Monday, March 18, 2013

I feel bad...

I feel bad that 99% of the roadies out there who bought their road bikes within the past decade or so will never get to experience the pleasure of riding fat tires on their road bike.  The majority of road bikes on the road are sold with 23mm tires.  Doesn't matter if you're 5'2" tall and a buck five or a 6'5" linebacker, you're getting a bike with 23mm tires and not much extra clearance to fit anything substantially bigger.  Sure, it's likely a 25 will fit, but probably not a 28.  Most certainly, a 30mm tire won't fit.  

I've been riding 28mm Conti 4-Season tires on my road bike exclusively for the past several years.  That may change after today.  Challenge recently put into distributor's hands a couple of tires that are game changers.  One, dubbed the Eroica, after the famed event in the Tuscan region of Italy that is run across the strada biancha dirt roads, is a file tread, 30mm (actual 31mm on a Velocity A23 rim), tarmac gobbling beauty of a tire.  

I got several pair when they first hit the states (so popular it seems they sold out rather quickly at the distributor level, but I still have a pair) a few weeks ago.  It wasn't until today that I finally got to mounting them up and taking them for a spin out to North Beach on the Point Reyes peninsula.  This is where I should put a bunch of technical information, but I don't have a gram scale and, quite frankly, I don't really care what they weigh.  They are a high end tire that's 30mm wide and they're going to weigh what they weigh.  In my hand, they weren't heavy.  They feel like a light road tire.  Not a paper thin light road tire, but a nice light road tire.  A tire you feel confident in taking on some rough paved roads and on some dirt roads - which is exactly the intended use.  

Challenge also incorporate a belt into the design to presumably help prevent punctures.  Where I ride, I'm not often presented with debris on the road as the roads in West Marin are pretty clean and I don't ride on the very edge of the road where most debris is usually found.  But, the belt is there if you need it. 

The design of these tires is an 'open tubular.'  They aren't built with a curved carcass like a traditional clincher.  The tires are flat coming out of the simple packaging.  This design makes it a bit more challenging to mount on a rim, especially getting the tube up in the tire before mounting the final bead.  Not horrible, just make sure you get the tube up in the tire before inflating.  I used light weight butyl tubes with tire talc.

The tires I got into the shop are all black, but they will also have these available in an old-school tan sidewall soon.  I did hear that Challenge had some of the tan sidewall tires for sale at the recent NAHBS show.  

What did I think?  Blown away.  I inflated the tires to about 61 or 62 psi up front and 63 or 64 psi in back.  I'm not sure on the exact number because I wasn't wearing my glasses.  I pretty much guessed on the pressure with a thumb test and what the tires felt/sounded like when I bounced them on the ground.  Pretty damn scientific.  However, I feel like the pressure was dialed very close.  I might try a few psi lower next ride, but I was quite pleased with the pressure I chose.  

The tires were so smooth riding and quiet on the road and that made the ride very enjoyable.  The patch work of pavement was smoothed as if it had been repaved.  And they are fast.  I felt like I climbed as well or better because the tires stuck to the road surface better.  Better traction.  Descending was even better.  Coming off Ottinger's Hill (the hill one traverses on Sir Francis Drake between Tomales Bay and the Point Reyes National Seashore), I know I was going faster than I usually do with the Conti 4-Season tires.  All the corners on this descent can be taken wide open, pedaling at full speed - except one.  The first right hander is a very tight, slight decreasing radius, almost off-camber number that is always a challenge, but I have it pretty dialed.  Today, I hit this corner carrying more speed than usual.  I knew I had more speed and had to get on the brakes a bit harder before entering the corner* and still carried more speed through the corner and down the rest of the hill and onto the flats.  Fast enough that the truck I passed up top didn't catch up until I hit Inverness about a mile away.  

Yeah, I feel bad that not more riders are going to get a chance to experience the ride of these great tires.  Not going to lose sleep over it, though.  Now to get out on some dirt...

Oh, and they're $75 each.

*A long time ago, someone told me that the finite amount of traction your bike tires have can be consumed by either braking, cornering, or accelerating.  If you are descending and braking, you won't have as much cornering traction.  Think about it all as a constant fluctuating pie chart.  On the flat, all three might be somewhat equal.  If you jam on the brakes, the traction for accelerating and cornering diminishes greatly.  If you're descending, you want to balance braking and cornering so you keep the rubber on the ground and don't skid out.  If you skid, you lose. 

Challenge Eroica belt
The belt on the inside of the tire.

Challenge Eroica
Mounted up and measuring 31mm.

