The bicycle industry, like fashion, follows fads, trends and (no pun intended) cycles. For a couple of years in the 90s the influence on bike design was the team time trial. In addition to some unusual geometry decisions and an obsession with a short wheelbase, many new bikes came with 20mm (and even 18mm!) wide tyres. Try to even find such narrow tyres today; there is a dearth of them because our current trend is wide. (Wide influences are coming from everywhere too – gravel riding and racing requires wide tyres and rims, mountain bikes are on a mission to wider rims, and most importantly the aerodynamics of wide rims makes the bike more stable in crosswind situations, etc.)
Even a few years ago a wide racing tyre was aimed at a very narrow market niche. So narrow, I am not sure I can describe it. Today, with the standard rim being 50% wider than it was just three years ago, wide tyres not only make a ton of sense, but they are the faster choice. All things being equal, the wider tyre will have lower rolling resistance. The reason for that is the wider tyre has to deform less to make its contact patch with the road than does the narrower tyre. Mounted on wide rims designed for wide tyres, the potential aerodynamic cost is alleviated.
It is into this setting that Specialized has brought the S-Works Turbo 26 tyre, the subject of this review. Proudly proclaiming “for racing only” on the sidewall, this is clearly a pure racing tyre. The sidewalls are thin, the tread layer is thin and the tread itself is almost non-existent. Only a light file tread across the whole surface (but beware they are directional so take a minute to find the sole direction arrow on the sidewall). Elsewhere in this issue I have reviewed the sibling tyre, the Turbo 24, which enjoys a 30g weight advantage to this Turbo 26 at 240g). Unless you are after the ultimate aero-advantage (with the 24 pairing optimally with most aero wheels) then the extra comfort and lower rolling resistance of the 26s will easily exceed the 60 gram (for two tyres) extra mass.
These tyres ride well – and fast! I disobeyed the proclamation (for racing only) and put them on my training bike, right after the Roubaix Pro tyres came off. There is very little difference in weight or size, but the bike felt that bit racier with the Turbo over the Roubaix (which were faster feeling than my own tyres). Without some sensitive lab testing to determine rolling resistance it is impossible to sort tyres out much beyond ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ (unless they are all ridden back to back which makes for a lot of tyre swapping, and even then there can easily be other factors affecting judgement). I am always very aware of sound on the bike. Some parts just sound fast to me: deep hollow rims make a thrumming sound at speed; light tyres pumped up hard sing; large-tubed frames amplify all the sounds fed into them and so on. The Turbos sound fast.
The ideal user of the Turbo is someone who wants an ultimate race tyre, rides on pretty good road surfaces, favours a comfort edge over aerodynamics (or owns one of the several wheels designed for a tyre this wide) and the 26 would be favoured for the heavier rider (in comparison to the nearly identical 24) for its higher internal volume.
Distributor: Specialized Australia www.specialized.com.au