SOMA FABRICATIONS SHIKORO TYRES
700x38c 464g (as tested) $69.95 (£51.55) each
The Soma Fabrication Shikoro tyres take their name from the Samurai warriors’ armoured neck protection, which bodes well for one marketed as “Superb for training, touring and commuting”. By my reckoning, the 38 and 42mm sections are also well worth considering for ‘cross bikes serving as winter trainers, or moderate gravel duties.
Pros: Smooth rolling, big section tyre that performs well on dirt roads
Cons: Not so good in gloop.
First up, I wasn’t surprised to discover these are made by Panaracer, since they come up a little smaller (36mm at 85psi) compared to other brands’ 38mm options. (More about this in a minute).
However, they’re available in a surprising range of widths, from road biased 23 and 28mm through to tour/cross and gravel 33,38mm and 42mm. This is matched by their operating pressures, 35-90psi.
Theoretically, these cater for most conditions and something I more commonly associate with tubeless models. Not that I would consider running these tubeless, save for the lower pressures, which, frankly, limits their horizons and their design brief.
Manufacturers often cited a bigger size, enticing riders with an apparently lower weight over competitors of apparently identical width. In this instance, it actually proved a blessing, meaning they’d slip into my cross-inspired winter/trainer’s rear triangle.
A 35mm semi-slick is pretty much tops for this machine - 32 if running full length guards. Talking of which, the warm brown sidewalls have a distinctly European, Continental-esque flavour, which I also found very appealing.
Ours were the Kevlar beaded versions, saving some additional weight, while ensuring they’ll pack down compactly - small enough, say for taking on a big tour/gravel event.
Most big section tyres are pretty tame to mount, straight from the box. Look closely and you’ll see front/rear specific directional arrows - observe this. Prising the final 20% aboard deep and standard section rims, required two standard composite levers but our samples relaxed, given a hundred miles or so.
The 4HD casings are designed with minimal rolling resistance in mind, while their carbon rubber compound and “all road” tread pattern (Reminiscent of a ‘cross knobbly that’s been subjected to a belt sander) promise longevity.
Any tyre with touring and commuting in its design brief, should have decent puncture repelling properties - especially at this price point. I was pleased to discover the polyamide breaker stretches to the sidewalls, not just the centre strip.
At 800g the pair, I was expecting a perky, responsive ride and they haven’t disappointed. A cold and greasy start to our test period, I was impressed, although not completely surprised by how well the supple carcasses hugged the tarmac. Getting them up to speed and moreover, keeping them there required nominal effort.
While not over-geared for the riding terrain, giving similarly fit riders on geared builds was a lot easier and I’ve felt noticeably fresher compared with stocker mainstays of similar width, although on tarmac, the Vittoria Hyper Voyager were pretty hot on their heels.
With the weather alternating between freeze and thaw, there was ample warning before any minor loss of traction - as I discovered while tackling a 1in 4 descent at 28mph - as fast as I dared. Manhole covers and similar ironworks didn’t cause any mischief either, unless I was really weary late at night, but, then, these should always be approached with respect. Run at the upper end, 75-80psi seemed optimal but even at 90 ride quality was serene, ironing out washboard tarmac. Most of the time, I was able to weave deftly round ironwork and the odd shallow hole (not to mention rodents challenging me to spirited tangos).
Roads seem to degrade alarmingly quickly in these conditions, so the odd fast and some lumpy passage come with the territory. These characteristics added a new dimension of fun to town and suburban stretches, whether powering away at the lights, filtering through stationary traffic, or taking decisive action to avoid being doored.
Off road capability is pretty good too, so long as it’s not too muddy. 18mph through these tight, singletrack lanes is as fast as I’d push them - only because of their winding, sheltered nature and the occasional tractor.
Dropping the pressure to around 60 psi when things turned distinctly soft delivered the best balance of grip and speed, allowing me to enjoy the ride. I was expecting them to blow Maxxis' otherwise likeable Roamer into the weeds sans asphalt.
Run at their lowest, there’s some tell-tale squirm and drag but it’s nice to have the option, should traction otherwise prove in short supply, or when frustrated by a mini pump following a roadside flat.
However, there wasn’t much to choose between these and a more aggressive, similarly priced cross type knobbly, such as Clement X’plor USH. The Clement are lighter but have tended to clog faster and in my experience, puncture more frequently.
Another advantage to mud is that it attracts glass, thorns and other sharps - I’d whipped a 42mm Continental Nordic spike up front a week earlier when the lanes had become a skating rink, great until a really deep thorn tore into the casings.
Maybe I’ve just been very fortunate but deliberately whizzing through these, flints and shards of broken glass midway has failed to induce a flat for the duration of those rides.
Having reached home, I’ve brushed and in some cases, washed the machine, giving the casings a good going over with Oxford Tyre Scrub. To date, no punctures, or nicks in the casings, which is reassuring.
On the one hand, the gravel biased big tyre market is hotly competitive, so we’re almost spoilt for choice. Cards on the table, there are better options if your primary focus is blasting along unmade roads, or alternatively were on a tighter budget and didn’t stray from asphalt.
Crucially, (at least in its bigger guise), the Shikoro deliver as a general road/commuting tyre and will also handle moderate, primarily hard pack duties with equal competence.
As for touring. Yes, but … springs to mind. If you were looking toward weekend/lightweight getaways, or wanting to bring a livelier persona to an expedition type build and a trailer was doing the donkey work - go for it.