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.

Routine Routes

I’m on break from academics for another week and a half, and that means I’ve been able to get some rides in on routes that I seldom, if ever, have traveled before. I’ve been out in the Hill Country, over some roads I haven’t seen in a couple of years; I’ve been on the back roads down to my university, and some other spots as well.

There’s nothing like the enjoyment of getting out and seeing new places.

I say this, because once I’m back in my September-May routine at school, my riding becomes rather predictable. I skip Mondays. On Tuesdays, I can get home early enough to do a quick hour ride before dinner. So I go over to the Veloway and knock off three fast laps. That’s a 15-mile ride.

Wednesday and Thursday see me tied up late at work, so I don’t ride. On Friday, I will either come home a little early, or sometimes not go in to campus at all, since none of my classes meets that day. I have dubbed the ride I do on Fridays the “Friday Niter.” It takes me through our suburban-style neighborhood to a turnaround spot about four-and-a-half miles out, then though more residential streets to a nice hill. I fly down the hill, brake hard at the bottom, and turn around the block to climb a hill on an adjoining street. That hill gets repeated twice, and if I’m not warmed up when I’m finished there, I won’t get warmed up. Then, I fly down the hill once more, usually hitting my high speed of the day, and work my way over to the Veloway, where I put in two moderately-paced laps before heading home. It comes out to 19.2 miles.

Convict Hill

Saturday morning, I try to get going by eight and head up to Convict Hill. With any luck, I’m meet my friend David on the way, and we’ll climb the main road up the hill, then work some side streets with a couple of short, steep bursts of their own before we zoom back down the hill and ride another three miles or so out to the Mopac loop. We usually hit some tough headwinds coming back on that one, but if things work out, we can achieve some decent speeds through there as well. Then it’s one lap at the Veloway for good measure. By the time I reach my driveway, I’ve gone 27.5 miles.

Sundays are club ride days, and most of the time, I make them. We have a rotation of routes at our disposal there, too, from 30-60 miles or so. We mix up the routes, so they’re n0t always the same, but they come around often enough that they become routine, as well.

Now, I’m not knocking routines. Most of these routes provide enough variety close to home that they continue to entertain. Besides, we’re on our bikes, right? But it’s good to break away from routines and explore new areas. And that’s what I’ve tried to do during my break.

But this morning when I threw my leg over the top tube, I had no plan for the day’s ride. And it occurred to me that I had an option right at my fingertips — the Friday Niter! Yes, even though it was Thursday. I set out on the familiar route, did the whole thing at a slightly faster speed than usual, and threw in an extra lap around the Veloway — just for good measure.

At the end, I felt exhilarated and a bit short of breath because of the effort I’d put in. But it’s going to get me prepped for the longer weekend rides, and I think on Sunday I’ll be seeing some more roads I haven’t ridden in a couple of years.

Variety is nice — but your routine routes can be a comfort.

Build Your Own Bike Poll Results

When I asked last week whether you would be interested in building your own bike — or modifying an existing one — I didn’t realize that I’d touched a nerve. Apparently, a lot of riders out there have at least considered modifying a bike, but a good number have already done so — from scratch.

The final results of the poll are in. We had an n of 75. Here are the numbers:

(Click to enlarge.)

Just a reminder — because the respondents were not randomly selected, the results of this poll cannot be generalized to a wider biking population. That said, I think the numbers are interesting.

A custom-built carbon fiber framed bike by Alchemy Bicycles of Austin.

Twenty-five percent said they already have built a bike from a custom frame. Another eight percent say they plan to do that. I guess making a bike your own has a lot of attraction for a lot of cyclists, and I can empathize with that. The inspiration for the poll, Tim at An Old Guy on Two Wheels, has finished his custom build and has been riding it around town already. He loves it, and that is as it should be.

An old Trek 10-speed modified with brifters and updated components.

For the 26 percent who aren’t interested in working on a bike of their own — well, there’s still time to change your mind.

Tribute Ride For a Fallen Biker

About three weeks ago, a cyclist was killed while riding on the shoulder of a popular cycling road just west of Austin. A protest ride on his behalf several days later took cyclists from Austin City Hall to the State Capitol to call attention to car-bike crashes; in many cases, car drivers are not cited. Cyclists want more vigorous prosecution of motorists who hit cyclists.

Verter Ginestra

The deceased biker is Verter Ginestra. The group he rode with, CyclingTexas.org, scheduled a tribute ride for him last week, but because of several evenings of rainfall, had to postpone it. It was rescheduled for today.

