Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Musings On Tires

And now- the standard disclaimer.....NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

Tires: they are a "big" deal for cyclists...
So you may have noticed that tires for bicycles are kind of a "big deal" no matter what discipline of cycling you might enjoy. Tires are the one and only thing that touches the terrain we like to traverse, or fly over, as the case may be! Tires have a bigger influence on your riding than about any other thing concerning a bicycle you can think of. They are suspension, traction, cornering, acceleration, and stopping. They have a lot to do with speed and comfort. Essentially, if you have a great bike, and crappy tires, (or tires not being used to their potential), you are losing out on how good bicycling could be for you. Shockingly, most folks do not understand tires and how they affect all these things.

It's a huge subject, and I could go on for a while about it, but I want to focus on a few things that are misconceptions, misunderstandings, and myths. Number one amongst these has to do with tire width and pressures you run tires at. Most folks think "higher pressures are always better" and that narrower tires are always faster." Both things are myths, and most folks have a lot of misunderstandings when it comes to these ideas.

I have been a wheel/tire freak for a long time. Anytime the subject of wheels and tires came up in the old bike shop days, I listened up. From customers, to racers, company reps, magazine articles, and later on, the internet. I took in as much as I could. It  was one of the reasons in late '99/early 2000 I discovered this thing called a "29"er". (But that's a whole nuther story...) Anyway, I began to understand that a lot of folks "in the know" were running lower pressures and wider tires and going faster. Some companies were doing research, like Continental, Schwalbe, and others and were publishing reports that confirmed wider tires at lower pressures were better, faster, and more comfortable.

The bigger, the better?
It wasn't until later on  that I understood what "wider" and "lower pressure" meant for road and off road though. I had read this article from "Bicycle Quarterly" in 2008, and it really opened up my eyes to where cyclist might go for a better experience on their bikes. Well, if only they could let go of those preconceived notions and "feelings of being faster", (as noted in the linked article- many cyclists prefer the feel of high pressure in their tires, even though they are slower.) Of course- there are limits, and going beyond them will yield diminishing returns. But in general, many average cyclists, (and some avid enthusiasts and racers), are running tires too narrow and/or at too high a pressure.

Doing the gig that I do, I get to ride a lot of tires. Mostly off road tires, but the principles remain similar for road tires. I often still am amazed at how well some tires improve in performance at significantly lower air pressures than marked on the sidewalls. I was floored, for example, when this past summer it was suggested to me by a company rep that I dump 10psi from where I was at, (27-28psi), and see what I thought about a tire I was testing. The difference was night and day. Yes- I ran 17-18psi in these 29"er tires and they came alive, were faster, and way more comfortable. I had an unsuspecting rider try out the bike, and he came back with nothing but praises for the tires at these pressures. 

Wider- Lower psi: Works here too...
But old habits die hard. I know this because I have ridden with, and spoken with, a lot of riders that use what I would term as "really high" pressures and skinnier tires on gravel than they maybe should be. I've watched riders go by me, or ride beside me that are on bikes skittering, bouncing, and fish-tailing on the gravel, while others who are using lower psi and wider tires are riding perfectly straight lines.....and going just as fast. 

It is readily apparent that if said folks would be able to let go of their notions that high pressures and narrower tires were "better", their bikes wouldn't be getting out of shape, they  wouldn't be getting rattled nearly as much, and they would be saving a lot of effort/energy in the process. But for whatever reasons, they hold on to those old notions.

And this extends to pavement riders I talk with at the bike shop all the time. I guess each person is free to do what they want, but it is hard to understand why one would not check out the ever mounting evidence that your tires should be absorbing shock, wide enough to keep your bike really stable on rougher terrain, and not rock hard and narrow.

That's my take, and I know there will be a lot of folks that poo-poo the ideas put forth here, but I'm convinced that lower pressures and wider tires- to a degree- are better. I've some other thoughts on tires I may get to at some point, but that's for another day......


Isolation Helmet said...

Totally agree. Those Clement's int he first photo are great in the dirt at 30 to 40 pounds depending on conditions. The sidewalls are marked 60 to 80 pounds.

Max said...

I agree, and generally run the widest tires that will comfortably fit my bikes. Even narrow-road tires can be run at lower pressure than most people ride them at. On the rare occurrence that I run a 25mm tire; I run about 85 lbs of air. This is lower than most people and really improves the ride quality. Obviously, rider weight and how "smooth" of a rider they are also factors in.

That being said, I don't see myself running anything narrower than a 32mm tire even for paved use in foreseeable future.

MG said...

Agreed 100 percent. Great perspective. I very rarely run more than 35psi in my gravel bike, and more than 20psi in my 29"ers. It just doesn't make sense to go any higher once you see how good it can be.

missouri kayaker said...


I ran some Clement MSO upon reading your review (tubeless and lower pressure) and love the tire.

However the clearance on my carbon cross bike is 1-2 mm on each side of rear stays. My concern is that a bit of mud and I will be jammed up.

My evil plan is to perhaps get a set of Clement USH and run the MSO on front and the USH on back for my training and race wheelsets. I would go tubeless on the USH as the MSO getto converted to tubeless just fine.

So what do you think?...35cc on back and 40 cc on front. I suggest this, because when I hit fresh loose gravel...it is the front tire that seems to skip around the most and would benifit from the wider tire.

Good tires are not cheap...and tubleless conversion take a bit of fussing about...so I was curious what you thought before I pull the trigger on this setup.

Guitar Ted said...

@Bryan Hopkins: Your plan sounds reasonable given the limitations of your bike. I would agree that a wider, more shock absorbing front tire is best, but for the ultimate in control and comfort, a MSO tubeless F/R set up would be better, but that isn't in the cards for your wetter races.

It's like anything else you run across, for example, a fat front set up is fun, and "better" than a skinny tire on soft surfaces, but a full on fat bike works better. Similarly, a front suspended mtb is better than a full rigid bike,on rough terrain, but a full suspension bike is even better.

You get the picture, I'm sure.

missouri kayaker said...

Thanks for getting back to me

More detail: i plan to do the kanza....and my thoughts are the ush might be a bit more cut resistant due to thick center tread and most flats are on the loaded rear tire.

I have enough clearance either way and frankly the system will likely clog in Kansas gumbo either way....but the mso is a mud collector due to small close knobs....USH might fair better in mud

I will be tubeless no matter what....so much better ride....and carry tubes for a bad cut scenario

Lets just hope the 2013 DK is not sloppy eh !?



Ryan said...

I agree with the "bigger is better" when it comes to gravel tires. I was a 700x35 hold out, until I rode my first century solo, shortly before Dirty Kanza 2012. I felt totally abused. I went with Kenda Happy Medium 700x40 for Dirty Kanza. It seemed like I had way more air volume, and the ride was much smoother. Fast forward to a couple months ago, and I put a Vee Rubber X-C-X 29x1.75 on the front of my cx. Holy cow! So much faster and smoother riding, though mud clearance is an issue. I will probably go with Vee Rubber X-C-X in 700x40 f/r for Dirty Kanza. It's a super underrated tire, that's fast and tough. I'll run them at 30-35psi. Much higher than that is just unnecessary abuse.

Unknown said...

Has anyone tried running the Vee Rubber 29 x 1.75 tubeless?

Guitar Ted said...

@Sean Ellis: Funny you should ask, but I just set up some Vee Rubber X-C-X tires tubeless, the 47mm wide versions, and they are doing really well.