Friday, June 10, 2011

Oh to be 25 again.

Geoff emailed me the other day suggesting a post on riding wider tires. He called me a "local evangelist for 25c tires." He may be exaggerating a bit. Or not.
In fact I wrote about these once a long time ago, so thought I'd revisit the thinking.
Ahh. 25. Such a good time.

No, I'm not reminiscing about being 25 years old, although that was fun too. Instead, I'll share some thoughts about something I think more riders should tap into.

Back in the day, as in the day that I treated bikes like tools (cool tools!), when getting a flat on a group ride meant, more than likely, a solo ride chasing a group of fast riders, and I lived in Colorado where roads were covered in gravel, thorns, sand, etc., I trained exclusively on 28c tires. With steel beads. And Mr. Tuffy tire liners.

I hated getting flats. Plus, on chip sealed, cracked, mountain roads, they were simply a better tire. Those 28c Contis were cheap, handled well and were fundamentally more comfortable. Trust me on this, a couple of extra millimeters of tire width makes a huge difference.

Somewhere between then and now I changed my stand. Maybe it was getting older. Maybe it was riding less and finding myself struggling to keep up on certain climbs. Maybe it was convenience or the fact that I'm at a place in my life where buying an extra tire doesn't mean I can't make rent. Maybe all of these things. In any case, I had been riding 23c tires for years and was fine with it.

But about a year ago I changed my tune.

Ahead of that evil thing known as the Ronde van Palouse, I decided to slap on a set of 25c tires. In general, the slightly wider tires mean a bit more sidewall flex, which means fewer flat tires. A broader contact patch also means better handling and traction on dirt roads and washboard. In the race the tires were great. The bike was great. My body? Not so great. Let's put it nicely and say that my bike isn't what held me back.

OK, flash forward a couple of days and I was late (as usual) to get out for a ride, scrambling for daylight. So I tore off the weekend's race number and left for an hour of power. Climbing up the South Hill I was amazed at how good the bike felt. Comfortable. Stiff at the bottom bracket, yet vertically compliant! The marketing messages were all suddenly true!

In fact what happened is in my rush to get out the door, I hadn't switched the wheels on my bike. Which meant I was still running the fat rubber. And I'm not going back.

Seriously, you need to try this. Running 25c tires is entirely worth the non-penalty. Here's the math. The 25c tires I've been using (Bontrager RXLs) are a whopping ten grams heavier than their 23c counterparts. Ten grams. To put that into context, pick up six or seven paper clips. There's your ten grams.

But, you might argue, they're slower because of the added rolling resistance. No, actually they're not, at least not according to the pencil-pushers that examine stuff like this. This aligns with my own sense of things as well.

Handling? Again,noticeably better when cornering, on dirt roads, etc.

Comfort? This to me is the biggest win. So, so much better, especially on chip seal where there's high-frequency vibration, and on the cracks and ruts that define a lot of the riding in our region.

Finally, flat resistance. I don't like flats, but based on what I see on most weekend rides I frequent, I might be alone in this. I can just about guarantee that you'll get fewer flats with a wider tire. Why? Because you can run slightly higher pressure while also getting the benefits of more comfort and better handling. Also, the tire's casing flexes a bit more, allowing the tire to deform around sharp stones and such, vs. being punctured by them. This is a good thing.

So, my advice is to give fatter rubber a try. You'll be just as fast, get fewer flats and will be more comfortable. Most riders I know run through at least a couple of sets of training tires a year. Next time, test something new.

The good news is there is better availability than ever for wider, high-performance tires. Bontrager just came out with a new tire I'd like to try. The gang at Two Wheel Transit will, I'm sure, be happy to tell you all about them.

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