The sun is out, and the new season is nearly here – so you’re probably being inundated by good advice for how to improve your riding, fast-track all that training you should have been doing over the winter, climb better, recover faster and contort yourself into a super-efficient Bradley Wiggins-esque position on the bike. The cycling press is full of training advice, nutrition and diet advice, energy gel comparisons, gear ratio discussions, heart and power output monitor tests and a hundred other ways to turn your body into the ultimate pedalling machine. There’s so much to take in, you could almost forget to enjoy yourself while you’re riding.
Well, we have our own advice to pitch in with too. And this year, as we move towards our rugged Spring Classics, The Joker on April 6th and the St George’s Sportive on April 27th, we think it’s advice that is more important than ever. It’s advice that we’ve put together based on twenty years of experience, communicating with tens of thousands of riders at hundreds of events, and of course riding thousands of miles of our own. We think it’s the one piece of advice that will do the most to improve your performance, carve literally minutes, even tens of minutes off of your ride times, and increase your enjoyment of the time you spend on a bike too. And best of all, it’s a piece of advice that can be summarised in just three words.
“Fit better tyres.”
It’s that simple really. You live in Britain, so you’ve met British roads before. You’re already aware that austerity-chic has made the pothole the must-have accessory for the image conscious tarmac thoroughfare in recent years. And unless you’re the lucky owner of a second home in sunnier climes, you probably noticed that winter was a touch on the brutal side this year. I can laugh about it as I write this in balmy spring sunshine, but the truth is that, even if our councils get their collective acts together, the scars of the winter are going to visible on our roads for a while this summer.
All of which means that your tyres are going to be your new best friends. For all the fitness and kit you can muster to connect you to your pedals and on to your wheels, it’s your tyres that do the actual job of moving you along the black-stuff. And they’re your first line of defence against all the gremlins that can lurk there to spoil you day. As I mentioned before, we talk to thousands of you each year on the finish line at our events, where our first question is usually “how did you enjoy the ride?” (because we care like that). The single most common spoiler to an otherwise good day in the saddle that we hear in reply, is by far, “I had two (or three or four or five!) punctures!” After a while we started to dig a little deeper and look for common themes, so we started asking, “what tyres are you using”, and “how old are they?” The conclusion was loud and clear. Old, worn tyres puncture a lot (a LOT) more often than nice new ones do.
Yes, I know. That’s really flippin’ obvious. I never claimed that we’d split the Higgs Boson here, or anything like that. But the other thing that became clear was just how many of us try to eke just that bit too much out of our tyres for that bit too long (it’s only natural, these things are not cheap) – or even just plain ride the wrong sort of rubber in the first place. We really do think this is one of the most important checks you should make on your bike though, so to expand a little more on our three word advice soundbite, here is our simple two step guide to what we think you should use:
1 – Use new tyres: We haven’t conducted extensive and scientific puncture resistance tests on stacks of different brands for you, I’m afraid. There are plenty of sites and magazines out there who do that sort of thing (and probably a few people who do it just for fun, too) if you want to look up reviews. But we’re not sure that the actual brand of tyre is the even most important thing. Just that you need to refresh your rubber more often than most of us do. A good quality, newer tyre is always going to hold up better. Get advice from your local shop, or talk to a knowledgeable friend or club mate if you don’t have a preferred tyre already.
2 – Use broader tyres: Skinny 19mm slicks are faster, so they must be better, right? Umm, no not necessarily so to either. However tempting, it’s often a mistake to just emulate the pros and build the raciest bike you can. Sportive riding is a different beast to road racing. It has bigger courses and usually takes to nicer places, but that also means that sportives usually have to use more varied roads. All the bike manufacturers have introduced sportive specific bikes over the past few years, designed to handle the needs of a sportive with a little more comfort and stability than a pure-bred, nose down racer, and that’s been a good thing. The last hangover from those road racing roots though, too often seems to be the tyres. Even that’s changing now though, with the more forward thinking brands speccing 25mm tyres as standard on their ‘real world’ sportive and race bikes. It makes a lot of sense. They’re more comfortable, the slightly broader contact patch gives you more control and better braking, you’re not likely to notice any great difference in rolling resistance at all, and you’ll spend less time by the side of the road fixing punctures. What’s not to like?