Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The "Road Plus" Experiment: Introduction

It says so right on the packaging.
Back in late February of this year, I posted about the new WTB Horizon tires which are being marketed as "Road Plus" sized tires. The concept, a fat, voluminous tire based on the old 650B/584ISO tire size, was first made popular in France during the WWII era bike camping fad and then became the tire favored for the "rando thing". Afterward the conversion of 27"/700c bikes to 650B picked up steam which kept the nearly dead wheel size alive long enough that the advent of the internet came along which spurred on the interest in 650B further. Now days you can hardly turn around without hitting a 584ISO bead diameter wheel, but there was a time not more than a decade ago when this wheel size was super rare.

Gravel bikes have breathed new life into the 650B "demi-balon" sized tire, which the old conversion scene knew was very close to a 700c X 28mm tire in diameter. This makes it a good alternative choice for the gravel bikes which have been proliferated in the last few years by several manufacturers. Okay.....cool. But why? 

Well, going back to the 40's and 50's, it was for comfort, vibration damping, and grip over bad roads. With the advent of gravel riding, riders have been seeking out similar attributes for their rigs. Now with Compass Tires and WTB, along with a few oddball, rare tires, riders can now enjoy the similar benefits that riders did 75 years ago. The main difference with the Horizon tires is that they are part of a tubeless tire system, which other tires in this category are not.

Tire, rim, rim strip, valves, and sealant all by WTB; Image courtesy of WTB
So, since this idea has become something of a "thing", I have been asked a few times what I think about it all. Well, I am about to find out. Thanks to my RidingGravel.com side of things, our good friends at WTB and Velocity USA are going to help out with putting me on a set of these wheels shod with these fat, puffy tires to see about their performance on gravel roads. I also will be looking into what sort of things to look out for when making the switch from 700c X 38-40mm tires to these 650B X 47mm tires.

Right now I am looking at trying these out on my Raleigh Tamland Two, my Standard Rando, and my Vaya. The thing I will be looking hard at, besides the obvious tire clearances, is where the bottom bracket height ends up being at with these three bikes. Obviously, if WTB is right and these tires are akin to the diameter of a 700 X 28-30mm tire, I will be lowering the bottom bracket heights on all three bikes which may not work out so well. Especially in the case of the T-6 bike which has a 75mm drop, but we will see. Obviously, I am going with a disc brake hub and rim, or I would slot these into my Black Mountain Cycles bike for a test run, but that won't be happening with these wheels.

Stay tuned......

10 comments:

phillip Cowan said...

Do I detect a slight note of disdain for the "rando thing", lol. I personally have a lot of admiration for the sport of randonneuring and would probably be pursuing it now if I had enough time to really give it a fair shake. I like to go on reneherse.com and look at some of the old bikes there. I especially like the bikes from the 40s and 50s. I'm always surprised at the level of sophistication of these old timers. It's obvious to me (a machinist) that some of the french builders were skilled all-around machinists and not just guys who stuck tubes together in an artful manner. Also I notice that many of these bikes are 1x4 or 2x4 geared. Funny to think that some of these bikes probably went over the Alps and Pyrenees with that gearing. Nowadays we can't seem to get over a few midwestern rollers without an 11 speed cog and a clickfest. Maybe we don't need more gears, maybe we just need to HTFU.

Daniel Lemke said...

I'm interested in what you think about these tires. Ever since WTB announced their "RoadPlus" tires I've been eyeing them with some interest.

Guitar Ted said...

@phillip Cowan- No, you do not detect disdain. I was merely referring to that scene as a "thing" that became popular/is popular.

I have friends and acquaintances that participate or who have run rando organizations in the past and I have heard their stories. I have nothing but respect for them and their accomplishments. My only criticism of the "rando bike" crowd is that they can be a bit narrowly focused and disdainful of the slightest detail on a bike in a way that seems, well.....over the top. Of course, one could level the same criticism at myself at times, so there is that.

That said, this WTB tire's mere existence has made some rando fans a bit testy. So, there is an example of what I mean.

As to gearing, it is important to remember your references in a historical context. Previous to 1930, a derailleur drivetrain was next to unicorns in rarity, and those cyclists were climbing the same mountains you reference on single speeds, and some of those with a fixed gear. Talk about HTFU, right?

Secondly, we must remember that the technology was in its infancy when it comes to drive trains back in the 40's. That added with the self-manufactured ethos of many of the builders of the French (and other) rando and camping bikes really limited the range of possibilities. Had their been easy access to mass manufactured, wide range cassettes or free wheels back then, I have no doubt that they would have employed them in their designs. But that we will never know. All we can say with any certainty is that option did not exist for the most part, which was probably the reason it looks like a more hardcore "choice" today. It was just "normal" to those folks. They had no other way of doing it, which maybe points to a different viewpoint than our backward looking one here, no?

phillip Cowan said...

I think the problem with the rando folks is that they've been preaching the 650B gospel for a long time to mostly deaf ears. Now that it is suddenly becoming mainstream they are a little dismayed. It's sort of like college kids who discover an underground band and then don't like it anymore when the rest of the world discovers it. As for modern tech I have no doubt you're right. If 11 speed blocks and a good replacement for the old cyclo derailleur had appeared on the market back then I believe they would have latched onto it like a doberman on a porterhouse.

Doug Mayer said...

Cool! I end up doing a lot of pavement riding to get to and from the gravel out here in NY, so a high-volume slick has become my tire of choice. Loving these options (and tubeless!).

phillip Cowan said...

@Doug-I have a similar similar situation, all the good gravel is way out of town. I've been running Schwalbe G-one 700x35s. They seem to split the difference between pavement and gravel very well. Running them tubeless on A23s they measure an actual 37mm. I had considered the Compass Bon Jon Pass 700x35 but decided I wanted something with at least a little tread.

grannygear said...

Very curious as to your findings. After seeing how my wife's Strava times have dropped when she began riding a bike with 650bx42 tires (on the road), not to mention the comfort...

Fascinating.

gg

phillip Cowan said...

I would love to try 42mm Hetres or the Compass Baby Shoe Pass version. Unfortunately my frame won't swallow them.

Bob said...

Wider rims have as much effect as higher volume tires, if not more, from my experience. At least in relation to the ability to drop psi dramatically which aids in traction and small bump compliance and still have good rolling resistance. If I was a gravel guy I would probably try i30 rims and a tire that would provide a 75% aspect ratio like a 38/40. I used as small as 2.1 tires on a 700c i35 rim @ 14psi which is 14 psi less than I did with my Mavic T223's. That way you don't lose any bb height.

The most noticeable characteristic is how well it absorbs gravel.

TW said...

Funny, I have a pic of my Tamland 1 with a set of the WTB's on it. Planning on getting a new set of hoops built up and switching over. The roads here in China are a bit rough.