The Challenge Almanzo and Eroica: which will you choose for a gravel grinder? © Clifford Lee

The Challenge Almanzo and Eroica: which will you choose for a gravel grinder? © Clifford Lee

by Clifford Lee

Just in time for your ‘off-season’ gravel event, Challenge has released the Eroica and Almanzo tires to fit your road or ’cross bike. Using a “super poly” casing of polyester thread in the open tubular design with wound-not-woven casing, these tires measure 30mm when inflated on a rim with a 17mm inside width. This is the widest tire that will fit under a standard (not long reach) sidepull caliper. I was just able to fit these on my steel road bike with standard reach Shimano Dura Ace 7800 brakes with the brake shoes set in the middle of the slot. Bear in mind, they will not fit every road bike, but if they fit yours, lucky you, because the Challenge Eroica and Almanzo can transform your bike and expand its comfortable range of use!

The Challenge Almanzo, the heftier choice. © Clifford Lee

The Challenge Almanzo, the heftier choice. © Clifford Lee

The Almanzo, named after the Almanzo 100 gravel race in Minnesota, is the heavier of the two with a hefty file tread and small side knobs – essentially a narrower version of the Grifo XS tread, which was ridden to the win at the Barry Roubaix in Michigan by Justin Lindine. The Almanzo Open has a heavy breaker belt (Challenge PPS) on the inner casing under the tread, making for a super durable 367 gram clincher.

“As with most of our road and cross tires, both the Eroica and the Almanzo include our Puncture Protection System (PPS) between the casing and the tread,” Challenge Marketing Director Chris Clinton tells us. “With the Almanzo and the Eroica, both tires intended for gravel usage, we added a second layer of PPS inside the casing. That’s the red band that you can see inside the Almanzo tire image [at the top of the article].”

Just for reference, given the intended use of the tires, a 33mm Specialized Trigger weighs 272 grams, but is too wide for the majority of road frames. The Grand Bois Cypress is labelled 30mm but measures 32mm, while the Cerf is labelled 28mm but measures 29mm. And the old light gravel standard, Panasonic Pasela, is available in a 28mm or 32mm labelled width, but runs much narrower, and the Schwalbe Marathon is a much heavier tire that puts it in a different class altogether. The Challenge Almanzo and Eroica are the only 30mm tires that I could find that have the benefit of a fine casing in an open tubular design for more suppleness. If the Eroica is too large, Challenge offers the same tread as the Eroica, with a 27mm casing, called the Paris Roubaix.

The Almanzo’s thick tread is slightly curved when uninflated, making mounting  a bit easier. Once the tires have stretched on the rim under inflation for a while, subsequent mounting becomes easier.

The Challenge Eroica: less helpful on gravel, better for roads. © Clifford Lee

The Challenge Eroica: less helpful on gravel, better for roads. © Clifford Lee

For my weight (155 pounds), I could run these as low as 45 psi without too much pinch risk, and I found the Almanzo tread to do very well on packed dirt, gravel, broken pavement and even some mildly rocky trails. I thought the Almanzo was a bit heavy on the road – I could feel its weight and resistance with climbing and acceleration, but when the going got really rough, I appreciated the durability. Both tires rode better than any of the aforementioned options.

For the ultimate test, I put these on my tandem. My wife and I are a light team, with a combined weight of 275 pounds. I put the lighter tire on the front with the idea that I could steer around obstacles, and the Almanzo on the rear since it would provide higher mileage and durability as we tracked over a mixed-terrain route. With our combined weight, 80 psi was as low as I wanted to go. My wife, who plays the role of stoker, admitted there was less plushness than a 33mm Specialized Trigger at the same pressure, but the Almanzo was still not objectionable on rough surfaces in the way that a 28mm road tire would be. We received no tread cuts on the Eroica mounted on the front, even on a descent with broken pavement and small rocks. Compared to the 33mm tires at the same pressure, the 30mm Challenge tires actually handled better on the road, and when standing to climb, since there was less unsupported sidewall, and provided almost the same road performance as a 28mm tire.

For your next off-road ride on your road bike, your road-heavy mixed terrain ride, or your road tandem, these Challenge tires cannot be beat.

Make sure that you’re subscribed to–or buy as an archived copyIssue 20 of Cyclocross Magazine, to check out our whole feature on gravel!

Challenge Almanzo Open

  • MSRP: 75.99 USD
  • Width: 30mm Measured / 30mm Listed
  • Casing: “Super Poly” polyester
  • Bead: Aramid folding
  • Tread: Heavy file with side knobs
  • Weight: 367 grams / 290 grams Listed
  • Country: Thailand
  • More information