How Long Do Your Tires Last?

Thinking back to my experience with buying a new tire, it occurred to me that I had had really good luck with it. According to the maintenance spreadsheet I keep (admittedly nowhere near as thorough as my mileage records), the rear Vredestein had never had a flat. That’s right, never. I retired it because the tread was showing a section about six inches long with thin sipe-like cuts in a diagonal pattern. It was just a matter of time before I wore the tread through to the bare cord — and then I would have a flat.

That’s what happened to the previous Vredestein I’d had on the rear, although I hadn’t been inspecting the tread as assiduously as I do now. It wore down to bare cord in two spots, and I had two flats in two weeks.

Still, that tire lasted me 2,627 miles before I replaced it.

As I said in the last post, its replacement rear tire lasted 3,053 miles.

One of my previous Gatorskins, which I retired in 2010 in favor of the Vredesteins, did even better. It had 3,487 miles. Impressive!

Those multi-thousand mile tires were a nice change of pace for me, because I had had a run of blah to bad experience with tires before then. My spreadsheet shows me that the first two Gatorskins I bought lasted only 1,240 and 1,453 miles before I had to chuck them. And before the Gatorskins, I had a series of tires that just didn’t hold up. Some Hutchinson 25mm tires flatted within the first two weeks I owned them. The Kevlar belt wasn’t much help there. I believe the Hutchinsons barely lasted 1,000 miles before I got rid of them. Some Vittorias were even worse. I had the Rubino Pros. Their tread wore a flat spot rather quickly, I thought, at least on the rear. It was obvious when I ran my thumb across the tread — instead of being a nice convex shape, it had definite edges and was flat in the middle. I had the Vittorias for less than 1,000 miles. Ditto with two different kinds of Specialized tires I owned early on. The Mondos that came with the bike flatted frequently, and I replaced them after just a few months with Specialized All Conditions. But I had a bad blowout on one of those after only a month.

Now, I think I’ve gotten smarter when it comes to taking care of tires. I do inspect them more frequently than I used to do before, but more importantly, I deliberately ride away from problem areas in the road — sand, gravel, glass, other crud. It seems like a no-brainer, and it probably is. But I believe I used to ride through gunky spots more often than I do now. A combination of better riding habits and better tires seems to have contributed to what I consider to be decent tire life.

But is it? Is 3,000 miles a commendable life for a road bike tire? Should we expect no more than 2,000 miles, and be ready to replace when the tires hit that mark? Or should we reasonably expect lots more mileage before it’s time to send the tires to the recycling bin?

What kind of mileage have you gotten from your tires? What kind are they?

Trying to Buy a Tire

My trusty Vredestein Fortezza SE rear tire finally started showing signs of terminal wear last week, and with two longish rides coming up over rough chip seal roads, I decided to get a replacement. I’d been runing 23s, but this time I wanted a 25 for two reasons — the wider cross-section gives better traction, in my estimation, without sacrificing any speed, and they can be run at lower pressures, which means a more comfortable ride.

Problem is, when I hit the bike shops to buy a new tire, the lack of selection flaggergasted me. Here’s a blow by blow account:

Performance: We’ve got a Performance brick and mortar store that’s only a year old and quite nice. Although I wanted 25s, I would have gotten another Fortezza SE, but Performance doesn’t stock them anymore! The other tires they had were all 23s. They stock Continentals — Ultra Sports, Grand Prixs, but no GatorSkins. I moved on.

Bicycle Sports Shop: The big daddy of Austin bike stores has a meager selection. It did have some 25mm Specialized Armadillo tires, which are also renowned for their puncture resistance. But I’ve read that they are noticeably heavier and slower than other tires, and I’ve had some unfortunate experiences with Specialized tires in the past. Still, I decided to come back and get one if my search elsewhere didn’t turn up anything.

Jack & Adams: This store is right around the corner from Bike Sports Shop. It’s a small, cramped place that caters to triathletes, and it was packed with people when I stopped by. If anything, their tire selection was even smaller than the other places. I moved on quickly, figuring I’d head for one of the bike shops up around the university. But first, I remembered that an REI store was on the way. I stopped in.

REI: The well-known outdoors store had a big sale on, and was even more packed than Jack and Adams. In the bike area, I found a big selection of wire bead tires, not so much in folding. The wire beads were either 28mm or 23s. I noticed some brands, such as Serfas, that are not carried in other stores.  I saw a 23 mm folding bead Gatorskin, but also an empty hook labeled with 25 mm Gatorskins. A sales man was nearby, and I asked him if they might have any 25s in stock. He said he was headed back there to check on a tube, and he would look. A few minutes later, he was back — and he had the 25. Since I have an REI membership going back to the 1980s, I got a nice break on the price. The $52 I paid at REI was much lower than the $75-$80 the same tire went for at other stores.

I was happy with my purchase, although I knew that I could have gotten a better deal online. What was bothering me though, was that the tire selection at prominent bike shops wasn’t all that good. Surely not everyone who rides a road bike mounts 23mm tires. And not everyone rides on Continental Grand Prix 4000s, although I know them to be excellent at flat resistance, too — but for $80 each, I wasn’t planning to confirm that on my own.

I floated the idea of tire selection the next day on our ride. No one seemed too concerned — maybe they just hadn’t had to deal with an immediate tire need as I did. Jerry, probably the most experienced biker in the group, said he used to get his tires online from Pro Bike Kit — the big British mail order house. “Now, though, I just do a Google search,” he said, “and I buy from whoever has the cheapest.”

