Tires Won’t Seat
DEAR UNCLE AL: My Giant TCR2 came with Mavic rims and pretty decent wheels. I can’t seem to get tires to seat well. They are well sealed aroundthe edges of the rim and there is no fear of one unseating. But if I spin the wheel and look from the side, the tire sits a bit higher in some places and hops. The rims are true.
I have reduced inflation and worked the higher parts into the rim. The bead line seems perfectly even all the way around. It’s as though the tire is more stretched in some places than others when it is fully inflated.
I had this problem last year when I purchased a new tire for the rear wheel, but it seemed to improve with time. I recently bought a new front tire and now it’s the same deal. What’s going on? — Dave Z.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: You didn’t say what tires you’re using, DaveZee. If they are el-cheapos, they’ll never be round. You’ll slowly drive yourself nuts trying to make them that way. Try higher-quality tires.
Tip! For anyone suffering the “hops” because the tire won’t seat correctly on the rim, my favorite trick is to spray rubbing alcohol (isopropyl) on the bead all the way around the tire on both sides, then inflate to riding pressure. The alcohol is slippery, so the bead pops into place, but then it quickly evaporates. It won’t hurt the tire or tube. Sometimes it takes a couple of tries, but it works well.
DEAR UNCLE AL: I recently purchased two Hutchinson Gold Carbon Comp 700x23C road tires (thought they’d look great on my bike). I found that no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get the last six inches of the tire bead to slip over the rim. I had been using Continental 3000 tires and never had a problem mounting them. Am I just too weak to mount these tires, or is it possible that the tires were made too small? I realize this is a pathetic question, but I need help! — Reg N.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: Reg, you didn’t say which rims you have, but this sounds like the classic problem of a slightly oversized rim combined with a really tight tire. And never the twain shall meet.
We’re talking less than 4 mm difference in circumference, but that’s enough to make a grown man cry. Return those tires and get either the yellow Conti 3000 or yellow Michelin Pro Race.
I’ve tried those very Hutchinsons and they didn’t last very long. They were hard to mount for me, too, even though I have the strength of 10 ordinary men (the lyric from the Hercules cartoon I used to watch when I was a kid — really, I was a kid once!). The manufacturers need to pay a little better attention because we cyclists aren’t known for our upper-body strength.
FEEDBACK FROM BRYAN B.: For those impossible-to-mount folding tires, try this:
Take an extra or old wheel and mount the new tire with your tire levers without a tube. There will be no danger of puncturing a tube. Leave the tire mounted for a few days.
Then remove the tire with your tire levers, get your powdered tube and wheel, and mount it properly (with fingers). You’ll find that it is a lot easier to mount since the tire has had a chance to very slightly stretch.
FEEDBACK FROM GRAEME C.: The race tyres I use here in Australia (Veloflex folding clinchers) are extremely tight to fit when new. I can’t do it without using tyre levers, and the risk of pinching the tube is high. However, once they have been fitted and pumped up for a few days, they stretch and can thereafter be removed and refitted with hands only.
The difficulty is in fitting them the first time. Here’s my technique.
- Stretch the tyre before trying to install it the first time. With your foot in the tyre (no shoe!), grab opposite and pull up smoothly and strongly. Relax, rotate the tyre 90 degree and repeat. Concentrate your effort on the beads.
- Install the tyre on an old rim, spare wheel, whatever. I have an old rim with a deep well and a thick butyl tube. Just get the tyre on the best way you can. I use levers as necessary and don’t worry too much if I pinch the thick butyl tube in the process.
- After the tyre is on, go around it squeezing and looking down onto the bead. If you can see the tube at any spot (it should all be inside the tyre), pluck the tyre and use levers if necessary until it pops inside. All this time the tube needs to have some air in it to hold shape.
- When happy that all is okay, pump the tyre to max recommended pressure and ideally leave it for a few days. Even if you can’t wait, just pumping it up to pressure will make the tyre noticeably easier to remove and refit.
Once prestretched, I remove the tyre and install it on my race wheel with a lightweight tube, latex in my case. Thereafter, I have no problem with that tyre. I usually keep a boxed spare that I’ve prestretched, ready for emergencies such as a slashed sidewall.
