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Sometimes consumers have a better chance of seeing new products at an expo than a journalist.

“Is there anything new for cyclocross or gravel?” we often ask manufacturers.

At the 2019 Sea Otter Classic, on a third pass by the Challenge Tires booth after receiving an official “not yet,” we spotted two interesting tires sitting out for the public to see, with some curious TLR designations on them.

A Tubeless Open Tubular?

A tubeless open tubular? Many have attempted to run the handmade clinchers tubeless, but Challenge looks to be testing tubeless versions of its open tubular tires. This tire was on the table of its booth, but the company wouldn't reveal details. 2019 Sea Otter Classic. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

A tubeless open tubular? Many have attempted to run the handmade clinchers without tubes, but Challenge looks to be testing tubeless versions of its open tubular tires. This tire was on the table of its booth, but the company wouldn’t reveal details. 2019 Sea Otter Classic. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

If you remember from our last year’s Sea Otter Classic coverage, the Italian company, best known for its handmade tubular tires, displayed a vulcanized nylon Gravel Grinder tire with the TLR designation, its first tubeless offering.

Challenge released the tubeless Gravel Grinder TLR tire in two widths: 38mm and 42mm. We put it to the test in our review, and found it to be lightweight, supple but a bit fast-wearing.

While tubeless nylon tires are commonplace, tubeless open tubulars are not. The supple, handmade casings are typically not very air tight without a tube, the bead shapes are rounded instead of boxy, and often they’re not very tight on the rim. All that adds up to a problematic, if not unreliable setup.

Might Challenge Tires have overcome these challenges? When pressed about the 30mm Strada Bianca open tubular with the TLR hot patch out on its table, the company said it’s always testing new products, but warned the label may not be accurate. Hmm.

Perhaps one day in the near future gravel and cyclocross racers might enjoy the supple ride of an open tubular on their modern tubeless wheels.

Challenge Tires Tubeless Tubulars?

The company also had a glue-on traditional tubular with the TLR designation.

Challenge Tires wouldn't say much about this tubular, and suggested the labeling might not be perfect, but this 36mm tubular was marked TLR, the company's designation for tubeless. A tubeless tubular should work better with sealant and plugs. 2019 Sea Otter Classic. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

Challenge Tires wouldn’t say much about this tubular, and suggested the labeling might not be perfect, but this 36mm tubular was marked TLR, the company’s designation for tubeless. A tubeless tubular should work better with sealant and plugs. 2019 Sea Otter Classic. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

Tubeless tubulars aren’t the norm. While Tufo and Donnelly tires are tubeless tubulars, handmade tubulars from companies like FMB, Dugast, and Challenge typically rely on latex inner tubes. The 36mm, 260 tpi TLR Strada Bianca tubular we spied might be evidence than Challenge is still eyeing opportunities for tubulars in gravel, for consumers and perhaps for its sponsored cyclocross legend and DK200 participant, Sven Nys.

A tubeless tubular might handle sealant better and allow for the use of plugs in the case of bigger punctures. But if you shred a sidewall or have a big cut? Life might get harder if you’re 30 miles from civilization and don’t have a gravel follow car. Hopefully, you’re wearing your pre-glued spare.

The company did show evidence of its recent product testing. Challenge Tires’ Morgan Nicol held up a piece of flint rock that punctured one of its tires during a test ride.

Challenge Tires has been testing its various gravel offerings on the flint-filled hills of the Midwest. This specific rock caused a puncture in product testing. 2019 Sea Otter Classic. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

Challenge Tires has been testing its various gravel offerings on the flint-filled hills of the Midwest. This specific rock caused a puncture in product testing. 2019 Sea Otter Classic. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

Challenge Tires emphasized its hot patch labels aren’t final and may not be accurate, but that could perhaps refer to the printed tire pressure or size designations, not the TLR label.

The company has been talking a lot about standardization both in construction and labeling, and at Sea Otter, it helped organize an informal symposium between wheel companies and tire companies to discuss ETRTO standards around tubeless tire sizing and pressures.

Many of the tire and wheel companies gathered to discuss and debate tire and wheel standards. 2019 Sea Otter Classic. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

Many of the tire and wheel companies gathered to discuss and debate tire and wheel standards. 2019 Sea Otter Classic. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

The topic has been much much discussed, without complete consensus in the industry as to direction, timing and standardization. Stay tuned for more on this.

Cyclocross Still Featured

Thankfully for cyclocross purists, it wasn’t all gravel grinding and standards debate at the Challenge booth.

Although we didn’t see them last cyclocross season, the nylon TLR versions of the popular cyclocross tires look to be ready for this fall.

We didn't see them last season, but the tubeless TLR cyclocross tires are now in production. 2019 Sea Otter Classic. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

We didn’t see them last season, but the tubeless TLR cyclocross tires are now in production. 2019 Sea Otter Classic. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

The company is never shy about displaying its world championship pedigree, and had an Eli Iserbyt autographed Limus Team Edition on display.

Challenge Tires was showing off one if its cyclocross World Championship-winning tires, autographed by one of 2018 champs, Eli Iserbyt. 2019 Sea Otter Classic. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

Challenge Tires was showing off one if its cyclocross World Championship-winning tires, autographed by one of 2018 champs, Eli Iserbyt. 2019 Sea Otter Classic. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

More info: challengetech.it