CST Pika Gravel Tyres
700x32c 335g £31.99 (each)
The CST Pika Gravel Tyres offer a lot of smiles per mile and performance way exceeded my expectations of this price point. I went for the narrowest 32mm sections, since this was the maximum my ‘cross geometry fixed gear winter trainer’s rear triangle would swallow. However, there are 38 and 42mm options, which are tubeless ready, thus promising improved comfort and have more comprehensive puncture protection-if frame clearances allow. Otherwise, the sprightly Pika have inspired confidence along loose hardpack, slimy lanes and battle-scarred tarmac alike.
Pros: Responsive, grippy, relatively comfortable ride, lightweight, decent puncture resistance, price.
Cons: 32mm Puncture repelling breaker only covers the centre strip.
Now, CST (Cheng Shing Rubber) are one of the biggest tyre manufacturers in the world, so I wasn’t surprised to find the specification high, relative to the asking price. 60Tpi, dual compound casings are what I’d expect and suggest a good balance between ride quality and durability. Folding beads save a few grams, storage space too-especially if you were considering carrying a spare tyre on a big ride.
EPS in this instance, means “Extreme Puncture Safety” which boils down to a rubberised Poly fibre centre strip beneath the casing. Aside from being tubeless ready its bigger siblings have one that runs bead to bead for improved protection. The tread pattern works to the principle of old-school dual-purpose mountain bike tyres, just properly executed.
A slightly raised centre strip for reduced rolling resistance on tarmac and U-shaped knobs for cornering prowess- on and off road. Observe the directional arrows when fitting and you’ll be fine. Interestingly, sidewalls only cite a maximum pressure (75psi). With a tubeless ready model, you can usually go very low, without causing any mischief but a chat with the UK importer suggests 50-75.
Some folding beads can fight back but no issues with rims boasting 17 and 19mm diameters. On the 19mm, the Pika came up very slightly narrower (31.5mm by my measure). Not unusual, or something giving much practical advantage but drew some comment. Talking of which, and against the backdrop of my last remark, run at the lower end of the pressure range, some very minor squirm was apparent, but a moot point at 55psi plus.
Test Bike/Riding Contexts
My fixed gear winter trainer requires little introduction- it serves year-round, come hell and sometimes high water. Our test period was predominantly wet, muddy and with some seriously icy spells thrown in for good measure. In the latter contexts (and in the interests of not fracturing a shoulder, collar bone, wrist, or hip) I reached for the spikes-simple. However, I’ve been out with the CST in less extreme contexts where frost and mild icy patches have been dotted around.
Ride Quality/Handling 3.75/5
Even at the highest pressures, the CST Pika proved more compliant than I was expecting and they’re no slouches either. Given the tread pattern, I wasn’t surprised by some gentle whirring, especially on longer, faster descents but less intrusive than some cross tyres and insignificant compared with a small block mtb knobbly in comparable conditions. These things out of the way, I've ridden the Pika for 50 odd miles plus, solely along metalled roads.
Their blend of speed, compliance and reliable handling have induced some big grins. Gearing in the mid 70s, I could cruise along at a steady 85rpm and average 19mph without undue effort. Qualities lending the Pika to general riding and mean they needn’t be switched if your gravel biased build must earn its keep during the week. Given their price point, it’s unlikely many riders would, but I’ve run ours with TPU tubes, which are much lighter than butyl - just to see if there was any tangible improvement in acceleration and climbing prowess. Short answer is yes, and they made an already fun tyre more engaging.
Regardless of tube, the tread pattern means climbing was a little noisier, palpably so compared with CST’s Czar, or the 32mm Bontrager AW3 Hardcase Lite. No major hardship and again, no loss of traction in slippery conditions. Town centres are always a good test of any tyre and the Pika’s qualities came alive here too, offering some comfort over lumpy bumpy stuff- the inevitable little nicks and pockmarks.
Not quite a magic carpet ride and some caution’s still called fort when tackling wet ironworks- at railways crossings, inspection covers, that kind of jazz. They corner and accelerate well-say away from the lights, finding a break in the traffic etc and the dual compound hasn’t shown any obvious weaknesses when exposed to shards of broken glass, metal and other random stuff. Similar story along canal towpaths and other less trafficked sections too. Good news for more adventurous tourists, too.
Lanes strewn with slippery agricultural slurry and bovine dung were perfect testing conditions and true to claims, the U pattern tread bit deep, inspiring confidence in the corners. I have dropped the pressure to around 55-60 psi, when the mercury dropped overnight, and hard frosts formed. Though more tempered in my own enthusiasm, the Pika never lost traction or my faith in them.
Sans asphalt, tackling loose surfaces, this pressure seemed optimal, although the ride a little direct, which I attributed to the narrower sections, although conversely, this seemed to help when carving through more technical terrain. Dropping the bike’s gearing to 63 inches, I’ve tackled unmade roads and farm tracks at a decent lick and the narrower diameters kept them very nimble, meaning I could weave nimbly around unexpected rocks, holes, and other hazards.
Again, in this context, they’ve proven swift on the climbs. Boggy bridlepath isn’t what gravel tyres are about - they'll turn to slicks quicker than a cross knobbly, for example. That said; I was pleasantly surprised by the U pattern’s gloop shedding efficiency when shown metalled road for a bit.
Puncture Resistance/Durability 3.75/5
With hedge clipping season, roads resembling Paris-Roubaix and just winter generally, I’d succumbed to a series of flats- four in three rides using other tyres, so was hoping the CST Pika would fare better in comparable contexts. 500 miles hence, no flats and I’ve only been washing the tyre casings down weekly. Factors such as tube quality and luck play a significant part, but my confidence grew as the miles racked up. No cuts, nicks, or other signs of vulnerability in the casings. Not that I’d expect such for a good few thousand miles but again, bodes well, especially given the price point.
Talking of price... This is another area where CST have spotted a gap in the market. Specialized Rombus is tubeless ready but comes in a good bit dearer at £42 and is only available in a 42mm section, which could be a deal breaker for some. Kenda Aluvium GCT is also tubeless ready and sports reflective sidewalls for added safety, great for winter/commuting duties. However, they’re also £50 each and 40mm width is great for contemporary gravel builds but not older cross bikes doing gravel duty.
Then of course, there’s Panaracer’s Gravel King, a long serving tubeless ready model. However, we’re still talking £44.99 apiece. Soma’s Shikoro went down well with me. Another tubeless ready model, it delivers a sprightly, compliant ride. Ours was the folding model but there’s a wire bead version, closer of all to the CST at £36.73.
All told, the CST Pika offer excellent performance at a seriously competitive price. The bigger, tubeless ready versions arguably offer most sparkle but our 32mm are a great bet for most stuff, save for gloopy mud. Contexts which gravel rubber isn’t intended for. However, I’d be happy to entertain occasional, dry cross meets and haven’t felt the need to switch them for longer road-biased outings either.