Musings Over Michelins
DEAR UNCLE AL: In a past newsletter, you said,
“The Michelin Axial Pro is still being made. But now it’s called Pro Race. Outside of color changes, this is the same great tire. They just renamed it to throw off the competition.”
This is not correct according to Michelin sales people. The big difference between the Axial Pro and the Pro Race is the weight and where they took it from.
The Axial Pro has a puncture-resistant layer that covers the entire tire, while the Pro Race has it only on the main surface and not the sidewalls.
I would have loved that they were the same tire because I love the Axial Pro. So that was the question I had for the Michelin gents at Interbike. — Tom K.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: This just goes to show it depends on which Michelin man you happen to talk to. Whatever, rider experiences aren’t definitive, either, judging by the next two letters.
FEEDBACK FORM WAYNE C.: Just wanted to let everyone know, I had my first rear flat tire in three years last week. At that point I had put 1,770 miles on my latest set of Pro Race Michelins. And the only reason I had the flat was I rode over a giant pile of glass disguised by the wet road. The Pro Race tires are a little pricey, but well worth it!
FEEDBACK FROM TIMOTHY S.: I read your comments about the Michelin Axial Pro and was wondering if we’ve been using the same tire.
When I rode that tire, I got tons of flats, almost crashed a number of times on wet roads simply because the tires would not hold in turns, and was never able to find them in the all-important 25C width, which right there disqualified the Axial Pro in my humble opinion.
But the worst characteristic about the Axial Pro is that its profile is much more angular than that of the Continental GP 3000 or the Vredestein Fortezza, meaning that in turns there is even less of the tire to engage the road. This is a problem in wet weather because you want as much contact area as possible for stability and handling. After my second near crash, I gave up Axial Pros for good.
For those looking for a truly great tire — and one which does come in a 25C width — give the Vredestein Fortezza a try. They handle incredibly well, are very supple, and are worth their modest weight in gold when the weather turns foul and funky. These are the closest clincher tires to sewups that I know of.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: We all have different experiences, don’t we? One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.
When I can’t get the straight scoop even from the manufacturer, I read the brochures and try to figure out just what they’re talking about. Sometimes, it’s just marketing B.S. Sometimes, it’s opinion (another form of B.S.?)
It’s hard to know what’s truth or fiction, so answering questions about how something is constructed, whether tires or tubing or what have you, seems to be risky. Hey, I don’t intentionally fib. Sorry if what I believe is true misleads any of you.
Tire Threads per Inch (TPI)
DEAR UNCLE AL: I commute to work three days a week with a minimum roundtrip of 28 miles. I run 23C tires because they are fast and compliant enough for the roads in Tampa, but they wear out real fast (the rear especially), with most of the damage coming from glass shards. I haven’t had much luck with any tire in the $20-$30 price range. Should I try heavier tires? — Steven R.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: Steve, I think you’ll have better luck with Continental Top Touring 2000 tires, 700x28C. I know you like the speed of the various 23s you are using, but they aren’t really designed for commuting, which is tough duty.
The TT 2000s are designed to run at 75 psi and ride through mine fields. They are heavy, but they are really tough. I use them on my commuter and ride over a lot of broken glass. I’ve had a pair on my bike for two years, with no flats and no sign that they’re going to wear out any time soon. I think they will rot first.
And just think how strong you’ll get riding heavy stuff like that! When you hop on your “fast” bike, you’ll be flying.
DEAR UNCLE AL: When looking at tire specs, I assume that tpi stands for the tire casing’s threads per inch. Does a higher thread count produce a more supple tire? — Peter T.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: You’re on the right track, Pete. A greater number of threads per inch results in a more supple ride and a stronger tire.
All the best road tires have a high thread count (e.g., 120), which is part of what makes them costly and so desirable. Imagine how hard those little elves have to work sewing those casings with such fine thread, and so much of it.
I admit to a bias (pun intended) toward French elves. Coach Fred likes German elves. Ed goes through so many tires in a season that he doesn’t believe in elves. He believes in sale prices.
