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Road Cycling and A Tire Air Pressure Conundrum: I Forgot to Air Up My Tires and Accidentally Found Out What I Was Missing!
I’ve been pumping my tires to 90 psi for quite a while, now. Before you scroll immediately to the comments section, I’m no lightweight. Running 26 mm tires at 70 psi would be a fantastic idea if I want a pinch flat every time I roll over a railroad track.
I had a lot on my angst Tuesday night. My Venge has been acting up a little bit, lately. The problem is a combination of worn chainrings and a rear derailleur that appears to be on its last leg (more on that in the coming weeks – I’ve got a few things I’m going to try to bring it back), so as I was prepping the bike for the fastest ride of the week, I forgot to air up my tires before I left.
I didn’t even think about it till after the warm-up, which was ridiculously fast. We were sitting on better than a 21-mph average after eight miles. Every one of those eight miles is on excellent asphalt, though, so it never occurred to me that anything was amiss. In fact, when I rolled into the parking lot after 10-1/2 miles, I was just trying to remember if I’d aired them up.
I thought about asking one of the others to use their pump, but convinced myself I must have aired them up and decided that’d be a waste of time.
The Main Event started off calm and collected, and again, on excellent asphalt for the first six miles so everything appeared normal. The road is fine for miles seven and eight, but stress cracks every twelve feet (four meters) make the next three miles… erm, a pain in the ass. I hate that section of road. It bums me out every time we hit the first crack (you would expect nothing less of my choice of words, :D)…
This Tuesday was different, though. We were well into the bad section when I realized I wasn’t as angry as I normally am on that section of road. In fact, I was gliding over cracks I used to have to clench for. Not only that, the above average speed over that section wasn’t near as taxing as it should have been. Then, one of the guys who likes to take stints off the front launched one of his attacks… it was way too much for me, but the group surged and started to reel him in. I decided to give the tires a go to see if they’d squish. The group was at 26-ish already and I went off the front at 30+, out of the saddle for a few pedal strokes… and the tires didn’t squish for the effort. I blew by the guy and stayed out there for a minute.
I’d be willing to bet the others thought I had ulterior motives, and that was a part, but I wanted to see how squishy the tires would be with a real effort. As the group caught me, I knew I was onto something. But there was one more test before I could give it the stamp of approval: The tracks in Vernon.
We drop down off of a fast climb into the City of Vernon and, just as we’re cooling down from the City Limits sign sprint, we hit one of the gnarliest railroad track crossings in lower Michigan. That bastard has ended many a Tuesday night rides with a group for a pinch flat. The tandems dropped the hammer at the crest of the hill leading to the descent and we had an excellent lead-out train. None of us opted to sprint for the sign, I’d like to think one of the tandems earned it so we let them have it without contest.
Up over the railroad tracks and off the other side without so much as a hiccup and we were clear. And I knew for sure, whatever the magic number was when I got home, that was my new air pressure. 80 psi.
Now, the obvious issue here is the pinch flat. I don’t exactly want to find out the hard way that, yes indeed, 80 psi is too low because I just blew out my tire and crunched my rim on a train track. Instead, I started at 100 psi and let pressure out till the ride got comfortable (but not squishy) and went a few pounds higher. That had me at 85 to 87 psi. 80 is a lot better, though…
And there you have it, an avid enthusiast’s account of how to accidentally stumble on a more comfortable (and faster because of it) ride.
Cycling and Picking the Proper Width Tires to Match Your Bike (and Wheels). All Angles Considered (Or Maybe “A Lot” of Angles).
One of my favorite characteristics of cycling centers around the toys. I loved toys as a kid and now that I make my own money, I haven’t changed a bit, my toys have just gotten more expensive. If you ask me, this is exactly as it should be.