Of course, you could just find a tyre that is easier to fit. But as Uncle Al says, the problem quite often is a slightly overlarge rim combined with a tight tyre. I’d rather use the tyres I want on the wheels I want than be beaten by the problem.
DEAR UNCLE AL: Although my tire tread looks good, I’ve noticed a number of small cuts or slices in the sidewalls. I think they’re from riding over things I shouldn’t have, like glass or sharp stones. At what point should I buy new tires? — Ann
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: Small cuts on the tread or sidewalls are not a problem, Annie, unless they’re all the way into the casing. When that happens, it severely weakens the tire and can allow the tube to bulge through — not good, as the next sound you hear will be the loud BANG! of a blowout. Keep checking for casing damage and bulges. Bad cuts mean it’s time to replace the tire.
When you’re riding and suffer a casing cut that causes a flat, you can “boot” it from the inside of the tire, put in a new tube and get yourself home. A boot can be a many things, including a dollar bill, a PowerBar wrapper, a tube patch and so on. Or, if you are really prepared, the Park Tire Boot. They come in a 3-pack and work very well.
I don’t recommend continuing to ride a booted tire, although I know plenty of people who do. It’s not smart to increase the chance of a flat. Good tires are cheap insurance and give piece of mind when flying down a hill. That’s worth $25, isn’t it?
In newsletter issue No. 99, Uncle Al made the case for putting a new tire on the front wheel and moving the former front to the rear (assuming the tire is still in good condition). Why not simply rotate worn tires between the front and rear? Here’s one roadie’s answer.
DEAR UNCLE AL: I’m in complete agreement with your description of where a new tire should go, but I’d like to add another reason.
If you look carefully at tires after they have become worn, you will notice that the rear tire tends to develop a flat spot in the middle of the tread while a front tire tends to maintain its round shape.
If you have the opportunity, try doing a direct comparison of the handling characteristics of a tire with a “flattened” cross section versus one with a “rounded” cross section when these tires are on the front wheel.
A tire with a completely flat cross section would be nearly unridable on the front. Even a slightly flattened tire (which will always be the case if the tire has spent any time on the rear) can create squirrelly handling since there is not a smooth transition as the bike is leaned into a turn.
The effect exists, but is far less noticeable, when the flattened tire is on the rear. So ride the rear until it’s worn out and throw it away. — DirtRoadie
FEEDBACK FROM STEVE W.: I rotated my tires when I had 1,000 miles on them because the rear had a flat “band” around the middle. I like your idea better, Uncle Al. Front goes to back when the back goes to trash, then new rubber goes on front.
I must say, though, that DirtRoadie’s warning about the effects of that flat area on handling don’t apply in my case, and probably wouldn’t unless the tire was absolutely rigid and unyielding — yet another reason to run lower tire pressures! I’ve seen tires with tread ridges that dwarf the flat area, and those tires handle fine.
And speaking of tire pressure, I learned years ago that if you overinflated your car’s tires, they will wear out first in the center of the tread. So lower pressures might actually prevent the flat zone from even forming!
FEEDBACK FROM MARK W.: I’ve enjoyed reading your column, Uncle Al, and have found that I’m in complete agreement with 99% of your advice. But I have to differ on your recommendation about rotating tires (or, I should say, not rotating tires).
First, I’m cheap (though my wife doesn’t agree), and I don’t like spending more on a tire for my bike than I do for my car any more often than necessary. So I rotate my tires approximately every 500-700 miles. I try to do it before the center tread on the rear begins to take on a flat profile. I really can’t tell any difference in handling.
I ride pretty hard for an old guy (generally 19-20+ mph), with a fair amount of intervals and hills. I weigh about 150, ride a Trek OCLV and right now have more than 2,600 miles on my 700x23C Michelin Axial Pros without a flat (knock on wood). They look like they’ll go a lot farther.
In my experience, buying good tires and rotating them frequently is a good way to max out their productive life and save some $$ that can be spent on other goodies.
UNCLE AL RETURNS FIRE: If you want to rotate tires that frequently, be my guest. I don’t see a problem, except that for some riders tires would have to be rotated at the end of every other week to stay on your mileage schedule. I think your wife is wrong.
