Furthering my goal to monetize the crap out of this blog and purchase my own island, here's a review of something you can't buy any more from a company that (as far as I can tell) no longer exists. Savvy marketing plan there, Don Draper.
Long, long ago, there was a component manufacturer named Avocet. They made their name in saddles (among other things) with one of the first modern anatomic (translation: bumpy under your bum) models, the Touring. Avocet also cornered the market on cyclometers for what seemed like an eternity, offering their cute little mile-counters in an astonishing array of 80s colorways (confession: I had one in tennis-ball yellow to match my mountain bike of the same hue).
The Avocet folks really showed their weird genius in tires, though. They made two. When you chose an Avocet tire, the question was "dirt or not?" If the answer was "not", you got the FasGrip: A pure, Telly Savalas-esque slick with nary a hint of tread. If the answer was "dirt", you got the Cross II. (I'm disregarding the Cross, Avocet's first draft, with its chunkier tread and square shoulders, which had a disturbingly binary feel in corners: "I'm not leaning at all... OH SWEET MOTHER OF GAWD, I'M LEANING WAY TOO MUCH!")
Unlike pretty much every other treaded tire that got its grip from protruding features added to the tire, the Cross II got its grip from a zig-zag groove cut into the tire, like it started life as one of those nice, round FasGrips and then got snazzy racing stripes:
The black stuff is (logically enough) black rubber, while the white shows the negative space. When you're on hard asphalt, you're riding on just the center ridge and the shoulders -- pure, smooth, rubber, Telly Savalas-style. Hit the dirt, and all those edges around the grooves come into play, providing bite and traction. Granted, the grooves hummed like mad on pavement (and thus sounded slow), but this was a surprisingly fast tire on the road. The round casing (unlike its Frankenstein-head-shaped Cross ancestor) cornered like Velcro on the street... and in all but the gloppiest mud, those grooves hooked up like something much knobblier without clogging. (Fun fact: Riding a Cross II in fresh snow would shoot powder out the front of your front fender like a tiny snowblower.)
Sadly, the Cross II is no more, long out of production, a tire before its time. If someone found the molds and started popping these out again, I suspect the gravel nerds would be on them like the word "gravel" on dumb bike marketing. However, in one of those strange moments of Internet time-stoppage, the Avocet website (where I found the links and horked the tread image above) still exists, tantalizing me with a glimpse into a time when I had a full head of hair and no aftermarket parts. I think I'll sign up on their Receive Updates page and sit by my dial-up modem, waiting patiently for the AOL voice to say, "You've got mail!"