasting an extraordinary time, however as this is on my weekend bike this isn't such a big deal. If you can get over the cost however I definitely recommend these if you frame can fit them.
Update November 2014
|A small piece of glass made it's way though my tyre...|
Since I originally wrote this review, I've ridden another 1500km on these tyres. Since then I've had 3 flats... So on average this is about every 500km or so, most of these flats were when I rode somewhere within an urban area and they have all been from glass or sharp flints which went right through the tread and the puncture protection strip. This sort of rate of puncture is not at all impressive, in fact it's somewhat mediocre to be completely honest. Although they ride beautifully, when I'm riding these I'm always looking down between my legs to see if the tyre has flatted. These are probably one of the more flat-prone tyres I have owned. At this point I think I will go for a tubeless setup in the future.
Yeah so this happened a while ago just as I was deflating the tyres to go on a cycling trip in the Alps. I had heard of stories of Challenge tyres delaminating from their carcass and it came true for me too. This still left my front tyre and this has been kicking around for a bit longer, although it has suffered many cuts like the rear, particularly a slightly worrying one on the sidewall. Despite all my previous complaints I still love the feel of these tyres, they float over rough roads and roll very fast. I appreciated them more once I swapped them for a set of Vittoria randonneur hypers which are supposed to be high thread and lightweight; these are good tyres but the Strada Biancas just felt so much more supple and fast, it's hard to describe.
Anyway, I'm retiring these tyres and I'm going to give road tubeless a go and see if I can combine suppleness with puncture resistance