Tires I have loved, and a few I have hated.

Cypres 650b

The amazing array of wheel diameters, tire widths, tread patterns, sidewall construction, and the debate over fat vs. skinny widths, and high vs. low tire pressure inspired me to share my own experience with bicycle tires.

I am also a motorcyclist, so my knowledge of tire performance and traction is informed by my understanding of how tires function on motorcycles. A lot of the same science carries over to bicycles.

In my own personal collection of bikes I can count 9 different rim diameters:  700B, 27″, 700c, 650c, 650b, 26″ metric, 26″ English, 26″ MTB, and 24″.  From there, rim widths vary, spoke counts and lacing vary, and tire widths vary.  Wheel construction also has a very important impact on ride quality. In my opinion, more spokes on the rim are better than fewer, and wider rims are better than narrower ones, at least for all non-racing applications (that is to say, most of the entire cycling population).

The research on tire width and construction relative to speed and comfort is very limited.  So I give kudos to Jan Heine and his team for sounding the alarm about narrow high pressure tires and their negative effect on performance.  Not to mention their negative effect on comfort, and the limiting effect they have on a cyclist’s ability to safely explore her or his surroundings.  Since most cyclists don’t have hundreds to spend on tires, not to mention thousands to spend on custom built bicycles, it is important to consider real world, long-lived, and reasonably priced tire and rim options.  Cyclists who use their bikes regularly for transportation figured this out long ago.

For anyone struggling to understand the bizarre nomenclature surrounding tire sizing:  you are not alone.  There is no consistency in size labeling (although that is improving), and even among tires that are purportedly the same size, there can be perplexing variation which can make it hard to mount the right sized tire to your rim.  Sheldon Brown’s site has a sizing chart and discussion which help to explain the strangeness surrounding tire sizing nomenclature.  If you are confused, join the crowds!  When in doubt, always measure your effective rim diameter in order to determine the correct tire size for your bike.  If you are removing a tire, it’s quite easy just to look at the size indicated on the sidewall to make sure you replace the old tire with the correctly sized new tire.  If your rim doesn’t have a tire, it probably has a rim diameter stated somewhere on it, if it is a newer rim.  Many vintage rims have no diameter indicated.

700A tires from the Land of Oz

Original 1929 Dunlop Le Pneu tires

700B tires

When I was restoring a 1929 Griffon, I needed to replace the corroded Dunlop Le Pneu tires.  No diameter was indicated on the old tires, so I measured the rim diameter and ordered 700A (642 mm) tires, which had to be shipped from Australia, as they were not available anywhere else in the world that I could determine.  When they arrived and I tried mounting them, I realized that I should have ordered 700B (635 mm) tires.  I incorrectly measured the ERD on the 1929 Westwood rims.  In retrospect, since I had the original tires, I should have measured their diameter instead.  700A and 700B sizes are not listed on Sheldon Brown’s chart because they are considered obsolete.  However, I found the 700B tires on Amazon, but you may be able to find these sizes in Canada and France, in addition to Australia.

So, what are my favorite tires?  And what tires will I never willingly ride again?  Here is my list:

My top three preferred tires for comfort, speed, and reliability are:

Compass Loup Loup Pass 650b tires

Panasonic Compass Loup Loup Pass 650b 38 mm – I use these on my 1980 Meral.  They are comfortable, oh so comfortable. I haven’t had a flat yet after a few thousand miles of mostly urban riding.  I keep the pressures low at 46 psi rear and 42 psi front, which seems to provide the optimal compromise between comfort and handling.

Panaracer Pasela Tourguard – 559mm/ 32 mm

Panasonic Panaracer Pasela – in all its models and sizes – used on my Terry and on many other bikes I have ridden.  I have found these tires to be very long lasting, although I have gotten a few flats on the folding version I use with my Terry.  Whether or not they are easy to mount really depends on your rim and whether you are using the folding vs. clincher model.  I prefer the folders because they are easy to carry with me when I am touring. The 27 inch size has a different tread pattern.  These tires are affordable, reasonably comfortable, and fast enough.  They are a good choice for all-round riding which is why I generally use them for my restoration projects.

