CHOOSING THE RIGHT TIRE

It should be noted at the outset that this article is devoted only to tires, while some cyclists sometimes ride in the gut, not to mention of course the messengers. Readers wishing to compare the characteristics of casings in relation to tires should consult the article I have already published on the subject in recent years.

Before seeing the different categories of envelopes according to their use, we will start with a small X-ray of the tire.

Tire characteristics

We will thus successively address the different points that characterize a tire: the carcass, the clevis, the beads, the puncture resistance, the section, the inflation pressure, the ageing.

The carcass

It is made of nylon, kevlar or cotton yarns, the latter being softer than nylon. More sensitive to friction and humidity, cotton is also more expensive and therefore reserved (because it allows very high carcass densities) for high-end tires and hoses.

The most common material is nylon.

The yarns are woven or arranged parallel to each other.

Carcass density is measured in TPI (thread per inch), i.e. the number of threads per inch. If the wire is “large” in diameter, there is less on one inch (2.54 cm). As a result, the carcass is thicker, heavier and stiffer; it is energy-intensive. However, it is more resistant to the risk of punctures and cuts. This is 33 IPT for the heaviest tires (performance is poor), and generally 66 IPT (tire goes everywhere). They are the cheapest.

The tire with a high IPT (127 and higher) is very flexible, more comfortable and requires less energy when driving. In this way, it reacts better to starts and accelerations and expresses itself fully at high speed. The disadvantage of this type of carcass is that it is less resistant to punctures. Finally, these tires are more expensive.

However, beware of this nomenclature because some manufacturers add up the folds of the carcass, which multiplies the result in terms of TPI.

The screed

The tread, or rubber, ensures the tire’s grip and determines rolling resistance. Its thickness plays a major role in its properties, as much as its nature. The difficulty lies in choosing a tread that is designed to resist abrasion for good tire durability and to provide the best possible road-holding without significantly increasing rolling resistance. But in the latter case, the gum will be less durable. A soft gum retains foreign bodies, unlike an eraser plus. Climatic conditions are also important. Indeed, an eraser does not behave the same in cold weather, rain or extreme heat. Therefore, the tread will be different depending on whether the tire is intended for use in winter, summer, training or competition.

To sum up, a soft rubber has grip, deforms (in bends and in dancers for example), increases rolling resistance, has a shorter life span. A hard rubber reduces road grip, reduces rolling resistance and the risk of punctures.

Finally, the question of the presence of drawings on the screed is often debated. What is the real situation? Opinions remain divided. Some, stating that they have no effect on road holding, will say that their presence aesthetic reassures the cyclist; others consider that the general behaviour of the tyre (aerodynamics, corner holding, etc.) is influenced by the shape of the drawings.

Nevertheless, there are smooth tires (slick) at several manufacturers, for example at Michelin with the Power endurance or at Schwalbe with the Pro One.

The rods

Their role is to hold the tire in place on the rim. Initially made of steel, and therefore rigid, they have become flexible and lighter thanks to the use of aromatic polyamides, aramids, and carbon for tubeless tires. The beads indirectly affect comfort because they ensure a better grip of the tire on the rim at low pressure. Their flexibility allows the tire to deform better and therefore increase grip and performance.

 Anti-puncture reinforcements

To reduce the risk of punctures, manufacturers play on the carcass by increasing the number of layers (called folds) or add a denser fabric between layers: Vectran, Kevlar, twaron or a very tight nylon (or cotton) mesh. The “price” to pay is more stiffness, less efficiency, less comfort.

The section

The section of the tyre is not neutral on its dynamic behaviour. Aerodynamics requires a thin tire. Comfort, on the other hand, requires a large volume of the carcass.

Synthetically, it turns out that the narrow tire is light, aerodynamic and rigid, but adheres less with reduced grip. The upper-section tyre, which is heavier, as a result, is more comfortable, offers better performance and is aerodynamic thanks to the use of wide, profiled rims.

