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Tires are the easiest and cheapest way to improve your overall bike comfort. But many riders don’t know this secret and still focus on more expensive and sophisticated solutions like suspension forks, products with built-in elastomers, or carbon components with built-in flex.
In this supple tire shootout, I will compare six tires in terms of comfort and performance.
Let’s do it!
The Tires On Test
The first supple tire that I tested was the Soma Cazadero. I was amazed by the comfort improvement over my previous Panaracer GravelKing SK tires. But since then, I’ve had the chance to test many more supple tires.
In this six-way comfort test, we will examine the:
– Challenge Gravel Grinder TLR 42mm
– Rene Herse Steilacoom 38mm (Extralight casing)
– Rene Herse Snoqualmie Pass 44mm (Endurance casing)
– Terrene Elwood Light 42mm
– WTB Byway 44mm
– Soma Cazadero 50mm
As you can see, this is a very broad list of gravel tires. There are both narrow (38mm) and very wide gravel tires (50mm) to compare. You’ll also find tires with a super supple “Extralight” sidewall casing, and a more durable “Endurance” casing. Finally, there are virtually-slick tires and true off-road variants.
Rene Herse Steilacoom 38mm Extralight
I bought Rene Herse Steilacoom 38mm in the most supple, Extralight casing because I wanted to experience the best comfort Rene Herse can provide.
The tire casing is incredibly thin, it feels almost like fabric when you try to squeeze it in your hands. But this is where the suppleness magic happens – this tire is very, very comfortable to ride.
On the bumpy forest route, this tire still provided a very admirable level of comfort and spectacular traction. Surprisingly, this was the most confidence-inspiring tires in the whole test despite its size. This is likely due to the combination of very pronounced knobs and a very sticky rubber compound.
The casing thinness is also the Achilles’ heel of the tire – you can tear these tires very easily on sharp rocks. However, after a couple of long rides, I can tell you that they hold up pretty well on my local forest roads. No punctures at all.
When riding on the tarmac you can easily hear the sound of this tire. It’s loud and feels slow. Really slow! For me, it was a surprise to find such a narrow tire that had a similarly slow feel and noise as the widest tire in the test.
The installation itself is a typical Rene Herse experience. Without a compressor and a lot of soap, I would not try to install this tire tubeless. Luckily, I did not experience any sealant leakage at all using Orange Sealant.
Soma Cazadero 50mm
After talking about the narrowest tire, it’s time to tell you about the widest one.
I really like Soma Cazadero tires. They offer very good grip in almost all situations, roll reasonably fast on the tarmac, and are comfortable thanks to their supple casing, which in my opinion, is very similar to the Extralight casing from Rene Herse (you can squeeze the casing and feel how similar it is in your hands).
The very supple casing combined with a low air pressure (22 psi) and significant width (47mm) results in a supremely comfortable ride, no matter the conditions. This is a true king of this supple tire shootout when comfort is considered!
Unfortunately, the Cazadero has the tendency to leak sealant near the rim, and only increasing the pressure will solve that issue. Both the Cazadero and Rene Herse Extralight also “eat” sealant like crazy. So make sure to use lots of tubeless sealant to be sure that everything will be ok.
Finally, wide 700C tires also mean slower steering and possible tire clearance issues (ideally, check your frame can clear them with 6mm on either side). There could be toe overlap too, so be a bit more careful when considering the 50mm width.
Challenge Gravel Grinder TLC 42mm
These tires were not initially on my radar, but having used them on the Argon 18 Dark Matter gravel bike – I knew they were good.
They work really well in a tubeless setup (although the installation is not that easy-breezy) and hold air nicely. They also provide a very good level of comfort, no matter the condition – both on bumpy and fast gravel roads.
But they are not as fast on the tarmac as you would imagine from their tread, and they are not super grippy either. When cornering fast on loose surfaces you need to watch out.
Terrene Elwood 42mm
I had read a couple of reviews stating that the Elwood is a very supple tire.
The Elwood is certainly on par with the Challenge tire when comfort is considered. They even have the same level of casing suppleness when you squeeze the sidewalls (significantly less than the Steilacoom or Cazadero, however).
Yet, the similarities between the Elwood and Challenge tires end here because Elwood offers much more traction in every situation. It also rolls faster on the tarmac too. This was a surprise for me because I would’ve expected the Challenge to roll faster on the tarmac.
The downsides? I see two. First is the tubeless setup. It’s fairly easy to set them up but I couldn’t get them to hold air that well. I think this is connected with the second issue: the quality of this tire.
