In a week of testing the new Specialized Turbo Cotton 'Hell of the North' 28mm clinchers on the cobbles of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix courses, we didn't flat once (sorry, Sagan), and enjoyed the fast ride across all manner of road surfaces, from freshly paved to the bone-rattling Arenberg.
Specialized has new 26mm, 28mm and 30mm tubular and 28mm clincher versions of its Turbo Cotton, which tested well in our recent lab testing of 10 of the best performance tires.
While the existing range of 24mm and 26mm Turbo Cotton tires feel great and roll fast, they are relatively delicate, especially on the exposed sidewalls.
With this Hell of the North version, Specialized widened the tread by 4mm on each side, so that it wraps around the casing further down the sidewalls, and also beefed up the puncture protection underneath the Gripton outer compound.
The tire has a recommended pressure of 85-95psi, but on our first 100km jaunt shadowing the Tour of Flanders route from the previous day, we opted for a pressure of 75psi. When riding parts of the Roubaix course — on a 60km recon with Specialized and then during the 145km Paris-Roubaix sportive — we dropped it to about 60psi.
Despite all the violent jolting as we raced each other across the dozens of cobble sectors, we didn't puncture once on two sets of Hell of the North 28s. Peter Sagan was racing on the 30mm tubulars, and suffered two untimely punctures during crucial moments of the race. Perhaps we are just better bike handlers than the wheelie-ing world champ. (Sarcasm, people.)
We only rode the Hell of the North in the dry, but we found the soft Gripton compound to indeed be grippy, whether railing corners or just trying to keep traction while seated on steep cobbled climbs such as the Koppenberg that kicks to 22 percent. We weighed the tire at 260g.
You wouldn't want to use the 28mm tire for a hill climb or a time trial, but for regular riding on normal-to-lousy road conditions the Hell of the North appears to be a great option, mixing suppleness and speed with a bit of puncture protection.
Check back for a full review soon.