In road cycling, much has changed over the last few years as wider tires and have become all the rage. Rim width has changed to accommodate the wider tires while maintaining aerodynamics in roughly the same way the old 19 to 20 mm rims were compatible with 23 mm tires. Today, rims come in widths ranging from the old alloy standard of 19 mm and run all the way up to 25 and even 29 mm. This can present interesting problems when it comes to restoring old frames such as my Trek 5200, but also a solution…
The reason for the explosion in popularity of wider tires is sound – wider tires, within reason, improve comfortability enough that they can more than make up for issues in rolling resistance. In simple terms, you lose watts with wider tires but gain more watts with a smoother ride. Back just seven or eight years ago, everyone rode 23’s. Today, 28’s on road bikes are quite popular, while 25’s and 26’s are vastly more prevalent that the old 23’s. I’ve got about 60,000 miles on 23 mm tires and about 14,000 on 25’s and 26’s and I can tell you without hesitation, I won’t be going back to 23’s. 25’s and 26’s are the cats pajamas, comparatively.
Where this really gets interesting (and incredibly geeky) is with increased rim widths.
As wider tires grew in popularity, rims followed suit. As it turns out, if you simply put a 25 or 28 mm tire on a rim that’s 19 mm wide, you end up with a lightbulb effect where the profile of the tire and rim ends up looking like a lightbulb, or for a 28 mm tire, an ice cream cone. If, however, you make the rim wider, the lightbulb effect is diminished and your wheel/tire combination start resembling the old 19/23 mm combination of old. In fact, modern testing has shown that, for the pro sprinters, they want their rim to be 1 mm wider that the tire. So, if I’m running a 25 mm tire, I want the rim to be 26 mm wide. If I’m a seasoned pro and my sprint top speed is north of 45-mph (72 km/h). I most definitely am not and I need a good 6% hill to get up to that kind of speed. I roll a 25 mm tire on 23 mm wheels for my Trek, and 26 mm tires on 25 mm wheels for my Specialized and those are plenty fine.
Here’s where this gets geeky – and incredibly awesome for anyone with an older bike/frame. See, up until about eight years ago (it’s 2021 now), road bikes were built for 20 to 23 mm tires exclusively. Everyone knew thin tires were obviously faster, so why build a fast bike to use slow tires? Well, now that the real world trumped the lab experiment (as it so often does), we know that wider tires, up to 28 mm for a road bike are superior to the old 23’s. This presents clearance issues on older bikes at the chainstays. On my 1999 Trek 5200, with 19 mm wide rims, I couldn’t fit more than a 24 mm tire. The lightbulb effect would cause a 25 mm tire to rub the chainstays when I climbed a hill out of the saddle. However, when I jumped to the 23 mm wide Ican wheelset, the lightbulb/ice cream cone effect is lessened as the rim width increased by 4 mm… so I can easily fit a 25 mm tire without fear of rubbing. In fact, I’ve been running 25’s for coming up on two seasons on that bike without a single issue. Without getting lost in the weeds (which is definitely possible), the wider rim meant I could fit a wider, more comfortable tire on the bike. This has its limits, of course; a 26 mm tire on a 25 mm wide rim is a bridge too far for my Trek. The tire will rub the chainstays out of the saddle – to check, simply install the tire and wheel and try to push the tire into the chainstay. If you can touch tire to chainstay by pushing the tire toward the chainstay with your finger, the tire wall likely rub the chainstay when you’re climbing out of the saddle (btw, you’re not looking to ram the tire over, simply apply some side pressure to the tire to see if you can hit the chainstay).
And that brings me to the Venge. In the comparison photo above, I’ve got the Venge with the 23 mm wide x 38 mm deep standard Ican wheelset on the left and the upgraded Fast & Light 25 w x 50 d upgraded wheelset on the right. The photo on the left has my Venge shod with a 25 mm tire, the right with a 26. As I said a paragraph ago, the 25 mm rim/26 mm tire combo doesn’t work on the Trek. It’s wonderful on the fourteen year newer Specialized. Now, a friend has a Venge as well, and he did get a 28 mm tire to fit but the clearance betwixt the tire and seat post was tight. The chainstays had enough clearance, though he said for the future he’d be sticking with a 25 or 26 rather than risk a pebble or dirt/mud getting stuck between the seatstay and tire, ruining his frame.
So let’s look at this in terms of real clearance. I’ve got both bikes:
The first two images are from my Trek 5200, the third is of my Venge. So, we’ve got a few millimeters either side on the Trek for clearance. This is just enough to keep the wheels from flexing under load to a point where the tire could hit the chainstay. I’ve got another millimeter for the Venge. Again, enough so the wheel can’t flex enough under load to make the tire rub the chainstay.
