Sometimes I wish I could go back to the time in my life when I liked bikes, but not liked bikes. What I mean by that is a “bike” was just a bike, and I didn’t think too much beyond that. Things were changed out when they broke, not because I felt a need to change things “just because”. And tires were just tires, and always black. I never thought about tires until I got a flat.
This previous “golden” era ended around 2005, when I did my first bike tour and realized that I’d like a nicer bike. While I indeed have owned nicer bikes since then, it started me on this whole road of Bike Fanciness, of stressing about aesthetics and esoterics. While this definitely makes for interesting reading (either for you, dear reader, or for me, because I like those blogs too), it sometimes comes back to bite you in the ass.
Which brings me back to tires. Over the past years tires are the part of the bike I obsess too much over. I want nice tires. I want nice looking tires, and also nice performing tires. This seems to be an endless quest.
A few months ago I decided to get some knobbiesque tires for my Raleigh Crested Butte to make it a more off-road capable machine. I got a set of Continental Traffic tires, as they seemed to have the right balance between on and off road conditions. I had them on for a few months, realized that I didn’t really like them, and took them off and replaced them with the cream-colored Rubena Cityhopper tires that were on there before that. Everything seemed fine and dandy until a few weeks later I noticed a nice gouge running the entire circumference of the sidewall. Uh oh. The gouge was caused by a misaligned brake pad. I knew that I was now playing with borrowed time on this tire, so I needed a new one.
It would have been simple to just get a replacement Cityhopper tire, but nooooo, we can’t have that! After looking around for a bit, I decided to get the tires that I’ve been wanting to get: a set of Schwalbe Big Bens in their lovely terracotta brown.
Now switching out tires is theoretically an easy job, but it’s one I never can do quickly, as I’m not a great mechanic. And I end up futzing with other stuff on the bike at the same time, including cleaning out the underside of the fenders. (This is the type of thing a shop ain’t gonna do.) So this “simple” job takes me a few hours. But I got it done. Everything seemed fine in the stand…but the next day when I rode the bike around, I realized that there was a problem: The tires are too big.
- Tire width measuring is an oddly inexact science. While one may think all you need is a ruler or micrometer, you know, a measuring device of some kind, it’s hard for tire makers to know exactly how wide a tire will be until it’s been produced. And on top of that, tire manufactures are not consistent with that width number. Some manufactures typically lowball the measurement, others highball it. I forgot that Schwalbe’s tires tend to run on the “wider than usual” side. Which brings me to number two:
- My Crested Butte, while a mountain bike, does not have a lot of room for big tires. This is mostly due to the era when it was manufactured, 1984. Back then, MTB tires only came in at around 2.0″ or 52mm wide, what my Cityhoppers were. There wasn’t anything wider, so why would you need a bike with more tire clearance?
As much as I tried to make it right, there’s just not enough clearance in the stays to make this tire work. Not only that, but if I threw it down to the granny gear, the chain would rub the tire. Not good. To paraphrase the great Mark Borchardt, we’re not back to square one, we’re back to square zero. I have to get a new set of tires…again.
And it’s hard for me to think of all the time wasted for this “learning experience”. Hours upon hours looking online over the past few years, hunting for “the perfect pair of tires”. Especially something not black. I’ve read online reviews, forums, etc etc. Then there’s the several hours I spent mounting tires that simply don’t work. I think of these things and see it as time wasted. Time I could have spent drawing, getting needed projects done, cleaning my room, doing creative things, heck, writing another post for this blog!* I don’t want to be one of those people that you see on forums, people who obsess over every little piece of bike minutiae rather than actually ride a bike. I’m not getting any younger. But at least I know that I’m not the only one like this, and others could be much, much worse.
If there is any silver lining to this, it’s that I can use those Big Bens for another upcoming bike project, on a bike that they’d actually fit. (So don’t ask for them!) But this meant that I had to get other tires, since I didn’t want to put the Cityhoppers back on (and I already gave them to my roommate), nor was I going to put those Conti Traffic tires back on either (and I sold those.) So I decided to get another tire that I had been eyeing for a bit: the Continental Retro Ride. They have them in cream, but now they also have them in brown. At 26″ x 2.0″ or 50-559, they are smaller than both the Big Bens and the Cityhoppers, so I knew they’d fit. The brown is nice (though not as nice as the terra cotta on the Schwalbes) and compliments the bike well.
So I hope that I don’t have to think about tires for this bike for a long time!
*Of course all this nonsense did lead to this post, so I guess that’s something?