Truths About Tires

Truths about tires

Tires!The biggest, best bargain in bicycles is air in the tires, yet for the last twenty years or so there's been a heinous trend toward tires with lower and lower volumes. This is bad because these skinny tires need to be pumped up to outrageous pressures like 110 to 145 psi just to protect the tubes from pinch flats and the rims from flat spots. Such high pressure tires roll fast on smooth roads, but as soon as the road turns slightly rough or slightly wet, they're uncomfortable and slippery.

The whole idea of hard skinnies is speed, but it doesn't work that way. Speed comes from fitness, not hard & skinny tires.

It's better to ride on higher volume tires that can be ridden at lower, more comfortable, and grippier pressures.

Bigger softer tires are often faster than hard skinnies, anyway. When a hard tire hits a bump in the road, two things happen. First, the bike is jolted upward, slowing its forward progress. Second, you-the-rider are jostled at least to the point of having to recover from the feel of the bump, and maybe even to the point where you lose control. Certainly, if you hit a bump as you're cornering at high speed, the wheel will likely lose the ground, and you'll go down.

With a softer tire it's a different story. Instead of the bike and wheel getting bounced, the larger, softer tire deforms and it smacks the bump (or edge of the pothole), and the tire rolls right over it, continuing its forward motion nearly unimpeded. Around the corner, you maintain traction. You can relax more because, as you ride in and out of the shadows on an unfamiliar road, or at night, you know your tires are there as a buffer for you.

We don't offer any tire skinnier than a 27mm Roll-y Pol-y or Ruffy Tuffy. Even if you weigh 100 pounds, there's no reason to ride a tire any skinnier than that. Even under ideal "skinny tire conditions" you gain too little and give up too much.

The best tread on dry asphalt is smooth. That's because the road bites into the tire, not the other way around, and the smoother the tread, the more contact the road makes, so the better your traction. On wet roads, we're not sure. Although smarter folks than we have said that bike tires don't hydroplane, it certainly seems to be the case that a slight tread helps a bit on a wet road. Nothing works on painted road lines.

Tire Roundness
You'd think that all tires would be round, but it's not the case. Many tires have shoulders that extend a little beyond the casing, the idea being that such a profile helps keep the tire (and rider) upright around sharp corners. The theory may work, but in practice, a round tire offers better control because it's more consistent in how it behaves as you lean it. So all of our tires are as round as can be.

Casing strength
This is an underappreciated quality, but if you've ever blown out a sun-baked casing going around a corner, or had a rock jab through your tire's sidewall when you're too far from the truck, you'll appreciate the sense in a strong casing.

The thing is, strong casings are more expensive and invariably weigh more, and most people look for cheap and light. You can strengthen a casing with Kevlar, nylon taffeta (a woven material), stronger cords, or more plies, but you'll lose sales doing it. Still, we do it every now and then, because we want the strong casings on our own tires.

Most modern tires will die at the casing before the tread goes, and that's a dangerous proposition.

"Supple casing"?
Read enough about tires or listen to people yak about them enough and you'll run into the "supple casing" scenario, which goes like this: OUR tire lets you pump it up to 120psi for low rolling resistance, yet it still provides cushion, because of its supple casing. We use the finest, thinnest threads in the universe, which make it so."

We don't believe it, and here's why: Once you put air into a tire, the casing loses its floppiness! It doesn't roll between your fingers or fold back onto itself as it does when it's a tire off a wheel. No matter what the casing's made of, 120psi makes a hard tire that simply can't absorb ruts and bumps as well as a softer tire. The high air pressure negates any suppleness. How could it be any other way?

We're not saying there's absolutely no difference between two otherwise identical tires inflated to 120psi, when one of them starts out (off the wheel) flexy and the other is stiff. But the differences become insignificant, and largely undetectable at high pressures. Again, how could it be any other way?

This is not our way of justifying stiff-to-start-out-with casings. No. Our tires are made in Japan, where labor costs are high and quality is paramount, and it would be foolish for us to try to save money on sidewalls. In fact, the sidewalls on the Ruffy Tuffy and the Nifty Swifty are probably the most costly sidewalls used on any tires today. They're reinforced with a tough taffeta, which makes them hard to cut; and hard to cut is safer. If you ride 700c tires and want the volume of the Ruffy Tuffy and need only a normal sidewall, get the Roll-y Pol-y. Or if you ride 650B and don't want the super-tough Nifty Swifty, you get the same volume and a lighter tire in the Maxy Fasty.

In general, we like round tires, strong casings, and Kevlar belts for puncture resistance. We like higher volume and lower pressure, and we downplay the slight losses in rolling resistance that come with the lower pressure, because rolling resistance is too insignificant (outside of a race) to even breathe about. If you want to go fast, get strong and fit, and if you're already that way, work on aerodynamics, not rolling resistance. In any case, get good, smart tires (and we don't offer any other kind).

History, but maybe trivia: The first pneumatic (air-filled) bicycle tire was developed by John Dunlop, a Scottish veterinarian. He made if for his young son, who was uncomfortable riding hard tires. It was in the late 1800s.