Let’s get something out of the way: I’m a tire snob. I appreciate all the work that goes into designing a good tire and the number of really hard-working, conscientious people who go about their craft on a daily basis. There are any number of good tires and perhaps as many as a half dozen great tires of the clincher variety.
When I buy tires, which I do a lot of, I purchase open tubulars. This is why I buy a lot of tires. Kind of a syllogistic little thing because if you ride open tubulars, you ride a tire with a casing as soft as worsted wool and it will cut as easily as human flesh under a doctor’s scalpel. Call it an occupational hazard. It’s not unlike the weight you gain from drinking red wine.
Everything comes at a price, and some prices, extravagant though they may be, are still a bargain for the quality they bring to our lives. I’m talking about tires here, not wine.
Now while my personal fave is the Torelli Gavia, I do like to try others from time to time. I set out to review a set of Specialized’s Mondo S-Works open tubulars. This $70 290tpi tire is available in two widths, 21 and 23mm, and may be one of the more widely available open tubulars in bike shops around the U.S., though probably not worldwide. Availability is sort of key; no point in recommending something that can only be found in the razor-wire-fortified compound of a Central American drug lord.
Specialized has a notable history in bicycle tire manufacturing. I know of a few manufacturers who claim to have produced the first foldable clincher; I’m not in a position to pass judgement on such claims, but I can tell you the first foldable clincher I saw in a bike shop was the Specialized Turbo. It was the first foldable clincher I bought. I never purchased another non-folding clincher after that. Game. Set. Match.
The company has gone out on the ledge a few times in the name of performance. Anyone remember their nod to Pink Floyd with the ultra-grippy Umma Gumma tire? They sure were grippy but they lasted about as long as the flavor in a stick of chewing gum. Specialized has also been consistently the only tire company to follow motorcycle tire engineering by producing dual-radius treads. I’ve seen a few other tires produced this way, but no other company I’m aware of has committed to dual-radius tread as completely as Specialized.
The Mondo S-Works open tubular uses a dual-compound construction like a great many other tires out there; the company even gives the actual durometer numbers for the different tread materials on their web site, 70a in the center section and 60a on the shoulder. If you were a skateboarder in your past, as I was, these numbers are likely as familiar to you as psi figures. For those who did the normal thing and played stick-and-ball sports, 70a soft enough to make a skateboard wheel ride well on a street; 60a is akin to what many rock climbing shoes use—think Spiderman.
In the course of reviewing these tires on one bike, I rode a set of Mondo Pro II tires—two sets, in fact—on the Tarmac Pro and Roubaix Pro. The Tarmac featured the 23mm-wide casing version while the Roubaix was shod with a 25mm version called the Roubaix Pro II, which were amazing on rough and dirt roads. While I couldn’t switch the wheels with the open tubulars to the Tarmac or Roubaix (they were on wheels with a Campy cassette), I did ride all of the wheels/tires over all of the same roads at some time or other.
The Mondo S-Works open tubulars are the tightest, most difficult-to-mount clinchers I have ever encountered. The first time I mounted them required two tire levers. Now if I had hands like a lumberjack’s I can tell you I would still have needed at least one tire lever; these tires are tighter than a pair of Jordache jeans circa 1980. And while most cotton open tubulars stretch a bit with use, making subsequent mounting easier, my imagination stretched more than these tires did while watching the evening’s news.
The ride quality of the Mondo S-Words tires is exemplary. This is why spending $70 on a tire you are unlikely to get 1000 miles on is still reasonable, if not a downright good idea. We can discuss the sensitivity to road surface that comes with a top-quality carbon fiber frame, but that sensitivity can be utterly dashed with a lousy tire. A better set of tires is the quickest way to increase the road input you feel.
I have been a skeptic of dual-radius tires for the simple fact that I haven’t been able to objectively conclude that they offer improved cornering performance. I went as far as to inspect the tire for signs of wear in the softer compound red shoulder. On some tires, I can see where the wear ends due to the sharpness of the herringbone pattern; on the Mondo Pro II and the Mondo S-Works, the tire tread remained so smooth I couldn’t tell much. While the tire did show some signs of wear, it was minor and I realized that I couldn’t definitively attribute the breadth of the wear to the dual-radius design. I can’t say it doesn’t work, but I can’t tell you it is definitely an improvement, either.
And yet, as great as the Mondo S-Works are, what I didn’t expect to develop was a regard for the Mondo Pro II tire that exceeded my infatuation with the Mondo S-Works. While the Mondo Pro IIs don’t offer the same degree of road sensitivity that the Mondo S-Works do, the sensitivity they do offer isn’t bad for a 120tpi tire. The tire’s sensitivity and performance is all the more impressive when you consider Specialized’s inclusion of its proprietary Flak Jacket casing layer. They claim it reduces flats by 40 percent; my personal experience was that it reduced flats by all. I literally didn’t experience a single flat while riding the tires. The last time I rode a flat-proof tire it was as supple as a cinder block.
There’s a jetty near me that I ride twice a day between three and five days per week. This time of year waterfowl pluck mussels from the seabed and drop them on the jetty to break them. The smashed shells are hell on tires. I had one cut a 1/2-inch gash in a tire on its first ride. Weirder still was the inch-long finishing nail I yanked from the tread after hearing a ticking like a wheel magnet striking the sensor; the Flak Jacket hadn’t permitted the nail to puncture the tube by forcing it to run lengthwise along the tread. I think I could have ridden home with the nail protruding from the tread. I expected a hissing sound upon removal. Instead: silence.
The Mondo Pro IIs employ the same dual radius tread design and 70a center and 60a shoulder compounds. Surprisingly, the Mondo Pro II runs roughly 30g lighter than the Mondo S-Works. The tire retails for $40.
Every tire I’ve ever ridden that featured some sort of flat prevention belting has always made the ride of the tires so heinous as to evoke the Conestoga wagon. The Mondo Pro II is the first to feature good ride quality with real-world puncture resistance.
So yes, the accidental review. I hadn’t planned to review the Mondo Pro II, but as I logged more and more miles on both tires, the more I realized that it was the greater surprise, the bigger story. If there’s a better $40 tire out there, I’ve yet to ride it.