Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Tire Religion: Part Two

Sometimes it doesn't matter what tire you chose. The "Mud Year" at the DK200
 Yesterday I wrote about my experiences in testing tires and why certain factors exist that make giving or getting tire advice online less than a good thing. Today I will continue on the subject of how you should not ask for, and totally base your decisions on, merely tire advice, but rather, you should do your own testing and research. Again, this is harder than just having someone tell you that "such-and-such" is the only way to go and just accepting that, (religion) but if you invest in doing your own thinking and testing, the rewards will mean more and be more precise for you and the way you ride. 

Not that getting "advice" is bad all the time, it is only "bad" if you buy into someone else's version of "best" without thinking things through for yourself. Gathering information is not only good, but a wise thing. It is what you do to react to all that input that makes the difference between success for you and failure to some degree. 

I'm going to take a certain event that engenders probably the most gab and has more readily available information out there than any other. That event being the DK200/Unbound. You can apply the same lines of thinking for any gravel event, but for the sake of this post, the DK200/Unbound will be the focus here.

The flint around Emporia has a bad reputation for damaging tires

As Sherlock Would Say: "Do Your Research!" For something like Unbound, you have reams of race reports to draw knowledge from, and if reading isn't your thing, YouTube is rife with reports on Unbound which you can watch and learn from. I suggest that you read and watch as much of that as you can. Try to disregard "market driven" advice, such as you might get from a brand that posts a blog or video and try to get racer input or older blog posts from when this event was still a bit under the radar. Those will be less "influencer" driven. But if you are able to employ a good "BS Detector", these newer reports have great tidbits of truth sprinkled throughout them. 

Be Real About Who You Are And Adjust Expectations Accordingly: A LOT of advice you see out there now has its genesis in what Pro racers or sponsored "fast guys and gals" are doing. Most of the field in Unbound are not those people. Why do what they do? In many cases, these bits of advice are not necessary, or even good to follow. 

I'd wager that most riders (a) want to finish, (b) have a time goal in mind, and (c) want to have as few issues while riding as possible. Comfort is also probably pretty high on this list also. Most Pro riders are going to do some things you don't need to, and most Pro/Sponsored racers will ride completely differently than you. Be real about your expectations for yourself and realize what they do isn't necessarily a good thing for yourself. Especially in regard to tires. 

Sometimes choosing comfort and durability over lightweight and speed will win the day.

To the end that a person might think about what would work best for themselves, and not in terms of the "pointy-end" of the field, I would suggest that comfort and durability, in the case of Unbound, at any rate, is something that maybe makes more sense for most people. Tougher tires, repair parts like a tire boot, sealant, a good pump or Co2 carts, and a stout set of tire levers are all things I would suggest make more sense than lighter weight, narrower, less voluminous tires and trying to rely on support stops to make repairs or using the minimalist approach to your kit. 

Using things like suspension stems, seat posts, cushy grip tape, and a saddle you can tolerate for 10 hours, (if you are doing the 200), or more are paramount to success for most folks. Sure, those things add weight, but you won't want to quit as soon as you might if you didn't have that stuff. And that stuff actually helps your tires. You'll ride better, more controlled, and be less likely to cause your own tire troubles. Also, if you have other means to rely on for comfort, you can use an armored tire, like the Teravail Sparwoods you see here on my Fargo (above). Those tires are bomb proof in the Flint Hills, but their ride quality ......well, it sucks, to be honest. So, you should consider things like that as well. 

One Example: Sometimes "new" things come along that, for whatever reasons, people think would be "better" than what was done in the past. One of the latest "new" things to come down the pike are tire inserts. These devices are slipped inside tubeless tires to help mountain bikers with rocky terrain that can cause pinch flats, but also allow for the same tire to be run at a lowered pressure which provides more traction. 