Sir Francis Drake Blvd
Gobbling some tarmac out on the seashore.

At North Beach
North Beach out on the seashore.

(What's playing:  Release Me on KWMR)


Chris said...

Nice! I will never buy another bike that can't take at least a 28mm tire...

nice explanation of the traction circle as well... learned a bit about that when I was doing autocross a few years back... there's plenty of truth to it for sure...

blackmountaincycles said...

Funny you mention learning about the traction circle from racing autocross. That's where my friend learned it too.

Guitar Ted said...

Mike: You may or may not have seen that I am testing the Almanzo Open 30, which is a Challenge tire as well.

Your measurements are spot on with mine, also from a A23 set up. I concur with your assessment on pavement, but I rode a lot of gravel with the set I have and they are quite nice there as well. Not good if it's loose and deep, but your harder dirt roads will be fun with those tires you have, I bet.

cyclotourist said...

Patiently waiting to mount mine up... Everything I hear about them is good!

james said...

I here you Mike. Any issues with mounting those tires? You mentioned putting those on Volocity rims. How about some Open Pro's?

Anonymous said...

Are you running Standard or Long Reach calipers?

blackmountaincycles said...

G-T: yes, I saw that post. It's great that an Italian tire company recognizes the need for a tire like this.

James: Should be no problem mounting them to Open Pros. There a plenty of folks running even bigger tires on rims of that width.

Anon: Since I go back a few years, I call them standard reach brakes. I refer to the brakes on most road bikes as short reach. However, today, most call them long reach. The brakes I'm using are 47mm - 57mm reach.

Sarah said...

I bought a pair with gumwalls a couple of months ago when Boulder Bicycles offered them on a special sale. It took me days to mount them! I just could not get them on the rims--HB+Son TB14--so eventually had my LBS finish the job. It took him 2 days as well, and he told me he punctured two good tubes in the process. I have not yet ridden them in case they are as flat-prone as the Parigi-roubaix that I had and gave away after 3 flats on one ride. I am waiting for good warm weather to try the Eroicas in case I have a flat! How do you think they compare to the parigi-roubaix as far as flats, Mike?

blackmountaincycles said...

Sarah, they should be more flat resistant than the Parigi-Roubaix since they have the added belt. I can see that they would be more difficult to mount on a rim like the TB14 with it's shallow inside well. When one bead is mounted, before the tube is fit, the tire lays very flat and it's not easy getting the tube to fit up into the tire. I think once they have had a tube in them for a while, they will maintain a round shape better and subsequent tube installations (if required) will be easier.

Dustin said...

These seem like the could be a great "goldilocks" option in terms of finding a balance between suppleness and flat protection. Given their cost, it will be interesting to see how many miles folks are able to get out of them.

And yes, I cannot for the life of me figure out why anyone whose paycheck does not depend on it would want to ride a tire under 28mm!

Tim said...

I have a nice aluminum frame by Russ Denny with downtube shifter bosses from my racer days. I no longer take it out because I prefer the larger tires on my old steel bikes. My favorites so far are the Challenge parigi-roubaix. I can fit these on the rear, but they won't come close to rolling through the front which is currently fitted with a Easton EC 90 from around '06. Could any of you recommend a similar modern fork that would allow these tires?

Ray Stedronsky said...

I understand and believe in wider tires and lower tire pressures and ride that way myself.

What I can not believe is the PRICE. Yes, I know, you are all used to paying $60 to $100 for a bicycle tire and that probably feels "normal" these days. But I don't remember tires in the past being this expensive in relation to everything else.

It's a BICYCLE tire.

I also ride motorcycles....alot. I can buy a rear tire for my 800cc off-road motorcycle for $68.00. It will hold up to 60 rear wheel horsepower in the dirt and rocks and last over 3000 miles.

I truly can not understand $75.00 for a bicycle tire

blackmountaincycles said...

Tim, I don't have a lot of first hand knowledge about which modern forks will fit larger tires, but I think the Enve fork will work. There is also a 3T carbon fork that has more clearance. The Wound Up fork also fits bigger tires too.

Ray, just like auto and moto tires, bicycle tires are available in all price ranges. There are budget bike tires available for under $20. They just don't ride very good. Cars and motorcycles have suspension and horsepower to move cheap tires. You, however, on your bike don't have any horsepower to speak of and maybe not any suspension and as a result, cheap tires are horrible feeling and high end, expensive tires are what we like to ride.

Ray Stedronsky said...