Again, with the Trek, the tire clearance only works because the rim width is 23 mm. If I had a 19 or 20 mm (or likely, anything wider) rim, I wouldn’t be able to fit anything more than a 24 mm tire. I’ve tried 25’s with a 19 mm rim and ended up having to touch up the paint on the inside of the chainstays.
One final note. Another friend with a 5200 tried a 25 mm tire on a 29 mm wide rim. That didn’t work, either. The rim was too wide.
I took in my Trek to clean and service the headset at the shop. Chris King GripNut headsets are a little tricky. There’s a washer with a key that slots into the main nut that has to be lined up for the lock nut to thread on properly… if that key isn’t lined up, the headset lock nut threads won’t start. So, I went to learn how to put the thing back together the right way. The last time I tried, I took my bike to the shop in pieces.
At the heart of this is the King headset on my Trek is the last known part on any of our… let’s see, one, two… ten bikes I didn’t know how to pull apart to service – and I know how to service everything on my bikes, especially my Trek. The shop manager walked me through the process and let me put everything back together so I could get the feel for what was required to get the thing back together. The key is actually getting the GripNut system together first, then starting the assembly on the threaded stem, whilst keeping pressure on the system as it’s threaded on so the key stays locked in.
After I’d gotten everything back together and lined up perfectly, I found the system to be a little loose, so I had another mechanic check my work and he agreed, so I loosened the lock nut then gave the main nut a half-turn and locked it down. That did the trick. While I was tinkering, the mechanic (a friend of ours who rides with us on Tuesday night when he doesn’t feel like riding with the A guys) lightly suggested that I pick up any spare parts I might need to get me through the season as manufacturers are woefully behind. We’re talking tubes, tires, chains and cassettes. He said anything that isn’t manufactured in the states is going to be a problem for the rest of the year. I picked up two 10-sp chains and one 11-sp, along with two tires for my wife and one for my Venge (they only had one 26 mm Turbo Pro in stock). I also grabbed one of the last bottles of Squirt chain lube they had in stock. It was a hefty bill, but I’m set for the season.
I’m no prognosticator, but it might not be a bad idea to make sure you’re set in wearable parts for the season before March. It sounds like the same problem they had with bikes last year* is going to metastasize into replacement parts this year. According to my mechanic, the suppliers went through all of their shelf stock to get through last year. Now there’s no shelf stock left.
*If you weren’t aware, buying a new bike has been unbelievably difficult. A friend of mine ordered a brand new $5,000 Specialized Tarmac in October and he’s hoping to have it in April. If you get in the que now, it’s 2022 before you’ll see your new bike. We may all be in this together, but I’d prefer to be in this together with all of my replacement parts sitting in my bike bag…
The CycleOps Trainer Tire: The Best $40 I’ve Ever Spent on a Tire. It’s So Good (AND QUIET) I Still Can’t Believe It.
I was sure my CycleOps trainer tire was going to be a gimmick. Surely it would start squeaking within a week of installing it on my trainer wheel… and I’d be relegated to writing the “well, it was quiet while it lasted” post, dejected. My high hope was maybe it wouldn’t be as noisy as a standard road tire…
Let’s back up a minute. I own a normal, “dumb” trainer. On purpose. It’s not entirely dumb, though. It’s a CycleOps Magneto trainer and it is unquestionably “neat-o”. The harder you pedal, the more resistance it gives you. 18-mph is just as hard or harder on my trainer than it is outside. With that much resistance in the flywheel, though, normal tires end up squeaking after I melt them during intervals (I’ve melted Specialized tires at a mere 23-mph). Once they’ve melted, they’re done. Every pedal stroke elicits a tiny squeak as the tire tries to stick to the flywheel. I installed a Bontrager tire several weeks ago, an AW-2 if memory serves. A terribly slow but undeniably reliable road tire, I figured if anything could work quietly on my trainer, this would be the tire. It was spectacular. For two weeks… and then the squeak appeared.
Exasperated, I remembered the shop had a couple of CycleOps tires made by Kenda specifically for the trainer. I went in for a visit hoping they still had one in stock. As luck would have it, $40 trainer tires are not high on the COVID demand list because there were four on the shelf – a painful purchase, but I needed quiet. After a couple of weeks, I have to say, I’m nothing short of impressed.