For a long time, the “standard” was 23 mm (however, 25 years ago everyone was driving on 20 or 21 mm tires). For a few years now, the 25 mm has been the one that has proven to be the best for all: lateral stiffness, handling, aerodynamics, performance, comfort.

There are also 28 mm tires, which further improves comfort. But, in addition to the fact that not all frames accept such a wide tire, the negative point is a real loss of nervousness.

Above: Michelin PRO4 Service Course and Vittoria Rubino All Seasons tires

Inflation pressure

In general, the pressure measured in bars must correspond to one-tenth of the cyclist’s weight. From then on, it will be 7 bars for a 70 kg rider. In practice, the pressure will be adjusted by taking into account, in addition to the weight of the cyclist, the range recommended by the manufacturer, and other parameters such as weather conditions. For example, slightly reducing the pressure improves overall comfort and grip in wet weather. On the other hand, an over-inflated tire (+8 bar) causes inconveniences such as jumping constantly on the road. In addition, carbon rims are often limited to 8 bars.

A word about the inner tube which, although not visible, has an influence on the driving. Be sure to use a chamber that is related to the section of the tire, so no smaller to limit friction, and of the same quality level. Indeed, a light chamber in a heavy tire does not bring anything. And a thick chamber in a light tire penalizes it.

The rubber used for inner tubes is often butyl (polymerized elastomer). Latex rooms are reserved for summer tires, rather high-end. They are very efficient but are quite fragile.

Aging

In the past, we heard the former advisers keep in a dry place any tire that had just been purchased for a year or more to age it before mounting it on his bike. We are no longer where we are today. Indeed, ageing is obtained during vulcanisation, which means that the tyre is immediately ready for use.

What is important to know is that the tire’s properties diminish over time. After 2 years, the wet grip drops, the rods start to relax, the carcass can lint. Similarly, pressure, UV, salt, humidity, friction on all types of pavements have an impact on the tyre’s service life.

If, however, you store your tires, avoid bending them. Because of the fold is very marked, the tire will have difficulty getting rid of this deformation.

We will see in paragraph 32 below that the question of ageing is approached differently with regard to open tubes or open tyres.

Tire specialization

In this chapter, I mention some examples of tires to illustrate the different categories treated. The products mentioned are largely taken from the 2018 and 2019 catalogues of the magazine Le CYCLe Hors Series Special equipment. It follows from this that, on the one hand, the precise denominations and, on the other hand, the unit prices may vary with the offer of your usual points of sale (bicycles, sports superstores, online sales sites) and the manufacturers’ current catalogue. Therefore, the examples given in the following paragraphs are for information only.

Training

The aim is to have envelopes that allow you to drive durable in all weathers, without worries, and not to seek performance.

Tyres in this category are relatively heavy, around 300 grams. Mounted on rather rigid rods, the carcasses do not exceed 66 TPI. The tyre has anti-puncture reinforcements. The screen is thick.

As a result, these tires are not nervous and uncomfortable enough. Their grip is medium, especially on cold and wet roads. But they have a long lifespan and are very affordable.

They are to be used in training for endurance outings.

The market offer is wide. examples include (rates shown are for 2018):

  • Continental Ultra Sport 2 TR 60 TPI 310 to 430 gr depending on the section 21 €
  • Schwalbe Lugano 50 TPI 255 to 280 gr 24 €

And, for more advanced training:

  • Vittoria Zaffiro Pro 60 TPI 240 to 310 gr 27 €
  • Michelin Lithion 3 60 TPI 225 to 235 gr 23 €

Generalist tires

As its classification indicates, this category of tyres is suitable for all levels: performance, almost “all-weather”, durability, resistance to the risk of punctures (frequent presence of Kevlar puncture protection). The properties of these tires are therefore a compromise between the various specifications mentioned in Chapter 1 above. These are sure values that avoid changing tires during the year depending on the circumstances.

