batman first made an appearance in issue 27 of detective comics in may of 1939, originally referred to as the batman. as time has passed by however, he has also answered to the epithets 'the caped crusader', 'the dark night', and 'the world's greatest detective', though i confess i had thought the latter to have already been adopted by sherlock homes fans.
batman's more mundane existence was that of bruce wayne, conveniently a billionaire, industrialist and philanthropist; a bit like bill gates, now that you come to mention it. his adoption of a bat-like cape and mask was as a result of having witnessed the murder of his parents, subsequently swearing revenge on the criminal underworld (just remember, this is all fictional). the character was created by artist bob kane and writer bill finger and despite batman's appearance just at the outset of the second world war, along with many other superheroes, it's a character that has endured to the present day with few alterations other than that of personality.
that, however, is far more the fault of the movie and television industries rather than any intrinsic character flaw on behalf of kane and finger.
but one year later, as a result of his creator tiring of having to endlessly portray batman as thinking aloud, his solitude was replaced with dick grayson, civilian alter ego of robin. oddly enough, some thirty years later, robin grew up, popped off to college and fulfilled his own superhero destiny as 'nightwing'. however, the latter inconvenient fact notwithstanding, a bit like morecambe and wise, laurel and hardy and peters and lee, it's difficult to think of batman without robin in the same way as it's a tad unconventional to consider wheels without tyres or indeed, vice versa.
but while in cycling terms the two are all but inseparable, it seems a tad iniquitous and less than equitable to combine both in the same review. sometimes certain products simply demand to be considered in their own right no matter that they depend on others for support. so in order to do the right thing, i'd like you to consider this as the first part of effectively a two-part review. the wheels will roll along tomorrow.
challenge tyres could almost be considered something of a well-kept secret, despite one or two high-profile users in the cylocross world. both helen wyman and richard sachs are long-term users of challenge grifo cyclocross tubulars, the open version of which i not only reviewed, but have consistently ridden since the commencement of last year's cyclocross season. aside from the ability to run tubular tyres at lower pressures than tyres and tubes, the manufacturing process for both is pretty much identical up until the final stage; tubulars are sewn with inner tube in place, while the open tubulars receive a kevlar bead and dispense with the sewing bit.
in conversation with a competitor's tyre technician some years ago, i was bemoaning the fact that certain road-going tubulars featured a most pleasing and effective herring-bone file tread that was conspicuous by its absence on the majority of road tyres. his explanation was the pro mechanics and professional riders simply required tyre treads that accomplished the necessities of racing grip. the fickle public however (that's you and me), were more demanding of supposedly cool and graphic tread patterns, expecting something new and apparently innovative each year.
this explanation bears more than a sliver of truth as far as i'm concerned, but it means i now approach each alternative new tyre with a not altogether innocuous sliver of suspicion. does each tread pattern simply subscribe to the whims of a graphic designer, or is there a whole bunch of science behind each tactile knobbly? the proof of the pudding therefore, can probably only be via giving tyres, bike and yours truly more grief than is seemly in polite company.
not unnaturally, the suspicion that the professional cyclocross rider would be far more qualified to push the tyres to the point of disagreeing with the earth's gravitational pull is well-founded. but i refer the reader to my previous statement regarding the fickleness of the civilian rider, a mantle that i wear particularly well. though the intrepid cyclocross racer may find themself in all sorts of competition induced awkwardness, a high degree of ineptitude will often encourage precisely the same result, albeit at a lower speed. bottom line is: do the knobblies cut the mustard?
it probably is impossible to separate the functions performed by both wheels and tyres, but i made every effort to perform movements that favoured neither one or t'other. around bridgend woods, i have the semblance of a decent 'cross course that, sponsorship and islay estates willing, could probably be fairly simply engineered into a round of the scottish xc series. in the meantime, my solo efforts are the worst that transpire midst trees and the river sorn. later in the season, the mud will be in greater evidence, but then i'd be prepared for that and ride accordingly (within my minimalistic limits).
yet despite my growing confidence on the ibis, my line under claustrophobic trees brought me in contact with a totally unexpected patch of thick(ish) mud for which i was woefully unprepared. but despite some untoward squirming at speed (it was downhill), it is my belief that the tyres were the very items that brought me out the other side on pretty much the same line i'd chosen on the way in. much as i'd love to put it down to my impeccable bike handling, you wouldn't believe that any more than i would.
despite the majority of the route being flush with wet grass and rocky road (apparently also the name of a well-known chocolate concoction) i figured my initial outing ought to try its best to emulate the pros on their tubs by riding on the lowest pressure i figured i could get away with. in this case, that was 1.5 bar (approx 23 psi). while the grass, mud and even light gravel were almost happy with that, the rocky bits felt considerably less than comfortable, though in their favour, despite an entire lap on such a low pressure, the challenge limus tyres neither suffered damage or puncture.
however, though pride bears no pain, my backside did, so i popped the pressure up to around 2.75 bar (40 psi) and not only were subsequent laps a tad faster, but less onerous on my posterior. one notable difference over the grifos was the apparent increase in grip when climbing the rocky path towards the woollen mill. i seem to recall the occasional skity slip before that was now no more. of course, this is one year later, and the ground may conceivably have been drier, but i think the point is well made.
cornering and manouevrability more or less saved my day; much of the bouncing about was unintended, sometimes at a similarly unintended speed. yet despite that aforementioned ineptitude that i have carefully nurtured over the years, the ibis stuck pretty much to its line, allowing me to survive and ride another day.
on the basis of these observations, there must surely be a great deal more to the knobbly pattern on the challenge limus than the whim of an italian graphic designer (though they do present a most pleasing pattern when stopped to let dog-walkers past). i daresay the advantages of tubulars in competitive cyclocross still outweigh the likelihood of ms wyman and mr sachs switching to the company's open tubulars. but if, like me, thundering senselessly through the undergrowth is your weekend party-trick, with the concomitant ability to effect repair on the wooden bridge across the river, a set of challenge limus open tubulars will not only aid your batman-esque tendencies, but offer a stylish set of knobblies and sidewall label, marking you out as a member of the cognoscenti.
challenge limus 33 cyclocross open tubulars retail at £52 each and are available only with black tread and and tan sidewall. challenge tyres and tubes are distributed in the uk by paligap
sunday 7 september 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................