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IRC Formula Pro Tubeless X-Guard tyres review

26 Oct 2017
Verdict:

By his own admission, at 112kg, Sasha Muller gives tyres a hard life, but the IRC Formula Pro Tubeless X-Guards impressed him no end

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£50 each
For 
One of the most durable tyres I've ever ridden, with superb grip plus retaining good road feel/feedback
Against 
A tad expensive for a training tyre

Our insatiable appetite for marginal gains has led manufacturers in an endless quest for wonder-materials that can provide a performance edge. That has given us carbon, graphene, and now – rice.

Japanese tyre manufacturer IRC has been quietly churning out bicycle tyres and inner tubes since 1926, but not bicycle tyres: those are a more recent venture in the last 10 years, and they have been road tubeless from the beginning.

IRC's latest innovation – the Rice Bran Ceramic tyre compound – is refreshingly old-school.

The process sounds less hi-tech and more Great British Bake Off but IRC takes the outer husks of rice grains, mixes them with thermosetting resin, then places on a greaseproof baking tray at gas mark 6 for an hour (OK, this may not be 100% accurate) to create millions of rice bran ceramic balls, which it then kneads into the rubber compound in its tyres.

The result? Grip, and lots of it.

The details

IRC’s Formula Pro family of tyres are divided into three groups – Light, RBCC, and the X-Guard on test here.

As you’d expect, the Light range sheds every gram possible to maintain the most supple casing and lightest weight for summer roads.

The RBCC range, meanwhile, adds the stickier RBC (rice bran ceramic) compound for better grip in wet conditions, and the X-Guard goes one step further by taking the RBCC’s super-sticky tread and adding a 40x40tpi puncture-proof belt stretching from bead to bead.

All three are tubeless compatible, but while the Light and RBCC come in 23, 25 and 28mm, the X-Guard is solely available in 25 and 28mm versions.

There isn’t a huge gulf between the different ranges in weight, though: the 25mm tyres in each of the three families weigh in at 265g, 275g and 300g respectively.

While that’s substantially more than the lightest racing clinchers, the Formula Pro range is designed expressly for tubeless use, so you don’t need to factor in the additional weight of inner tubes.

During five months of testing, I installed the IRC Formula Pro Tubeless X-Guard tyres first on a pair of H Plus Son Archetype rims, and then later on Kinlin XR31T OCR rims – and in both instances the setup process was as painless as you could hope for.

Once mounted and pumped up, the thin layer of latex on the IRC’s inner wall means that they don’t require any sealant to retain pressure – if you really can’t bear the idea of extra grams then you could feasibly forgo it completely.

Unlike many of their rivals, IRC’s tyres are designed to come up true to size on wider rims. The 28mm X-Guards actually came up just under 28mm wide on an Archetype rim (which have an internal width of 17.5mm), and just short of 29mm on the Kinlin rims (which have an internal width of 19mm).

By comparison, the Schwalbe Pro One tyres in 28mm come up around 2mm wider than their rated width.

Road and off-road testing

On the road the X-Guards are a revelation. The 28mm tyres are rated to a maximum of 100psi and, as I weigh around 112kg, I settled on 85-90psi in the front and between 95-100psi in the rear.

At these pressures they didn’t feel any more draggy than the 28mm Schwalbe Pro Ones they replaced, yet the increased grip on offer was immediately noticeable.

It’s hard to say whether it’s thanks to the qualities of the RBC compound, or IRC’s decision to stick with a file tread design, or indeed a combination of both, but the IRC’s took the nastiest, most gunked-up road surfaces in their stride.

I never found myself wheel spinning when mashing up greasy 20%+ climbs out of the saddle and I certainly can’t fault the X-Guards for their cornering grip either.

Leaning the bike over while carving around rough, country roads with a generous coating of manure, mud and grit left them totally unfazed, and on the odd occasion I took them off-road along gravel cycle paths, they performed far better than I expected.

It’s a shame that IRC don’t do a wider version, or they’d be a perfect match for the new breed of gravel bikes with clearance for 30mm+ tyres.

When I did push them far enough to get close to losing grip on looser, greasier surfaces, they gave me a good amount of feedback, with the rubber giving a slight squirm to signal that I might be about to end up carving the rest of the corner on my backside.

Durability is king

In fairness, ride quality isn’t silky smooth, nor effortlessly quick. I suspect the reinforced carcass is to blame for the slightly dead on-road feel in this regard, but then this is nit-picking.

If rolling resistance is a higher priority than puncture resistance then the IRC Formula Pro RBCC tyres are a much better bet as they forgo the puncture proof layer making for a more supple, quicker-rolling carcass.

If durability is top of your shopping list, though, it’s difficult to fault the Formula Pro X-Guard tyres. At 112kg, I tend to wear out tyres far more quickly than lighter riders.

The X-Guards looked relatively unscathed even after 3000km, with only a couple of small nicks here and there.

Unfortunately, I could not evade the puncture demons any longer and I picked up a slash in the rear tyre – a gash that ripped right down the puncture proof layer – on my London commute (most likely glass induced).

To its credit it was still holding air, and there were no bulges, but in the interests of safety I opted to replace it.

If the IRC Formula Pro Tubeless X-Guard tyres are anything to go by, then IRC deserve a much higher profile than they currently have.

At £50 each, they’re certainly not cheap, but the IRC Formula Pro Tubeless X-Guard tyres' impressive array of talents – superb puncture resistance, excellent wet grip and low wear rate, to name just three – make them actually a pretty good investment.

Contact: thecycleclinic.co.uk

Summary

If you’ve been looking for the best tubeless tyre for all-year-round road riding, then you can stop now: the IRC Formula Pro X-Guard is it

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