Monday, February 13, 2023

Tire Religion: Part 3

There aren't many "klunkers" out there when it comes to tires.
Back again with some more opinions on how we as riders obsess and get far too passionate about our tires. If you missed my last post (Part 2) , click that link. There is also a link back to the first post in this series there. 

This should wrap things up in this series. In this post, I wanted to take a look at why there are so many different tires and if any of the differences really matter. 

First of all, let me just get this out of the way up front: There are a LOT of really, really good tires out there to choose from. Most you cannot really go wrong with, as long as you do not abuse them, or ride like a heathen goblin warrior with no skill set. Some of what I see and read about regarding tire failures, or "bad tires" is user error. 

That said, there are bad tires. Most are not what I would consider dangerous, but I've seen that as well. Usually though, it is just a design quirk, or a funky compound that makes a tire ride weirdly or behave in a certain manner that is not desirable.

Quite possibly one of the worst tires I ever tested.

An example of this would be an Intense Tire Systems tire I tried in the 2000's. It was a 29'er tire with what was supposedly a sticky rubber compound for better traction. What it ended up being was a tire that was far too heavy for its width, ponderous in terms of handling, and felt as though you may have thrown a cinder block behind you with a chain attached to your bike when it came to rolling resistance. 

It was truly awful! 

Another example was a tire I was sent to try out. This was a gravel tire from a company hoping to make a big splash in the gravel scene. The tread pattern was absolutely perfect, that is if your goal was to have a shower of gravel stones the size of peas or smaller thrown up in a hailstorm as you rode along. 

This was the tire I referred to as the "Gravel Flinger" in a few "Riding Gravel Radio Ranch" podcasts. What happened next was that I sent off an email to the brand saying that they could not release this tire as it was. I made some suggestions, and in about three months, a revised version of the tire showed up that actually worked. 

Interestingly enough, after all of that, the brand stayed pretty much as they had been- a manufacturer behind the scenes branding others names on their tires, and this tire I was helping out with came out in the guise of a distributor's house brand tire. 

But those sorts of things are rarities. Most of the time tires are barely different, one from another, when it comes right down to it. Compare tires at a certain price point, size, genre' and you'll find little tiny differences, but really? We're splitting hairs 80-90% of the time. The remainder are examples of tires that actually have something of benefit going on, or are exceptional in some way. 

In the case of Vittoria, there is something different going on here.
Take for instance Vittoria's usage of Graphene. This is a substance that is revolutionizing many facets of manufacturing and technology, but in the case of bicycle tires, and gravel tires in particular, Graphene infused tread does make a notable difference that can be felt. No other tires (yet) have this advantage. 

Then you have those tires that are driven by a desire to do one thing really well. Specialist tires, you might say. The designer takes one attribute and hyper-focuses on that to bring a tire to market that stands out in particular settings. Rene Herse tires would be a perfect example of a tire like this. Those tires are focused on ride feel, and sometimes that can be at the expense of other desirable attributes. 

Again- most tires are pretty darn good out there. Sure, there are a few models I wouldn't consider using for myself. But even those tires have their fans and people ride on them and those tires make them happy. It's really a personal preference thing, and a fashion thing. Fashion? In terms of tires? 


I remember speaking with a tire company's lead designer at Interbike one year and he told me that tire tread patterns don't make a lick of difference in most cases. The only reason tread patterns have different shaped knobs and grooves is to conjure up a certain image in the mind of the rider to help fortify the claims that the marketing people come up with for how the tire is supposed to be of benefit. In other words, its all about how the tire looks in the rider's eyes. Fashion. 

If we were all about what was the ultimate tire for gravel? Well, there would be a refinement process that would lead us to a design that looked pretty much one way, and that would be how all brand's tires looked. And that would be a marketing nightmare. We cannot have that now, can we? 

Nope! Just remember: Most tires are good tires. And no tire is good at all unless you ride it- a lot- and you will hopefully wear it out. Don't be afraid to make a "wrong choice", but "test the spirits" (marketers), think things through, and above all- ride your bicycles and quit thinking about tires so much!

Thanks for reading Guitar Ted Productions!


NY Roll said...

Tread patterns matter for rolling resistance. I ran those Rene Herse Antelope Wells as long as I could (less than 1,000 miles) till I had to change out. They are basically slicks, and to be honest I agree that patterns really do not matter on the feel of the tire. With that said, I am a big fan of the Terreno 2.25s, they seem to handle sandy and loose corners better than slicks. But then again I run Jumbo Jims on my fattie in winter and Ice. I think tire pressure matters more than tread pattern in most cases.

Blain said...

Re: Gravel flingers.

A buddy likes to use GravelKing SKs and I can attest that you'll be 'exfoliated' if you try and ride behind those. At least on our dirt.