I’m lucky enough to live in a city that has a Dugast distributor, so for the past few seasons the nearly mythical tires have been simply hanging on a hook waiting for someone to buy them. Last year I decided to take the plunge and try them out, walking out of the store $250 poorer. These days the tires aren’t too hard to find with a few online stores, including cyclocrossworld.com, carrying them.
Tread / Rubber
The Typhoon tread is based off the Clement Grifo tread pattern which has been in use since the 1970s. Either old habits die hard, or perhaps tread pattern nirvana was found many years ago… But either way the tread pattern performs as advertised: Rolling quickly on pavement with minimal buzz and grippy enough in most conditions.
When the tires were new, the grip was surprising. I got the impression that the sharp edges of the half moons gave the tires most of their ability to hold a line under pressure. At CrossVegas the tires were stuck to the grass like velcro in the corners. I noticed in particular how ‘sharp’ the tires felt on my hands; if I was spinning the rear wheel and had to stop it with my hand the tread would feel very harsh across my palm.
However, the grip progressed from unbelievable to good after perhaps a half dozen races. The tires lasted about two dozen races in total (keep in mind this includes pre-riding and occasionally riding out to a race). By the time the sidewall gave out (more on this below), the tread was also no longer performing as well as I would have liked. For most racers, expect the tread to last one season.
Casing / Sidewall
Yes, everything you’ve read is true. The casing is without question incredibly supple. Pumped up to 15 psi and compared to a typical vulcanized tubular, the difference is obvious: the Dugast feels like it is very soft and you can easily press your thumb to the rim, but on the other tire it feels firm and near a rideable pressure. I don’t have experience with other high-end cold vulanized cotton tubulars (FMB, etc), but I assume they are similar in feel as they are similar in construction.
The supple casing translates into very predictable performance across a range of pressures, as the air pressure in the tire does most of the work in terms of stability. When I say ‘predictable’, I don’t mean always good. On firm ground in a fast corner, the supple casing is more prone to folding than other tires. In fact, Dugast offers a stiffer casing for exactly this reason with its ‘flying doctor’ version of the tires.
I found the supple casing makes pressure selection even more important, as the tire is less forgiving once pressure drops too low. Generally less pressure gives more traction, but more traction is not always needed with an intermediate tire such as the Typhoon. There is also a tradeoff between the ability to absorb bumps (low pressure) and stability in the corners (high pressure).
Like I said, the Dugast offers predictable performance, so once you’ve dialed in your pressure for a particular course, you’ll know what to expect from your tires. I’ve found that tires with stiffer casings are prone to suddenly folding or squirming if a corner is taken 1% harder. The softer casing is more predictable and since it ‘feels’ softer at a given pressure, a higher pressure can be used for increased stability while the soft feel retains traction and smooths bumpy sections. At 160 lbs I would use 26-27 psi as a starting point for most courses.
Durability / Sealing
I’ll admit that I have did not perfect my sidewall sealing technique on my first try. Firstly, I didn’t seal the tires before riding them, and instead waited until before the first wet race. I also (obviously) didn’t seal the tires before gluing. There are different schools of thought here, but I found the cotton basetape to be very ‘thirsty’ and it was difficult to seal the 1-2mm of base tape running along the rim after gluing.
When I see the big time pro’s tires, I’ve noticed a few things. Firstly, their race tires are always very fresh, with the ‘tire hair’ still prominent. Secondly, they are very well sealed with an almost plasticy layer of aquaseal. Eventually, my tires developed some black rot near the base tape and eventually the thin fibers of the cotton casing began to split. The casing is incredibly thin (2 ply of unidirectional fibers, so both are necessary), so any imperfection will destroy the tire.
Rumor has it that some or all of Dugast’s tires will be factory sealed for 2013. I’m not sure if this will sway me too much, as my tires were still able to last a season with a marginal sealing job, which is about what I expect out of the tread.
The Typhoon is a phenomenal intermediate tire. I rarely felt like I needed less tread, but wanted more in the mud and would opt for a different tire when it was wet or soft. The sidewalls are fickle, but if you plan to race enough in a season (12-20 races), expect to be replacing your tires at the end of the year anyway. They are somewhat more expensive than some tires, but if you’re comparing high end tires, you’ll likely be paying about $100 each, so Dugast are still competitive at $120. Overall verdict: I’m 90% sure I’ll be buying another pair for 2013.