Thursday, 3 March 2011

GamJams Reviews: Race Tires

Of all of the parts and pieces of paraphernalia that a bike racer has, tires might be the most difficult thing to manage. The management breaks down along a few lines: buying, usage, and replacement.

Since I've become a partner in a bike-related venture, buying has become a lot different than it used to be. Oddly enough, I am WAY more organized about what I buy. It's normal that planning your purchases saves you a lot of money from just walking into a shop and paying whatever for what you need. It also gives you a lot more direction than if you were to walk into a store and try whatever's on sale. Most teams have shop sponsors, and these sponsors typically let you order stuff at attractive discount. My advice in this regard is to find out what you like, and order enough of it to cover a season. With race tires, for most people, this will be at least 3 tires a year if you are only using them for racing. Stuff like the tacks incident(s)at Leonardtown happen. I got a terrible sidewall cut while riding to a race a couple of years ago. Take tire, throw tire in trash.

The trainer throws another wrench into this pile. Trainers wreck tires. If you use a Power Tap, chances are that you will want to use it to race in at least some early season races. This means that your Power Tap wheel will see use on the trainer, on the road for training, and in races. I'll train on the road on a wheel that's been used on a trainer, but I won't race on one. The trainer makes the tires really slick, I think it hardens the compound. So the end of the winter (still regularly using the trainer, riding outside sometimes, beginning to do some races) is one period when I'll tolerate switching tires. Other than that, I hate switching tires. To which there is an interesting solution this year...

My bike and wheels are sort of a rolling show room. If you see me on a ride and you want to try my wheels, ask. Unless I've got 30 minutes of sunlight left to do my last 20 minute interval and get home, have at it. And there's no way to hide a wheel set's wonderfulness like unspectacular tires. So I'm generally on pretty darn nice tires full time these days, across a few sets of wheels. With one exception (38 carbon clincher rear - which has a Vittoria Diamante (not a bad tire at all)), I've made a wholesale switch to Vredestein*. For top race tires, the TriComp slicks are where it's at. They are AWESOME. Grippy as hizzell. My only gripe is that they don't come in 25c.

Apart from that, I'm also on Vredestein DuoComps. These come in 25c, roll pretty nicely, and are great in corners SO LONG AS THE ROAD IS DRY. I don't love them at all in moist or worse road conditions - but the tires actually come with the caveat that they are bad in wet. They say it. It doesn't make great sense to me that a training/racing crossover tire would have such an Achilles heel like that on wet roads, but they do. So I try to avoid using them in the rain.

As we get towards spring and the trainer becomes a race day warm up machine and stops being a regular feature of my misery, I'm going TriComp on everything, clincher and tubular.

I've gotten durability that's about as good as unexceptional out of any number of top race tires. ProRace 3's, Conti 4k's, Vittoria Evo CX... And I've had to throw a way too young one of each in the trash. I guess the TriComp slicks are now at the point where their durability has to be considered pretty okay. I think we have 4 installed on the fleet right now, and they're all in good shape. None of them has seen super heavy use yet though,, so I can't get too hot and heavy about them in that respect. The compound on race tires is soft, and it's really susceptible to cuts. You can pretty well chart an inverse relationship between how nice a tire feels and how sticky it is to how long it will last. So while durability is of course nice, performance is the big priority.

When a race tire gets a noticeable nick, off it comes. I'm not risking wasting a day, an opportunity to race, and a day of race expenses on a marginal tire - never mind the risk of taking a lot of dudes out because my tire blew up. Not playing that game.

I have less experience with tubulars, but I know two things absolutely: I would do any race, any time, in any condition (except pave or dirt) on Vittoria EVO CX or Vredestein TriComp tubulars. I've ridden each of these a lot, and they are fantastic. And however it works out, they both seem pretty cut resistant - more so than their clincher brethren. I will inevitably spend significant time training on tubulars this year (see "rolling show room" comment above), and it will be on Vredesteins primarily*, with a Vittoria as a money go to back up. I also have a Vittoria Rally. I will keep this with me as a spare. For $30 retail, it is a fantastic spare tubular to get you home. Once you are home, glue up either an EVO CX or a TriComp and fold the Rally back up for your spare.

*Vredesteins are imported by VeltecUSA, which is one of our favorite partners. It's easy for me to get all gooey about their tires because I like them very much. Tires are maybe the most important thing on your bike, and my pretty well exclusive use of their tires except as noted where I have pre-existing other stuff that still has life left in it that I'm too cheap to forego, should speak to me fundamental belief in their stuff. We have access to pretty much every other brand at good pricing, so my bias would be tempered by that. But as much as I try to play all of these things with an absolutely open hand, I don't pay retail for tires and we have a good relationship with Vredestein, so at least on some level I am predisposed to liking them.

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