If you’re a bit of a cyclocross traditionalist (as I consider myself), you may be as skeptical as I am about new tech that pervades the product landscape year to year. This skepticism and an overwhelming desire to save money by getting the most out of my gear has made me a slow adopter of new tech. As pertinent examples, I never owned a disc brake-equipped cyclocross bike until two seasons ago, and I had never tried tubeless tires of any kind until last year. Ok, I could be a Luddite. Anyway…
As tubeless tires have grown in popularity, the products have developed as well, and more pro cyclocross teams are running tubeless setups for their riders. Having only positive experiences with tubeless tires outside of ‘cross season, I figured it was high time for me to give it a real shot for my own racing needs.
“It’s all about that supple life”, as one of my friends recently remarked about cyclocross tires. We know this. Those luxurious cotton-cased tubulars are wonderful – there is a reason why the pros stick with this kind of tire. The ride and feel are unsurpassed, and these are the major hurdles for tubeless tires for cyclocross which by my informal observation have largely only been available in more robust (i.e. stiffer) 120 TPI counts. Enter the Donnelly PDX WC tubeless. Marketed as a 240 TPI tire, this one is clearly an effort to produce a tubeless product that meets the needs of more discerning riders looking for tubular feel with tubeless ease-of-use.
Out of the box, these tires have a high-quality look and feel. If you’re familiar with Donnelly (formerly Clement) products, you know that they are consistent. The tubular products that I have used in the past have always been easy to mount straight because the tread and base tape is always aligned straight as an arrow.
The PDX WC is no exception – it appears and feels very consistent. I also appreciate the traditionalist nod with the tan sidewall. I’m a fan of this look on my bikes and always choose a tan sidewall option with any tire I buy, when available. As of this writing, the PDX WC appears to be available in the black tread/tan sidewall option only.
If you’ve ever installed a tubeless tire before, you should have no trouble mounting these. I would put them firmly in the middle of the installation spectrum – certainly not the easiest and nowhere near the hardest. My method consists of mounting the tire to a clean rim, adding 2 ounces of Orange Seal, then getting them seated on the rim with a quick burst from the local gas station air pump. These inflated and seated using this method pretty easily.
Once inflated, these look very much like the PDX tubular in size, which is right near the 33mm UCI limit. As Donnelly admits on their website, the first version of the tubeless PDX actually inflated to a larger width than the advertised 33mm size, especially on many of today’s wider rims. In order to maintain its advertised position as a serious racing tire, Donnelly would obviously need to address this, and they nailed it on the PDX WC.
All the good looks and high-quality feel to a product don’t mean much if it doesn’t perform. So how do these compare to the PDX tubular? In short, these tires may have ruined tubulars for me – they’re good.
The biggest concern for any tubeless tire in a cyclocross application is its ability to hold air at extremely low pressures. In my limited experiences so far this season in five races, I’ve run the tires at any pressure I wanted and had no burping or other loss of air pressure. I usually default to around 28 PSI but have run them as low as 23 PSI with no issues. Compared to the average racer I line up against, I’m probably heavier than most at 170 pounds, give or take a few.
In the last race I ran these tires, the course had quite a few bigger rocks around, and being the sub-par bike driver that I am, I managed to find quite a few of them. I felt the rim more times than I usually like to, but the tires held up nicely.
If you’re familiar with the PDX tubular and like it as much as I do, I think you will find the ride quite comparable. I rode these tires just as I would with the tubular version and felt no differences in performance.
I’m thoroughly enjoying these tires as a racing and training option. Part of the appeal of tubeless is a quality ride that’s less expensive and easier to use than a tubular tire. The Donnelly PDX WC checks all these boxes and makes it an appealing option for a citizen racer like myself who likes to maintain my own equipment and keep costs down. The ride and feel are not on par with the most expensive cotton-cased tubular, but it is pretty much indistinguishable from a PDX tubular.
Besides not having to deal with gluing tires and rims, at $80, these are tires you can run for training and racing without worry about wearing down or damaging a higher cost tubular tire that takes a lot more effort to install. Even though I have raced tubulars exclusively for many years, I would rarely train on them. I can safely say that this reason alone has been enough to sell me on tubeless, even if it meant a slight sacrifice in performance. Fortunately, with the PDX WC, you don’t need to make that sacrifice.
Have you tried these tires yet? If so, tell me what you think! @nschirm on Twitter.