Now some Pro fast people are swearing by these things as they provide another barrier to having to stop to deal with flat tires, pinch flats, and allow those lowered pressures for comfort across 200 miles of flint stone roads. But here's why the pros and Sponsored riders actually use these things. There are all the reasons above, but they apply because of the way that they ride. That is, they ride in tightly spaced packs in two lines. 

Many of the Flint Hills roads don't allow for anything but two lanes for bicycles.

This is due to the lead pack wanting to (a) draft, (b) not lose contact with the leaders, and (c) they have to run in two lines due to the nature of the roads there.. There can be a few of these big packs of riders but typically, these are the minority of the riders overall. They cannot see where they are going in these packs. So if a rider in the lead deftly flicks around or jumps a pothole, as an example, the following riders will have zero reaction time to respond and will all plow right into said pothole. IF they don't crash, (and sometimes they do), they may see a rider or three pinch flat. (Yes- even tubeless tires can pinch flat) This doesn't have to be caused by a pothole. It could merely be a big, sharp flint stone as well. To help prevent that, you get something like tire inserts which help the fast guys to not have to stop to repair a tire. 

So, let's use our powers of thinking concerning this. Are you a Pro or Sponsored rider that expects to be in a big, tightly packed group in a draft train? No? Okay... Do the regular Joes and Janes need that tire insert then? Most definitely not. Especially since these things can soak up a LOT of sealant, making judging your sealant set up hard, they add more weight, and if you have to do anything that requires peeling back the tire for any reason, they make your task a level of difficulty higher than had you not run inserts. And think about this: Literally thousands of riders have completed the 200 and 100 mile distances without needing tire inserts. So, yeah.....totally unnecessary for the average rider.

Okay, so let's tie this up. I said at the beginning that getting advice and tips, and any information you can about an event and what people do to tackle that event is good. But if you were to just take what you see now out there about Unbound, as in our example today, and just accept that it is the best way because some Pro or Sponsored Rider thinks it is best for them, well, you are short-circuiting the process that probably will lead you to a better way for you. You may use much of what fast riders use, but then again- you may not. 

And this is true for anyone giving advice. Especially in regard to tires. There are a LOT of great tires out there capable of conquering Unbound. All of those tires can and will fail also. You can act upon every contingency you can dream up, use tire inserts, carry a spare tire, whatever...and still find yourself sitting on the side of a gravel road, out of the event. Sometimes that's the way it goes despite all the work, advice, and thoughtful choices. 

It is like what my old friend Jeff Kerkove used to say: "Everything has to come together and work: The bike, the nutrition, the weather, and the body to finish these things." You don't always get everything you want.


Okie Outdoorsman said...

Just wanted to tell you that I have really enjoyed these past two posts on tire religion. Absolutely spot on with my experiences. Started cycling seriously in 2007 and at first, tried to listen to "advice". Learned along the way that the best method is to do some research--but hold your final judgement on a particular tire until you have tried them yourself. A couple of my favorites are ones that the "experts" didn't really care for. I don't race and their rejects fit my style of low and slow just fine. Love these type of posts, Steven. Enjoying the good information--keep it coming! By the way, I still love my MSO's. First heard about them on your blog. :)

Guitar Ted said...

@okie Outdoorsman - Thank you!

Ben said...

Good advice. I remember early on in my "gravel life" feeling like I should try...and then having multiple bad experiences with...Gravelking SKs. To the point that I've avoided them for several years now. But it may have been due to random sharp gravel, or I over-inflated them (which in hindsight, was a likely culprit back then) or something else. They're probably fine tires and maaaaaybe I'll give them another try some day : )

But whatever...yes I think tires are very very you-do-you, and find what works for you. Although full disclosure, I'm very ADD with tires, so am constantly trying different brands and models, even after finding ones I love. As someone who is not - and never will be - fast, I have the luxury of not really caring that much if a tire I slap on causes me to lose a mph along the way!

Guitar Ted said...

@Ben - Thank you! The good thing to take away from all of this is that there are a LOT of good, even great, tires out there that will get the job done. There are some klunkers, but those are few and far between.