Specialized-sponsored racer Todd Wells rode prototypes of the Terra tubular mud tire to his second US national championship victory a year ago in Bend, Oregon. It was his only cyclo-cross win of the season, and he took it in muddy, true-to-'cross conditions, which definitely put the Terra on our radar.
We've now spent a season on the tire and it's proved to be an extremely versatile all-rounder. Its lower knobs compared to other mud tires mean it leads them in terms of multi-condition performance, although it does give up some all-out wet weather prowess in return. If the Terra's performance under Wells put it on our radar, its price should put it on your radar. It's close to US$30 cheaper per tire than the treads we'd rank above it for mud performance.
Ride & handling: Excellent versatility, sticky mud prowess, and very good in the snow
While the Terra falls short of the very best winter tires, it still shines in some types of mud. When we put our tires through fields of 'peanut butter' they excelled, even in comparison to the top ranked winter rubber. The Terra is excellent at clearing mud from between its lugs and it also gives good traction, with more of a paddle effect in thick substrate than those tires with thinner, more forward oriented lugs.
Cornering traction is really good too, with firm sidewalls that offer the ability to set the knobs and trust them; the Terras also squirm less than taller-knobbed tires. The lower, wider knobs also offer more confidence on pavement, as well as when confronted with ice and snow. We've heard of riders modifying mud tires for mixed mud/ice tracks by clipping down the center knobs in order to gain more stability on the harder surface; the Terra is good in these conditions without modification.
The profile of the Terra shows its lack of deep center knobs; it may be this attribute that makes the tire so versatile
The Terra suffers slightly as the mud thins in terms of its viscosity, however, and it loses even more ground when the thinner mud gets deep and requires a tire's knobs to bite down to the harder surface underneath to hook up; in these conditions the shorter, wider knobs don't offer the bite of a taller-knobbed tire. Drive traction suffers more than cornering traction, though, which makes for a very predictable tire that gives the rider fair warning when it's in over its head.
Construction: Traditional tubular with a synthetic casing and latex tube
The Specialized Terra is handmade by a reputable tubular manufacturer using a 260tpi poly-cotton casing and latex tube mated to a Specialized-designed 60a durometer tread. The casing is rot resistant due to the synthetic fiber and it comes factory coated for greater durability and ease of installation. The tire has a traditional feel and is reasonably supple.
Construction quality is very good; ours came well sealed and quite straight, especially considering it's handmade – a sexy claim, but one that sometimes makes it harder to maintain consistent quality. Durability proved quite good too. We rode our set in Colorado's notoriously sharp terrain without any sidewall failures or flats. The Terra also held up to frequent washings and even a few power washings without signs of water damage or delamination.
Mud tire testing at 'Cross of the North, Credit: Brian Patrick, OnSight Media