The Bulging Tube

My wife’s bike needed some attention. It’s an old steel hybrid, but she rides it like a road bike — sort of. Anyway, it gets a lot of use.

Lately, I’ve noticed that the tires were showing signs of wear. Heavy wear. They’re excellent tires — an “urban” model called the Session by Fyxation. It’s just that when the bike is ridden as much as hers is, the center tread wears out, and a flat spot appears all around the circumference of the tire. I rotated the back to the front and vice-versa, but then she got a puncture in the front tire. It was worn past the point of replacement. I paid a visit to the bike store where I had bought the tire.

Sure enough, none were in stock. The alternatives the sales person suggested were too race-oriented. I ordered a replacement tire and waited. About a week later, it was in.

Some tires, when they’re new, are the uncooperative sort. That was the case with this one. Those last three to five inches over the rim refuse to seat. I did what you’re not supposed to do — I used a tire lever to get the bead over the rim, checked the seating, and pumped it up.

Or at least, I tried to pump it up. Sure enough, the tire lever had punched a small hole in the tube.

I retrieved another tube from the garage and started the process again. This time, it took even longer, because I was determined to get the bead seated only by using my fingers. Finally, it was there.

Again, I tested the bead to make sure it was in properly. I pumped the tire to 30 pounds and carefully checked it again. Then I pumped it up and put it on the bike.

A few days later, my wife went for a ride in the middle of the day (She works from home — she can do that). I figured that since the tire survived its shakedown cruise, things were well.

Saturday, we decided to get in a quick morning ride before the weather turned foul Sunday morning. I got the bikes onto the driveway and pumped up the tires of my bike. Hers, I let sit. Based on my past experience, her tires wouldn’t need topping off for another week.

I stood in the driveway with my bike, watching the comings and goings at a garage sale down the block while I waited for my wife to finish getting her helmet and shoes on. Suddenly, the peace of a Saturday morning was shattered by a loud bang! At first, I thought the sound had come from somewhere else. But then, I glanced at her bike. Three inches of tire bead were outside the rim.

I brought the offending wheel and tire into the kitchen. “The ride will be delayed,” I said. “Your tire blew.”

“Oh, I was going to tell you about that,” she answered. “When I was riding the other day, I noticed the tube sticking out from under the bead.”

Since she had made it home, she didn’t consider the situation to be too serious. But I showed her the ruined tube, with a half-inch hole where it had blown out.

I retrieved another tube from the garage. This one had been patched, and when I pumped it up, air escaped from a weak seal on the patch. Another trip to the garage for another tube.

As short as her ride had been the other day (less than 10 miles), it must have had the effect of getting some of the stiffness out of the tire. The tube went in easily, and I had little trouble getting the bead over the rim this time. After two or three checks to make sure the tube was staying where it should, I pumped up the tire (a little less than normal) and we set out on our ride.

Except for being cut off twice by impatient drivers who think it’s just fine to stick their cars out into the bike lane when bikes are coming at them at 15-20 mph, the ride was uneventful. I hadn’t had to deal with a tube that peeked out from the rim in almost seven years, so this was a good reminder that those things can always happen.

But I reminded her that whenever she sees a tube sticking out from under the tire, that means there’s no ride in store, and she should have me fix it right away.

Wide Tires

Jan Heine, the publisher of Bicycle Quarterly, has a blog called Off the Beaten Track. In his current post, he discusses a favorite subject of his: wider tires. The question is, how wide is too wide?

Heine has done research into tire width and performance. “It’s a well-established fact,” he writes, “that wider tires roll faster than narrow ones.”

These Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires come in sizes from 25mm to 45mm.
These Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires come in sizes from 25mm to 45mm.

When comparing 21 mm tires to 23s and 25s, he found the 25 mm tires are fastest of that group. Going up in size, he compared 26, 29 and 31 mm tires on a super-smooth asphalt road, and found no difference in their performance. The 31 mm tires were no faster than the 25s, but they weren’t slower, either. On rougher roads, the wider tires rolled faster.

There has to be a point at which the width of tires becomes a hindrance. If so, Heine hasn’t found one up to 42 mm tires, which he informally compared to 25s, and found the wider tires ran just as fast. Even 42s don’t appear to be too wide, he says. And wider tires than that just won’t fit most bikes.

So, if wide tires roll as fast, or sometimes, faster than narrower tires, why don’t more cyclists use them? They’ve got advantages besides speed. They give a smoother ride. They use lower pressures, so can resist flats better. They’re safer, because they’re less likely to be caught in a crack or a railroad track. And because they handle rough roads better, they might even encourage cyclists to ride roads that might be avoided with narrow, high pressure tires.

I run 25 mm tires on my bike. I prefer them to the 23s I used to run, mainly because they’re a little more comfortable. I inflate the front tire to around 95 psi, and the rear tire to a bit over 100. They are noticeably cushier than the 23s I had, which had much higher pressures.

I’d love to try wider tires, but the fork of my road bike is narrow at the top, and the 25s are probably the widest tires I can fit. As I look ahead to what my next bike might be (not that I’ll be buying a new bike anytime soon), I think I’ll find something that can take wider tires.

How about you? Do you run tires wider than, say, 25mm? How do you like them? Would you recommend them to other riders? Where is the advantage — speed, comfort, or flat resistance?

Tire Talk

I’m enjoying riding on a new purchase. I finally had to give in and buy a new rear tire. And in doing so, I decided to change my tire arrangement.

For a long time, I’ve been running a Continental Gatorskin 25mm on the rear, and a Vredestein Fortezza SE 23 mm on the front. The reason for this mismatched pair is my basic cheapness. That, and the fact that the Vredestein refused to wear out. It was only after I hit some bad debris that left a noticeable gouge in the front tire that I decided it was finally time to retire it.

That Vredestein — well, I’ve talked about them before. I really liked its unexpected ability to resist flats. That wasn’t one of its selling points when I bought it, but it turned out to be the best thing the tire had going for it. Problem was, it took fairly high air pressure. I ran 120 lbs. in the front tire, and the sidewall said it could take pressure up to 160 psi. But even at 120, the tire rode harshly on the ┬áchip seal roads we have around here. It was not pleasant.

So I decided to replace the Vredestein with another Gatorskin. I run those at 100 PSI, and the ride is better cushioned that way. As you’re already aware, I’m a comfort-seeking rider. Cushioning is important to me.

Now, in keeping with my tight-fistedness when it comes to buying most anything, I shopped around for the best price I could find on a Gatorskin. It’s a fairly pricey tire, but a place I’d bought them before at a good price came through again. Pro Bike Kit of England was carrying Gatorskins at $32, and free shipping to the United States. That’s even less than I paid for Gatorskins at Pro Bike Kit a few years ago, ,when I was pleased at the low price they offered then.

One difference I’m really liking with the 25s on both front and rear is better handling. The wider front just seems to be more stable to me, and I’m attacking curves with more verve than I have done in some time. Maybe it’s just the newness effect — similar to the feeling you get when you finally wash your car. We all know a clear car performs better, right? Hey, I’ve experienced that first hand.

I’ll be watching the Gatorskins to see how well they hold up. While I like their flat resistance, they have tended to wear out sooner than other tires. Will they be able to match the Vredesteins for long life? The front tire that I finally replaced last week was first mounted on my bike in August of 2011. When I retired it, it had 6,748 miles on it. I doubt the Gatorskins will last that long, but you never know.