I hit 30-mph during intervals last night, several times – a full-on effort in the 50/12 gear as fast as I could pedal and not a squeak. Not even when I’d dropped down to an easy gear for recovery. In fact, I just walked over and felt the tire surface – it feels the same this morning as it did the other day. No sticky melted rubber.
The CycleOps tire by Kenda is legit. It takes everything I’ve got. And quietly. Without protest.
I prepped the 5200 for duty last evening. It was going to be a slow night and it needed some time in the sun after the Venge took all of the big weekend miles.
After watching that exceptionally geeky video I wrote about the other day that broke tire pressure down into a fairly* easily understandable science, I decided to lower my pressure in both road bikes. Not by much, mind you, I went from 95 pounds down to 90.
On the Trek, left, I’m currently running Ican 23-mm wide x 38-mm deep wheels shod with Michelin Pro 4 Service Course 700C x 25-mm tires. I’m running 175-ish pounds. So, 90 pounds and I ran with it.
The road we live on is fairly smooth with a few wear cracks here and there at the edges, but the road I turn on to get to Chuck’s is gnarly in places and the bike was much more enjoyable over the chatter – in fact, I ran over some of the nastier edges of the road I normally avoid, just to see the difference… it was impressive – vastly smoother. On chip-seal surfaces, cracks, anything I would throw at it over the course of the 28-mile ride, the bike was much more enjoyable… and I didn’t bounce when out of the saddle to climb or sprint (what little climbing there is on that route – not much).
So, the real question is, “was it faster“?
Well, if you get far enough into the video, the science geek guy refers to road noise as a loss of efficiency – and road noise from the tire definitely increased, noticeably. On the other hand, there’s no question the ride, being smoother, was less taxing and slightly less work. That’s really the balance we’re looking for. Smooth, but not so smooth it’s squishy. I think I should go another five pounds, though, just for $#!+$ and giggles, to see if I go squishy or keep 85 psi… There’s no question, even at 90 there will be more smiles per mile.
*”Fairly” should probably be barely.
Then I’ll have to dial in the Venge using the same process – though I’ll absolutely be going with 90 psi for tonight’s Tuesday Night in Lennon… I’m running 26-mm Specialized Turbo Pro tires on a 25-mm wide rim – shouldn’t be any question 90 will be better than 95.
It just hit me last week that I’m spending WAY too much time on the Trek. It’s difficult not to when the bike is performing so well – it’s a bit like driving a classic sports car. Sure, it’s a not a McLaren, it’s more American muscle – a little more Caroll Shelby – only, in a bike. Well, somebody just shut off summer, and it jarred me a little. Pretty soon, all I’ll be riding is the Trek until next spring’s Venge Day so it’s high time I spent some miles on the good rig before having to put it up for the winter.
After arriving home on a perfectly sunny but yet another unseasonably cool afternoon (we’ve been several degrees – 6 to 10 – below normal for what seems like weeks), I set about cleaning up the Venge for duty. Part of that prep was rotating the tires. I like to rotate mine – some do, some don’t…
Now, installing the tires on these wheels the first time was not easy. I needed mechanical help in the way of a KoolStop tire jack. However, after a few weeks’ break-in time, I was hoping they’d go on relatively easily. Then, just the other day, by chance, I happened on a GCN video tutorial on how to deal with installing a difficult tire on a rim. My FL 50 Ican wheels all have a groove down the center (many tubeless and tubeless ready rims do):
Well, the tip is to work the beads down into that groove (it takes a little effort to do this, and you’ll feel one side, then the other, slip down into the channel). So, you get the first bead all the way seated, then you start on the second until you get to that spot, about 80% done, where you can’t see how you’ll ever slip that last bit over the rim, and you work the beads into the channel starting opposite the part of tire overlapping the rim and working around, one side, then the other. By the time you get both beads into the channel the entire 80-ish% around the rim, you’ll begin to feel a fair amount of slop that wasn’t there before pushing the beads to the center channel. At this point, that last 80% of the tire should (shockingly) easily slip over the edge of the rim.
Before I centered the beads, I was going to need mechanical assistance. After, it’s almost comically easy. I’m still glad I’m using Specialized tires, though. They’re better than most brands for seating on tight rims.
