Tuesday, February 12, 2013

More Q&A With Dr. Tyre


Dear Dr. Tyre,

I’ve been all over the Internet trying to get a straight answer to this question:  what’s the difference between the Continental Grand Prix 4000 and the 4000S?  Which one should I buy?

Len P, Louisville, KY

Dear Len,

The 4000S has Black Chili compound, which (according to the manufacturer) means that the rubber has “special nanometric carbon soot particles” in it that give the tire all the best characteristics of solid grip, low rolling resistance, and longevity.  (I like that these nanometric carbon soot particles are the “special” kind, not just the regular kind.)

The 4000 doesn’t have Black Chili, unless you get the all-black ones, which do.  Got that?  The only difference between the 4000S and the black 4000 is graphics.

Which should you ride?  Does the Black Chili actually mean anything?  Probably it’s a benefit, but can’t say for sure.  I can say, though, that there’s something twee about using brightly colored tires on your bike.  And do you really want to give up a potential functional benefit just for the sake of style?

By the way, the first time I was asked about 4000 vs. 4000S, by a friend, I hadn’t done my homework and replied, “You want the 4000S because it’s better.”  My friend asked why it’s better.  I replied, “Because I have it, and I only ride the best.”  If you invoke this line of reasoning and have your authority questioned, use your tire choice as evidence of your superior taste.  This rhetorical trick—technically a logical fallacy—is called Petitio Principii and is the backbone of many a successful argument. 

Dear Dr. Tyre,

Let’s get down to brass tacks.  What’s better:  clinchers or sew-ups?

Byron T, Boston, MA

Dear Byron,

That all depends on who’s buying.  If you’re on a pro team, with a crackerjack mechanic, and get all the tires you want, then tubulars (i.e., sew-ups) are still the best way to go.  They handle better because they deflect more in corners, are less vulnerable to pinch-flats, and are a lighter overall design since the rim doesn’t have to have the little shelf to hold the tire bead.  On the other hand, tubular tires cost a lot, are virtually worthless after you get a puncture, and are really hard to glue on properly.

Naturally, there are those who maintain that punctured tubulars can be repaired.  An e-mail thread among my bike club members a year or so ago dealt with this very topic, presided over by our club guru, Bob Muzzy, whose cred is established by this photo:


(Yes, that’s Greg Lemond.  Bob has just presented Greg with a signed photo of the two of them at the start line of a race in Belgium in 1980.)

Bob wrote the following: 
Now gather ‘round in a circle, youngsters, while I tell you a story about sew-up tire repair, long, long ago.  We used to fix our own!  That’s right.  And we got good, and fast, at it.  I swear I could do it faster than some of you can change a clincher flat…  Rarely is it necessary to replace the inner tube, valve and entire base tape.  I’ve even spliced in replacement sections of inner tube when there was a large blowout.  Say there was a 2” long rip in the tube.  I’d cut it out to square the ends, then splice back in a 4” section of tube from another salvaged tire; leaving 1” overlap on either end.  I have also replaced treads; shops used to sell replacements.  Most of the time the sidewall failed prior to the tread so this wasn’t a common repair.  It was easier to lay down a thin layer of shoe goo to build up the existing tread.  There must be instructional videos on youtube.   I’ve long suggested that this would be a great business for a young person.  
 My response was as follows
A buddy of mine started his own tubular repair service in the mid-  ‘80s.  He called it Professional Independent Sew-up Repair and didn’t realize what the initials spelled.  His business, which he ran out of my dad’s basement (he was couch-surfing there at the time) was booming right from the beginning; the only problem was, he never actually fixed any of the tires—he just took them  in.  Years later I found PISR’s backlog, still in the basement.  The PISR customer files were long gone, so there was no way to get the tires back to their owners.  So I took them, along with  the half dozen or so tires I’d punctured over the years, and gave them to another friend who had just started his own  tubular repair business.  Well, I pestered that guy every six months or so for the next three years, and then one day, amazingly, he gave me all the tires, fixed.  He was too embarrassed to accept any payment, though I tried to insist.  So, I went  back to training on sew-ups because I suddenly had this incredible inventory of tires, but they lasted an average of one  ride apiece before the stitching would blow.  I went through the whole lot of them in less than a month, I think.  Never  again!   Moral of the story?  Sewing up a sew-up is harder than a lot of people think, especially for those dang youngsters these  days...
To this tale, Bob replied, “Dana, you clearly hung around with a scoundrels and incompetents in your youth.  Your parents and I are glad to see you’ve straightened up.  A bit.  Your lame buddy simply used lousy thread.  A double thickness of sturdy waxed dental floss is recommended.”

Of course, puncture repair is only part of the story.  Guys roll tires (i.e., an improperly glued tire can roll off the rim, causing a crash), and did so even back in the day, when your average racer got a lot more involved in maintaining his bike than modern-day types (I’m sorry, but it has to be said).  I marshaled the Albany Criterium last year, and a dirtbag rolled a tire coming through a corner, crashing the guy behind him in the process.  The second guy (i.e., the innocent victim) let us fuss over him, but the first dude got the hell out of there, rightly fearing a tongue-lashing.

