August 6, 2008

Review: Specialized All-Condition Armadillo Elite

I have given these tires 1800 miles before officially reviewing, and I'm very impressed. Over the 1800 miles I've used them, I only flatted once (er, twice?) Details: Back in March on the 217km brevet, in the rain and snow - I was in the wet for about 70 miles, and under those conditions that's usually the death march for any tire. I discovered the double puncture (two individual punctures, about three inches apart) upon reaching the turn-around control. The tire didn't go flat on the road, and I only noticed it was soft as I rolled into the gas station. I thought, "great, so much for that Armadillo stuff..." -- but upon patching the tube and extracting the offending debris, I discovered that the punctures were caused by these really long, needle-like sharp objects - not sure if it was glass, or some kind of shard of plastic -- in ANY case, this would have worked its way into ANY tire, I think. I patched the tube, and finished the last half of the brevet without incident...and I haven't had a flat SINCE. The flat occured in the first 200 miles of the tire's life. Honestly, based on the evidence on the tread, I have had LOTS of opportunities to flat these tires. There are pits and cuts, and I've had to dig pieces of glass out of the tread, but NOTHING has managed to puncture the belt or the tube underneath. At 1834 miles, today on the way home, I hit a gnarly chunk of something on the road, and it caused my bike to do a side-skip it was so large. The result is a 5 sq. mm FLAP of rubber just hanging on by one side where the cut occured - underneath is the casing of the tire, fully visible -- but NO FLAT. It's almost like, "should I keep riding this??" It's pretty awesome, actually -- I filled the "hole" with some silicone-based sealer (call it an external boot) and will let it dry overnight. Not sure if that will do ANYthing, but that should give you an idea of the level of confidence I have grown with these tires. Rub some dirt on it, and ride on.
Considering the thickness of the rubber on that leftover flap is about 2mm or so, there is actually quite a bit of tread left, and I'm guessing my orignal goal of 2,500 miles on the rear might actually be possible. I will defintely buy a new one, and rotate the current front tire to the rear. That will squeeze every last dollar out of it, and that means roughly 4500 miles on a single tire that begins life on the front of the bike, and gets rotated. Not bad for a "sport" tire, as opposed to a touring tire like a Schwalbe Marathon. The feel is good, spry, and nimble - I feel like I can corner harder with more entry speed than on previous tires. I like this "racier" feel of the tire, compared to a Panaracer Pasela TG, for example - and I like the way the tread design doesn't hang on to small rocks and such - which I feel is a contributor to flats in some cases on other tires I've tried. These tires don't have that issue. They are very good in the rain, even slick mud on the paved trails after rain, and they roll plenty fast enough to "hang in the pack". Weight, who cares with this kind of consistency? Not I. They are actually HEAVIER than the Panaracer Paselas they replaced -- but because my number of flats per mile has plummetted, I no longer care about that difference in weight - and consequently, the tread pattern and design of the sidewalls, etc., it still feels like a faster and more nimble tire than the Pasela, despite the weight.

My only shortcoming in this review; I haven't ever tried the All-Condition Armadillos (without the "Elite" distinction), so I can't advise if the newer "Elite" feels better, rides better, etc., than the "regular" Armadillos -- but, I can say that these are SUPER comfortable, very comparable to a Panaracer Pasela, my old benchmark - so, again, since there is only a small penalty in weight (25 grams?) compared to the Paselas, they ride just as good, and they "feel" faster - I feel it's a winner. Defintely worth the price, durable, fast enough, and nearly a mount-and-forget tire. The first two flats? A fluke - nothing is flat-PROOF*. These are darn close.

*except the Schwalbe Marathon Plus - but the flats-per-mile to weight ratio on the Schwalbes gets knocked down, because they weigh (gulp) 710 grams a tire. The Specializeds hit the scale at 305 grams which is impressively light for the protection you gain. The Pasela's are still a fantastic value, and the flats-per-mile vs. weight vs. COST - they win, hands down. At 280 grams and usually found for $19.99 a tire, they are a terrific value -- but I found myself getting flats often enough to make me consider something else. Considering they don't have bead-to-bead protection, like the Specialized's do, that displays Specialized's technology at work.

Still, I havetalked to others that have gotten 5,000 miles out of a SINGLE Panaracer, I have never managed to do it - in fact, the farthest I squeezed out of a 700x28 Pasela was 1,650 miles on the rear before it was SO thin it was getting me a flat every other day. My specific territory, patterns, habits, etc., yeah -- this is a very personal issue, just like saddles and such. But, like all reviews, you must take this subjectively - I have to admit, the Pasela is a fabulous tire, and there is no reason to try anything else. But, if you like a certain kind of feel that you only seem to get on your weekend bike, then these tires can provide a similar feel with the protection you require when commuting. For me, it's the best all-rounder I could find, and now that it's decision time - and even though prices have gone up thanks to the oil industry - I will likely buy another one, and do my rotation. The real test will come this winter, with salt, sand, glass, and more of every kind of debris everywhere I ride. But, if these keep me on the bike and not freezing my fingers changing a flat, I'll take it as the price of confidence.


Chris said...

Hmmm - my thought on the Armadillos was they felt like garden hoses on my rims; I may have had a bad set and they were NOT the all condition model.

I do love the Panaracer brand, my T-serv s (700x28) on the Sirrus and then transfered over to the Quickbeam gave me 5700 miles before a road hazard sliced through the sidewall like butter.

Great write up.

Anonymous said...

Armadillo Elites are 120tpi (threads per inch) tires. This makes for a thiner more supple casing than the standard Armadillos that you are probably familiar with.

Unknown said...

I just picked up a set of these for my daily commute. They're going on an upgraded Specialized Sirrus that I put 16km on each way, through some pretty nasty urban streets (lots of glass!). Given that I ride year round, I'd love to know how these fared for you in the winter. The price of the tire was high enough that I would be disappointed enough to return them if they couldn't deal with the salt and snow of a Toronto winter.

Thanks for the great write-up!

kG said...

They seemed to survive a Kansas winter okay, but I have to be fair about that: we don't know winter the way YOU know winter. Most roads are impassible until they are heavily treated to prevent thaw/refreeze cycles, so we end up with a hodge-podge of glass, sand, rocks, salt and nearly constant moisture to help all that junk adhere to the tire. From that perspective, they handled things well: no flats, all winter. But, straight-up traction in new snow, cinders, etc., I don't know how well they'd do. I've been continually surprised how much I've been able to get away with in the snow, however, tires-wise, so these ought to do "okay". I think the narrow profile and high pressure would be more of a detriment than lack of tread or anything like that. My best tires for snow won't even fit on my current bike, so it's almost a mute point for me. Someday, a Redline Monocog mountain bike with Schwalbe tires on low pressure will fit the bill nicely for snowy rides.

Unknown said...

That's great to hear.

Toronto winters are more likely a little more severe, but we're also likely more equipped to deal with them. There's rarely a lot of snow on larger streets, rather, the salt trucks douse everything and there's a nasty mix of slush and debris that builds up along the curb. For the most part, it can be avoided, but lanes get about 1-2 feet narrower and the only way to get anywhere safely is to ride in the groves formed by the car tires.