One of a select few tyres still available in a gumwall finish, the Challenge Criterium open tubular is a great choice for a retro bike, but the quality and feel of the tyre give it a broad appeal.
Open tubular? Similar to Vittoria's Open Corsa tyres, the Criterium uses the same hand-made carcass as Challenge's tubular tryes, but instead of sewing it up they add a bead to make it into a clincher. The carcass is cotton rather than nylon, at 320TPI (threads per inch) which is much higher than most clincher tyres (60-150TPI is normal). Challenge claim that this makes the tyre much more supple. Another big difference is that the tread is hand-glued onto the carcass, rather than the whole tyre being vulcanised, which affects the properties of the rubber.
Certainly the Criterium is much more supple than a standard clincher, you can easily fold the carcass and fresh out of the box it lies completely flat. Getting it on the bike first time around is a bit of a faff but once on and inflated it takes on a much more tyre-like shape the next time you have to pull it off.
Ride feel, and the grip from the file-pattern tread, is very good. The Criterium feels supple and there's plenty of traction when you lean the bike over, even in the wet.
Challenge don't claim the Criterium open tubular is massively puncture resistant and that would tally with what I've found, but it's no worse than other race-oriented rubber.
Challenge claim a 200g weight; ours weighed in at 220g each which is fairly light but not as light as they claim. Given that these tyres are hand-made you'd expect a little more variation.
Overall the Criterium open tubular impressed. The quality and ride characteristics are similar to the Vittoria Open Corsa Evo CX which is the same kind of money and of similar construction.
At £50, it's not cheap, though. You can have them online for about £40 and sometimes cheaper, which still isn't a bargain considering there are some very good tyres out there for a fair bit less, but you might want to treat yourself and you won't be disappointed with the ride. If you don't want gumwalls the Criterium is available in black too, and also all-white.
Good quality handmade tyre with a supple ride and good grip.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Challenge Criterium Open Tubular Road tyre
Size tested: 23C
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Tubular version of Challenge's popular-for-racing Criterium tubular.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Corespun 320TPI cooton case, natural rubber tread, Kevlar bead, hand-made.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Good ride feel, good grip
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Performs well, gumwall also looks good on the right type of bike
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
A bit pricey, puncture resistance not great
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? For the right bike.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Maybe.
About the tester
Age: 40 Height: 190cm Weight: 102kg
I usually ride: whatever I'm testing... My best bike is: Genesis Equilibrium with SRAM Apex
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track
Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.