When I discovered that my Panaracer Pacelas were not going to provide me with the fender fit I was looking for on the Shogun build, I began to look around for other options. I’d really wanted a set of Grand Bois Hetres but I’m running 27” wheels and they are only available in 700 and 650B sizes. Frankly, the 27” rims limit my touring tire choices substantially so I was very happy to discover that Continental Ultra Gatorskins were available in 27 x 1 1/4 inch size.
I have been running Continental City Ride tires – also in 27 x 1 1/4 inch size – on my Peugeot P8 for about a year and a half now and I’ve been very pleased with the ride quality and their durability on the road. They never seem to drag or hold me back and my friend at the LBS said they were the tires he had on his bike.
So when his store, sadly, was going out of business I asked if he had another set of City Rides in stock. He did not, but he showed me the Gatorskins. Although he hadn’t ridden on them himself, their reputation was as a good, tough, fast tire. Or as one review put it, Continental Ultra Gatorskin’s “Triple-protection technology gives you a bullet-proof, no-worries race/training tire. This high-mileage tire has a super-fine 170 tpi casing, a bead-to-bead layer of DuraSkin™ (polyamide fabric), with a Kevlar® reinforced layer – a lightweight tire that provides excellent cornering and minimal rolling resistance.”
Bullet-proof and no-worries sounded like a good starting point to me and I liked the idea of a fast touring tire. There were no mentions about ride quality, comfort, or “softness,” but after several hundred miles on the road I had no complaints about riding on them for long hours at a time.
Another review described them as “fast and robust for audax, winter training or long-distance commuting” and indeed they really seemed to fit the bill for riding the backroads that I frequent here in Missouri. Though I didn’t feel the ride was particularly “fast,” I attribute that more to the general geometry of the Shogun than to the tires themselves.
Dan Joyce of Cycling Plus writes, “Gatorskins seem to divide opinions on reliability, but if you keep them at 110-120psi and don’t run them down to the casing, they live up to Conti’s claim of being ‘the ultimate training and racing tyre where puncture protection is priority’. The bead-to-bead Duraskin layer makes the sidewalls slash-resistant and the aramid belt under the tread is tough for a training tyre.”
So it was with no little surprise that I flatted 22 miles into my KATY Trail route, the culprit being none other than a slash in the Duraskin sidewall! This perplexing cut continued to vex me throughout the six days of riding, flatting twice more that day due to the vulnerability of the tube to external elements. With careful riding and avoidance of twigs on the trail (no small feat on a path that is littered with branches and thorns, especially after the high winds and thunderstorms to follow that week!) I managed to avoid any more flats until day four. Fate caught up with me and the Gatorskins at that point and I managed to patch my tube no fewer than three times that day. Over six days, I killed three tubes and about a dozen patches. Suffice it to say that the trail looks well groomed – but looks are somewhat deceptive in the case of thorns and razor sharp splinters of rock.
I ordered a replacement tire upon my return home. The make shift sidewall patches (in order: three layers of duct tape, a double layer of thin cardboard, and finally a five dollar bill taped in place) sufficed to get me down the road but the tire looked awful and ultimately the tube protruded enough to be dangerously exposed to the elements when inflated even remotely close to a decent pressure. My end assessment is that the Gatorskins work well for me, so long as I plan to stay on the road. They met the early spring challenge of riding over broken country highways as well as industrial tarmacs. They are not, however, my choice for gravel trail.