Surly Disc Trucker with Compass Rat Trap Pass tires.
Surly Disc Trucker with Schwalbe Big Ben tires.
A while back Jan Heine and the crew from Bicycle Quarterly demonstrated that wide supple tires offer a much better ride and are not significantly slower than narrow stiff tires. To back up their claim their sister company Compass started selling a line of light wide supple tires. When I built my Soma Grand Randonneur I put on a set of Compass Babyshoe Pass 650bx42mm. I love these tires. I run them at 60 lbs when I'm on pavement and 40 lbs on loose gravel. On the road they are fast and nimble, and on the gravel they glide nicely over the gravel instead of plowing into it. This bike with these tires is a true all road go anywhere bike. So when Compass came out with their 26"x2.3" Rat Trap Pass tires I was excited to try them out on my Surly Disc Trucker.
I had a bit of trouble mounting these tires on my Alex rims. With these tires it is very important to get the bead seated evenly. I could not but my LBS had no trouble. With the tires mounted I set out on a 4 day trip to the coast. This would be a good test as there would be a wide variety of road surfaces and terrain. I was also loaded for touring with camping gear, food, etc. So not lightweight by any means. My first impression is that the Compass tires were indeed faster than my Schwalbe Big Ben 26x2.15" tires I had on before, and as to be expected the ride was very smooth. Crossing the Coast Range we had about a mile of gravel. There had been a lot of truck traffic and the surface was wet, messy, and slippery. Not a problem. I just cruised right over it. Back on the pavement for the fast downhill it was steady and smooth even though the road was anything but. For the return route a couple of days later we took an old logging road. Originally a single lane paved road, the pavement was now broke up in places and in others there were gravel sections. It was steep too, both up and down. In other words the perfect place to test out tires. They continued to perform excellently.
The final day of this tour was on a well paved highway back over the Coast Range. On the first fast downhill I could feel things not handling right and my back tire kind of squishy. I figured it just needed more pressure since I was now off of the gravel and back on the highway. So I pumped it up and continued on, however it soon became obvious that I was getting a flat. Fortunately it was a slow leak and not a blow out. I stopped to change the tube, but could not find the cause of the flat. These tires are very thin. It wouldn't take much for a thorn or equivalent to puncture the tire and tube, and pull right out again. The new tube held and I was able to complete the ride, but the satisfaction was now gone. As much as I enjoyed the smooth fast ride, I really do not want to have to deal with flats while out touring.
With this in mind I debated putting my Schwalbe tires back on when I headed out for a month long tour a couple of weeks later. Since the first week of this ride would include a SAG wagon I decided to leave the Compass tires on and bring along the Schwalbe tires in the SAG. Day one of this ride was rainy and a good opportunity to see how these tires would perform on wet pavement. Compass tires are pretty much slicks with a file like tread pattern. This is supposed to offer better traction than smooth slicks. Since this day was mostly flat I did not have an opportunity to see what a fast curve on wet pavement was like, but in every other way they felt very sure footed and I never had to hesitate on turns or while braking. This being day one of a group tour we were going pretty fast as well. The tires performed wonderfully.
The next day was dry and we had a lot of climbing. Things were going well again until the first fast downhill. Once again I had that squishy feeling and I knew my tire was low. Once again I pumped it up but it didn't hold. When changing the tube I discovered a tiny sharp pointy rock and embedded itself in the rubber. After extracting it I replaced the tube and completed the ride with out incident.
In camp that afternoon I swapped out the Compass tires for my Schwalbe Big Ben's. I had lost confidence in the Compass tires and did not want to have to worry if my tires were going flat on every fast downhill turn. As it turned out I toured for another month on the Schwalbe tires and did not get another flat.
So as much as I enjoy the ride quality of Compass tires I won't be using them on tour and would not recommend them for touring. When I'm touring speed is not a priority. I'm going slow anyhow. Comfort is a big priority and the Compass tires are very comfortable, but not noticeably more than my Big Ben's, which are also a wide tire that I can ride at lower pressure. If it were not for the flats I would highly endorse the Compass tires for touring. Other people may not experience the flats I had, or may not be as adverse to fixing them, in which case Compass tires might be a fine choice. I also use this bike for local rides on gravel roads in the woods and I look forward to doing these rides with the Compass tires. But for touring I will stick with Schwalbe tires. I have ridden over 15,000 miles on 3 pair of Schwalbe tires on 2 different bikes with zero flats. And these Big Ben tires have fairly supple sidewalls and provide a very comfortable ride on mixed road surfaces, while holding up well under rugged conditions.