Some examples:

  • Continental Grand Prix 4000 S II 110 TPI 185 to 260 gr 60 €
  • Continental Grand Prix 5000 110 TPI 205 gr in 25 mm 63 € (new in 2019)
  • Vittoria Corsa 290 TPI 200 to 265 gr 60 €
  • Schwalbe One 127 TPI 205 to 245 gr 53 €
  • Michelin Power Competition 180 TPI 195 to 215 gr 45 €
  • Pirelli P Zero Velo 4S 127 TPI 205 gr 48 €

Performance

This category of tyres should be reserved at specific times because their lifespan is shorter (less than 3000 km) and their price is high. But what a joy to drive in the right season with these envelopes on beautiful dry roads! We will appreciate them in the right season on cyclosportives, mountain bikes, high mountain hikes, time trials and gentlemen, etc… and of course in competition for the runners.

Indeed, lightness, elasticity, efficiency, the feeling of having a better performing bike and “being better” are all there. However, in order to preserve them, it is advisable to monitor different points: the thickness of the screed (already thin at the beginning), the general condition of the carcass. Also, remember to swap them every 3 or 400 km to extend and deflate them after each exit.

Some examples:

  • Zipp Tangent Speed 220 TPI 180 to 190 gr 70 €
  • Continental Supersonic 110 TPI 140 gr 68 €
  • Bontrager R4 320 TPI 230 gr 70 €
  • Pirelli P Zero TT 127 TPI 168 gr 43 €
  • Hutchinson Fusion 5 Galactik 127 TPI 190 gr 60 €

Special cases

As such, we will stop on winter tires, open tubular (open hoses), tubeless tires.

Winter tires

To drive in winter, cold temperatures and humidity must be taken into account when choosing your tires. They must also resist gravel, flint, sand, glass, abrasive roads, rain, snow sometimes. Also, manufacturers apply the same principles as for car tyres. Thus, the market offers products for bicycles that make it possible to ride more safely: specific treads and treads, good grip, puncture-resistant reinforcements, comfort, performance.

Continental works with nano component gums such as Pure Grip and Black Chile. Mavic develops gums with a lower Tg: the temperature at which the gum softens or hardens. Specialized integrates silica compounds with a high proportion of specific synthetic rubbers into its tires.

In short, choosing a good winter tire means giving priority to grip, durability and protection against punctures, to the detriment of weight and performance. It will also be possible to opt for a larger section (28 mm if the bike’s architecture accepts it) for more comfort.

A tip: remove your winter tires in the spring because driving with temperatures above 10 ° will shorten its lifespan. Winter rubber is very sensitive to abrasion when the temperature rises.

Some examples:

  • Schwalbe Durano Plus 67 TPI 340 to 380 gr 48 €
  • Continental Grand Prix 4 Season 330 TPI 230 to 320 gr 63 €
  • Vittoria Rubino Pro-Tech 150 TPI 240 gr 40 €
  • Specialized All Condition Armadillo elite 60 TPI 285 to 395 gr 40 €
  • Hutchinson Fusion 5 All Season 127 TPI 219 gr 47 €
  • Michelin Power All Season 60 TPI 235 to 295 gr 45 €

Open hoses

There are not many products on the market, but it is interesting to stop there because the open tubulars have undeniable qualities. However, few manufacturers offer them: Vittoria, Veloflex, Challenge, Trek, Specialized, Vredestein.

Open tubes are compared to hoses but this is irrelevant because of the weight. On one side tire rim, chamber and envelope; the other specific rim and tubular. This leads to differences in design, weight and dynamics.

For the record, article “Choosing to drive with a tyre or hose”.

While open tubes look like conventional tires, they differ in their construction close to the casings (no baking). The carcass is made of cotton or polycotton with a high IPT around 300 which provides great flexibility of the sides and therefore better lateral deformation, ensuring good grip and comfort. On the other hand, open tubes have little protection against the risk of punctures. Like the casing, the screed a mixture of natural gums is glued manually to the carcass. It is the ageing in the air that partly ensures the low rolling resistance, which guarantees very good performance, and a certain resistance to wear and puncture.

