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.

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12 thoughts on “Trying to Buy a Tire

  1. I have had the same problem. I run 25s on my road bike (and wider tires on my other bikes), for the same reasons you state, and it’s very difficult to find tires locally. I ended up with a Continental GP4000 (not 4000s) which was a bit more than what I wanted to spend, but it was in stock, and it has turned out to be a really good tire, so far. I wish the local shops carried more 25s.

  2. symptom of what I call the “racing disease”

    23s are ok for some rides…I’m totally digging my 32s…and I’m just as fast on them

  3. I’ve noticed the same thing in my neck of the woods and have reached the conclusion that LBSs simply cannot compete with online stores and therefore do not try to. The space necessary to offer multiple types of tires in varying qualities isn’t worth the effort, especially since their prices aren’t competitive.

    As for tire wear, I’ve discovered (the hard way) that heavier tires wear out tires faster than others and the rear wheel definitely bears the brunt of the wear and tear.

  4. I always buy tires online – I’ll buy many things from shops if they can get them, but not tires. I’m not terribly picky, so I can usually find something that will work for me around $25/tire on clearance somewhere.

    What’s your rationale for going with folding bead over wire?

      • I don’t know if you have any experience with Serfas Seca tires, but they’re $25/ea on Amazon right now for 25s.

  5. As an ex-retailer both entrepreneurial and corporate, I can attest that this phenomenon exists across the retail spectrum. The internet has completely altered the retail landscape and has contributed significantly to the demise of even large big-box retailers (Circuit City being a great example).

    The wealth of information and diversity of product online empowers the customer and creates expectations that puts the LBS or B&M retailer at a great disadvantage. They cannot possibly match the customer’s expectations, and as a result usually lose the sale even before considering any price difference.

    The more you know about what you want to buy, the more likely you are to end up buying online.

  6. Because the LBS supports a lot of charity rides, I try to buy from them whenever possible. At a recent charity ride, I had a LBS tell me they would be happy to order a replacement tire for me. Unfortunately, I had just had a blow-out!

  7. I’ve given up buying tires locally. If I’m not picky, I can usually find a nice selection of expensive 23′s, but they’re not appropriate for my Surly or the tandem, and those are the bikes that are hardest on tires. I’ve solved the problem by keeping a selection of mostly used tires in various sizes hanging in the garage. When I have an “emergency”, they suffice until I can get the new tire(s) ordered in and delivered. It also helps that I’m running the same tire on the commuter and tandem now. Of course, if I planned ahead, I wouldn’t have nearly as many “emergencies”….

  8. Pingback: Trying to Buy a Tire | Bike Noob | AdShopEZ – How to Buy Online

  9. It’s not that the tires aren’t there, they just don’t have them in stock. Then it’s the “I can order that for you. So can I” mentality. Or every store has the same ones and nothing else exists.

    I haven’t found the perfect tires yet for my Fargo and I’ll be forced to buy online when my Mukluk tires wear out or need a different kind.

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