Now, there exist decent arguments for starting at the valve stem, finishing at the valve stem, add air to the tube, don’t add air… I’ve tried them all. My favorite is start with some air in the tube, start at the valve stem and finish opposite – and let the air out for the centering the bead in the grove and that last 20% of the second bead. Starting with air makes it easier to get the tube inside the rim and it keeps it from getting pinched. On the other hand, the added air makes it a little difficult to finish seating on a tough rim.
Anyway, after wiping the Venge down, I took her out for an evening spin with my regular weekday riding buddy and it was fantastic. She’s also going out today (we’ve got big plans today). We’re due a considerably nice stretch of weather over the next two weeks so I’m planning on making the most of it on the Venge. I’ll have plenty of time on the Trek in the coming months. As cold as it’s been this early, I don’t imagine it’s going to be a mild winter.
My first of bicycle tires were Continental Gatorskins. I know one of their attorneys, and am good friends with her husband, so she was happy to set me up with a set at their cost. I still almost choked at the cost. I also had a lot of trouble with them. Two flats and a busted belt rendered them useless after a couple thousand miles. Then I went to Specialized Espoir Sport tires. They were excellent tires, no flats. Next, I went with Bontrager AW1’s. Those featured spectacular flat protection but they were slow – so ridiculously slow you could feel the difference between those and the Specialized tire.
Then came the Specialized Turbo Elite, now the Turbo Pro… and salvation. The Turbo Pro is only slightly less fast that the S-Works Turbo, but is vastly more durable. They’re all I ride nowadays. I’ve got tens of thousands of miles on Turbo Pro tires and I can’t say enough good about them. I’ve since gotten a few flats, a piece of wire from a radial tire belt here, a piece of glass there… look, if you put enough miles on a bike, you’re going to hit something catastrophic – it happens. What hasn’t happened, though, was wrecking a tire so bad it couldn’t be fixed with a patch and a Dollar bill.
Folks, if you want a solid, well built, fast tire that’s good on flat protection, you can’t go wrong with the Specialized Turbo Pro. I even use them on my Trek (shhhhh… don’t tell Mike, he’s never noticed and he’ll flip his lid over putting Specialized tires on a Trek).
Well, if I hadn’t properly staged my wheels in the top photo, you’d be able to zoom in and see the logo. Unfortunately, with the stems properly in the 6 o’clock position and the tire logos correctly splitting the stem, well, that means the grass covers up the logo. Cursed bike photography rules!
Anyway, 15,000 miles is short of what I’ve got on these tires, but I had to put something down for mileage… Look at it this way; they’re what I put on my wife’s bikes because I trust them.
When I bought gravel bikes for my wife and I, both Specialized Diverges, they came with Specialized Espoir Sport 28 mm tires. The tires were fantastic for hard packed dirt roads because they didn’t have much tread to them. They were fast. Right up till you got into the mush. God forbid, the road was just graded which made the road impassable. Loose gravel required Peter Sagan-like handling skills to keep the rubber right-side-down.
I tolerated gravel riding back then. It was a nice break from the tarmac at the end of the season, but it was just as easy to choose the trainer rather than deal with loose dirt or gravel.
This year I decided to fix that problem for both my wife and I. I scoured the interwebz for a decent dirt tire, but couldn’t come up with anything reasonable. I didn’t need a pro-quality tubeless tire for $75-$100 a pop – especially when I need four. Not for cruising…
Finally, I went to the shop after striking out online. The first salesman struck out as well. Then, I shared my conundrum with a more knowledgeable mechanic. He came up with the Michelin ProTek Cross tire in a matter of minutes. I picked up four 32 mm tires for less than $100, the widest I can fit on our Diverges (newer models can take wider tires).
In a word, the ProTek Cross is awesome. What was once harrowing is now stable and enjoyable. And they’re decently fast, while handling low tire pressure well (I like to ride them at 50-psi – and I’m no lightweight at 175 pounds).
The tread is great, for both pavement and dirt. It’s a fantastic tire for a bargain price. They won’t be light, supple, and super-fast, race tire, not for $25 each, but if you’re just out cruising the back roads, I love this tire. I highly recommend it.
