Thursday, August 07, 2008

Hi-tech tires for older bikes

Image of older bikes in front of mural in Los Angeles
From the New York Times, 08.07.08:

Gear Test | High-Tech Bicycle Tires
Jalopy Bikes With Techie Tires

BICYCLE lovers, thrifty as well as trend conscious, are pulling neglected 10-speeds from storage and readying them for the road again. (Let the environmentally aware bragging rights begin.)

These bicycles, made in the 1970s and 80s, used 27-inch wheels, which have been replaced with the smaller 700c wheels by road bike manufacturers. But a recent surge in sales of 27-inch tires suggests that the lowly steeds of yore are gaining new life as commuter bikes and weekend cruisers.

This time around, bike owners have more high-tech tires to choose from. The latest models feature increased thread counts in tire casings, and Kevlar and other space-age fibers to improve puncture resistance, as well as sophisticated rubber compounds that are durable, improve traction and enhance ride quality.

“The manufacturers can’t make the tires fast enough,” said David Pierce, a senior buyer at Quality Bicycle Products, one of the country’s biggest parts distributors, who reported a 200-percent increase in sales of the tires this year.

Ramona Marks and Ted Liscinski, carless volunteers at a nonprofit bike repair shop in Los Angeles, the Bicycle Kitchen, tested five pairs of tires while commuting and running errands around the Southland. (Read more.)
I've been fortunate to have pedaled many miles on older 27-inch wheeled bicycles, including a much missed Trek Touring Bike. I have no 27-inch wheels in my current bike stable.

It seems many fuel pump refugees are dusting off their own older bikes and fixing them up. This article features five brands of tires in 27-inch sizes. Any other suggestions?

I used to be almost exclusively loyal to Continental Top Touring (now the "Touring Plus") tires, which I continue to admire and believe still come in a 27-inch size. In recent years I've been broader in my tire use, and have been very impressed with the Vittoria Randonneurs on my touring bike (in a fat, comfortable 700x38 size.) Now on my second set of these, and they've been great.

Image: New York Times.
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dr2chase said...

The new tires are vastly better than what I grew up with, but it's hard to know which are the really good tires and which are the merely pretty good tires. When I changed, because of potholes, from "skinny" (28mm, 120psi) tires to "fat" (60mm, 60psi) tires, I noticed that my commute time went down. I later measured it carefully and found that in fact the fat tires had lower rolling resistance.

But this is just one experiment -- should I conclude that big slick tires in general are better, or is it just these two particular tires? Evaluating on the subjective "fun" axis, I definitely like the fat tires better.

For reference, the two tires were Bontrager Race Lite (700c x 28, 120psi) and Schwalbe Big Apple (26 x 2.3, 60 psi). I could swap them easily because I have disk brakes.

Joel said...

This brings me a little hope that someday I'll be able to get reflective sidewall tires for my commuter bike - a 1972 Schwinn Speedster made with "Schwinn size" tires (26 x 1 3/8). I've tried the closest I could find (which claimed it was compatible) and it wouldn't fit on the rim.

dr2chase said...

Joel, have you seen Sheldon Brown's tire sizing page?

It looks like you might have 597mm tires, where the usual 26x1 3/8 is 590mm.

Browsing the Schwalbe ETRTO product search

you appear to be out of luck.

One possibility is to simply downsize your rims to the 26x1-3/8 "3-speed" size. Your brakes may or may not reach (you need 3.5mm more reach; when I did an equivalent downsize from 27" to 700c, the rear reached just fine, but the front is right on the hairy edge, and needed a little file work on the brake). Schwalbe makes tires of that size with reflective sidewalls, though you might want to check the prices before committing to this project. The Marathon 348 or 368 are your most-likely choices.