The ride was to leave from Southwest Cycle Sports, a bike shop Verter patronized. The shop is a 17-mile ride from our part of town, so I figured a ride out there from our usual starting place, then joining the tribute ride, and peeling off to head home from the crash site, would be a good B ride. Our A ride leader thought it could work for him too, but added some miles for his riders.

Southwest Cycle Sports is on Bee Caves Road, a four-lane highway with generous shoulders that sees a lot of cycling traffic. Riders from CyclingTexas, Southwest Cycle Sport, Lake Travis Cycling, and my Circle C Ranch Cycling Club turned out for the ride, along with sundry other riders. I guess we totaled about 50. One of the CyclingTexas riders told me they were pleased with the turnout. Before the ride began, Verter’s wife, Jane, thanked everyone for riding, and said that, if things had been different, Verter would be out with us. A cyclist read a letter of condolence from Lance Armstrong. Group pictures were taken, then Jane told everyone, “Let’s ride!” and jumped behind the wheel of the sag truck. (Click pictures to enlarge.)

Verter’s wife Jane with the group just before the ride. We’re flashing the “V” for Verter sign. (Photo courtesy Dena Curry.)

A cyclist reads a letter of condolence from Lance Armstrong. (Photo courtesy Dena Curry.)

Getting everyone to ride out on cue is a little like herding cats. The ride quickly organized into a double file and headed briskly over the rollers on Bee Caves Road.

The ride was to be a slow roll to the crash site, about 10 miles from the bike shop, but the peloton shot down and up the rollers almost immediately, leaving some unprepared riders way off the back. The group slowed when the lead riders realized the problem. One reason Bee Caves is a popular cycling road is its rollers. The uphills are challenging. The downhills are fast. There’s usually a cross wind to make things interesting, as there was today, and car traffic on the road is usually heavy.

I suppose it’s impossible to put 50 cyclists together without problems. It’s just that all the problems seemed to be happening to the Circle C folks today. Donald broke a spoke. That limited him to maintaining only a 21 mph average for the rest of the ride. Steve got a flat. Mike and Laura, on their tandem, dropped a chain. But everybody got back together by the time the group turned off Bee Caves Road south onto Highway 360, then snaked through the Westlake neighborhood in a retracing of Verter’s last route. We turned north onto 360 and rode back to the intersection of Westbank Drive, where the crash happened. I was disappointed to learn that a ghost bike that had been set up there had already been vandalized and torn down. I’m told it will be replaced.

From there, the Circle C group headed south again to our home base, while the rest of the riders returned to the bike shop. My total mileage was 39 — the A group, which added some additional hilly roads — wound up with 45.

My friend John waits for a left turn arrow as the remainder of the tribute ride heads back to the bike shop. The brown SUV on the shoulder behind them is the sag vehicle, driven by Verter’s wife.

The ride was a reminder that we are all vulnerable while on our bikes. Verter was riding on a wide shoulder when a car left the road and hit him in an effort to pass traffic. It’s not enough to be doing everything right — you can still be caught unaware. The driver of the car that killed Verter — an 85-year-old man — still has not been charged as of this writing.

Would You Build a Bike From Scratch? (Poll)

My friend Tim over at An Old Guy on Two Wheels is getting close to finishing his latest project: He’s building a randonneuring bike from scratch. He had the frame custom built, and gathered together all the components for it. In recent days, he’s been apprising us of his progress. It looks like he’s going to take it out for a serious ride sooner rather than later.

Tim is an accomplished bike mechanic, and I wasn’t surprised when he first revealed his build-from-scratch plans. I, on the other hand, have often thought about refurbishing my old Raleigh 10-speed, just to do it — not that I would make it my regular ride, or anything. I just don’t have Tim’s know-how when it comes to working on bikes. (Although I’m getting better — been paying a lot of attention to online videos and some repair books I have around the house, and have done some bike repairs to the Allez that I wouldn’t have tried a year ago.)

Anyhow, I think it’s a cool idea, to either build a bike from scratch as Tim as done, or fix up an old beater into something rideable. Believe me, I’ll get around to it.

How about you? Have you ever considered building your own bike? How about taking an old bike and modifying it into something different? For example, turning a 10-speed into a fixie, or restoring a vintage bike to its original condition?

Weigh in on the following poll, if you will.

I’ll report the answers next week.