2016-12-21-005

Compass McLure Pass 26″ tires – used on my Panasonic MC 7500 errand bike.  These tires replaced the frighteningly compromised Nimbus Armadillo 26 X 1.5 tires I had been riding.  The Armadillos, while never having a flat in over 6 years of use, were heavy and not very comfortable, not to mention the fact that they were splitting apart at the seams.  The McLure Pass tires have made the MC7500 faster, and much more comfortable to ride.  Tires really do make a difference!

My three second tier tires – good value and a decent ride:

Continental 700c Gatorskins

Kenda Raleigh 26″ tires

Panasonic Col de la Vie 650b tires

While I could mention many, many tires in this category, my top three mid-range choices reflect my own interests as well as the particular bikes I ride.  So, don’t take them to heart, too much.  The Continental Gatorskins are great tires for 700c road bikes.  I rode Gatorskins over many, many miles on my 1986 Centurion Ironman Expert.  They were comfortable for a narrow 700c tire, and I never had a flat in all those years.  The low-end Kenda tires on my 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist were a surprise.  I had expected these tires to be really horrible, and had purchased them as a placeholder until I could find “better” tires for this vintage Raleigh.  In fact, the Kenda’s proved comfortable as well as bullet proof.  I’ve had no flats in the eight years I have been using these tires, which show no signs of wear, and no sidewall cracks.  I have mixed feelings about the Panasonic Col de la Vie tires pictured above.  I tried these tires out on my 1980 Meral, and they were quite noisy, slow and ponderous.  However, these tires have worked well on the older 650b bicycles I have restored, so I list them here as a decent option for a 650b rim.  In this category I should mention a few other tires I have ridden:  Ritchey Tom Slick 26″ tires, Panaracer Ribmo, and Vee Rubber Micro knobbies.  All equally reliable and of good quality relative to price.

Tires I Won’t Buy Again:

In this category I include the Specialized Armadillo tires, noted above, which literally split apart at the seams.  I also include WTB tires – namely any of their 700c touring tires, which are noisy, heavy and very uncomfortable. I also will not ride any Continental Touring tires.  Continental’s offering is not really a touring tire, but instead a heavy and inflexible tire which is not even okay as a commuter tire, as there are many other nicer options out there (see Panaracer, above).  However, Continental does offer other tires which I do like.  I won’t buy any Schwalbe tires, no matter what the model, as I have found them to be unbelievably uncomfortable and heavy.

I do like micro knobbies as an interesting option for multi-modal cycling.  I used these Thailand manufactured Vee Rubber tires on my ALAN with very positive results – they were fast on the road as well as sure-footed on gravel.  While tire choice is not only highly personal, it should also be based on the type of riding you do, as well as the type of bike you are riding. If you are not happy with your current tires, it doesn’t hurt to think about other options.  I have found that ride quality is significantly affected by tire choice.

1941 Goeland: Disappointments and a Decision

Louis Moire founded Goeland Cycles at 44 Rue Etienne Marcel in Paris in 1935.  He intended to offer high quality frames which could be built up around lower cost components.  He called himself a “constructeur”.  In reality, Goeland frames were probably outsourced to other builders.

1950’s Goeland advertisement.

A few years ago I purchased a Goeland bicycle on eBay.  I knew from the photos that the bicycle needed some minor frame repairs, but judging from the seller’s photos, nothing seemed catastrophic.

The seat stay rack attachment had failed, and the mixte sloping top tube attachment to the right side seat tube had also cracked.  Another brazing mishap involved the rear rack – one of the brazes had failed.

But, after preparing the frame to be cleaned and waxed, I saw that the Cyclo derailleur mount on the drive side chain stay had also failed.  I hadn’t noticed this before, but if you look closely at the above photo of the right side derailleur mount braze to the chain stay, you can see that it has detached.

That made me think about this bike’s history.  While theorizing is probably something to be avoided, I do believe that this frame was built in 1941 (at least the Durifort main tubes which are beautifully brazed with nicely filed Oscar Egg lugs).  The frame and fork feature numerous “41” markings.  However, some of the components indicate that this bike was built up for riding in the late 1940’s.  The brake levers and calipers are MAFAC, a marque not introduced until 1946 or 1947 according to my research.

Mafac brake levers to engage the Mafac cantilevers.

Rigida 650b 1940-41 rims

The wheelset for this bike dates to 1940 or 1941.  Since all the other marks on the frame are “41”, I have  concluded that this bike is a 1941 frame.

