Wednesday, July 14, 2010

In praise of clinchers

Tubulars or clinchers? This is not a question that will be settled today. Personally, I like clinchers. They offer good grip, comfort, durability and seem pretty fast to me. 
Tubulars would be lighter, provide even more grip and, given that professional riders use them and must have good reasons for doing so, more speed. If I used tubulars, however, I would have to carry a spare or two, just in case, as they used to do when they wore them across the chest. 

The extra weight would eliminate all of the advantages of a tubular. 
When misfortune strikes, changing a tubular is not something to be done on the spur of the moment. It takes time, and the outcome can be ghastly, if the exchange is performed incorrectly. Which is why race riders have professional bike mechanics to do it for them. Usually there is no team car behind me when I ride. So, there you have it, it’s clinchers.
Still, not all clinchers are equal. What to look for, when I buy a set? When I started paying nearly daily visits at the BikeNüt shop, I asked questions, researched the manufacturers websites, read Bicycling Magazine, and got more confused than ever--too much information. It took some experimentation and improved bike-handling sensibility to figure out what I liked.
What is my ideal clincher tyre? I consider five determining factors: rolling resistance, comfort, grip, weight, and durability. There would be a sixth factor, cost, if it weren’t for the sad truth that clinchers are all in the same price range, within a few dollars from one another.
Rolling resistance. Do you have the impression that you can go as fast as you want, or that the ground is as smooth as an egg shell? That is good. If the clinchers you use give you such feedback, keep using them: that is low rolling resistance.
Comfort. Often, surface conditions are less than ideal on our beautiful roads. There are cracks, potholes, bad repair patches, loose debris, and, in some cases, the surface is so worn out that it feels as rough as sand paper. Good clincher tyres, while not entirely insulating us against the ills of modern road surfaces, can at least alleviate their worst symptoms. I have discovered that the higher the thread count (TPI = Threads Per Inch) the more comfortable the tyre feels and the less rolling resistance it develops.
Grip. This is an attribute we usually think important when going downhill. If you are descending at more than 40 miles per hour, and your tyres give you the impression that you are drifting, that is not a good thing. Please change them as soon as you can. If, on the other hand, you can lean into the curve until your knees touch the road surface, that is good grip. Keep them.
Weight. We all know that a light bike is faster than a heavier one. Tyres contribute to the overall weight, and therefore we want the lightest we can find. As usual, we must make compromises: a very light tyre is more prone to annoying punctures than a heavier one. A heavier one will probably last longer, too. 
Durability. Tyre weight is not the only indicator of long life. The rubber chemical compound is another variable: a harder tyre, however less comfortable, will outlast a softer-compound tyre. Perhaps most important of all is where we ride. Urban roads are less kind on our wheels than country roads, smoother surfaces easier on the tyres than rough ones, and neck-break cornering is antithetical to long life.

In the end, it all comes down to personal preference, as I mentioned earlier, based on solid experience. BikeNüt carries at least four tyre brands in their lineup, Continental, Michelin, Schwalbe, and Vittoria.
Here is a comparative table with some of these tyres.

Continental GP Attack
190 g
Continental Grand Prix 4000S
207 g
Michelin PRO² RACE
229 g
Vittoria Open Corsa Evo Slick
210 g
Vittoria Rubino Pro Slick
215 g
Schwalbe Ultremo R.1 HS 380
180 g

Each of these brands offers a line of several products, for clincher tyres but also for tubulars. I have tried my share of combinations. For the moment, I am pleased with a Continental Grand Prix Attack for the front wheel and a Continental Grand Prix 4000s for the back: comfortable, good grip, excellent roll, and very durable. They definitely could be lighter. I’ll keep researching.

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