I had a great experience a couple of years ago with Pro Bike Kit myself. Gatorskins for $36 and free shipping to the U.S. Now, they’re up around $46, which is still less than I paid for mine. But I tried Jerry’s strategy, and found Gatorskins for as little as $36 on eBay, at the “Buy It Now” price.

“I usually buy a couple long before I need them,” said Jerry, “and I just keep them around until I do.”

“I don’t think that far in advance,” I told him.

I can see I’m going to have to start. While I was caught a bit unaware of my tire’s current state until I happened to do a close inspection last week, I knew it had racked up a prodigious amount of miles — well over 2,000. (Turns out when I checked, the true total was 3,053!) I think whenever a rear tire gets over 2,000 miles on it, its replacement should be ordered, if not fitted right away. By the way, I’ve had the front for a month longer than I had the rear — that’s 11 months now — and it’s not ready to be retired yet. I have had an excellent time with the Vredestein tires. I just wish 25s were more readily available.

I guess I have plenty of time to scout online deals for one.

The Un-Club Ride

Sunday morning is our usual club ride. But sometimes, the proposed route isn’t one I’m interested in doing. Other times, a more desirable alternative pops up.

That was the case today, when my friend Debra proposed a ride near Dripping Springs, in her neck of the woods. Barbara, a former club member, would be coming up from her new home in San Antonio to join us. Debra’s husband Russ and our pal Jerry would round out the group.

This would be a B-ride alternative to the main club ride. So what makes it the “un”-club ride? Well, see for yourself.

We gather at a nice park on the edge of Dripping Springs. The regular club ride leaves at 8:15. We were to go at “around nine.” At 9:05, we were still milling around, pumping up tires, chit-chatting, putting the finishing touches on our kit. Finally, we rolled out, and made it, oh a couple hundred yards to where a road branched off. Jerry and Russ took that road so they could take a nature break before we really got going. Although we leave from a park, its lack of facilities is one of its most notable features.

Soon we were rolling in earnest, coming up to the junction with Creek Road, which would be our route for the next six miles. Jerry suddenly braked and pulled over. We all stopped to wait for him — all except Russ, who kept going, oblivious to the stop. Jerry had just put new wheels on his bike, and his computer magnet wasn’t properly adjusted yet.

That taken care of, we started rolling in earnest for real now. Another mile and a half down the road, we take a fork to the right along picturesque Onion Creek. Barbara stopped quickly, then Debra. One of the arm rests for Barbara’s aero bars had fallen off. Barbara picked it up, and then she and Debra looked for the mounting screw and nut for the arm rest, without any luck. We were now 1.8 miles into the ride, and had stopped three times. It’s a good thing the weather was glorious.

We were rolling in earnest for really real now. Our aim was to catch Russ, who was well out of sight. Our blistering 12 mph pace probably wouldn’t enable us to do that, so we meandered along, chatting about things that have to do with bikes, and other things that don’t. As always, I enjoy riding through this area. I’ve done it often enough that I tend to take things for granted. Today, I tried to take in the sights and sounds — like this uniquely-named road that met ours.

Debra had suggested doing the Mt. Sharp Road route — one of several options we had in this area. Mt. Sharp was the longest and hilliest of these. I hadn’t been on that road for nearly a year, and was looking forward to riding it again. But in the meantime, we had some hills to climb, some cattle guards to cross, and some more stops to make.

We’re close together for a change. Barbara, Debra, Jerry and Russ. (Click pics to enlarge.)

At one of those stops, a whopping 12 miles into the ride, Debra opined that Mt. Sharp was out of the mix today. She didn’t have the energy to ride a long hilly route. The rest of us thought that was a smart choice. We decided to take Longhorn Trail instead, which is considerably shorter, but includes a decent hill that delivers a high speed descent, and winds through the middle of a small ranch.

This goat parked atop a small rock, master of all he surveyed.
Debra and Barbara cruise through the Hill Country.

After the ranch, the route is more downhill than up, overall, and on one stretch we were traveling between 25-30 mph when we rounded a bend and found the road ripped up. the county is going to resurface it, but in the meantime, the existing surface has to be removed. It looked like one of us would wipe out for sure, but we’re nothing if not expert — or lucky — bike handlers, and we managed to stay upright across some bone-jarring road. It probably didn’t last more than a half mile, but it seemed like the longest section of the day. We regrouped for another brief rest stop — this would be about our sixth this morning. We were averaging stops roughly every four miles. Except when we fit one in after only two miles.

Jerry stoically waits for the others to catch up so we can take yet another rest.

Back at the park, Jerry asked me what mileage showed on my computer.

“27.3 miles,” I answered.

“Hm, that’s a problem,” he said. “Mine shows 27.4.”

“That’s what mine rounds up to,” I said. “I’ve got 27.365. I think you’re in the ballpark. Don’t worry about it.”

But Jerry grumbled that his computer just wasn’t right. Debra’s showed 26.6. She wasn’t concerned about the discrepancy in the least.

Once we got all packed up, Debra suggested stopping at a little Mexican restaurant in Dripping Springs for a post-ride lunch. Most of us ordered tall iced teas. Russ ordered a Dr. Pepper (He’s a true Texan). The waitress brought the drinks, except for the Dr. Pepper. Seemed they were out. We placed our orders for food — Russ went for the Carne Asada (thinly-sliced grilled steak) — and chatted about a myriad of non-bike subjects, when the waitress came by again. No carne asada. He had enchiladas and a Coke.

I always look forward to Sunday mornings. Club rides are great. But on days like today, the un-club ride can be even greater.