When I worked tech support for races in the ‘80s, I prided myself on being a hard-ass and flunking as many bikes as I could by rolling the tires off the rims with my hands.  Guys would complain and I’d remind them that I’d done them—and the rest of the peloton—a favor.  A properly glued tire should be impossible to push off a rim while inflated.  Alas, gluing tubular tires (like patching them) is a lost art.  So unless you have lots of money and you really know what you’re doing, just stick with clinchers.  The modern ones are very good.

Dear Dr. Tyre,

I’ve been dieting and have lost ten pounds over the winter (even though it meant huddling by the radiator a lot of the time).  Plus I have been working out in the gym, and am getting loads of base miles.  In other words, I’m really stepping up my game.  So I’m thinking:  is it time to go tubeless?

David M, San Diego, CA

Dear David,

Not to be a jerk or anything, but I frankly couldn’t care less about your training program, your “efforts,” your “game,” and your racing, and I’m sure my readers couldn’t, either.

Sorry, I guess I’m still riled up thinking about guys who roll tubular tires.  Anyway, my approach to tubeless tire systèmes is that, while they afford a pompous advice columnist the opportunity to throw around terms like “système,” they should be approached cautiously.  Will tubeless really catch on?  And if it does, will it be a lasting innovation, or just a fad?  I sat out the whole Biopace “revolution,” and while it’s easy to downplay oval chainrings now, a lot of people paid perfectly good money to replace their perfectly good round chainrings with Biopace, only to come full circle and pay more money to return to round chainrings.  Same with the roller-cam brakes and U-brakes that came after them.  Meanwhile, if the technology does end up sticking around, it’ll only get better and cheaper over time.  In my opinion, the only reason to go tubeless at this early stage is to show off (though maybe that’s reason enough for you).

Dear Dr. Tyre,

I’m going to make my own studded snow tires for my mountain bike!  Any advice?

Kate S, Buffalo, NY

Dear Kate,

While there are several web resources for this project (for example, here, here, and here), I haven’t come across one that addresses the biggest problem with this idea:  longevity.  The standard method is to use wood screws as studs.  Wood screws will wear down really, really fast.  This is not a story my people tell, but something I know myself. 


To get around this problem, you can buy expensive studded bike tires (e.g., this one) that have tungsten carbide studs, or you can try to buy the tungsten carbide studs by themselves to make your own studded tires with, as my brothers and I managed to do in the ‘80s.  It was terribly hard work, drilling a small hole in each tire knob and pushing the stud through by thumb.  I’m sure we’ll all have arthritis from the manufacturing process.  But the tires were indestructible!  I used to cruise into the garage at speed and lock up the rear wheel, carving grooves in the concrete.  We had to use Mr. Tuffys in the tires to protect the tubes, and the whole setup weighed a ton, but once you had the bike up to speed, it was good times.  I wish I had a photo, or for that matter the tires themselves.  Where did they go?  Who knows.  We all moved away from Colorado and the ‘rents must have pitched them.  A pity.  Anyway, here’s a photo of a proper (commercial) studded tire.


 Dear Dr. Tyre,

I’m kind of a connoisseur of print ads.  What is your favorite ad for a bike tire?

Sheila S, Boston, MA

Dear Sheila,

There are lots of great old ads for tires, but two of them leap readily to mind.  First, this one:


The other one, alas, I can’t find anywhere, but the following photo has much in common with it:  the same guy, on this same giant bike, pitched over in a turn at the same angle:


This second ad was for the new Avocet Fasgrip tire, which had no tread whatsoever.  It was sort of the Atkins diet of the bike tire world:  take everything we thought we knew about tires and reverse it.  Completely bald tires.  The actual ad showed the guy on a wet road, fearlessly banking over like that.  The text promised that the tire really would stick like glue in the wet, and I think it even gave some silly reasons why slick was better.

I guess if I have to pick between these two favorite ads—and I clearly do, based on your question—I’d go with the Clément ad because it doesn’t promise, or indeed even say, anything at all.  The man and woman seem to be fighting over the tire, but the woman looks bored.  Then there’s the guy in the back in the suit … what’s his story?  You might question whether this is a persuasive ad, but it sure worked on me.  I refer you to last week’s question about my favorite tire, and to the fact that Clément was a runner-up despite my never having tried it.  Its mystique owes a lot to this ad, I think.

The Avocet ad, meanwhile, didn’t convince me, but did convince my brother Geoff.  He completely trusted those tires, up to and until the rainy day on which he took the turn into the bike shop parking lot at breakneck speed and slid right out, crashing hard.  He ended up with close to thirty stitches in his chin.  From that day forward (actually, probably from the very beginning) we called the Avocet tires “Fas-slip.”  (To be honest, they probably weren’t any worse for traction than any other tire.  The ad alone is at fault in suggesting the impossible feat of cornering that hard in the wet.)

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