It’s like black magic, or the dark arts. It’s like secret recipes, like Coca Cola, or like wine-tasting. It is the stuff of myths, legends and ancient, mysterious arts. Of course, we’re talking about cyclocross tyres — and not even Gandalf has the full manual when it comes to these.

Voodoo riders

The most recent, and legendary, application of cyclocross tyre voodoo was the 2017 UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Luxembourg. During this race on extremely stony ground, a super-fit Mathieu van der Poel got punctured four times. His arch-rival, Wout van Aert, got punctured only once. Van Aert’s trainer at the time, Niels Albert, had searched high and low for new old-stock, vintage green Michelin cyclocross tyres, which he had ridden as a kid. He managed to source six sets from bike shops all over Belgium.

2017 cyclocross world champion Wout van Aert riding to victory on vintage green Michelin tyres. Photo: Getty Images

Hard, not perished

Van Aert rode these at the championships and won. The old rubber had hardened, not perished, and as the entire field scuttled in and out of the mechanics area, Van Aert was triumphant. Van der Poel was literally in tears during the post-race interview.

Holding back the tears in Luxembourg 2017. Mathieu van der Poel might have won, but his tyres let him down… Photo: Getty Images

Nerd alert

Cyclocross tyres, whether clinchers or tubes, are a big deal to the nerdily inclined. Crowding up during the start of a cyclocross race, riders will feel each others tyres. Tread pattern, running pressure and wheel rims are all super-important — if you care about these things that is. We do.

Rhinos; Pipistrellos; Typhoons; Limus 33s; Grifos. All these names, and more, invoke special feelings with cyclocross tyre nerds. Those more practically inclined will (rightly) settle for all-round clinchers (with or without normal or latex inner tubes) like the Schwalbe’s Racing Ralph.

Dugast Rhinos: mud is their friend.

Warrior crash

But we at The Prologue are nerds. Recently, this writer (in over-charged weekend warrior mode) rode his front wheel into a hole at around 30kph and did a full end-over-end. The Dugast Typhoon on the front wheel came partially unstuck off the rim, and that was the end of the race. The glue on the rim had dried out, and this was a warning to re-glue the tyre or get a new tube and re-stick it.

So, despite this major dent to the ego, was the original tyre/wheel choice correct? Yes. The ground was sticky, not too muddy and there was enough grip for the traditional ‘Grifo’ tread pattern on the Typhoon. Running at just under 2 bars of tyre pressure, the bike was behaving really well.

Dugast Typhoon: This tread pattern is very similar to the classic Clement Grifo, regarded as a true classic of cyclocross tyre design.

No little birds

On a dry, sandy course, a Pipistrello would have been a better choice — but I don’t have those. And if it were muddy, a Dugast Rhino would have been better, which I do have. But, as the astute reader will have noticed, you can’t just change these tyres quickly. So if you run tubulars for cyclocross, you need a separate pair of wheels for each set of tyres, just like the professionals.

Typhoon Pipisquallo. This new kid on the block has the middle tread of a Pipistrello with some chunky Rhino-like grip at the sides to carry you through the corners.

Glue and worry

So, basically, an expensive and time-consuming extra hobby. Learning to glue tubulars on a rim is actually a pain. But it is fun — if you like breathing in glue fumes and worrying about whether it will stick and work, that is. Yes, it’s a bit of a masochistic past time, and we are penny-pinchers here, so all wheels and tubes are second-hand. In the Low Countries, at least, there is a relatively stable market for second-hand Dugasts.

The writer’s bike on a “Rhino Day”. During the cross, high carbon rims aren’t as useful for aerodynamics as they are for cutting through mud.

But once you switch to tubulars, you will never go back. Mainly because you’ve committed to the expense and hassle of tubulars now. Also, you can run them at really low pressures and avoid impact punctures, and by running them you also carry a little bit of Gandalf dust in your pocket, alongside your gels.