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The Challenge Criterium RS TLR is a super-supple, high-tpi, handmade tubeless-ready tyre which offers an abundance of grip, confidence and speed. These open tubulars may cost a pretty penny but if I could give out a money-no-object award at this time of year then I would – and just look at those white walls!
If money IS an object, maybe check out our guide to the best road bike tyres for some more affordable options…
I'm a fussy bugger when it comes to road bike tyres. As the only contact patch between bike and often crappy tarmac, they can make a serious difference in comfort and performance. Personally, I hate the feeling of sluggish and heavy winter rubber, but some tyres (including these!) cost a fortune, which means that using summer race tyres for everyday use is out of the question.
So where does Challenge's offering fit in? Well, the Italian brand, synonymous with handmade tubular cyclocross tyres, says that these enhance the "perfect mix of speed, grip and durability'. Let's find out!
I've so far used the Criterium RS tyres for 1,500km and they're still going strong with only a little sign of wear on the rear, no meaningful cuts, and the tread is still firmly attached (not always the case – I'm looking at you, Wolfpack).
Although 1,500km might not sound like a lot, it is enough to show that these are more durable than other super-supple race tyres out there – after the same distance with a set of Vittoria Corsa Speed G+ Isotechs or Specialized S-Works Turbo Cottons I was picking up puncture after puncture thanks to so little tread left.
Setting these up was... all right. Through no fault of its own, the Criterium RS, like all open tubulars, sits flat to the rim before inflation. I did require a plastic tyre lever to prise it over the last few cm of the Parcours rims, but no real drama there.
However, the next step in setting up the TLR tyres was to make them tubeless, and my current sealant of choice is Silca. With this particular combo I was left a little stumped – the sealant is so effective at plugging holes that it will almost instantly clog any syringe; this means that adding sealant via the valve is off the cards. However, the open tubular nature of the Criterium RS meant that there was no real void to fill with sealant, even when part of the tyre was unseated.
Anyway, I got there in the end, basically drip-feeding the sealant into the valve stem – a long, boring and frustrating process. Is it a fault of the tyres? No, not really, just something to bear in mind if you too wish to use Silca.
Out on the road, the tyres feel fast, like a tubular race tyre or clincher set up with latex tubes, if you will. The 350tpi casing is right up there with the best, conforming around road deformations to deliver a silky smooth ride. The only other tubeless tyre I've used that can come close to the Criterium RS's road manners is the Vittoria Corsa TLR G2.0, but that's inferior in terms of durability.
Early tubeless tyres received plenty of bad press for their weight and poor ride feel because of the need for more sidewall reinforcement and a butyl layer to prevent air loss. The latest models, such as the Continental GP5000S TR, have certainly improved in this respect, but the Challenge tyres take it one step further – kind of.
The tyres are certainly light – 255g each on our scales in a size 27mm – and as I've already said they ride superbly. But one area where they don't shine quite so brightly is air retention. I found myself topping up the tyres every two or three days, similar to if I was running latex tubes. This could be a deal-breaker for some, though personally, I don't mind – the positives far outweigh it.
At the time of writing these are available in just two widths, 25mm and 27mm. That's not unusual for tyres designed for speed, but I would love to see some wider options added in the future.
When it comes to grip, which is always going to be a little subjective – I can't think of any reviewers out there who can honestly say they find the limit of every tyre they test – the Criteriums are in the upper echelons; they certainly weren't responsible for any brown bib moments.
Along with training miles, I used the tyres for their exact purpose – criterium racing. Five races to be precise. Their performance was at no point left wanting while I tried to cling on in the 'varied' E12 winter series conditions.
Perhaps most importantly, these tyres feel fast and look good while doing it! I don't think I've ever heard as many comments regarding tyres as with these fitted, but there's plenty of function to back up the form. Bicyclerollingresistance.com found these to be just 2.4 watts slower than the fastest tyres they've ever tested on their metal barrel, and I can quite believe it. I strongly suspect that given the huge tpi (threads per inch) count, the numbers would only improve as road conditions worsen.
This ride feel and the rolling resistance stats become even more impressive when you consider that these appear far more durable than the fastest tyres in competitors' ranges, as discussed earlier.
Overall, I think it's fair to say that I like the Criterium RS TLR tyres a lot! They might even be my new favourite, and I've used more than my fair share. Obviously, the elephant in the room is the price, £90 per tyre. There's no way around it, that's an eye-watering amount of cash to drop on rubber, even by recent inflated (oi oi) premium tubeless tyre standards.
The Vittoria Corsa TLR G2.0 Speed tyres that are arguably the most similar (but possibly less durable) are a massive £10 less, with an rrp of £79.99.
I was also very impressed with the Conti GP5000S TRs mentioned earlier – a tyre fast enough to race on but hardy enough for fast training as well. Those are even cheaper, with an rrp of 'only' £74.95, but a lower tpi count compromises ride feel.
I'd get laughed out of the bike industry if I said that everyone should go and spend £90 on a tyre, however good the Challenge Criterium RS TLR might be, but should you want to – my goodness, yes! A masterclass in tyre technology when money is no object.
Fast, grippy and quite the looker – the money-no-object tyre to beat in 2023
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Challenge Criterium RS Handmade Tubeless Ready Road Tyre
Size tested: 700x27
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Challenge says: "The Criterium RS aims to enhance the perfect mix of speed, grip and durability with at the same time providing refined control and shock absorption capabilities thanks to its handmade construction." I wholly agree with all of that. These have taken road bike tyres to the next level – sadly, that does come at a high price.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Available in 25/27mm
Sealed Corespun Cotton open tubular
For a tyre this fast, durability is exceptional, but there are plenty of more hardwearing tyres out there (though none that can offer this level of comfort or grip).
Some of the lightest out there.
Wow – these are so nice to ride!
The tyres are class-leading, but to get the best you have to be prepared to spend big, and these are £10-£15 more than rivals. Handmade tyres are never going to be cheap, and that seriously harms the value score.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Exceptionally – in a world of many average tyres, these showcase what is possible when money is no object.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The insane blend of comfort, grip and speed without being overly fragile or fast wearing.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
These are slightly more porous than vulcanised rubber tyres.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
They're definitely towards the top end, but they do have the necessary attributes to command such a price. The Vittoria Corsa TLR G2.0 Speed tyres that are arguably the most similar are 'just' £79.99, and I was also very impressed with the Continental GP5000S TR as a tyre fast enough to race on but hardy enough for fast training as well; those have an rrp of £75, but a lower tpi count compromises ride feel.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
For me, these strike the perfect balance of speed, grip and durability. If you want a great looking, hugely supple tyre and are prepared to spend some serious cash, then these are the ones to go for.
About the tester
I usually ride: Specialized venge pro 2019 My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Under 5 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, mtb,
Jamie has been riding bikes since a tender age but really caught the bug for racing and reviewing whilst studying towards a master's in Mechanical engineering at Swansea University. Having graduated, he decided he really quite liked working with bikes and is now a full-time addition to the road.cc team. When not writing about tech news or working on the Youtube channel, you can still find him racing local crits trying to cling on to his cat 2 licence...and missing every break going...