Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tire Troubles

There are only two points of contact that a bicycle should ever make with the road.  These are the front and rear tires.  One should pay careful attention to them before, during and after each ride.  Failure to do so can make for a very miserable ride.  Here are a few stories of my inability to check my tires before leaving on a ride.

(First, I have a photo of Brad Dagget with a duct taped tire on Ragbrai.  I think he rode it for two days.  Someday I will find this photo and post it.)

My story begins here...At the bottom of a hill with a dead tire.  It was Ragbrai sometime in the early 90s.  Where it was I can not be certain.  However, I recall it was in between two rolling hills.  Mary and I were on the Fisher Gemini tandem.  We used Tioga City Slickers 26x1.25 tires.  I loved them.  Smooth yet with sipes for blasting away rain.  I do not recall one ever going flat.  Also rubber, shit sidewall.  That is what ended my favorite tires.

How many miles I had on these I cannot recall.  My record keeping back then was not as dogmatic as today.  But the magic number of miles was reached as we were speeding downhill.

I can always tell when a tire is going flat or needs replacement.  The ride goes to hell immediately.  Sometimes slowly.  Gotta have a sensitive ass for this.  "Just does not feel right" is something that cannot be placed in words.  If one is lucky this "feeling" can be detected in time to replace said tire before becoming stranded.  The tread is reaching the life limit and beginning to flatten (not air loss) and lose its crown. 

But on this ride we did not have that luxury.  I felt it as we were passing someone.  More feedback from the road.  A little squishy when we brought the bike back to the right after passing.  Then the ride really got rough.  Time to pull over.  Yep, totally flat.  Sidewall gave out and the tube tried to go through the hole.  Quick inventory revealed that we were hosed.  Only a tube, some levers and a pump.  We needed a tire.  Back then a foldable tire for $25 would have been the lifesaver.  But I have yet to carry one and to this day do not.  Note to self: GET A DAMN TIRE TO CARRY ON RAGBRAI.

So looking stupid on the side of the road we stood watching everyone fly by.  Nobody asked us if we needed help yet alone stop to help.  And then a man on a Basso pulling a Burley touring trailer stopped.  Hammerman, he called himself.  He happened to have a Specialized Fatboy slick.  Just the ticket.  Miracle at $20.  We were back on the road.

Years later, perhaps 2006, that might have been the same tire that exploded on Kramer's ride to Ames.  We stopped for a safety meeting, large group dynamics require such, and a beer or two just before we were to hit 415.  Then the explosion.  Whenever I hear a tire blow up I look in the direction of my bike.  Sure enough, the boom was in the same area as the tandem.  Yep, sidewall hole.  We abandoned the ISU game/ride and did the dollar bill trick.  Wrapped the tube with the bill at the area of the sidewall hole.  First time I did this.

This lasted quite a long way.  Mary and I got almost to the trestle on the Neal Smith Trail when it gave up.  Called my sister Patty for the air strike.  New tire time.  A set of Serfas were next. 

I really wanted another set of Fatboys.  They lasted for a decade.  I found in my garage a wheel with a Bike World repair tag dated 1996.  I knew that it once held the Fatboy.  But Bike World was out of them and I was not in the mood to drive to Irwins or Rassy's.  Serfas had a 26x1.25 for a reasonable price.  If they crapped out too soon then I'd get the Fatboys or something better.

Crap out time happened at 1500 miles.  But most of those miles were loaded touring miles and sometimes on shit roads and often at high speeds.  Should I complain?  We got 2 Ragbrais out of them.  Mary and I got an outstanding, make that an outfuckingstanding and sublime ride to, during and back to DSM Human Bike In (Grinnel) a month prior.  Fast and overloaded on crap roads.

It was not really a crap out but a warning.  Ragbrai Day One.  We were about 2 or 3 miles south of Yale on the Raccoon Trail hiding from rain underneath the trees.  Not long after the rain stopped and we started rolling that same bad feeling hit.  We stopped.  Losing air.  Fortunately we were prepared having 2 tubes and a floor pump.  I we carry everything else might as well have a floor pump.  They come in handy and give a perfect excuse to stop riding and help someone.