When I mounted the Elwood tire, I immediately noticed a big wobble in it. This wasn’t the case with any of the other tires. Then again, the Elwood is quite cheap, so maybe I shouldn’t expect miracles from the build quality.
Rene Herse Snoqualmie Pass 44mm Endurance
This tire is by far the fastest in this test (on tarmac) but the semi-slick tread is also slow on loose or rough gravel surfaces. This is simply because there is sometimes not enough grip!
What was more surprising is the lack of comfort that this tire provides. It was very apparent on a fast gravel road, but also on my bumpy forest trail test track.
I suspect this is caused by the Endurance casing, which is heavier and much less flexible than the Extralight casing. You are essentially trading suppleness for more toughness with this tire – you simply can’t have both.
WTB Byway 44mm
This is the biggest revelation in my supple tires comparison. For many reasons.
Let’s start with the tread. It’s a combination of a semi-slick center and knobs on the sides. This results in low rolling resistance on tarmac (second only to Snoqualmie Pass) but also surprisingly good traction in corners. Of course, loose or muddy terrain is still too much for this tire, but in most of my ride scenarios, I was perfectly happy with the traction.
The Byway subjectively feels more comfortable than even the Steilacoom with Extralight casing! It was also very easy to set up tubeless and had no leakage of sealant at very low pressures.
And finally, there’s the look and price. I really like the color of Byway, and honestly, when you compare its price to Rene Herse tires, it feels like a bargain.
The Bike Setup
To make this test as objective as possible, I took my vibration measurements with the tires set up tubeless.
The only difference between the tires was their air pressure. This is because the wider the tire, the lower the air pressure you need to use to achieve the equivalent casing tension. With these adjusted pressures, all tires theoretically deform the same amount when the external force is applied. You can learn more about how I calculate casing tensions HERE.
The actual width of these tires on my Spinergy GX wheel (24mm internal) varied a little. I found that four different tires were very close to the 42mm measurement, so I ran them at 25 psi. The last two tires needed different air pressures. The Soma Cazadero measured 47mm wide so I ran it at 22 psi. And the Rene Herse Steilacoom measured 39mm, so I set it up at 27 psi.
At the back of the bike, I used a Rene Herse Barlow Pass Endurance tire with 27 psi.
Vibration Test Results
You can see my vibration measurement procedure & outdoor test courses HERE.
On the bumpy forest trail, the widest tire (Cazadero) was the most comfortable by 8 to 14%. This is thanks to both its large volume and supple casing construction.
The Challenge, Elwood, and Byway damped similar levels of vibrations using a similar tire width. We can likely deduce that the sidewall constructions are quite similar (reasonably supple).
The Steilacoom performed above its tire width of 38mm to achieve similar levels of comfort to the 42mm offerings.
And lastly, the Snoqualmie Pass was a bit behind the rest due to its protective Endurance sidewalls.
On the fast gravel road, the widest tire naturally offered the most vibration damping (Cazadero) – it was a whopping 23% improvement over the least comfortable tire (Snoqualmie Pass).
But the most impressive vibration measurement was the 38mm Steilacoom. Despite its width, it was within 5% of the Cazadero, proving that the Extralight casing is undoubtedly very comfortable to use in high-frequency bump situations.
The Byway was 11% behind the Cazadero, while the Challenge and Elwood tires fell about 16% behind in the vibration test. This is partly due to their narrower width (42 vs 47mm measured) but also their less supple tire casing.
Which Tire is the Best?
There is no easy answer to this question, but I believe we have three winners.
First is the Steilacoom Extralight 38mm tire. It provides a great supple ride and tons of grip in every situation, so you can go wherever you want with it. The only thing that is holding it back is slowness on the tarmac due to the knobs. You should also probably avoid sharp rocks because the sidewall casing is ultra-thin!
The second winner is Soma Cazadero 50mm for its supreme levels of comfort no matter the road conditions. But the 47mm actual tire width makes it more of an off-road choice than a great all-rounder.
And the last winner is the WTB Byway 44mm. This is a true all-around tire. Great comfort, great speed, and more than enough grip in most situations. It also has a great look and a great price to boot.
With its great all-around characteristics, the WTB Byway will be at the front of my benchmark bike for the foreseeable future. I will use it in combination with the Rene Herse Barlow Pass Endurance at the back so I’ve got the fastest possible rear tire with decent puncture protection.
You can support the CyclingAbout Comfort Lab by purchasing Soma Cazadero tires on Amazon. Simply click HERE for 700Cx42mm, HERE for 650Bx42mm, and HERE for 650Bx50mm – and a small commission will come our way.