Source for Storage Rims
DEAR UNCLE AL: Love your stuff, and your writings on tire care raised a question. (Is this inflatuation?) I’ve been reading for years about storing tires on rims, that a year-old tire is actually better than a new one, etc. But who the heck has all these rims lying around? One could hit the garage sales and trash dumps or go out and buy new rims (yeah, right!). What’s your suggestion? — Scott S.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: Scotty, bike shops are the best source of old rims suitable for storing tires. Just ask them to save some that would otherwise go into a different type of recycling.
If you are a mailorder junky and wave your catalog prices in your local shop’s face, they may use those old rims to store you in a dark place. Offer them a few bucks for their trouble.
How to Store Tires
DEAR UNCLE AL: Occasionally I see my favorite commuting tire on sale and think about stocking up on an extra pair or two. But will they eventually “go bad” from just sitting around? — Tyler P.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: Buy all you like, Ty. If stored properly — this means in a dark, cool, dry place (sounds spooky) — tires will last for years.
Just don’t store them in the vicinity of an ozone generator (i.e., an electric motor) because ozone contributes to rubber deterioration. Put them in a black plastic leaf bag and seal it with a twisty. This will keep ’em free of dust and cobwebs.
Deflating Tires After Every Ride
HEY UNC: I asked some of my road racing buddies why they always deflate their clincher tires (down to 30-60 psi) after rides. They told me it prolongs tire/wheel life. Is there anything positive to this practice, or is it just a good way to remind oneself to check tire pressure before a ride? — Larry
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: Ask your buds if they’re running latex tubes. If they are, they’re trying to prevent them from “thinning” by bleeding high pressure when they’re not being used. Deflating prevents the tire casings from stretching, too.
All this used to be a real concern when our race wheels had sewup tires with latex tubes and silk casings. These tires would, theoretically, last longer by deflating them after each use. We’d also use tire covers to protect them from the sun, and we would pray and/or chant to the tire gods that they would last long enough to actually show some wear before we destroyed them in some terrible fashion.
I’m not so sure current tire technology requires such extreme measures. The casings now are stronger and the tubes seem better, too, even the latex ones.
I don’t deflate my tires and I do use latex tubes, which make tires perform to their optimum and are a joy to ride. I can’t identify any negative results from leaving tires pumped up. That said, it might not be a bad idea to deflate them if you’re a 130-psi guy/gal. If it’s already part of your post-ride ritual, stay with it. Maybe it’s like praying.
In a past newsletter, the Unc wrote, “I’ve been told that Armor All will prevent tires from drying, but I’d be wary of putting anything that slippery near rims and brake pads.” We got some mail in favor of the stuff, but here’s the other side of Band Aid.
DEAR UNCLE AL: I’ve been a road rider for over 25 years. My only serious fall was, in my opinion, the result of using Armor All on the sidewalls of my tires.
I remember applying it very carefully and being very pleased with the way it made the rubber look. I wiped the excess off and was diligent about removing any that got on the rims.
Soon after, I went for a ride. Coming around a sharp turn at high speed, I felt my bike completely lose traction, with the result that I went down hard and slid along the pavement for about 25 feet. I lost a lot of skin, and the rim of my helmet was ground off.
I’m convinced that Armor All was the cause of this crash. It happened on a turn I had ridden many times before and many since without a problem. — Gene M.
FEEDBACK FROM CRAIG R.: I’ve always heard that aftermarket protectants are bad news for tires (and dashboards). The factory already applies a protectant to tires, which is designed to prevent cracking and general breakdown from sunlight and so forth for a long time.
When you apply protectants such as Armor All, they can remove the factory coatings and make the tire break down faster than doing nothing at all.
A quick call to the Michelin warranty department confirms that while they won’t specifically say don’t use these products, they will say that once you start using them you should religiously use them. The problem occurs when people apply the products sporadically.
Additionally some of the aftermarket protectants are petroleum based. They will chemically react with tire rubber over time and could cause accelerated wear or even a failure (which will void the warranty).
Michelin was very careful about not specifically naming products, but the implication is clear: Don’t use protectants on tires.
Cracks in Tire Tread
DEAR UNCLE AL: I’m a recreational rider and enjoy the handling and wear I get from my Continental GP 3000 clinchers. But they always seem to quickly develop cracks near the outside edge of the tread area, often along most of the tires’ circumference.
