Reviewed: Compass Steilacoom tyres – the perfect UK “gravel” option?

by Tom Hill 1

  • Tested: Compass Steilacoom 700c x 38m tyre
  • Price: £53.99
  • From: Sven Cycles

It’s a recurring theme here on gritcx – few of our crack team of testers have mile upon mile of pure gravel on our doorsteps. The reality of the vast majority of our “gravel” rides are more like: bit of tarmac to the trail>bridleway that is muddy slop for six months of the year>farm tracks>field edges>woodsy singletrack>rocky, technical descents>country lanes>canal towpath>potholed town centre roads>home. Even those that live in the pockets of the UK that do have easy access to entire rides worth of pure gravel roads have to deal with a climate that means that hardpack and dust are rarely guaranteed.

It means that we ask a lot from our gravel tyres – they must, at the very least be jacks of all trades, and ideally a master of a few. Fast rolling, low drag, good grip, good mud shedding, decent volume, lightweight, tough enough and the moon on a stick, please.

Mud, dust and a few tears, the Steilacooms have had to deal with all conditions

Compass?

Compass Cycle probably isn’t the first brand that comes to mind when choosing tyres. You may not have even heard of it before. If that’s the case, it’s well worth having a brew and reading up here. Mr Compass, Jan Heine is also the creative force behind Bicycle Quarterly and has been at the forefront of the trend towards “all road” bikes. The company has a wide range of tyres, including many 650b and even 26in options. All are intended to span the on/off-road gap, but few in the range looked up to the wet UK early spring conditions that we’ve been recently testing in.

The Steilacoom

As soon as we saw the Steilacoom, we were keen to test it. With more pronounced knobs than most gravel tyres, it almost had the appearance of an oversized ‘cross tyre. At 700c x 38mm, they are a little narrower than many of the tyres we’ve been testing recently, but are still a decent volume.

Back to those knobs. Compass have designed them to bite the surface, but also spaced enough to clear mud. They are also distributed as such so the tyre is always supported by the same amount of rubber, whether it is on the centre of the tyre, or cornering on the edges. The aim is for uniform grip on multiple surfaces.

We are fans of tan made in Japan

Compass recommend the Steilacoom as ‘cross tyre. It’s logic is quite a good one. For those of us who don’t run tubulars, but want to run lower pressures, a little more tyre volume allows for that and increases grip. While 38mm tyres will see you out on your ear at a UCI level, most local ‘cross races don’t have such restrictions. To us, this also makes sense for those local rides we started off describing, so it was with high levels of excitement and expectation that we fitted the Steilacooms.

Compass claims the tyres are tubeless compatible, and we are pleased to report that our experience was a positive one here. The tyre was a very tight fit on the DT Swiss CRC1400 wheelset we tested it on, requiring good technique and thumb strength to lever it on to the rim. Fortunately, once on the Steilacoom inflated easily with a track pump – with no more effort than pumping up a tube. We did notice a gradual loss of air pressure in the tyres overnight for the first few rides, but that stabilised soon enough.

Tread pattern is comprised of square blocks.

The ride

I fitted the Steilacooms in early April, which has meant that they’ve had to deal with snow, mud and lately – I’m pleased to say – loam and dust, as well as good dose of farm tracks and linking sections of tarmac.

Those blocks roll better than expected, with no squirming to speak of on tarmac.

The tyres have coped with all conditions admirably well. Taking each in order:

  • Mud – the Steilacooms bit well in the wet leaf-mulch style mud of my local trails, providing good traction despite some of the sloppiest, wet conditions I’ve known. Moving on to more clay-like muds, I was expecting the tyres to fill in and around the knobs. While there was a small amount of this compared to say a 100% dedicated mud tyre, the Steilacooms cleared well and kept their bite.
  • Loam – as the trails have dried out, the Steilacooms have simply become more fun. In soft, dry conditions the side knobs bite brilliantly, encouraging the kind of “how low can you go” kind of cornering I’d normally save for a mountain bike.
  • Gravel and hardpack – I was wary that the Steilacooms would feel draggy on otherwise fast surfaces, but the knob spacing seems to do a good job of keeping rolling resistance low. The side knobs once again instil confidence when cornering on loose, slippery gravel, behaving with consistency and predictability.
  • Road – this is always going to be a compromise, but as with on gravel, the Steilacoom rolls well. There is a reasonable amount of tyre-buzz, but that doesn’t correspond to a huge amount of drag. Compared to, say, the WTB Nano – another one of our regular “bit of everything” tyres, the Compasses felt easier to get up to speed and hold there. I’d never go out of my way to choose the Steilacoom as a tyre for primarily tarmac use, but it doesn’t feel like a chore to use it there.
Ticket to ride

The only possible downside to the Steilacooms came on their very first ride. Riding over some exposed rocks, both tyres punctured to the point that I was unable to get them to seal without using tyre plugs. There was no obvious cause to this, my riding partners weren’t effected either. The punctures seemed to be caused/exacerbated by knobs tearing slightly from the tyre. I was worried that this may be an indicator of fragility and maybe the Steilacooms wouldn’t be up to the varied surface riding I had planned, but, touch wood, many hundreds of kilometres later, the issue has not repeated itself despite much more of the same kind of terrain and a few seriously dodgy line choices. I’m happy to chalk up the punctures to bad luck.

38mm width works well. We’d also love to try a higher volume version.

The tyre casing feels supple, and running 40psi felt like a good balance for my weight (75kg in kit), allowing traction on soft ground, but protecting the rim from any dings. If I was to use the Steilacoom for racing, I’d drop pressures even more if the course allowed for it.

We tested the standard weight Steilacooms, that came in at 435g – a smidge heavier than the claimed 428g. An extralight version is also available, shedding 40g or so and using a more supple casing. As it is, the standard Steilacooms are a very respectable weight – 100g less than a set of WTB Nano TCS Light tyres I had to compare them to.

The tyres have worn well during the last few months of testing.

In summary

If you are lucky enough to ride pure gravel fire roads all day, every day, or simply want a road tyre that can cope with a rare foray onto easy trails, then the Steilacoom is probably unnecessary and overkill. If you are someone who rides a wide variety of terrain on their “gravel” bike, maybe wants to turn up to a ‘cross race and not have to change their tyres, then Compass has created what we think might be the best out there at the moment. We’d love to see a slightly wider version for everything from “go anywhere” adventure riding to XC racing.

Comments (1)

  1. Sounds promising and a tan wall too. Win

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