Thursday, May 29, 2014

"Rough Road" Tires?

I saw this article on BikeRumor about some new prototype supposedly fat tires for "rough roads." What the heck is going on when a 25 mm tire (that may or may not measure as much as 27 mm depending on the rim it's mounted on) gets attention as a "rough road" tire?

Other than the fact that they have tougher casings, there isn't much info in the article about the tires themselves, as they were simply photographed by a participant at this past weekend's Baller's Ride in Virginia which was billed as "equal parts Navy Seals training, Outward Bound, and a Mensa meeting for the most vain of the vain, all coupled with some brutally hard riding and dining." The event actually sounds like it might have been a good time, being a gathering of some great names among frame builders and other industry folks, and some of their invited customers and friends, and involving some pretty tough riding over a range of terrain.

Maybe 25 mm is the fatest tire that will fit
into the fork, or under the brake, but please
don't kid yourself that it's a "rough road" tire.
About 25 mm tires being considered "fat," I think the pictures speak well for themselves. Crammed under a short-reach brake and into a carbon fiber fork with minimal clearances, the tire obviously pushes the limits of what will fit -- but that just reveals a major design flaw in the bike, not an advantage of the tire.

Want a fat tire for rough roads? How about 32 mm? That's a rough road tire. If that won't fit into the frame, then someone probably paid too much money for a bike that's good for only one thing -- going fast on perfect pavement on sunny days. My "raciest" bike is currently shod with 29 mm Challenge Parigi-Roubaix tires which give a great ride on pavement, even when it's broken and patched. Judging by the visible clearances, I'm pretty certain 32s would fit. My Rivendell has 33.3 mm Jack Browns, but could easily accommodate the 38 mm Barlow Pass tires from Compass Bicycles. Despite the old thinking on tire volume, road tests have shown that high-quality large-volume road tires do not slow a bike down, and in fact, have no real down-sides, even for those craving go-fast performance.

Now, those are fat tires for rough stuff.
One "Baller's Ride" participant who had the right idea was Richard Sachs, whose bike for the event was his own cyclocross racer. The tires on that bike look like they are probably at least 35 mm. Oh -- by the way, note that Sachs's bike (almost all of his custom-built bikes, for that matter) is decidedly disc-brake-free. Sachs is no retrogrouch, but I couldn't help but smile when I saw his thoughts on why he "won't ever make a disc brake road or cyclocross bike." "Heavier. Inelegant. Unnecessary. Driven by marketing of the big brands." Couldn't've said it better myself.

Are 25 mm tires better than the 20 - 23 mm tires pumped up past 100 psi that are so common on today's narrowly-focused road bikes? Yeah. But are they fat "rough road" tires? C'mon.


  1. There is nothing that annoys me more about most road bikes than a lack of decent tire clearance. If the average road bike could clear a 32mm, I'd be a happy man.
    I chose my Civia Prospect almost exclusively because it could run a 35mm tire. I even managed to sneak a 40mm Clement MSO in for the all gravel Almanzo 100. The ride quality is amazing with larger tire. So many people come into the bike shop looking for a fast, comfortable ride, and I don't always have the options that I want to give them that.

    Have you rode many of the Rivendell tires? I'd be interested to know your thoughts.

    1. I mention the Rivendell Jack Browns that are 33.3 mm tires -- I really like them. Good comfort, and they feel fast. Previously I had used the Roly Polys, 28 mm, that were also very good. I got a lot of miles out of them. I think the checkerboard file/smooth tread pattern is a little gimmicky, but it's subtle and in practice I have no issues with that. And the tires (both the Roly Polys and the Jack Browns -- basically the same except for the size) have a nice, round profile which makes for good handling. They make "tougher" versions of both with kevlar belts, etc, for puncture resistance, but I've had no problems using the regular versions, which I would guess have a slightly more "supple" casing than the tougher versions, thereby giving them a better ride.

  2. Until just a few years ago, all of my road bikes wore 27" x 1 1/4" tires, which is balloon-like compared to today's razor-edged 700 "race" wheels.
    I converted my mid-80s Bianchi to a more modern go-fast, and part of the conversion was putting 700 wheels on it. I had a minor affliction (thankfully short-lived) that caused me to flirt with a modern drive train (Tiagra 10 speed, I've mentioned before), skinny tires, etc. I had gotten 23mm width tires, and ditched 'em after the first ride. I sold those horrid things and swapped in 28mm tires (Panaracer RibMos, by the way... turned out to be quite nice tires). I could maybe get a couple of mm wider in there, but I am not un-happy with 28's. I certainly didn't notice a speed penalty for going wider, but I sure did notice a difference in comfort. At any rate, I wouldn't consider anything under, say, 35mm a "fat" tire.

    I've read Grant Peterson's thoughts on tires, and have read Jan Heine's studies and blog posts on the same, and have found them quite interesting.

    1. I remember using tires as narrow as 20 mm, and thinking 23 mm was huge -- this was a long time ago. What were we thinking back then? Now, I wouldn't even consider using tires that narrow, much less buy a bike that wouldn't take anything larger than 25. Nowadays, I pretty much consider 28s my "skinny" tires.

  3. I was the one who was riding those tires. They are prototypes and they were given to me with asking me to ride them on rough roads and also give my impressions. Yes, one of my suggestions would be to have a 28mm width option available. Many tires come in multiple sizes and my thinking is these would hopefully have that option. I have no basis for saying this as my task was simply "Ride them hard".
    That being said, I have used these tires in both my own personal training rides on the dirt roads in the Carolinas as well as this past weekend in the Ballers Ride. I'm not exactly the type of guy who holds back my speed for a gravel descent and was bombing pretty good. I have not had a single puncture on these yet despite racking up hundreds of miles on dirt roads since I have received the tires.
    For some of the gravel stuff a cross tire would have been a better option, however there were a lot of paved roads as well and this tire was a nice option for those rides where you are doing both. FWIW, everybody at the Ballers ride thought these were 28's until I told them they were 25's, but the wider profile of the rim I was using helped with that.

    1. Thanks for the info, Boyd -- you're comments are appreciated. And the ride sounds like it would have been a great time.

  4. I dunno, Richie, I can't fit Michelin 25s in the fork you built me in 1996(ish)... I guess I axed for the wrong fork crown.