Installing Tight Tires
DEAR UNCLE AL: I’m having a tough time mounting tires on my Mavic MA-40 rims.
I was running Specialized Turbo Armadillo tires, which were difficult to get on and off. In an effort find an easier tire, I tried a folding Michelin. It was impossible to mount. I did get some Vittorias on with the old soapy water trick, but that isn’t something I would usually be able to do on the road.
My local shop guy blames the rims. Another shop says it’s the tires. So what’s the story? — Glenn K.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: It’s possible that your MA-40s are the problem, but not likely. I see much more variation in tire bead seat diameters than rims, although the industry standard accepts about a 4-mm discrepancy in rim circumference. (The bead is the open edge of the tire on both sides.)
Mavic rims are generally spot on, and the tires you’ve chosen are built with accuracy.
However, I’ve seen cases where a rim was on the big side of the 4-mm variable and the tire was on the small side. You’d play hell mounting the tire without shredding the tube.
Trek used to make a Matrix rim that seemed a little big. Continental, with their exacting standards, made some clincher tires that seemed small. If you tried to mix these two, visions of crowbars would dance in your head. (Maybe for use on the manufacturers’ heads?)
But in most cases, tires that won’t mount can be blamed on operator error. Follow these basic rules to accomplish the task and ease your mind:
- Always use talc. Rema makes a version specifically for bike tires, although any talcum powder or corn starch will do. Talc allows the tube to move freely inside the tire so it doesn’t interfere with the tire/rim interface. Most tube pinching is caused by the tube getting wedged between the rim, the tire and your tire levers. Generous use of talc reduces the risk.
- Put a little air in your tube to give it some shape, then push the valve stem through the rim and feed the tube inside the tire. (I’m assuming one side of the tire is already on the rim. Don’t try to put the whole shebang on at once, a common mistake.)
- Start seating the tire. Begin at the valve. Don’t pull the valve tight to the rim yet, or the bead will not seat there and will blow off during inflation.
- Work away from the valve with both hands in opposite directions. Use your thumbs to push the bead up and onto the rim.
- Say what? It won’t go on? That last little bit is the toughest. Let all the air out and keeping thumbing. Pinch the tire all the way around so both beads go into the rim’s deep center, and thumb some more.
- Still won’t go? Hold the bead in place with one hand and use your tire lever, a little at a time, to pry the bead the rest of the way. I can almost always get it on with my thumbs, but they’re very strong from choking people with mailorder catalogs and price questions.
- Finish by pushing the valve stem up into the tire, then pull it down again. Go around the wheel, flexing the tire from side to side to be sure the tube is not trapped under the bead. Add some air, check again for tube entrapment (illegal in 48 states) and inflate fully. This whole process should take about five minutes, max.
Talc is the secret! My spare tubes sit in their own plastic bags full of talc in my repair kit. I look like I’ve abused a banned substance when I’m done fixing a flat, but I’m back on the road in no time and my riding buddies are amazed at how quickly I’ve done it.
DEAR UNCLE AL: Due to carpal tunnel syndrome, I have reduced strength and sensation in my hands. It impairs my ability to remount the tire bead after I have fixed a flat. This has caused some long, lonely, frustrating battles with my Michelin Pros, especially compared to wire-bead Continental Gatorskins. It also seems that tires with a wider cross-section, like 25-28C, are less hassle. Have you any tire/rim suggestions to get the easiest re-mounts? — Mark R.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: Marco, I’m going to assume you are always using tire levers to mount or remove your tires. They’ll save you a lot of grief, especially if you have diminished hand strength. Use the long-handled Quik-Stik, or try the Crank Brothers Speed Lever.
I also suggest sticking with wire-bead tires rather than Kevlar. They’re generally easier to mount, as you have discovered. Larger-section tires are easier to mount, too.
A 700x25C Continental Gatorskin on a Mavic Open Pro rim should be a good combo for weight, reliability and ease of mounting. Avoid Campy rims and Conti tires as a combo, unless you have a crowbar handy. Don’t use Tufo tires, the hardest to mount we’ve ever tried.