Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

After recently changing a flat tire for a Wednesday night rider, I commented that her paper-thin tire would have continuing flat issues on road riding.  Next to one’s helmet, the most important purchase in terms of safety should be tires.  They provide a level of security when coasting down hills, even if not blasting at 55.6 mph down Ford Branch Rd, and when alone out in the middle of the boonies.  I suggested she rid herself of the wimpy OEM tires that came with her bike and purchase something more durable and puncture resistant.  She asked, “What did I recommend?”

Three tires came to mind: Vredestein, Gatorskin, and Armadillo. They are the most popular ones used by FOGBEES.  Which one was best probably has as many answers as bicyclists.  I remember asking this same question after I was experiencing about one flat per ride.  Bruce recommended Armadillo. I thought I would try to answer her question after a little research.  I found the following article, “Flatproof Bicycle Tires” in Popular Mechanics (http://www.popularmechanics.com/outdoors/recreation/1276791) . The article concluded:

The studies . . . compared various Specialized tires against offerings from other leading manufacturers in an all-too-real situation: researchers rode five different tires 12 times each through a wooden trough lined with jagged glass shards. Of the tires tested, only the Specialized Armadillo survived without a flat.

While no pneumatic tire is 100 percent flatproof, the Armadillo flat-prevention technology has proven so effective that Specialized is now offering an unconditional guarantee on all 2000 model year tires. If any Armadillo tire ever flats in use, the company will replace the tube free.

I also read scores of biker reviews. For the most part they supported the Popular Mechanic’s result.  The only serious negative I found was that the Armadillo are heavy.  While most 700x25mm wire-bead bike tires advertised as puncture-resistance weigh about 9 ounces, the Armadillo weighs 14 ounces.  The prices are comparable in the $50 range, about $10-$15 more than cheapies, but these tires quickly pay for themselves by eliminating the cost of many inner tubes lost to flats.

A lighter weight option is to buy a Kevlar bead (aka folding tire), but expect to pay $8 to $10 more for the privilege. The Kevlar bead reduced the weight of the Armadillo to 11 ounces.  A cheaper and even lighter option is to use 700x23mm tires, but these tires give a harder ride, are less forgiving, and of course provide less rubber between you and the road. 

1 comment:

Miley said...

Good stuff, MC. Tire selection, like a lot of things, is about tradeoffs: durability, puncture-resistance, weight and performance. Continental's Gatorskins and Armadillos optimize puncture resistance and durability, at the expense of weight and performance. With a heavy, stiff protective ply and a hard tread compound, these tires sacrifice grip in cornering and braking considerably, especially on wet roads. If you like to carry speed through corners or want to minimize the risk of sliding, a more performance-oriented tire may be better for you. I am a BIG fan of Continental Gran Prix 4000 - great performance, light weight, kevlar-like protection and I get about 2500 miles per tire.

I'm glad you mentioned size, MC. Recent studies conlude that wider is better, especially for riders like us FOGBESS: less pinch flats, better handling, smoother ride and less rolling resistance if it's a high quality, performance tire. Wider is less aerodynamic, but, let's face it, at our average speeds aero is not a top concern. So next time you buy a tire, think about the next wider size, if your frame allows, and see how it works for you.