Tire Review: Specialized Tracer Cyclocross Tubular Tire

Overview: Specialized has been working on a new line of cyclocross tubular tires for several years now, and with input from riders like 2010 National Champion Todd Wells, it developed several prototypes last season.  Wells raced a pair of Specialized prototype cyclocross tubulars to victory in Bend (inspect our Issue 11 cover photo), and Cyclocross Magazine was fortunate to receive another set shortly after his win for testing.

Specialized Tracer Cyclocross Tubular Tire, 700x33c © Cyclocross Magazine

Specialized's Tracer Cyclocross Tubular Tire will be hitting dealers late July, 2012 © Cyclocross Magazine

The company is ready to release three new tires in the form of the Tracer, the Trigger, and the Terra. The three new treads join The Captain and the Houffalize CX treads to make for an impressive, diverse selection of tires from Specialized.  The Tracer tire, reviewed here, is the company’s all-around tread, designed to compete with the likes of the Challenge Grifo, Dugast Typhoon and Vittoria XN and provide traction and speed in a variety of conditions. It’s modeled after the successful Renegade mountain bike tire currently available.

But Specialized isn’t limiting you to just one, do-it-all tire. The Trigger is the company’s semi-slick tire for dry, fast conditions (or for some, pure ice), while the Terra is the company’s mud tire, and alternative to the Dugast Rhino or upcoming Challenge Limus (stay tuned for our preview and review of these other two Specialized models). [Update: Both the Trigger and Terra are reviewed in Issue 18.]

The Specialized Tracer cyclocross tire comes in three configurations: the 290tpi, 423g Tracer Tubular, the folding 282g Tracer Pro clincher, and the Tracer Sport wire bead clincher (weights are average of early prototypes, as measured by Cyclocross Magazine). All three models are listed at 33c to fall within UCI regulations. Our early tubular versions measured out at 32c, and Specialized informed us that the production versions will have slightly larger casings.

Specialized Tracer Cyclocross Tubular Tire, 700x33c

Specialized Tracer Cyclocross Tubular Tire, 700x33c © Cyclocross Magazine

The square block tread reminds us of a more aggressive version of the old Vittoria MasterCross tread, or a tubular version of the Panaracer’s CrossBlaster and Cinder-X clinchers. The impressive weight (in clincher form) makes it a formidable competitor to the sub-300g CrossBlaster.  Our calipers measured knob heights of approximately 2mm tall.

Racing and Riding Impressions:

The Specialized Tracer tubular represents modern tread design with a grippy, but fast-rolling center tread but good side knob bite, and after several months of riding, we’re ready to say it’s one of the most versatile treads we’ve ridden.

The cornering traction over older tread designs is immediately evident, yet the small knobs roll well on hardpack and pavement, still there’s plenty of open space for the tire to clear mud and debris.  In a wet winter that greeted Norcal with plenty of mud, we were never left longing for a more aggressive tire, and in a late season race complete with a 80-meter-long grassy mud pit, the tires emerged without a pile of organic material in tow. In snow or really deep mud, perhaps a taller knob height would have been better, but Specialized offers the Terra tire for such conditions.

On hardpack and tacky dirt and grass, the tire really excelled, and provided sure-footed traction, cornering and surprisingly good braking. The Tracer handled loose dirt relatively well, but the smaller knobs and the semi-continuous center ridge would occasionally break free both in braking and steep climbs.

At 32mm, our prototypes didn’t offer the high-volume pillowy ride one might expect of higher volume tires or ultra-high TPI tires, but at 290tpi, the tire certainly absorbs small bumps better than any clincher.  And if Specialized does increase the casing size on production models, you can expect the extra mm in width to further improve the ride comfort at a given pressure. Although not vulcanized, the treated sidewalls provided decent abrasion resistance over several months of us, and the tread looked ready for a lot more riding.

Gluing was relatively straightforward, and although we stretched our tires over several days, the tires do not appear to be particularly tight on rims prior to stretching, making installation with glue relatively easy. This did not appear to be at the expense of tire security with a glue job.

Overall, cyclocross racers should rejoice as Specialized just offered another attractive choice particularly for racers with just one set of race wheels and are looking for one tire to handle any condition.

Width (listed / measured): 33mm / 32mm (prototype tubulars)
Knob height: 2mm
Weight (listed / measured): Tracer Tubular: 420g / 422g (average)  Tracer Pro Clincher: 285g / 282g (average)
TPI: Tubular 290 tpi, Tracer Pro Clincher: 120 tpi
MSRP: Tubular: expected under $100, Tracer Pro and Sport Clinchers: n/a
Availability: Late July