Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: Hutchinson Sector 28 Tubeless Road Tires

"Hey, whoa. I don't need anything fancy. I'm not a racer."

Back in my bike shop days, this was something I'd hear on a daily basis. The average road cyclist would roam in, check out the latest and greatest and then, when asked if they'd like to try it out, declare that equipment before them was far too nice for their riding. They're not racers, after all.

Usually, it was the price that turned them off. And that's understandable. Nice bikes aren't cheap. But for those with an open mind (and only marginally deeper pockets), race-bred technology can make a huge difference in your ride. And I'm not talking Zipp 404s and pro-level frames.

Nope. It's tires. Picture the Spring Classics — those rough, gritty and sometimes gravelly Northern European roads. Fabian Cancellara, Tom Boonen and the rest look like they're riding stock racing gear, but in reality they're running wider wheels and wider tires. Cancellara rolled through Flanders and Roubaix on 28mm-wide tires. Why? Because they can soak up the nastiness better.

Meanwhile, you're probably rocking 23mm tires. And while that's fine and dandy — because that's what pretty much everybody else is doing — you can do better. I raced on the 25mm Bontrager R3 tires (which Paul reviewed earlier) last summer and it was sublime. With the proper inflation — about 90 to 95 psi for me — they were smooth on the straights and grabby in the corners. The confidence of being able to throw your bike into corners and knowing it'll stick is a big weapon in a race.

This summer, when my last pair of Bontrager R4 road tubeless tires finally died due to a burned patch — thanks, sketch-bald dude who wadded it up on a straight road in the middle of a long road race — I started thinking wide again. New 25mm tires? Nah. Wider.

Enter the Hutchinson Sector 28 Tubeless Road Tire (aka Secteur 28)

Earlier this year, Hutchinson — which basically pioneered road tubeless — released its Sector 28 tubeless tire. Originally designed for team use (specifically Francais de Jeux) on Shimano tubeless wheels in the cobbled classics, the tire languished as an insider-only option for years. Its big, 28mm width was perfect for the cobbles, but also gravel, dirt roads and touring. It only took me a few seconds' thought before I pulled the trigger.

By the way, if you don't have tubeless wheels, you should get some before reading the rest of this.

Notes on Installation

For those with previous road tubeless experience, you're going to love this part. In the past, I've gone through two or three sets of tires per year. And when you're mounting tubeless tires, that means new swear words and probably too much beer at least two or three times. Tubeless beads have traditionally been really, really tight in order to form an airtight seal with the rim. I've often spent 30 to 45 minutes per wheel, consumed at least a beer per wheel and at least once was sent outside because I was cursing too loudly. (Sorry, son.)

This time, however, I was done in 30 minutes. Total. And I didn't even get done with my first beer. (I still had another afterward, in celebration.) Thanks to advances in technology and sanity, the Sector 28s practically jumped onto the rim. And then they sealed right away after the sealant was added. Even my wife was surprised at how quickly I was back inside. I think she assumed I'd already given up.

The Good

What's not to love about a wider contact patch on the road? It's a little alarming looking down over the handlebar and seeing such a wide tire, especially after being programmed to 23mm. I've been riding the Sector 28 at between 85 and 90 psi for everyday riding and it's a lot like driving a Cadillac. Or, rather, it's what I assume a Cadillac would be like. I drive a 13-year-old Camry, so I really don't have any idea.

Due to a wheel malfunction — my beloved 2007 Dura-Ace 7801-SL rear wheel killed itself — I only got one race on the Sector 28s before having to resort to Plan B. But that race featured a ripping downhill, followed by a 90-degree right. I felt like I could take that corner harder and faster than most everybody else because of my tires. I raced at 80 psi in the front and 85 in the rear that day, and it was like having Velcro when it was time to lean the bike. Confidence is a fantastic thing, whether you're racing or not.

But what about when you're not cornering? You should still be on wider tires, and you should still be running lower pressure. Why? Why not? Do you need 120 psi? You do not, unless you enjoy skipping off bumps and having numb hands. A four-hour ride on wider tires at lower pressures is good for what ails you. Smooth, bump-absorbing ... it's good stuff. And it's still plenty fast.

Additionally, the Sector 28 has an extra layer of flat protection down the middle, and thanks to being able to run sealant inside, the risk of flats goes down even more. That said, don't think you can ride across fields of glass with impunity. But for everyday stuff? No problem.

The Bad

At 285 (or so) grams, they're not the lightest tires in the world. For comparison, a Continental GP4000s weighs 230 grams. But then again ... if you add a tube in there (70 grams) you'll be in the same ballpark. I guess I should put it this way: When another local racer saw these tires on my bike, he said, "Ewww! I bet those are super-heavy." As I tried to explain the benefits of a smoother ride and better cornering, despite the weight, he went into a rotating-weight sermon that caused everybody's eyes to glaze over.

He got dropped at the next race, as I attacked on the hill ... rolling weight and all.

Apart from the weight, which is a pretty minor deal, there's also the matter of price. The Sector 28 retails for $105. Oof. They can be found online for less, but be prepared to blow a minimum of $80 apiece. Still, though, it'll be worth it.

The last item worth noting, though it might not be a "bad" aspect, is your frame. You should check to see if these things will fit in your frame. I ride a Specialized Allez that has juuuust enough room to run the Sector 28s without getting nervous. Your bike might not have that kind of clearance. If you're cool with your local bike shop, ask them if you can try out a 28mm tire for clearance. You'd hate to get all psyched about new rubber and then not be able to turn your wheels.

The Verdict

You will not find a more ardent supporter of road tubeless than me. I've been riding the setup for the last six race seasons, and I won't soon go back to anything else. I'm a huge fan of the comfort and grip that comes with lower psi and more rubber on the road. Throw a wider width in there, and it's the makings of the perfect setup.

Those who run tubeless should give the Sector 28 a try (assuming it fits in your frame). Everything you love about road tubeless will get even better. Those who are still rocking 23 mm tires at 120 psi should give them a try, too. You'll be amazed at how fun riding can be when you're not bouncing off of road bumps and skipping through corners.


Review: Hutchinson Sector 28 Tubeless Road Tires
Hutchinson Sector 28 Tubeless Road Tires
Date published: 08/27/2013
4.5 / 5 stars

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