The cracks don’t go down to the casing, but they seem pretty deep. Do you think I can safely ignore them? Or should I be doing something different? I inflate the tires to 120 psi. — Michael S
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: First, you’re running too much pressure, Mikey. It’s stressing the casing and splitting the tread.
Second, even though you buy the tires new, they may have been stored improperly and were dried out by the time you got them. A dried-out tire, combined with the pressure you run, causes the rubber to split.
Before you buy a tire, check for excessive dryness. Roll it (unmounted) back and forth between your thumb and forefinger. It should feel supple. You should see no cracks.
Lower your inflation pressure to no more than 100 psi and you’ll benefit from greater tire life as well as far better handling. Inflation is an issue we’ve discussed at great length here at RBR. Roadies who reduce pressure like I recommend almost invariably report how much better their bike rides. Try it, you’ll like it.
Less Pressure, Harsher Ride
DEAR UNCLE AL: You’ve often recommended lower tire pressure, so I tried going down from 110 to 85-90 psi on both wheels. I ride a Colnago Ovalmaster with Colnago Flash fork and Michelin Pro Race tires. I weigh 185. To my surprise, I found the ride harsher with the lower pressure. I rode that way for over a week, then raised the pressure back up to 110. The ride got better, the bike was faster and I think it handled better. — Vern E.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: How can something soft be harsh? I guess it’s possible if you knew my grandmother. I tried to inflate her to higher pressure, but she slapped me silly, which was harsh in my estimation.
The trick with lower tire pressure is that you must have an accurate gauge. Gauges seem to vary quite a bit, so maybe your 110 psi, was really only 95, and what you thought was 90 was actually more like 75, which would ride lousy.
My suggestion, if you want to experiment is to:
- Verify that your gauge is correct. Inflate a tire to, say, 100 psi on your pump gauge, then check the pressure with a hand gauge
- Change pressure in 5-psi increments. Dropping from 110 straight to 85-90 is a big change. It would certainly feel odd if you’ve run 110 for a long time.
Tandem Tire Inflation
DEAR UNCLE AL: I always enjoy reading your comments and have learned quite a bit, but I’ve been most impressed with the dramatic increase in tire life I’ve experienced since taking your advice on not inflating to maximum pressure.
So I decided to try the same thing on our tandem. I went against the conventional twofer wisdom that says to overinflate, and instead run about 10 psi below the recommended max pressure. The result? As with our singles, we are seeing longer tire life and a more comfortable, responsive ride. I’m also not seeing any of the sidewall cracks that used to plague us.
Wear, blowouts and related tire issues seem to be a hot topic on tandem websites, and I now wonder if at least part of the problem is that tires are often being run at 10-15 psi above recommended max.
Are we just lucky since we quit our old-school inflation habits, or do you think your inflation recommendations are also valid for tandems despite their additional weight? — Ray M.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: Sure, Ray, lower pressure applies to tandems as well. You’re proving it every time you take yours out.
I know a couple of RBR subscribers who weigh as much as some tandem pairs. I recommended that they run bigger tires, such as 700x28C or 32C, and run them at lower than max pressure. They report the same good results you’ve had.
If you’re running 23s or 25s on your tandem, you need to run them pretty hard so you don’t pinch flat with the greater weight. You are definitely on the right track, and nowexperimentation will prove to you what works best.
Blowouts on tandems are a nightmare. A main cause is running too much pressure, then overheating the rims from braking or hitting something sharp. Running lower pressure will certainly reduce the chance for such problems.
Another Plus for Lower Pressure
DEAR UNCLE AL: I’ve read with interest your commentary in favor of lower tire pressure, and it seems to have helped me with a problem that I have not seen mentioned in your rants.
I’m a 200-pound-plus roadie on a Cannondale. Its wheels have Mavic CXP rims and Cannondale hubs. I had problems with spokes breaking, and no success in finding the root of the problem. After reading your opinion on lower pressure, I started riding with about 95 psi instead of 120. Voila! No more broken spokes.
I have no proof that this fixed the problem, but it’s gone nevertheless. And the ride is a bit smoother for a fat guy like me. — Martin S.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: Thanks, Marty. I think you did discover the root of your problem. High pressure transfers way more shock to the rim, spokes, hub, frame, seatpost, saddle and your butt, in that order.
