Editor's Note: This article is courtesy of the team at Art's Cyclery. The original posts can be found here.
Regardless of whether you ride road, mountain, or cyclocross, selecting the right tire for the right application is never easy. And because we're not all pro racers with unlimited wheel and tire choices, we're much more limited in what we are able to use and do.
In cyclocross there's the everlasting debate of tubular vs. clincher tires and wheels. But for the majority of us who aren't professional and don't have bottomless wallets, clinchers are often the best option. They're easy to install, less expensive than tubulars, and can be changed in the case of a puncture.
Tubulars typically offer a higher level of performance, but also cost more and are harder to set up.
For those wanting next level performance out of their tires without going to tubular tires and wheels, many tire companies offer "open tubulars," which mount like a standard clincher but are made out of more supple materials with higher thread counts for better performance.
To better aid you in the decision making process, let's first simplify tire selection by dividing cyclocross tires into two separate categories: mud or "wet" tires, and dry or "file tread" tires.
Mud tires are usually very aggressive and have large, tall knobs spaced widely apart. This allows the tread to dig deep into mud and get traction where it's better. Mud specific tires also sport widely spaced knobs so that mud doesn't get clogged up in tire's tread. For these reasons, mud tires shine best in any sort loose, deep, or slippery conditions. Some examples of this are loose over hard pack, courses with lots of sand, and obviously mud.
However, if the conditions end up being dry and hard packed when you planned on wet, mud tires typically feel a bit sluggish because of the extra rolling resistance. Another thing to note is that when cornering on hard surfaces, the tall, flexy knobs of a mud tire will feel squirmy.
Most dry tires feature a diamond-tread center with small shoulder knobs that help maintain cornering traction without negatively affecting rolling resistance. These file tread tires are a great choice for drier conditions like grass courses, as well as dry or hard-packed dirt. If the course is sure to stay dry, you'll be well equipped with your dry tires.
File tread tires are a great choice for hard pack or grassy tracks. They also roll reasonably well on the road.
If the weather forecast is questionable, you might want to consider playing it safe with mud tires because file tread tires are so condition-specific. For those of you that have your bases covered and are looking to add another arrow to your wheelset quiver, file-treads can really shine with the right conditions.
Because tires are one of the fastest, easiest, and least expensive ways to upgrade your bike, consider investing in a couple different sets of tires and simply experimenting with different setups on different courses to find what works best for you.