Despite their undeniable qualities, professional riders are not interested in them, preferring guts. Yet manufacturers claim that open tubes are more efficient than hoses! We can simply note that Tony Martin uses open tubes in time trials and that Peter Sagan sometimes rides them in races.

In fact, open casings are to be considered as an exceptional product, at a rather high price. It’s a niche market. To fully appreciate it, it must be combined with a high-end latex inner tube.

Some examples of tires:

  • Challenge Record 300 TPI 215 gr in 23 mm 60 €
  • Challenge Strada 25 Open 300 TPI 240 gr in 25 mm 54 €
  • Vittoria Corsa 320 TPI 258 gr in 25 mm 70 €
  • Vittoria Corsa Speed Open TLR 320 TPI 232 gr in 23 mm 77 €
  • Veloflex Record 350 TPI 145 gr in 23 mm 47 €
  • Bontrager R4 320 320 TPI 295 gr in 25 mm 70 €

Tubeless tires

We’ve been talking about tubeless for a long time. Widely present in mountain biking, it struggles to win on road bikes. And this despite the fact that there is unanimity on its level of performance and comfort. What is it really like?

The tubeless is a tubeless tire mounted on a rim, with a valve, and the connection between these elements must be waterproof. For this reason, the rims are specific: In addition to the hooks on both edges, the inside of the rim is characterised by the presence of a central groove in which the tyre beads will be accommodated during assembly, before taking place in their final position under the hook during pressurisation. We use a preventive liquid (otherwise we would quickly run-flat) and a rim strip called a flap. The valve has an important role to play. It must be tightened by hand (if a puncture occurs during the exit, an inner tube must be placed), and properly for a good seal. The puncture-proof liquid is injected through the valve, about 30 ml per wheel. The product ages, it will be necessary to replace it after 3 to 6 months. The tubeless should be inflated to about 2 bars less than the same tire with the chamber.

All tests performed show the dynamic gain of tubeless. Despite this, its constraints still make it prefer the classic tire, not to mention the tubular. Because the constraints are real: mounting and dismounting without tyre changer (which is not always easy), perfect clipping of the tyre beads on the rim during inflation (difficult with a mini-pump), more frequent replacement of the rim strip, use of an anti-puncture liquid, making sure to distribute it correctly by rotating the wheel for 1 minute.

Despite its still low attractiveness to cyclists, tubeless is in full development on the manufacturers’ side. Indeed, there are many such tires in their catalogue. For 2 years, Mavic has been selling wheel/tubeless assemblies. Giant does the same on its high-end bikes. Trek and Specialized have chosen to equip their machines with Tubeless Ready rims offering users the choice of tubeless or classic tires. For their part, the major wheel manufacturers, such as DT Swiss, Campagnolo, Shimano, offer compatible rims. And on the side of tyre manufacturers, Hutchinson, Vittoria, Schwalbe, Continental, in particular, have a dedicated tubeless offer.

Some examples:

  • Mavic Yksion Pro UST 127 TPI 260 gr in 25 mm 59 €

  (UST: eTRTO 2018 or ISO 4210/5775 standard)

  • Pirelli Cinturato 302 gr in 26 mm 53 €
  • Schwalbe 01 Pro One 277 gr in 25 mm 70 €
  • Giant Gavia Race 60 TPI 288 gr in 25 mm 50 €
  • Hutchinson All Season 332 gr in 28 mm 54 €
  • Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL 110 TPI 300 gr in 25 mm 75 € (new in 2019)

Generally speaking, it emerges from this overview, and to make a long story short, that the alternative is as follows. either we choose a generalist tire that will be used all year round. In this case, the market offer makes it possible to have a good quality tire, good everywhere. either we opt for differentiation of tires according to the season and circumstances, with the “chore” of dismantling/assembling during the year. In this case, the choice can be made for a winter tyre, then a generalist tyre, then in the event of a particular event a performance tyre and possibly an open tubular tyre.

For cyclists whose equipment includes 2 pairs of wheels, the implementation of the second solution is obviously easier.

That’s it, all you have to do is choose.

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