Tires; Cool and Dry

February 9th, 2012

There are many kinds of tires; they vary in width, tread, puncture resistance, tubeless or tubed, and accessories. Road racers tend to ride very narrow tires (23 or 25 mm width) and with little to no tread; commuters and bike tourers ride wider tires (28 to 35 mm, sometimes higher) with some tread; mountain bikers ride wide tires (2 inches and up) with moderate to gigantic tread. Almost without exception, in snowy winter road riding, you can get away with a treaded tire, although studs give you the maximum level of safety. I have some 35mm aggressive tread tires which worked wonders last year in the snow, however, they’re useless on trails. I’d love to report on studs, but there’s yet to be any ice or snow worth its salt (har har) this year.

As a transportation biker, the most important thing to me is reliability, which means not having to stop for a flat. I always buy the more expensive tires (around $40 each), which have a Kevlar strip to resist punctures; once the tire tread starts showing little tears and becomes soft (the tire seems to absorb any sand or salt on the road), the its life is almost over. When I’ve gotten a few flats in a short period, then it’s time to replace it. However, the benefit of using these tires is that I get a flat once every six months or so; on my fixed gear bike, I realized recently I haven’t touched the wheels in over a year (granted, it gets less use now that it’s not my commuter).

Despite their reliability, I still carry (and know how to use) a flat fix kit. Most of the time it just takes up space at the bottom of my bag.


It was a very easy day of riding. I was wearing a suit today (and the weather isn’t crummy!) so I took the commuter, which was an unwelcome change, although I fixed the shifting and cleaned the chain, so it was a very smooth ride.

Temperature: 33 degrees

Road condition: Dry

Clothing: Heavy winter coat, rain pants (gotta keep those suit pants clean), Timberland shoes. I had the suit jacket in my panniers, if you’re wondering.

Comfort: It was noticeably warmer on the ride, and I had to go slow up the Longfellow Bridge to stay cool.

Cold and Dry; Quick Release

February 6th, 2012

Today may not have been colder, but I did leave much earlier than usual. The temperature was 26 degrees, and there was nothing else notable about the weather or road conditions – it was chilly on my face, but the riding quickly warmed me up. I certainly got into work faster without dodging all of those pesky cars. The ride made me realize how rarely a city cyclist goes without having to stop, turn, merge or dodge, as I did almost none of those things this morning. (That’s right, at 7 am not only is the traffic light, but you can go through buildings and ride on the water. Pretty sweet!)

Clothing: Heavy winter jacket, wool gloves, waterproof shoes.

I have developed a(nother?) pet peeve: quick release. I like them just fine, but I’m pretty sure upwards of 90% of bikers have no idea how to use them. I can actually say that with confidence because up until a few months ago, I had no idea how to use them. Neither did my sister: she once had her front wheel fall off while riding because of an improperly installed quick release.

Wrong way: Use the lever at the end to tighten them. When you have it good and cinched, then you’re good.

Wrong way: Tighten it down all the way with the lever open, then struggle to close it up. Use tools or get a hernia if necessary.

Right way (about halfway down the page): With the lever pointing straight out, tighten the nut until everything is snug and not droopy. Close the lever with it angled in a direction it won’t get caught on anything.

In looking for a guide on this, I think every guide on the internet has a “right way” and a “wrong way” to close your quick release. You’ve been warned.

Cool and Dry; Tires

January 31st, 2012

Today was another uneventful winter commute. Dry ground (save the open fire hydrant on Cambridge Street in Beacon Hill), high 30s, nothing special to report. I took the fixed gear today because the forecast was nice. The lack of fenders (see, they’re useful even in fair weather!) made me nervous for my clothing through the aforementioned water on the street.

Clothing: Heavy winter coat, wool gloves, waterproof shoes. No rain pants; messenger bag.

True to form, the fixed gear made me ride harder than usual (I love the way it pushes you up hills!) and the messenger bag constricted me a little. I managed to break a sweat.

I haven’t pumped my tires the entire month. This is a luxury you have in the winter: air escapes much more slowly when the temperature is below 50 degrees. (I’m sure it has something to do with the rubber becoming more porous, but that’s a tire engineer’s concern.) In the summer, if you aren’t pumping the tires once per week, then you feel as though you’re riding on a wet sock.

The reasons to stay on top of tire pressure are for performance (avoiding “wet sock” syndrome) and for “pinch flat” prevention. I also think that tires which are generally puncture resistant (from road debris) also perform better at higher pressure as they can scatter the debris as you ride instead of flopping down on its sharp edges.