Road tubeless, despite its many devotees, is an application of technology I haven’t been much of a fan of. I’ve mentioned previously my problems with tires blowing off rims at relatively low pressures or getting them to seal—at all. My frustration has been such that I’ve honestly avoided trying some stuff out there for the simple reason that I was tired of hearing a gun shot followed by a stinging sensation in my hand and a spray of sticky, white goo all over the nearest wall.
While I won’t take back all my previous complaints, I can at least say I’ve found a combination that merits a hard look from anyone considering making the switch. And if you’ve already made the switch, you ought to take a look at these tires.
I’ve been a fan of Panaracer’s EVO series of tires. I’ve ridden the Race A and the Race D in 25mm and 28mm widths and been really pleased with their ride quality and grip, and in the case of the Race D, its durability. Lately, I’ve been riding the Race A EVO4 tubeless edition in the 28mm width since late this spring and like them so much I wish all my road wheels were tubeless compatible.
I could probably written this review after my first ride on the tires. Subsequent miles have only served to reinforce that first-ride experience, which was a toothy grinned affair in which I shook my head in delight that a road tire could offer so much comfort while preserving rolling resistance. I’ve been riding these at 65 psi in part because I can and in part to see if I could suffer any ill effects as a result of the low-ish pressure.
The simple answer is no. There is no more complicated answer.
When I set them up, I put them on Zipp 30 wheels, which remain my go-to for every day training. I needed a tire lever to get the bead over the rim, even after being very careful to make sure the bead had been centered in the rim channel. However, I was able to push the other bead over with just my thumbs. This was true for both tires.
Panaracer has formulated their own sealant, and I used it to set up the tires. Their Seal Smart comes in three sizes. I used the smallest, 120ml, which is said to be good enough for two road tires. The sealant uses ground up walnut shells as a sealant combined with a hypoallergenic rubber compound so that if it gets on your hands it won’t cause skin irritation.
I must confess that I was so excited to mount these up that I forgot to weigh them first, and I’m not pulling them off until they are worn out. Panaracer claims a weight of 240g. Panaracer recommends a maximum pressure of 95 psi, but I swear I don’t think I’ve met anyone who would willingly be that masochistic. There’s no reason to run these higher than 75 psi, and if I were to do an especially long ride over our rougher roads here in Sonoma County, I’d probably only pump them up to 60 psi.
It seems vaguely pointless to mention Panaracer’s ZSG compound, but I will. ZSG stands for Zero Slip Grip. Compared to the compound used in the EVO3, rolling resistance was cut by 10 percent while grip increased by 20 percent. I don’t mind saying that in the 1990s, every tire engineer I talked to swore that you had to choose between grip and rolling resistance; more of one automatically meant less of the other. It was like the Heisenberg Principle, in which the more you know about the speed of an electron the less you knew about its position and vice versa.
This seems like a new kind of physics at work.
In the tubeless version of the Race A, I found the tire to be plenty grippy, but the combination of a good compound paired with the footprint of a 28mm-wide tire inflated to 65 psi and the result is an experience of traction that is a magnitudes greater than all those years I spent on 23s pumped to 105 psi.
I feel like I just got my first color TV.
Panaracer judges its tires by five qualities: rolling resistance, grip, comfort, puncture resistance and snake-bike resistance. According to them the Race A tubeless beats their tubular Race A in every dimension except comfort. And it beats the Race A tubed in every dimension except grip. By that standard, it is easily their best all-around tire.
During my most recent ride on these tires, I spent some time thinking about Panaracer’s assertion that their tubular has a better ride than the tubeless tire. And I did a crazy thing.
I wondered if that was really the most accurate assessment. Let’s be clear: I questioned a manufacturer’s own evaluation of their product line. I think folks call that ballsy. The thing is, while I’ve ridden plenty of 25mm tubulars, I’ve never ridden one that was 27 or 28mm wide. (Panaracer offers the Race A EVO4 tubular in both 25 and 27mm widths.) I’m not absolutely convinced that I’d be willing to run a 27mm tubular at 65 psi because of how soft the casing is, that tire squirm would be a concern for me until I’d done some rides at more like 75 psi and gradually worked my way down.
Without actual ride experience to compare, I’m going to suggest that which tire offers better ride quality to be an open question, one worth exploring at an experiential level, if only for intellectual reasons. No matter how good the ride quality of the tubular is, it will always be offset by the inconvenicence of gluing a tire to its rim.
That a road tire can roll this well at 65 psi is a revelation. It hasn’t burped once and it is holding pressure exceedingly well. Exceedingly being a good five days without pumping up.
The Race A EVO4 Tubeless goes for $69.99 while the 120 ml Seal Smart sealant goes for $9.99.
Final thought: The only reason I’m not tossing all of my tubed tires in favor of these is that not all of my wheels are tubeless compatible.