Friday, March 7, 2014

Retrogrouch-worthy Tires

Finding tires appropriate for vintage or classic-styled bicycles isn't impossible, but in recent years choices haven't been what they once were. Panaracer Paselas have long been available, and they're generally good tires, available in a good range of sizes, and the price is reasonable. But having more choices, especially better-performing ones, is a really good thing.

What's wrong with most current tires? Looks are one thing. The best tires from the classic era had thin, supple sidewalls in the natural tan color of the tire casing, usually made from woven nylon or cotton (or silk on the best tubular tires) with just a thin coat of latex over the threads. Many of today's tires have carbon black sidewalls, not unlike the rubber in the tread -- and those black sidewalls look totally wrong on a vintage racing or touring bike.

But it's not purely an aesthetic point. A lot of the fast, light, supple tires out there today -- the mainstay of many road riders -- tend to come in fairly limited sizes (not to mention the aforementioned black sidewalls), often maxing out at about 25 - 28 mm wide. Fine for the racer wannabes, but for those of us who want to ride fast AND be comfortable, it just isn't enough. Larger volume tires tend to come with pretty bulky, stiff casings -- made for commuting, etc., but not exactly "high-performance."

Compass Bicycles has recently released a full line of new tires that should outperform many racing tires currently on the market, while also offering larger volume sizes for more comfort -- and all available with classic-looking tan sidewalls that look "right" on vintage (or vintage-inspired) bikes. See more info HERE.

Compass was already offering the Grand Bois line of tires, which are classic-looking, super-performing tires. The new line of tires complements the Grand Bois offerings and adds more sizes. Jan Heine, of Bicycle Quarterly and Compass Bicycles, says that the new tires are the result of years worth of "systematic real-world" tests of tire performance. These involved roll-down tests with a power meter, with a rider on board, testing different tire models, and different widths and treads. Tests were even done over different kinds of road surfaces. The results of their tests can be seen in Bicycle Quarterly.

I've used some of the Grand Bois tires, (in both the 28 mm and 32 mm widths) and found them to offer a great ride and handling. The new Compass-branded tires should be at least as good, if not better.

The new tires are available in 700c and 650b versions and in the following sizes:
Classic looking tread and sidewalls, in a huge
38 mm wide package. (from Compass Bicycles)
Cayuse Pass, 700c x 26 mm; Chinook Pass, 700c x 28 mm; Stampede Pass, 700c x 32 mm; and Barlow Pass, 700c x 38 mm.  The 650b tires are as follows: Loup Loup Pass, 650b x 38 mm; Babyshoe Pass, 650b x 42 mm.

The huge Barlow Pass 38 mm tire should give riders on 700c wheels some of the fast comfort benefits that riders on 650b wheels enjoy -- if they have a bike that can fit tires that large. I'm glad to say I do! Most other tires that large would have pretty stiff, thick casings, and are not likely offer nearly the ride quality and handling that I would expect the Barlow Pass tires to deliver.

Jan Heine says also that although the new tires have super-supple casings, they are designed to be "sensible everyday tires." He says, "The tread is 3 mm thick to last many miles, unlike thinner high-performance tires which are best treated as 'event' tires." There are also standard casings, and thinner, more-supple, and still-lighter "extralight" versions. The tires are not cheap, but the price is comparable to other high-quality tires. They range in price from $57 to $78 for the extralight versions. The venerable Panaracer Paselas cost quite a bit less -- but according to the Bicycle Quarterly's tests, they don't perform at the same level, and really aren't considered (or even intended to be) a high-performance tire.

As I've mentioned, I've used the Grand Bois tires and been impressed with them. I'll be pleased to try these new tires from Compass when I get the chance. Classic looks, great performance -- I'm glad to see new choices for Retrogrouch-y rides.

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