Being very close to Yale we opted for pumping the tire back up and getting to the bar in Yale.  Changing tires is a messy process.  A beer and decent setting to do this work is preferable to trail side.  We had to pump it up twice.

It was a simple puncture as the solo hole in the tube revealed.  Save it for patching, we or someone may need it later.  Check the in the middle of the tire for the trouble maker and the inside of the tire before replacing the tube.

As simple of a repair it was did not leave us with feelings of absolute joy.  A dark cloud on the horizon was in the form of purple splotches on the tire.  Maybe we ran over some fresh paint in Panora when we stopped at the depot for a beer.  Lots of paint there.  But the front tire was free of this.  I tried to ignore this.

Literally we turned around at this point.  Joe Bridgeman called and suggested that we go back to Redfield and hook up.  Other baggers would be there that night.  Fine.  Safety in numbers and an opportunity to look for purple paint.

No purple paint at the depot.  Joe said that the tire was displaying the "warning" strip.  Crabb laughed and told us of his "green" tire.  Shit.  Day One with a dieing tire.

I checked daily.  No bike shops until we actually hit Ragbrai proper.  Bagging out to 'Brai always is an off route experience.  And once tasted, going on route sucks.  Somehow the tire lasted and still holds air to this day although we have not ridden the bike much since returning.  I was planning to purchase a new tire in Atlantic but ended up buying a spoke instead.  The mechanic did not mention the tire.  I had two rolls of electrical tap for "booting" the tire and I could always cut up the old tube for more patching.  Lucky roll of the dice.  I should have replaced the bastard.

I think we put 330 miles on the tire since the warning strip was exposed.

Enter the Kenda Qwest.  My Giant Via Raw came shod with these.  Kenda advertises these as "flat resistant" commuter and touring tires.  Crabb said he gets about 3000 miles out of them before they become flat prone.  I got 2500.

This is a weird one.  The bike sat inside all weekend.  Monday morning it has a flat.  Later in the week I replace the tube.  The first morning I grab the bike it has a noticeable lump in the ride, rear wheel.  I stop.  Tire not flat or low on air and nothing rubbing.  I continue to work.  Once at work I see it.  A damn bulge.  this does not look promising, err good promises.  I make it home and do a few errands on it.  I end up with 20 miles on it.  Got caught a block away from House of Bricks when the hissing started.

And to be a bad boy I rode the bastard home on the flat.  I felt like Franz finishing a race.  The tire was dead anyway.  Short 2 mile ride.  I stood up to keep more weight on the front tire.  As long as the tire stayed on the rim the wheel would be OK.  Not that I recommend this but I have been known to do this especially when I flat one mile shy of work in the morning.  Avoid bumps and take it slow and easy.  Faster than walking.  And who the hell am going to call at 130 am?  Or 530 am if I am going to work?  Never have damaged a rim but use your own judgement and I am not responsible for the destruction of your $1000 carbon fiber rims if you try to imitate me.

If you ride 700c wheels I recommend Bontrager's Hardcase and RaceLite tires.  Triple flat protection they claim.  I believe them.  These are what Trek puts on their mid to higher end bikes  Grey sidewalls.  Flay smooth black strip in the middle of the tire.  I've pulled chunks of broken glass out of mine.  The tire was not punctured.  HOWEVER, they have a limited life span.

Mary got about 3000 out of hers before I got tired of fixing flats.  My 35s actually had tread separation.  The black tread got a rip and cords were exposed.  The tire did not go flat.  Just a rough ride, something wrong here feeling and DAMN THE TIRE IS COMING APART!  I did not try to see how many miles I could get out of this but I think it had more than enough to get me home if I was in Cumming.  Sean from Newton can also attest to this ability of the Bontragers to hold air while exposing cords.  We have one pair left and they have 3000 miles on them.  I think I can feel the t6rerad wearing away on back.  Not as smooth as it used to be.

A Bontrager HC with a "patch".  Owner said he'd get 30+ miles out of before it needed attention.  he rode this for several 30 mile trips

Lesson here:  Check your tires before each ride, Replace if necessary.

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