Tag Archives: Bicycling

Continental Gatorskin tubular review

I’ve had these sitting on the shelf for ages, as I wrote about in my Ambrosio Nemesis review  – what seems like years ago.  I’ve finally got round to sticking them to the aforesaid rims, so how do they go?  The Continental tubular range doesn’t seem to engender a whole lotta love as a whole, and when I looked around on the internet for other reviews of this specific tyre there really wasn’t much out there.

Firstly, they’re black.  Black with that Continental mesh thing going on on the sidewall.  Visually exciting they are not.  One thing that makes them stand out from Conti’s clincher offerings is the file-tooth tread pattern, as opposed to the funky thing on the clinchers.  Meh.

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Excited yet?  No, me neither.

So, first inspection isn’t too exciting.  Conti’s tubs have a reputation for being – ah, a little stiff.  Hosepipe is a word often used.  Handling these does nothing to dispel your fears.  They feel solid – German, in fact.

This isn’t, however, all bad.  My Nemesis’s have normally been shod with Vittoria Paves, and there’s several bloody good reasons why they aren’t being replaced.  The first of these are:

  1.  The variable construction quality of Vittorias of late, specifically the Pave.  Three out of the last four through my hands have had appallingly misshapen base tapes, to the point where letting them deflate – as any latex-tubed tubular will do in about a week – meant the tyre naturally wanted to deform to the point where it pulled away from the glue job.  Yes, they have become that shit.
  2. The Pave has gone up from an official 24mm to an official 25mm.  In reality, the difference feels much bigger than this – it feels faintly balloon-y, next to the old one.  I was happy on the old size; the new one feels like overkill – great on a Sunday best ride, overkill for a race or throwdown.  The Conti is, despite the nominal 25mm size, much more akin in dimension to the old Pave.
  3. Cost.  Paves ain’t cheap and, on the roads around here, I’ll get about 1500 kms from a set.  If my previous experience of Conti clinchers is anything to go by, I expect to more than double that – and the Contis are half the cost in the first place.

The Contis mounted with the minimum of fuss.  They feel well made, the base tapes are even, no humps or ugly joins, no lumps of shit around the valve,  and they’re just – round.  Easy to mount evenly.  Because these are butyl tubed, they stay inflated, so I didn’t have to top them up before I went out to take them for a spin.  I rolled out with 85 psi in the front and 90 in the rear.

First impressions are that hosepipe might be a bit harsh – but plush is pushing it.  The ride is better than pretty much any clincher I’ve ridden, but it’s a way off the Pave magic carpet.   I think I’d run these at 100 in a race or bunch shitfight, and at those pressures the difference in comfort is noticeable, but not painfully so.  Alright, I wouldn’t neccesarily run the ambrosios in that many races these days, but these don’t actually feel horribly slow:  given the relative paucity of 25mm tubs out there, and the shitty roads I ride on,  I’d consider chucking a pair of these on my race hoops and just not worrying for the season.

So I kind ofgot what I thought I would: a cheaper Pave alternative with its own set of compromises and its own set of strengths.  As a Sunday best, plush pair of tyres, there are better offerings out there – think Veloflex, if your last outings with Vittoria have rubbed you up as badly as they have done me.  If you’re looking for a set of reasonable, well made tubs that should last a while, and if pennies and puncture resistance count – then these might tick enough of your boxes to deserve a good look.   They also come in a 22mm width, if you’re that way inclined.

 

 

 

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Ambrosio Nemesis review, or praying at the temple

Let’s be clear.  If you’re a cyclist in the bottom 85% of our size distribution as a species you don’t need this wheelset.  (Unless that is, you’ve got room in the garage and you love cobbles, gravel, and paying reverence to the best part of the year, the spring classics.  Invent reason to suit.)  But  if you’re over a hundred and something kg,  if you’re sick of breaking wheels and you want a nice sunday best that’s not going to explode in showers of expensive, overstressed carbon, these could be your friend.  Read this, then beg or borrow a set from somewhere and tell me if I’m right. I have more than a sneaking suspicion I am.

Regardless of weight, lots of us revere the Nemesis.  Just go check out Weight Weenies, or have a peek on Velominati.  Admirers are many, fervent, and constant.  This last soldier of the box-section, handbuilt days has not gone quietly into the night – the last rites might have been read in the media, right next to another full column ad for something carbon and temporary, but not out here in the trenches. It has a special place in our collective heart, and it shows no sign of letting go just yet.

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The gold flag…

Mine are 32 hole laced to Dura Ace 7900 hubs, in a 3x pattern, using double-butted DT competition spokes.  There are many valid reasons for using alternative spoking patterns, but none of them apply to the Nemesis.  3x is the law here.

Hub choice for the Nemesis seems to be, by convention, limited to a fairly narrow range.  Admittedly there isn’t the choice of high spoke count hubs there once was but wheelsets made with the Nemesis seem to draw from an even more select pool consisting of Dura Ace, Record, Chris King, and Ambrosio’s own (PMP sourced) hubs, notably on those sets built by Harry Rowland.  These wheels get built for the toughest of tough lives, even if only a vanishingly small percentage of them will ever get to see the Arenberg or the Carrefour l’Abre.

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Shiny hubs, shiny spokes. Like Coco Chanel’s little black dress for a bike.

Similarly, the choice of tyres seems to be bound to a select few classics from the cobbles.  Handmade FMB’s for the well heeled, Veloflex’s, and the Vittoria Pave’s, which are what I’m rolling at the moment.  I always have, actually, on these rims – this is the third tyre on the rear, the second on the front.  I have nothing bad to say about the Paves, except for the set I bought off TradeMe that had mangled base tapes that refused to stay glued unless they were kept up to pressure.  They haven’t cut up any worse than any other tyre I’ve ever had, I’ve never punctured a set, and the ride is just…special. That doesn’t mean though, I won’t allow for the possibility of there being other dance partners.  When these go I’m going to try a set of Conti Gatorskins, just because they’re cheap, and that means I can use them even more, presuming they’re not altogether horrible.  (I’ve never tried a conti tub, and I’ll do so with a little trepidation.  Butyl inner tubes and a reputation for riding like lengths of hosepipe, apparently.  But I’ll never know until I try, so I’m keeping an open mind, for now.)

Classic box section rims never look old, because they're already old.
Classic box section rims never look old, because they’re already old.

So what do they weigh, and how do they ride?  If you’re asking the weight question you’re missing the point.  Mine come out at a fanny under1700g for the pair, since you ask, sans skewers tyres and glue.

To the ride.  As you’d expect the handling in foul weather is just what you want,  but to regard these wheels as an anachronistic, one trick slug is a mistake:  I have a 40k loop near home that climbs from sea level to a little under 500m, then plunges and twists and turns through a greasy rainforest-covered lane into an 8k nuts-out descent, then another 7k of flat time trialling to the finish.  It’s my barometer loop, because it measures everything, and out of all my wheelsets I’ve gone round fastest on the Nemesis.  The braking on them is better than on any rim I’ve ever ridden and the Paves inspire confidence like no clincher ever has when the surface is 90% shit and pothole.

Alright, they don’t get pulled out for that many races.  Yes, there’s faster wheels in the garage for most days.  I won’t be humming and ahh-ing between these and the Reynolds or even the Zondas.  Aero was a chocolate bar when these were born, and shit as the roads around here may be, they’re still well within the everyday capabilities of more youthful, faster models.

But none of them will ever, and I mean ever,  feel as special as these. Get your best grimace on, find a muddy puddle, and pretend you’re on King Kelly’s wheel or that Boonen’s choking in your dust.

Some things never grow old.