Challenge is one of the most recognizable and top names in cyclocross tires. When you shop for tires, note that Challenge offers 6 different tire types, plus a large variety of tread shapes in each type.
Frankly, the amount of choice can be overwhelming - but all those options also allow you to ride the perfect tire for your specific needs. When you've got the right tires in your arsenal you'll enjoy faster cornering, better grip, and can ride with additional confidence. Faster racing - isn't that what we all want?
Challenge Tires Tread Shapes
There are a whopping SIX different tread shapes that Challenge makes for cyclocross bikes (for the purposes of this article I will not address the Challenge MTB or road tires.) Those six shapes are Grifo, Baby Limus, Limus, Chicane, Dune, and Koksijde.
Challenge Race Vulcanized Clincher Tires
These are plain-old traditional bicycle tires for use with inner tubes. They are not tubeless-compatible. Key selling points are economy and ease of repair. Of the 3 primary options available for cyclocross (clincher w/tube, tubeless, or tubular) a tire with an inner tube is the worst performing of the 3 options. These will be used only by new riders until they move on to better options. They are, however, an inexpensive way to try out a new tread shape to see if you like the way it handles, before upgrading to a tubeless or tubular setup.
Challenge Race Vulcanized TLR (Tubeless-Ready) Tires
Here's where it gets more interesting. The TLR line is Challenge's offering for the rider who wants to use a tubeless cyclocross tire on a compatible rim with sealant. I recommend Caffelatex sealant for use with tubeless 'cross tires.
Because the tire can be installed/removed quickly and repeatedly (unlike a glued or taped tubular) riders can bring multiple sets of tires to an event and install them to suit the course conditions. You can also easily swap in a new tire in the event of catastrophic damage.
For riders who want high performance but not the complexity of gluing tubulars, the TLR line from Challenge makes an excellent choice, with a reliable tubeless specific bead and plenty of tread shapes to choose from for all-around, dry, wet, or mud races.
Challenge Pro (aka "open tubular") Clincher tires
These are the confusingly-named clinchers from Challenge. You may see the Pro Clincher referred to as "open tubular", but they are not a sew-up tire that is glued/taped onto a tubular rim - they are a clincher tire for use with a separate inner tube. Easily identified by their black tread and brown sidewalls, which visually looks like a classic tubular, but isn't (confused yet?)
It was designed to be a higher-performance clincher tire with handmade construction and the classic brown sidewall look, but they pre-date the mass adoption of tubeless technology. Fortunately Challenge seems to be moving away from this naming convention...
This tire type, in my opinion, is largely obsolete, and can simply be ignored when shopping for Challenge tires. Go for true tubulars for best possible performance, or choose one of their tubeless-ready models for the flexibility of tubeless use.
Challenge Pro Tubular Cyclocross Tires
Moving on to Challenge's tubular models, the "Pro" is the least expensive choice, but make no mistake, these are still high-performance tubulars that have been raced to victory at the highest levels. These are tubular or "sew-up" tires that must be glued or taped onto a tubular-specific rim. If you are stepping up to tubulars for the first time the Pro Tubular line from Challenge makes a great choice.
Challenge Pro tubulars, regardless of the tread shape, all feature removable valve stems (so you can easily use valve extenders needed for deep carbon tubular rims) and are handmade. The Pro line uses a captive latex tube for supple performance and PPS "puncture protection strip" belt between the casing and tread to resist flats.
Finally, the Pro has that classic look with black tread and brown sidewalls that many riders want.
Challenge Team Edition S3 Tubular Cyclocross Tires
Moving up from the Pro Tubular line, we come to the Team Edition S3 line from Challenge. These can easily be identified with their beautiful creamy-white sidewalls with white lettering, that really pop in photos and videos.
As with the Pro, you get removable valve stems, PPS belt to resist punctures, and a latex tube inside, but it's built on a different casing. The S3 "Team Edition" gets an updated core-spun cotton casing instead of poly.
The 3 S's are "soft, supple, sealed" - these tires use a lower durometer rubber so they are softer and ofter better grip, a more supple cotton casing, and the sidewalls are sealed with a waterproof coating. The S3 is better suited to stand up to team use where bikes are often washed multiple times a day - the waterproof coating resists moisture getting into the sidewall or base tape.
You may have seen some pro riders in Fall, 2020 riding Challenge Team Edition tires with red sidewalls instead of white. As of this writing, those tires are only being provided to sponsored riders and aren't offered for retail sale.
Challenge Ultra Tubular Cyclocross Tires
This is as good as it gets! Intended for the best athletes in the world, the Ultra line builds on the Team Edition S3 tires, but substitutes a silk casing which is soft yet strong for the most available grip and supple feel.
As with the Pro and Team Edition S3, the Ultra has the same removable valve stems, PPS belt, and latex tube, but the silk casing is even lighter and faster than the cotton or poly tires.
The Ultra Tubular line is interesting, but due to expense is probably not on the shopping list for most American riders.
I hope this information helps explain the complexity of choices in the Challenge tire line-up! Please reach out anytime for questions or comments and let me know if I can help you choose just the right tires to improve your performance.