The Challenge Elite XP is, quite possibly, my new favourite winter tyre: mostly because it doesn't ride like a winter tyre at all. Fitting was a little tricky, but not torturous. It's not tubeless ready, and that will take it out of contention for many 'modern' riders, but if you're still on board with tubes then this one is highly recommended.
Not more expensive than the competition
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Searching through the archives of Cycling Weekly tech history, it would seem that we last reviewed a Challenge Elite (Open Road, in this case) tyre in 2014. Evidently, we were short on space at the time, because it's a 100-word assessment - but the overall impression was supple, fast and comfortable but not very durable.
Fast forward to 2021 and we don't have to squeeze our thoughts into a 100-word verdict to appease the demands of print anymore. And Challenge has come on leaps and bounds, too, it seems - addressing our criticism right on the nose with the new Challenge Elite XP clincher.
Challenge is best known for its handmade approach, and these are no different. However, they come with reinforcement designed to aid durability and puncture protection. Swapping these tyres on to replace a set of Hutchinson Fusion 5 Galactiks I can honestly say the ride quality felt far superior to me and puncture protection has proved good so far.
Challenge Elite XP tyres: construction
The USP for Challenge is its handmade process. Compared to the more traditional vulcanized approach, handmade tyres use more natural fibres which - as a general rule - are more supple, have lower rolling resistance, but are not as resilient. They're also more expensive to produce and not as 'fit and forget': they don't like to be left cold, wet or even in direct sunlight. However, the riding experience is notably different.
In the case of the Elite XP, this is a clincher tyre - and the optimum would be riding them with Challenge's own latex tubes, though (sacrilegious as it is) I ran standard butyl rubber tubes. For the avoidance of any confusion these are not, as per the trend in the market, tubeless ready. And I'm quite fine with that, albeit not very fashionable.
Elite has used its 'Corazza Armor' double ply casing, with a thread per inch (TPI) of 220. The brand says this casing provides sidewall durability while maintaining a supple ride. Corazza Armor was actually developed as a tool for gravel tyres. The compound used is also Challenge's 'Smart Plus', which was created as a 'gravel-specific' tread compound, elevating durability and traction. For a tyre that is very much targeted at the road, there's quite a lot of gravel crossover. Again, I'm quite fine with that too (and it is infinitely more fashionable).
Also provided is the 'Gonzo PPS' puncture protection system, which sees Challenge use a flexible but tighter weave placed between the tread and the casing, with the aim of keeping sharp objects from penetrating through to the internals.
There's a bread protection strip, which aims to reduce the effect of chafing and rubbing against carbon rim brake hooks and to ensure that the tyre sits uniformly on the rim - avoiding that awful 'bu-bump' that feels a lot like a buckled wheel (you'll recognise the description if you've experienced it).
These come in 25mm and 27mm size, with the model on test being the latter - carrying a weight of 291g - less than the 300g claimed.
Measured with digital verniers, these came in at 27.5mm on the rim used - which is closer to the claimed width than many other tyres, with some 28mms coming in at 30mm in reality. This is a plus for me, but if you're used to buying 28mm and riding 30mm tyres, these could feel narrow.
Challenge Elite XP tyres: fitting and the ride
Where the majority of tyres are vulcanized into their shape, handmade tyres receive no such treatment. As a result, fitting one is a bit like playing a game of whack-a-mole: get it to seat at the valve hole and the other side pops off, return, and repeat. However, once the tyres have been fitted in the first instance and ridden on, they'll take the shape and the second fitting is always easier. In fact, since they're so supple it's much easier than most tubeless-ready tyres; I didn't need tyre levers at all and I don't have thumbs of steel.
Once popped into place with a satisfying ping, the tyres sat uniformly, as you'd hope.
Out on the road, the Elite XPs felt as comfortable and supple as any race tyre. Indeed, I've yet to try an out-and-out Challenge race tyre such as the Strada, but this experience has left me extremely curious. For a durable, winter ready tyre, the ride quality if the Elite XP is really quite exceptional.
Grip in the corners felt solid, and I didn't have any concerns in the wet.
Conditions have been particularly grim as of late, but I rode these tyres through some monster puddles (arguably small ponds), hammered it along the edge of the gutter 'just to see' and I've yet to hear the hiss of deflation.
Challenge Elite XP tyres: value
At £50, these aren't cheap by any stretch - that's £100 a bike.
However, compared to competition they're not far off either. In fact, the Continental GP5000 clincher has an RRP of £60, though it being cycling's (probably) most popular tyre there's plenty of deals available as retailers battle it out for your custom. Regardless, based on RRP, whilst the Challenge Elite XP is far from cheap, it's also not priced higher than competitors.
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