Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Choosing Bicycle Tires

 Choosing new tires for you bicycle is probably one of the most difficult tasks you can undertake.  Well, it is for me at least.  Then again I am super picky and tend to go overboard doing research.

There are so many different style and brands of tires to choose from.  Each tire designed with a specific purpose in mind too.  For example: pavement,  gravel,  mud,  sand, multipurpose, etcetera.  There are a variety of styles too: tubular, tube, clincher, tubeless, etcetera.

The thought of having multiple sets of tires is nice, but expensive and can be a pain in the neck when you have to change them out.  Especially if you don't have a spare set of wheels to go along with them.

For my purposes I immediately ruled out tubular tires because I don't want the hassle of putting them on, taking them off and repairing them if/when I get a flat.  Basically for me it came down to deciding between tube tires, and tubeless.  Each of which have their pros and cons.

Tubeless tires are nice for several reasons.  One major benefit, in theory, if done correctly flats are not a problem.  Tubeless tires have a sealant inside so if a sharp object punctures the tire it will immediately get sealed so minimal air and repair time will be lost.  In general this does actually work quite well.  The only issue here is that if its a large enough hole you will have to repair it by putting a tube inside the tire.  This means you still have to carry a spare tube while riding.

Another great benefit to not having tubes is that you can have minimal air in the tire and never have to worry about a pinch flat.  This is great if you love to ride with soft tires.  Soft tires are nice because they give you a fair bit of cushion for comfort and better traction to some degree.

Last, but not least a benefit of tubeless is weight.  Not having a tube in your tire can save a bit of weight.  However, its debatable that this is any benefit to the average non-racer.  Also, the sealant in the tire does add some extra weight, but not quite as much as a tube.

The downsides to tubeless tires art that they require more maintenance and have a learning curve to get them setup correctly.  If you don't have rims specifically designed for tubeless tires it takes even more effort to get them right.  This is generally referred to as ghetto tubeless.  Tubeless usually cost a bit more than tube tires as well.  They are definitely more expensive if you are going ghetto tubeless. A tubeless conversion kit will run you $50+.

Tubeless tires many times require you to add air regularly.  Much more often than on a tube tire.  Some people I have spoken with claim they add air every day, and other's say weekly.  In general you should be checking the air in your tires at least once per month on any type of tire.  Tubeless tires can do what's known as burping, which is when air escapes through the seal between the tire and rim.

Here is a really good article on pinkbike that explains why wide rims with low air pressure are better than narrow rims and high pressure when running tubeless.

Tube tires may be slightly heavier, but generally require less maintenance than tubeless and are much easier to install and repair.  Definitely if you don't have tubeless rims.  If you really want to you can even put slime inside.  I prefer to carry patches, and/or an extra tube on my rides in case of a flat.

During my research of choosing a new set of tires for my gravel bike I went through dozens of popular models and brands.  It was actually quite daunting.  I read article after article on each product I researched, checking the reviews on each.

Here are a few of my top picks from the dozens of tires I researched while shopping:
Clement X'Plor MSO
Clement X'Plor USH
Schwalbe G-One
Gravel King SK
Flintridge Pro

Each set of tires have a very different footprint, or profile.  For example, the MSO have a pretty meaty tread.  This is good for loose, or slightly muddy conditions; it has more bite.  I was looking for something that could be used well on road and off road.  All the above tires are great adventure tires, but it depends if you are looking for something more road worthy, or dirt worthy.  I wanted something 1/2 in between.  No matter what you choose there is always a compromise when selecting a multipurpose tire for your bicycle.

For me I already have an MTB for the rough trails and was looking for something I could basically ride anywhere, but would still be efficient on the roads.  For this reason I chose the USH's.  They are not the best in wet and muddy conditions, but I am interested in something for mostly dry conditions with the ability to go on gravel and moderate single track.

The USH is slightly better on road than the MSO and the MSO is slightly better off road than the USH.  Since I plan to do most of my riding on the street, gravel and light dry single track the USH was a better fit for my application.  They are also wider than my 28" tires.  This may add some comfort and control, but the side effect is reduced efficiency.  See, its always a compromise.  I chose the USH's for my new bike based on the intended application.

It may be true that tubeless are the future of tires, but I'm sticking with my tubes for the time being.  The cost and maintenance free setup is well worth it to me.  I am definitely not anti-tubeless by any means.  Its just at this time the cost and tires were right for me.  The big decision maker for me is that my existing rims are not tubeless and I don't want the extra hassle of the ghetto setup, or cost of new rims.

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