Tires are shock absorbers as well as traction devices. For a big dude like you (and me), it’s also important to have your spoke tension checked to be sure it’s adequate. Do that once each year. Be sure you go to a wheel specialist, because heavier riders are just plain harder on everything.
The Case for Lower Tire Pressure
DEAR UNCLE AL: Perhaps you can settle an argument at our bike club. I like riding 20-mm-wide tires inflated to 120-130 pounds. I feel faster because of what I think is lower rolling resistance. Others argue for a 23C width at 100-110 psi, saying these tires are more efficient because they absorb pavement irregularities better. I weigh 175 pounds and ride at an average of 18+ mph on a variety of road surfaces. So who’s right about width and pressure? — Greg C.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: Soften up, Greg!
Most everyone I know runs too much pressure. Welcome to the club. Over many years of testing and talking to guys who live on their bikes, I’m convinced there is little reason to run more than 95-100 psi — and there are compelling reasons to run 85-90 psi.
High pressure, say 100-120 psi, guarantees short tire life, poor cornering and lots of punctures. A rock-solid tire cuts/punctures more easily than it would at a lower pressure. Also, a softer tire can “smear” — conform better to objects encountered on the road. Why make the ride even rougher on America’s ever-crumbling road surfaces?
Admittedly, I weigh 210 pounds and ride on really poor road surfaces. These things influence my opinions. I run 85-90 psi front and 90-95 psi rear on 700x23C clincher tires. I do not have flats! Plus, bumps are less of an issue, and my bike corners as if on rails on high-speed descents. I get 1,000-1,500 miles out of a rear tire. When I ran much higher pressure many years ago, I got no more than 500 miles.
So, my advice is never to run smaller than 23C. Use good tubes, air them up before every ride and spend extra for premium tires — they’ll pay you back in extra mileage and better handling.
One more thing: Don’t buy a race-specific tire to train on. If it’s advertised to last only 500 miles, they aren’t lying. Shaving grams off of training tires is silly and wasteful, and you won’t get the low-weight advantage when event time comes if you ride the light stuff all the time. Make gram shaving your secret weapon, if only in your mind, when it counts.
Do as I recommend and I promise fewer flats, happier miles and no noticeable increase in rolling resistance (the great myth). Plus, you’ll waste fewer resources, both financial and natural.
FEEDBACK FROM ARNIE L.: As a roadie of 20+ years, but a new reader of RoadBikeRider, I was intrigued (and skeptical) of your advice to lower tire pressure. I have been riding at 125 psi or more, concerned about rolling resistance (although the extra 10 pounds around my waist probably matters a whole lot more to my performance).
Well, I thought I’d try it. I lowered my pressure to 105 psi. What a great difference! I haven’t really noticed any change in performance, but what a difference in the ride! One of my usual rides over badly cracked roads (usual Pennsylvania stuff) was sooo much more comfortable. It seemed like the road had been repaved. Thanks for the advice.
FEEDBACK FROM MICHAEL A.: Recently, a friend told me about your promotion of lower tire pressure. GREAT!
In the early 1960s, I rode the kermesses around Antwerp for a team sponsored by “Cycles OK.” We always rode tubulars at about 90 psi with great results — fewer flats and better handling, especially in the rain (a frequent occurrence in Flanders).
I’ve tried to promote lower pressure as a coach with the New York Cycle Club, with little success. My fellow club members see my gray hair and my inability to keep up with the hormonally besot, and reject my advice. It’s great that you’re putting out this sound advice.
FEEDBACK FROM SAL A.: I’ve been riding for years with high pressures in my 23C tires (120-130 psi rear, 100-110 psi front). I figured since I weigh around 215 pounds I need this.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out how much better my bike rides after lowering the pressures as Uncle Al recommends.
I rode over some freshly “chipped” roads on my latest ride. This is where the road is covered with hot tar and then pea stone is spread on top. It makes for pretty anxious riding, especially down hills. I was really happy with the improvement in handling.
Also, on smooth asphalt the tires now “sing” lightly. They never did that before! I like the sound and it seems to confirm that I’m riding with the right tire pressure.
I love when I learn something new about bicycling, especially when it’s simple and effective. My helmet’s off to Uncle Al.