I have theorized that this Goeland’s Durifort main tubes were brazed in 1941, and as you can see from the above map of occupied France this bike may have not been built up during the occupation.  Perhaps the bike was never assembled until after Paris was liberated in 1944.  At that juncture, manufacturing and other activities that had been halted during the occupation would have been put on overdrive, due to pent up demand.

As was typical in cycling workshops of the time, experienced builders would assemble the main tubes, and apprentices would be assigned the job of the “simple” brazing – rack mounts, and other braze-ons.  Perhaps this particular apprentice needed a bit more training.  If the final assembly of this bike occurred after Paris was liberated, that would help to explain the MAFAC brakes (A new marque, previously known as Securite).  However, the numerous frame failures on this Goeland are notable.  And, I think they do relate the sketchy history that accompanies the Nazi occupation of France during the mid 1940’s.  One possibility is that since metals were in low supply during the occupation, the less important brazes got minimal silver or brass for their brazes.  The bike has no dents or bent tubes, and is not out of alignment, indicating that the failures were not the result of a crash.

Annie Laurin, original owner of this Goeland.

My goal now is to honor Annie Laurin’s bicycle.  I have decided NOT to repair the frame, but rather to preserve this Goeland in its original state, serving as a map to this Goeland’s history.  That history includes brazing errors, which possibly contain some important information.

The Metal in the Pedal: Vintage Pedals vs. Modern

1946 Peugeot pedal, disassembled.

I usually regard vintage bicycle components as superior to their modern day mass-produced peers.  The quality materials, excellent machining, and innovative designs of vintage parts usually simply overwhelm their contemporary competitors.  The above pedal is a good example.  This 1946 Peugeot pedal has a beautifully machined tapered spindle, with the Peugeot marque incorporated into the pedal cage.  You definitely will not find this attention to detail in any modern pedal.

1950 Raleigh rubber block pedal

1950 Raleigh pedal with clever lockring which engages the cone.

There are really two aspects to a pedal’s design:  the shape and construction of the cage, and the design of the spindle, cones, and bearings.  Many modern pedals are not rebuild-able, so if they fail you have to throw them away.  Vintage pedals were never designed to be thrown out.  They are designed to last through the ages, with adjustable cups and cones and replaceable bearings.  The pedals on my 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist reflect a real commitment to pedal maintenance:  the lock ring has notches which engage with the cone, so that pedal adjustment is fast and easy.

1947 Aluvac Pedal

Weight of a pedal can also be a factor.  This 1947 Aluvac Pedal is lighter than any other pedal in my collection!  The weight of a component can be a consideration when choosing parts for a build, but in this case, the extremely lightweight pedal pictured above was part of a 1947 Peugeot Mixte.  A bike one would not think of as giving homage to the weight weenie gods.

Recently I have changed out some of the pedals on the bikes I regularly ride for these Shimano Saint Pedals, which I reviewed a while back.  These pedals are totally rebuildable, and offer a large and comfortable platform for one’s foot.  They feature adjustable pins which lock your shoe into position.  For me, someone who rides in rainy, urban conditions, these pins work really well.  They are a great alternative to clipless or toe clip pedals, since they really do lock your feet in place, even when weather conditions are bad.  The shape of the pedal platform, along with the adjustable pins, make these pedals far more useful than most platform pedals I have used.

1973 spindle on top, 1953 spindles below

Marcel Berthet pedals – 1953 vs. 1973.

A while back, I had a component failure on some 1953 Marcel Berthet pedals. When I disassembled the pedals, I found their spindles to be in good order, as compared to their 1970’s counterparts.  But, the threads on one of the spindles failed due to a bad spindle design, which was corrected later by the manufacturer.  Even so, these pedals are quite comfortable when used with toe clips (which is how they are designed).  The foot bed is large and flat, and the toe clip keeps one’s shoe in place.

1940’s Tank Pedals

There are a number of vintage platform pedals that are very comfortable, such as these 1940’s Tank pedals pictured above.  Modern day counterparts include MKS as well as other cage pedal designs.  However, I have found my Shimano Saint pedals to be far more comfortable than a typical cage pedal, and so have installed Shimano Saints on my regular commuting bicycles.  The large platform and adjustable pins really make for a comfortable and safe ride.