Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Tire Religion: Part 1

Pirelli Cinturato Gravel RC (Image courtesy of Pirelli Tires)
Tires: In my time on the internet dabbling in bicycle stuff, in writing reviews, doing product testing, and with years of riding on all sorts of gravel, it is very apparent to me that tires are THE hot button subject in cycling. 

I mean, how many times have you seen the following type of question? 

"Hey! I am signed up for the Super-Duper Gravel X Race and was wondering what is the best tire for this event. What if it is muddy? What pressures do you run?"

I bet you've seen something like that before on a Facebook group, gravel oriented forum, or the like. I almost always avoid getting into those threads like the plague, because people lose the capacity for all rational thought when it comes to tire choices. Additionally, purchasing bias and lack of experience doesn't seem to deter someone from becoming an "expert" on answering tire questions. 

I mean, I get it. You love your tires, but for a multitude of reasons, what one person may think is "best" may not be that for another. Basically, tire beliefs are religion for many. Isn't that one of the two things you're not supposed to talk about with family and friends? Maybe. Perhaps, but here I go anyway....

Maxxis Ignitor tire test from 2005

So, what do I know about tires? If I think many people are 'not as expert in experience with tires as they think they are' what makes me think I know anything? This is a fair and necessary question at this point.

I'll give you my background, and afterward, if you care, you can decide what, if any expertise on tires I might have, is worthy of consideration here.

Of course, like many of you here reading this, I've ridden bicycles most of my life, which means I have thousands of miles on tires. But so what? 

Well, starting in 2005 I was asked to review bicycle components and my very first review was for a WTB Weirwolf 29"er tire. Since 2005 I have reviewed literally hundreds of different 29 inch and 700c gravel tires, with a smattering of 650B, 26 inch, and fat bike tires thrown in for good measure. 

I've helped design a tire, I have been asked to give feedback on tires in development, and I have been consulted on tire designs in the past. 

I've mounted thousands of tires, fixed tubes, mounted hundreds of tubeless tires using many kinds of sealants. I've ridden thousands of miles on various set ups on gravel, dirt, mud, snow, and pavement. 

So, maybe I don't know what I am talking about, but maybe I do...

Okay, enough of that. I don't really like to write about myself in that tone of voice, but with how some folks get in regards to their passions for their tires, I feel it is a necessary element to have down up front regarding where I am coming from with my opinions. And as always, I welcome reasoned alternative and opposing opinions and I always am willing to change my opinion if what I am reading makes sense. 

Tire testing: December 2022

 Now about those 'forum questions' and why I feel trying to answer them is a big waste of time, generally speaking. First of all, there is the human element, or 'How The Rider Rides'. I've seen people destroy tires I have had no issues with whatsoever. Why is that? Well, is the tire junk? Maybe I didn't ride it as much, or maybe I wasn't riding the tire where the other person did? Or.......maybe it is in how one person rides a bike versus another. 

Cycling is a skill set. Not everyone possesses the same attributes in terms of skills and knowledge as others do.  This can be true within a discipline, but for example, in an extreme sense, I can illustrate this point thusly: Fixed gear riders do things differently than geared riders do. You might think, "Oh! Well that is a 'Captain Obvious' point right there. No-duh, Ted!" But this goes just as much for two gravel riders as it can for a fixie and a geared rider. Some folks know how to ride over terrain with grace, some do it brutally. Some folks are in between somewhere on that continuum. Your gear will suffer different consequences based upon how you ride. Tires will react and perform completely differently depending upon the rider.

So, there is such a thing as a 'skill set', and that is one variable. Another is weight and tire pressure. This should require no explanation, but if you carry more weight, (gear + rider), than another, the tires being the same, there will be definitive and qualitative differences in outcomes concerning tires. 

Tire pressures are another easy to understand difference here. But these settings should always change with weight, terrain concerns, and with regard to the weather conditions. Tire pressures are "set and forget' for many riders, but this is an oversimplification and those folks are cheating themselves of the best results that they could have. But then again, if you don't care......

So, to say to anyone that 'this tire is best' is a bad piece of advice. Even saying "Well, this is what works for me." That's awesome, but it may be the worst thing for another person to follow that advice. Tires are expensive, and making a lot of wrong choices can be a hard pill to swallow, leading to poor outcomes in many ways. I get it. Asking for advice to short-cut your pursuit of tire nirvana is only understandable. But unfortunately, it isn't as easy as asking a question on a forum. 

Next time: I will discuss what one can do to 'thinker their way through' to a better result with regard to tire choices for a gravel event.


NY Roll said...

Tires are a religion, and it boils down to experiences and perceptions. But yeah, there are tires I will never use again based upon a horrible experience, and others that continue to fail me, but for some reason I drink their Kool-Aid.

Skidmark said...

Greets GT, Too bad you’re not into duathlons, so you could tell me which shoe to wear also.

Guitar Ted said...

@ Skidmark - I take it that similar threads exist for running shoes, eh?

MG said...

Yeah, tires are like saddles in many respects, but with more variables (pressure, weight terrain, etc). I tend to observe what tires others are riding in various situations, but my personal choices are very much my own. Also, good point on cycling being a skill set. I too have seen riders absolutely destroy tires that I’ve had no issue with. Ironically, coming from the mountain bike side, I never thought gravel riders would be more obsessive about tires… but they are, from my experience.

Guitar Ted said...

@MG - Yeah, that's a good point about gravel riders being overly-obsessive about tires. imagine how many of these folks would have managed circa 2008! LOL!