I’ve got a post about tire pressure that’s been sitting in my Draft folder for something like four years. Four years. Folks, I’m not afraid of much, but I’m scared to hit the publish button on that post… because tire pressure is a personal thing. It’s incredibly subjective and depends on everything from rider preference to frame and rim material to saddle/heinie comparability, to chamois choice. And anyone who rides seriously will have an opinion about tire pressure – and the angrier the person, the more right they are and the dumber you are for having your opinion.
That said, there is general wisdom to pass along without inflaming the hemorrhoids. Too much. Such as:
- Heavier riders use greater pressure. This doesn’t need to get silly, though. I’m 175 pounds and I roll 115 psi in 23mm tires, 111 psi in 24mm, and 105 to 107 psi in 25’s.
- Lighter riders don’t need all of that tire pressure to avoid pinch flats.
- The balance is; little enough to smooth out the roads, but enough you don’t pinch flat whenever you hit a pothole – or, if you go tubeless, little enough to smooth out the road, but enough you don’t crack your rims on potholes.
- You can use tire pressure to tune your bike in so the ride feels a little more buttery.
That last bullet point is where the cheddar’s at. I’ve got this down to a science on the Trek. With the alloy wheels on the bike, if I go to 114 psi with 24’s, I can feel every bump on my keister. Drop three psi off that and the bike is heaven. With the carbon fiber wheelset and 25mm tires on either my Venge or the 5200, it’s a little less of an imperative to get the pressure exactly right because the wheels do some of the heavy lifting and take a some sting out of the road. Still, I like 105 to 107 psi in the 25’s on the carbon fiber wheels.
Now, as mentioned above, there’s a delicate balance to be maintained here. Too little pressure and you’ll pinch flat every time you hit a decent bump and it’ll feel like you’re trying to ride through mud, and as you can see in the photo above, we’ve got some bumps to worry about and nobody likes riding through mud… err… on slicks… on a road bike. Also, part of that equation is to balance your tire pressure with your weight as well.
The next time you’ve got some solo miles planned, take some time and a handy, dandy hand pump and play with the tire pressure a little bit as you ride. Add a little, drop a little, drop a little more… hit a few bumps to make sure “a little more” wasn’t actually “too much”… Tune your bike in to the road with your tire pressure so you’ve got the perfect balance between fast and smooth.
You won’t regret it.
Cycling, Tire Changing, and How to Avoid Using the Tire Irons for that last Pain in the BUTT part of the Tire that won’t seem to slip over the Brake Track…
First, don’t resort to the tire irons to get your clincher tire seated in the wheel. The chance that you’ll maim the inner tube is too great.
I know how hard it is to refrain. I do, because guess who has two thumbs and has a tough time not reaching for them when the going gets tough (and did maim the tube)? This guy (points both thumbs back at me).
First things first, if you’ve got room (2014 or newer road bike, you should), use 25 or 26mm tires. They’ll give you a little more play, they’re not noticeably slower and they vastly improve the ride of your bike.
Second, get the bead to the center of the rim by pinching both sides of the tire and giving it a little twist, every six inches to a foot, all the way around the tire till you get to where the tire won’t slide into the rim.
Third, and this will really help, hold the rim parallel to the ground with both hands on either side. You want the section you’re struggling with farthest away from you. Now, place that section of rim down on the ground so the wheel is standing upright. Take the heel of both hands and starting at the top of the tire, slide your hands along the tire toward the ground – you’re effectively pushing any slack toward the section of tire you’re struggling with. Done with a little force, this will help a ton.
Finally, and this is the inside pool of the pro, it’s not about lifting the tire bead into the rim – you’re not strong enough (nor am I, that’s why I reached for the tire irons!). The key is to push the tube up so you don’t pinch it between the bead and the rim (this will likely result in wasting a CO2 canister as well as you’ve just pinched a hole into your precious tube… so now you’re double hit). Once you get the tube out of the way – you can give yourself a little slack by taking some of the bead out of the rim – then you roll the tire into its home. Grip with your fingers and roll with the pads of your hand. It should roll right in there with a little fuss and effort.
The keys are, again, confidence. You don’t need the tire irons. Center the tire and work any slack to where you need it. Clear the tube out of the way and roll the tire into place.