Compass Tires sells what may be the worlds most expensive slick tire for 26" wheels. Jan Heine has done an excellent job marketing the tire, though at $60/each, which is nearly twice the next commonly compared tire, one is left wondering: are these tires really worth the money?.. especially on a 26" wheeled bike, which commonly sell used for less than the cost of a single Compass tire?!
Being someone who loves 26" fat tires, but doesn't spend much time off-roading, I've been interested in trying various street slicks. Until now my preferred tire has been the low price Kenda K838 tires. The K838 are labeled as 1.95" but they are over 2.1" wide due to the motorcycle tire style "lip" they have. I find the K838 to offer good traction and very little rolling resistance (at least compared to knobbies). I have them on two of my bikes and have only gotten one flat in over the two years I've used them. For the money I think the Kenda K838 are an excellent tire. But they do weigh a lot: close to 750 grams, and at higher speeds and longer riders, you can feel the effort it's taking to keep the tire spinning. After they break in it's not quite as bad, but you can still tell they are a stiff tire. They are best for short city rides, which is the primary type of riding I do.
Not many 26" slick tires are marketed for performance. Especially with mountain bike moving away from 26" wheels, it's pretty much heavy city tires like the K838s which dominate the market. Schwalbe Big Apples are some of the more highly regarded "fat tire" slicks, but the high end Big Apples are 3x the cost and only weigh 100g less than the K838s, and the cheaper Big Apples weigh about 200g MORE and still cost 2x as much.
When shopping for other tires, I've lusted after the Compass tires, but never been willing to take the $120 plunge for a pair. Panracer Paselas look and weigh almost the same, and are also made by the same manufacturer. Many people who have shown interest in the Compass tires express that they have been happy with the Paselas instead.. though it seems most haven't tried the Compass tires. The Pasela is about half the price so it's understandable. I prefer a completely black tire over skinwall, so I haven't looked deep into the Paselas, though I'd like to try them out, if anything simply to compare them with the Compass tires.
So.. recently I was in the lucky position of being able to pick out a gift for myself, and I decided to choose something I would probably never spend my own money on: some Compass Tires in the 26x1.75" size. I received them, along with the Schwalbe presta tubes recommended and sold by Compass.
This was my first time installing folding tires and it was a tiny bit different, but mostly because the tire wasn't really in the shape of a tire so you had to do a little more work to shape it on the rim. The tire was clearly more "supple" and flexible than other tires I've owned. It wasn't a problem getting it on the rim, though the tubes are a bit strange since they are labeled for 26" or 650b.. i had to inflate them a little bit before I finished mounting the tire so they wouldn't fold over inside. I found having the tube partially inflated actually made it easier to get the tire on, though I did need to deflate it a little to get the final portion over the rim.
My immediate impression with the tires was that they looked nice, though skinnier than I was expecting for 1.75". The Compass website says the 1.75" tires are 44mm, but the package and the tires both say 42-522, and my calipers also indicated they were 42mm wide, which is 1.65". For comparison, I measured my girlfriend's 26x1.5" Geax Roadster tires, and they were actually a touch wider.
I forgot to weigh them, but the Compass tires are lighter than the K838s by about 300 grams, and overall the bike lost 1.5 lbs, falling to 28.5.. a noticeable difference but not hugely significant at this weight point. But 1.5 lbs off the rolling weight has got to do something..
Before riding I decided I liked the look of the K838s better on this particular ride.. mostly because the frame is a close color to the skinwall, and also I like the "aggressive" look of the fatter tire that resembles motorcycle tread more than a road bike. But how would the tires actually ride?
1988 Univega Alpina Pro with Compass Tires 26x1.75"
How do they ride? They ride pretty nice. I don't know if they ride $60 nice, but there were some definite advantages compared to the K838s. The most obvious advantage is SPEED. It seemed much easier to get up to and maintain higher speeds with these tires. The suppleness of the tire means that less energy is spent on causing it to deform as it rolls, and so it rolls faster. You can definitely feel this. I usually ride in the smaller ring when I'm going around town, but I found myself quickly shifting into higher gears and comfortably maintaining them, where as before I would tend to just stick in a moderate gear.
Even though the tires were so skinny compared to what I'm used to, they felt very grippy and cornered well. I did some (very) light off-roading on grass and other non paved city surfaces and didn't feel any concern about traction. At high speeds, rough roads and off road seemed to be smoothed out, which led to increased confidence.
The main downside I noticed was less comfort at low speed. When just cruising around, rough pavement, tiles/bricks/"cobblestones", etc were more noticeable. It seems at lower speeds, the suppleness ends up transmitting more road feel, while at high speeds it tends to reduce it. I started out my ride with the tires pumped up to ~65-70psi, which was the maximum listed on the tire, but it wasn't long before I let some air out in hopes of improving the ride. I didn't check the PSI afterward but it did help a little.
The other negative thing I noticed (which I've heard goes away) is there was a subtle vibration on completely smooth surfaces that seemed to be caused by the tread of the tire. This wasn't huge, but I love the smooth as glass feeling of the K838s. I hope this vibration goes away as the tread breaks in.
Overall I was more impressed with the tires than I was expecting. The increase in speed and ease of maintaining it was substantial. I haven't tried other tires with similar weight, so it's hard to say if they are a good value, but they are definitely a nice tire. If they made one in a size closer to 2" and with a black sidewall, I'd order another pair right now.
Since the biggest benefit seems to be speed, along with increased comfort at speed, I would especially recommend this tire for commuters and tourers, basically anyone who's going far and would like to get there more quickly. If you're just tooling around the MUP or running errands around town, a lower priced tire may be more suitable and possibly even more comfortable.
I plan to continue riding these tires on the Univega for a little while, at least until I finish up with another one of my builds (89 Jamis Dakar). I think these tires deserve a lighter frame, and I was happy with the fat tire "city bomber" look of the Univega. I will provide more feedback as the tires get more use.