Tires and tubes – what matters and what doesn’t?

Part 1

Almost since day one of riding I’ve been bombarded by opinions about tires and tubes.  The guy from whom I borrowed my first bike had just put on a new set of tires and he was agonizing over his decision.  They were very inexpensive – not the name brand he was used to – and he was afraid he wasn’t going to be happy with them.  (Or, more realistically, I wasn’t going to be happy with them, since I was going to be the only one riding on that bike!)

I thought he was nuts for worrying about such things!  So, when I finally bought my own bike, a demo with worn tires that I soon had to replace, I went straight for the best sale price in the store.  I took the generally-accepted advice of buying as high a thread count as I could get (threads per inch or tpi, similar to buying good sheets), and I bought a highly-reviewed brand and model in a color scheme that matched my bike.  But I didn’t think much more of it.  I mean, come on, a tire is a tire is a tire, right?!

Less than a year later, after going through another two sets of tires, I decided that maybe there was more to it than I originally  thought.  So I started doing research online and discovered a definite trend in the data.  Certain brands and models seemed to last longer (i.e. were more resistant to flats) and had lower rolling resistance (i.e. made it easier to pedal).  Furthermore, some tires supposedly gave you a much smoother and more comfortable ride.  The catch, however, was that it was difficult to find a tire that did all three of these things well.

To make things even more confusing, many people claim that the tubes can make a big difference as well.  The standard butyl rubber tubes that you buy in your local bike store are apparently not as flat-resistant or smooth riding as latex rubber tubes.  (The downside of these tubes, however, is that they’re very expensive and don’t hold pressure like the buytyl ones.)

So, I decided to run an experiment.  I concluded from my friends’ inputs, as  well as my research, that the Continental Grand Prix 4000s were the best combination of tire qualities you could find, and the Vittoria latex tubes were the best (and one of the only, frankly) option in that area.  I would get a pair of each and put them on my bike at the same time to see if I noticed a difference.

Oh, and one other thing – I’m a big guy, so I went up from the standard, 23mm-wide tires to the larger, supposedly smoother and less-rolling-resistance, 25mm-wide tires.  (Again, recommended for us “clydesdales” – i.e. riders over 200 lbs – by several sources.)

The experiment has just begun – yesterday (9/25/11) was my first ride with the new setup.  I broke my all-time average speed for a ride.  Whether this had anything to do with the tires or not, I’m not sure.  But I will admit – they did feel a tad faster and more supple on the road.  The bumps seemed to be smoothed out a bit!  (I changed at least 3 variables at the same time, so this experiment is not exactly scientific – I just wanted to “stack the deck”, if you will, to see if I could notice any change at all.)

More to follow in an upcoming post.  Please give me your comments and experience on the subject…

One thought on “Tires and tubes – what matters and what doesn’t?

  1. Pingback: Tires and Tubes – what matters & what doesn’t? Part 3 | Bike-advice.com

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