Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tires!

I take my bicycle hobby and career pretty darned seriously. So I've made it somewhat of a personal mission to really learn and understand the nuances of bicycle tire technology. For the most part, this means I've been trying out about every tire possible.

This also means I observe others' choices and am often caught asking people about their tires or even (gasp!) touching their tires when they're away from their bike. I can spot a pair of gators a mile away. I know by looking at you if you ride 23s or 25s or 28s or even, shudder, 32s. I can tell by your smell if you just purchased new tires. Maybe even what brand they are.

Aside from these parlor tricks, I've learned what I like. I like very skinny, lightweight tires in bright colors. There, I said it. Among my favorite high end tires are the Schwalbe Ultremo CXs and the Michelin Pro3 Race. Mid-level, gimme some Vittoria Rubinos - wire bead, baby!

Winter? Well, there's a different story. I'm torn between the Panaracer T-Serv Protex, which I've turned many friends onto, and the Vittoria Pave Evo CGs in hideous green (pictured above, along with some bizarre road debris). These also both seem to handle gravel well.

I've even learned how to figure out what other people may like. If you happen to push 200 lbs or more in gravitational force on planet earth, you'll probably hate skinny, racy tires because they'll feel tough and shred quickly. Less than 1000 miles of cycling under your belt? I'll hand you a pair of Conti Gatorskins and see you in a coupla years. Badass racer type? You probably know what you want, but I'll try and talk you into the Conti 4 seasons anyway.

And I'm not alone in my rubber geekery. Nowhere near it. In the pursuit of "research & development" on this topic, I've heard passionate and detailed reasons for choosing different brands, models and sizes of tires.

One of the best comes from a local Rando guy, Jeff. I heard that he was considering what, in my opinion, is the "wrong" tire and started to rib him about it. Little did I know, this guy had done a huge amount of data tracking and was not making a blind decision.

He sent me an e-mail that started off with "this is going to be a very long e-mail". He proceeded to share everything he's learned about tires in the several thousand miles he's ridden. This even included a spreadsheet (screenshot below). By the time I got to that part of the e-mail, I was nearly catatonic with tire-drooling joy.
The upshot of his very detailed data is this: he likes his tires light (less than 500 grams) and wide (at least 28mm) with some tread and some puncture resistance. Enlightened thinking like this will take care of this guy on many rides to come.

Enter Sky Boyer, owner of the new shop in town, Velocult. This guy used to be a pro racer. And a Randonneur. And probably a bunch of other stuff I don't even know about. He explained to me that somehow in the scientific evolution of the bicycle and all of its mechanic variations, there weren't any specific tests on how tire material, width and pressure effect speed. His theory is that (contrary to popular opinion), softer, wider, less pressurized tires are actually faster. "That's why randos ride 650Bs".

650Bs make me think of Ed Groth. This guy is so badass he has his own fan club on Facebook. The first time I met him, he was riding his fixed gear on a hard gravel climb up Bald Peak. He's also a very accomplished Randonneur. This morning during our Rocky repeats, I asked Ed what his favorite tires are. Without hesitating (and without breathing hard, on the way up!), he replied "Pasela 35s". In these conditions - a quick reply, the model name and size included - any answer is the correct answer.

Next I ask Mat, a guy I work with whose tire knowledge I respect. He races and rides lots of different disciplines. He answered my question with a question. Which bike? Mountain or road? I laid out the following scenario for him. The zombie apocalypse is upon us. You have to choose one bike and you get a bonus 10 minutes to put your all-time favorite tires on it. What are they? His answer: "Michelin Pro Sport 35. Folding". I've never even heard of these!

As in any research project, you learn you have a lot to learn. The extent of my tire knowledge, especially for non-road, is pretty small. I even made an off-road tire cheat sheet (after my SRAM hierarchy list) on the dry erase board at work. Speaking of which, I just came up with a pretty good pun for a customer. When describing the Vittoria Randonneur tires (available in ivory!), "they're beefy, without weighing as much as a side of beef". Yep, this is what I do for a living.

1 comment:

  1. Did you check out my tires? (Hutchinson 650B x 32mm :-) )

    ReplyDelete