Even without USA Cycling gravel regulations, gravel races, gravel gear and even gravel itself vary tremendously.
Earlier this week we brought you our review of the Maxxis Rambler 40c 120tpi and 60tpi tubeless gravel tires, and it’s worth a read if you’re looking for a lightweight, supple tire for gravel races and bumpy cyclocross courses where sharp rocks aren’t an issue and high volume isn’t necessary.
Soma Fabrication’s Cazadero gravel tire is at the more extreme end of the gravel scale, with a listed width of 42mm, big tall knobs, and made-in-Japan by Panaracer construction.
The tire gets its name from California’s western Sonoma County’s unincorporated town of the same name and its rugged Old Cazadero Road made famous by the Grasshopper Adventure Series. (It also means hunting ground in Spanish.) The Old Caz mixed terrain race features 52 miles, 4700 feet of climbing, and big-name attendees (won by Ted King and Katerina Nash this year).
With a continuous center tread and big side knobs, this tire is a great choice for rocky gravel, hardpack dirt and broken pavement adventures. Consider it the faster-rolling brother of the Bruce Gordon Rock N’ Road tire (one of eight gravel tires reviewed in Issue 29), as both are made in Japan by Panaracer, come in similar widths and are great candidates for tubeless conversions.
On pavement, unless you’re riding it at 20psi, the Cazadero is a smooth-rolling ride. The continuous center tread is extremely effective in providing you with nearly road tire-like rolling resistance on the straights. Such pavement performance isn’t rare among the narrower, minimal knob or slick gravel tires, but for a tire with such volume and tall knobs, it’s impressive.
Ride the Cazadero at low pressure off the paved path, and the tall knobs will provide great grip should you hit steep climbs or loose patches, despite the continuous center tread. Normally tires that run smoothly on pavement and hardpack suffer greatly on loose climbs and corners, but the Cazadero’s raised center tread and side knobs sink into the loose sand, gravel and dirt, and the serrated edges offer some bite to keep you moving forward.
Lean your bike into a loose corner, and the Cazadero’s cornering grip is best in class. The tall, squared-off intermediate side knobs and shoulder knobs are well-supported, provide great edge control, and don’t suffer from a slot of squirm.
At around 500 grams, the Cazadero isn’t featherweight like the Maxxis Rambler, but it’s bigger, lighter and more supple than the Vittoria Adventure Trail 40c gravel tire we recently reviewed. At 30psi on a 17.5mm rim, it’s not quite 42mm, but 40mm, which still pushes the tire clearance limits of many cyclocross and gravel bikes:
The Cazadero’s taller knobs, bigger volume and blackwall sidewall protection all provide decent protection in rocky terrain, but it’s really the thick, tall knobs that reduce your chances for a catastrophic casing cut. A perfectly placed, narrow sharp rock can still hit the casing between knobs, but the chances are much smaller than on a low-profile knob tire (or slick).
By excelling at both pavement and loose, rough surfaces, the Soma Fabrications Cazadero is as close to the Holy Grail of gravel/mixed terrain tires as we’ve seen. Because of our ability to run it tubeless, and its generous volume and versatile tread, it’s quickly become one of our all-time favorites for gravel and adventure. It’s the type of tire you could install after your last cyclocross race and leave on until the season starts up again, or leave it on for the full cyclocross season if you’re in a dry climate and race on bumpy trails. Whether you’re riding on the road, trail, gravel or all of the above, the tread works well and works hard to keep you upright when conditions are loose.
While we’d have no problem lining up for a dry, early season bumpy cyclocross race with Soma Cazadero tires, they are not what you’d want for a sloppy cyclocross race. The tread will pack with mud, and have you spinning on slippery climbs. But during this time of year, the Cazadero’s smooth center tread and extra volume help make the road ride to the fun stuff go by quickly, and the fun stuff less jarring and flat tire-inducing. That’s a winning combination in our book, and thus is an Editors’ Choice award winner.
An abbreviated version of this review appeared in our Issue 29, along with seven other gravel tires. Pick up your back copy of Issue 29 in print or a digital version today.
Soma Cazadero 700x42c Gravel Tire Specs:
List Weight: 510g
Actual Weight: 505g
List Width: 42mm
Actual Width: 39.9mm (30 psi on 17.5mm internal width rim)
Tubeless: No (although we’ve had good luck converting it)
Other Options: 650b
More Info: somafab.com