Weight: 284 grams
Tread design: traditional file/rib tread
Other options: Extra-light Model, 256 grams, tan or black sidewalls, $76
Miles tested: 600+
How Acquired: Purchased
Comfort With No Compromise in Performance
Have you noticed how many cyclists have adopted wider tires? Because of their increased air volume, even the pros use 25s and even 28s for rough courses like Paris-Roubaix. Where racers and recreational riders alike
formerly equated narrow tires with speed, we now know, thanks to studies by Jan Heine at Bicycle Quarterly and others, that wider tires mean more comfort, less chance of pinch flats and more cornering grip with no loss of speed.
But there’s a caveat — wider tires need to have supple, lightweight casings to be fast, and up to now most wider choices have been heavy-duty touring models with puncture-resistant belts and rugged sidewalls, great for gravel roads and hauling loads but slow and harsh for performance riding.
To remedy this situation, Heine launched a line of light-casing tires through his web business, Compass Bicycles. Available in 700C, 650B and 26-inch models, these tires are in the tradition of the legendary tires of old like the Clement Del Mundo tubular or the wide randonneuring clinchers of 70 years ago. In 700C, these tires are available as wide as 38mm.
I wondered how wide a tire I could use to get the advantages without feeling like I was piloting a monster truck. Of course, maximum tire width is limited by frame clearance. One reason wider rubber hasn’t caught on rapidly is that most race and performance bikes have been designed for 23mm tires. On many frames and forks, a 25 is a squeeze. Forget 28s. However, that’s changing as bike designers realize that customers are moving toward wider tires.
I have a Rivendell Roadeo, a light steel bike with plenty of clearance. I wasn’t quite ready for those 38s so I opted for the Stampede Pass 32mm model. (Jan Heine is located in Seattle and his tires are named for passes in the Pacific Northwest.) After putting over 600 miles on a set, I’m sold on the advantages.
Visual Standouts, Cushioned Ride
They certainly get attention. When PacTour’s Ridge of the Rockies tour came through my hometown of Montrose, Colorado, I tagged along part of the way on the day’s jaunt to Durango. At the start in the motel parking lot half a dozen riders immediately noticed the wider tires and asked about them. Because our eyes are so attuned to bikes with narrow tires, wider ones stick out like no other change you can make to your bike.
I noticed right away how the lower tire pressures made possible by wider tires cushion the ride on bad pavement. Here in western Colorado, we have miles of deteriorating chip seal road, punctuated by potholes, poorly patched sections and other stretches where the blacktop has vanished, leaving what amounts to a gravel road. If you have similar riding conditions, you’ll love the way the Stampede Pass tires smooth out the kind of road that only a Jeep could love.
The trick is to use lower air pressure. I weigh about 150 pounds and run 25s at 100 psi but inflated these 32s to only around 80 psi. I could probably go lower. The difference in comfort is remarkable, and I have had no pinch flats. On a recent ride I rounded a downhill corner when a deer ran across the road in front of me. I swerved to miss Bambi and hit a rock in the road with my front tire. I expected a pinch flat and maybe a damaged rim but the air volume of the larger tire protected me from both.
Remarkable Grip and Cornering
The wider tires increase cornering safety remarkably. I was eager to ride south with PacTour to Red Mountain Pass to try them out on the steep and curvy descent into Ouray. Highway 550, the “Million Dollar Highway,” over Red Mountain Pass is 13 miles and 3,400 vertical feet (1,036m) of adventure. It tops out a bit over 11,000 feet (3,353m) in elevation. Cut into the cliffs of the San Juan Mountains, it got its name because it supposedly cost a million dollars a mile to build in the late 1800s. Switchbacks and sheer drop-offs abound—it’s a serious climb and an even more serious bike-handling challenge to descend.
I was confident that the tires would work well on the sweeping switchbacks near the top but the real test was the tight curves between Ironton Park (a flatter respite in the middle of the climb) and the bottom on the main street of Ouray. After wishing the PacTour group a safe ride on to Durango, I turned around and headed into the curving, cliff-gouged section featuring the snow shed that protects the road from avalanches, the Bear Creek Falls tunnel and the final big sweeper at the turnoff for Yankee Boy Basin jeep road.
It was uncanny how much more confident the bike handled on the Stampede Pass tires compared to tires only 25mm wide. The pavement is rough due to gouges from the snowplow blades in the winter and rocks falling from the cliffs above in all seasons. But when I leaned the bike over in the bumpy corners, the tires clung to the road without chattering on the corrugations like a narrower tire inflated to a higher pressure would have done.
A rock in the road caused me to change my line in mid-corner, but the tires gripped tenaciously even as I leaned the bike over harder. An oncoming motor home driver, spooked by the sheer drop to his right, was hugging the middle of the road as I approached another tight corner. But I had no qualms about adjusting my line quickly and scooting between the vehicle and the cliff wall. I knew the tires firmly attached me to the road.
Workmanlike in Everyday Riding
While the Stampede Pass tires were spectacular on treacherous descents, they were solidly workmanlike in everyday riding. On rough pavement they soaked up the bumps so long rides were less fatiguing. Even miles of bouncing on gruesome farm and ranch roads in the western Colorado outback didn’t faze them. I was confident riding them on gravel roads, too, and they have suffered no tread or sidewall damage from careening from rock to rock.
In light of the supple casings, what about puncture resistance? I was a bit concerned because I had previously tested an earlier incarnation of a similar tire, the Grand Bois, in 26mm. I had two flats in a couple of weeks, both from goat head thorns. So I worried that thorns, radial tire wires and other sharp objects might cause so many flats that the advantages of the Stampede Pass tires would be negated.
However I’ve had no punctures so far in spite of the rough roads, gravel and significant miles on highway shoulders with occasional truck tire carcasses lurking. Of course, flats are often just a case of bad luck. But at this point the Stampede Pass tires have proven remarkably tough.
No Compromise in Speed
I have also checked my average speed on my usual training routes using these tires versus the same rides on narrower tires over the years. While average speed on a given route can vary tremendously, over time a pattern develops.
So far, the wider tires seem at least as fast as narrow models and on rough pavement they appear to be faster. I attribute this to their extra cushion — they roll over small imperfections in the pavement rather than hitting them and bouncing up slightly, thus decreasing speed. The rougher the pavement, the greater the advantage over narrow tires.
It will take several thousand more miles to evaluate their long-term reliability, and I want more accurate data on whether they are in fact faster. Of course, Compass makes the Stampede Pass’s big brother, the Barlow Pass, in 38mm, and I think they’d fit in my frame. So the question of how wide we can go isn’t answered yet.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred’s full bio.