My comment was not meant to criticize your pricing of these tires and I truly appreciate that you will share your experience/opinion and knowledge of new products with us. What I find unreasonable is the tire manufacturer pricing their products as they do. Not just in this instance but pretty much across the board.

No, I'm not a tire engineer and for all i know they may be giving us a great deal on their product but over the past 5 years or so it seems that tire prices have gotten well out of hand.

This may be just my perception but I've been bicycling since the 70s, commute 3 times a week between Davis and Sacramento and still like to ride nice tubulars on my 78 Raleigh Pro.

I ride 28 mm Paselas on my commute bike since I have to keep the fenders on. They are the best tire I can risk since an unlucky choice of line on the Yolo causeway in the early morning dark will give you a cut sidewalll and a destroyed tire. Bicycle tires are amazingly fragile things.

When you hold a auto or motorcycle tire in your hands, think about what the product will do, how much material goes into its construction and the conditions it's expected to endure.....and then pick up a bicycle tire at the same pricer ....don't you begin to wonder?

Maybe it's the forlorn souls I see stopped on the side of the road with their smart phones in their hands and no spares, patches, tools or knowledge of how to repair their puncture that are driving these prices up (yes, I always stop to help). Possibly to most riders that's "just the way it with it"

But for me, buying nice tires always makes me feel like I'm lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills.

In your position as a businessman/mechanic/shop owner I thought that you should at least hear what some (and quite possibly a small minority) of your customers have to say.

blackmountaincycles said...

No problem, Ray. I think the reason for bike tire pricing has to do with economies of scale. The amount of higher end tires (the kind you and I like to ride) is very small relative to the amount of auto tires sold. Not sure about motorcycle numbers, but the amount of auto tires sold each year is in the billions. I also think tolerances for bike tires are tighter, therefore more costly to produce.

I don't so much wonder about the price of bike tires compared to motorcycle or auto tires. I do, however, wonder about how to justify a $5,000 bicycle vs a $5,000 motorcycle.

bubba said...

From 1980 to 2013 if you compare the prices of gas, bread, hamburger and bicycle tires, I think $75 for the very best tires seems appropriate. I'd love it if they were cheaper, but they don't seem way out of line.

bubba said...


I just received my pair and have two data points for your curious prospective customers.

1. they averaged 333g each.
2. On my 59cm Black Mountain road bike, there is ample fender clearance using sks plastic fenders.

bambam said...

Orange yet stealthy! I ofteh think weekly about your rap about lowere tire pressure can equal comfort and thus more speed, especially over the longhaul. Makes me ache for a new set of wheels thinking about the possibility of such tyres. see ya for a test ride in a month!

Fred Zeppelin said...

2 Sarah,

I've been reading about these several places, and FYI folks (including some people I know personally) say that after the first time mounting/unmounting the tires they definitely get a bit looser and easier to work with.

Anonymous said...

Mr. BlackMountain,
Love your site and your blog. I too concur that 28's are better than 25's and that 25's are better than 23's. I am just about to experiment with 700x28 Clement Stradas on CXP33 rims but haven't got a workaround to the lack of brake pad clearance on the Sram brakes which will make install and removal a hassle. Have you dealt with this combo?

raj architecture

blackmountaincycles said...

Raj, not sure what you are experiencing. If the brake pads are at the bottom of the slot on the caliper, there *should* be no problem. However, if the frame manufacturer located the brake caliper mounting hole too low and the pads are at the upper end of the slot, then you might not be able to fit 28mm tires.

Thom Kneeland said...

I think Anon is referring to the brake cam not allowing the pads to open up enough to get the tire out from the brake. Have your mechanic install an inline barrel adjuster or set the brakes up with the integrated one about half way through it's threads. When you need to open the brakes up a bit more, just screw in the barrel adjuster loosening the tension on the cable.

blackmountaincycles said...

True, Thom. The same can be done w/o installing an in-line adjuster and backing out the brake caliper's adjuster a few turns before securing the cable.

And I'll add: unless you have your brake pads set very close to the rims, most standard calipers should open wide enough for a 25 or 28 to fit through the pads. I personally like to set the engagement point of the lever pretty close to the handlebar so in my case, the pads are a bit further away from the rim and the qr opens further.

jkeiffer said...

Mike, What do you think is the best size tire for a 23mm wide rim like the A23 or SL23? I don't mind big tires, I'm looking just for your opinion on how big is too big with performance in mind for road riding.

blackmountaincycles said...

Best? The way I would answer that is the biggest tire you can fit in your frame with appropriate clearance. You can run anything from a 700x23 up to a 29"x2.2 on those rims. Pick the tire that works best with where and how you ride.