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Bicycle Tips
 
I’m always trying new equipment. I pay for it except when noted. If it’s an improvement over what’s on the bike it sticks. If not it’s immediately relegated to a box in my favorite bike shop where it joins other used equipment that’s given to UNH cycling team members. Here is the second in a series of product reviews.
 
 
Converting
to Tubeless
  Working on a bike is fun for many because WYSIWYG and it’s easy to figure out unlike rocket science. There is a way for cheap money, $150 (tires are $65 each) to modify some brands of 700C wheels www.notubes.com to accept the Hutchinson tubeless tire. I’m think-ing of trying it and will report back when I do.  
Run Flat
Solid Tires
 
In the spirit research that won’t change my mind, airless tires of space age polymers are on the market www.airfreetires.com Years ago I tested a couple of different types but I’ve never seen anyone riding them. Judging from the testimonials they are used but I have credibility issues with T.E. from Everett WA who while doing 20 got hit head on by a car doing 50 and it turned his bike into shards.  But next morning he was able to install the still perfect tires on his new bike and ride.
 
   
 
Run Flat Bicycle Tires
 

The prospect of fixing a flat on the road intimidates many riders and a bad experience slows down the best of intentions. It’s not as if the bike industry doesn’t know flats are a haunt and a run flat tire would be a godsend.

Over the years, the focus was on solid tire products that didn’t make a ripple. Rubber/plastic/polymers and combinations thereof all ride like bricks and always will.

Rolling on air is a luxury we take for granted but tubes, the embedded technology, are outdated as a way to capture it. There are lots of reasons but the safety of tubeless tires is the most compelling.

In cars it was 1954, an astounding 51 years after its 1903 patent date, before the first tubeless tire was offered as a luxury car option. Slow leaks and smoother, more easily controllable stops were heralded as a safety revolution.  The rest is history; tubeless tires are now the embedded technology.

Tubes should also be a thing of the past in road bikes. Taking the tube out of the bicycle tire may not seem like much but it changes everything. 

Shimano and Hutchinson have collaborated to be the first to bring this significantly better mousetrap to the high-end road market. It’s positioned to serve a small niche willing to spend north of $1000 to upgrade their ride with the latest and greatest.  It may be destined to remain there and that’d be a shame.

Briefly, there’s no rim strip, the spoke holes are sealed and in order to hold air the tire with its carbon beads attaches far more securely to the rim. When punctured they leak slowly and sometimes stabilize at a much lower pressure, but still enough to ride on.
That’s the stuff of dreams.  It’s a giant security blanket for all riders but especially those starting out.  In a wannabee green society tubeless is the breakthrough to capture a growing riding public that needs all the comfort it can get.

My daily and now emergency experience with tubeless has made me a convert for life.  After 5000 or so perfect miles on 3 sets of tires, the inevitable--not a polite puncture but a blowout.  Long story short, I rode the pancake flat front tire home without incident and at reasonable speed. Superlatives aren’t enough.  It’s a wow and a half.  Okay, I’ll just tell the story.

It’s a 30-degree late November day and I’m 6 or so miles from home doing a wind aided 20 reveling in the black velvet luxury of a freshly repaved section of Betty Welch Road that desperately needed it. I ride this road a lot but apparently not lately. Sweet.

I’m doing my best David Ortiz imitation, eyes to the sky thanking the angel of paving when this lone brown chunk with its pointy side up is under my front wheel. Bang!  Blowout! Mea culpa.  That’s Latin for idiot. 

Unlike a normal tire that would most likely separate itself from the rim at that speed there’s no dramatics just a smooth stable stop.  Thanks for that but my gratitude while heartfelt is short lived. 

The gash in the sidewall, through which I poke my pinky, reveals there’s no way inserting a tube is going to work without a sleeve.  Here’s where American currency is as strong as ever but that’s for a summer day, not when my hands, fingers, the wheel I’m holding and everything around me are all freezing.

But bike riders pride themselves on self-reliance so in cold weather mine starts with riding loops much closer to home. In the very off chance I’m forced to walk there’s every chance I’ll get a ride from someone I know or who’s seen me riding.  That’s one of the charms of small town life. Very little traffic is another but at this moment not exactly a blessing, I haven’t seen a car in 5 minutes, getting picked up could take a while.

The sun’s out, I’m warm enough but hoofing it feels just plain dumb.  Pushing the most elegant, efficient, all-good invention humankind has ever devised leaves absolutely everything to be desired.  The irony of walking like a duck, when just moments ago I was flying, is palpable. 

About 5 seconds is enough, the front tire is still firmly attached to the rim and I get back on, click in and begin pedaling.

Fun is everywhere and I’m having plenty playing a real world, albeit slow motion video game. Every divot on the road is a hazard and not destroying the wheel or putting my foot down until my front door is a perfect score.

On level surfaces the ride is predictably harsh but remarkably stable at 10-12mph. Going uphill, sitting way back with almost no weight on the front wheel is surprisingly smooth and easier than riding the flats.

Road camber is the real danger. It’s treacherous on the flats where even at low speed the slightest amount pulls the tire to one side and leaves little doubt it isn’t long for the rim unless it’s corrected in a hurry.

At downhill speed 15 feels like 50 and my gut is telling me the slightest encounter with camber and the tire is off the rim before I know it.  On the extreme right is where I ride.  It’s level but peppered with debris and like rolling over a minefield.  If there’s a bright side it does offer perverse comfort that a rear puncture will give me a chance to see what a slow leak is like; but no such abstract luck.

Here’s what I come out of this with.  The Hutchinson/Shimano tubeless road tire system is far too significant an advance to be just on the bikes of a few.  They’ve unearthed the Holy Grail and they don’t know what to do with it.

They’re following the path of the auto industry that for decades denied the public access to a better, safer product simply because they weren’t going to sell a single additional tire.

These days we take tubeless for granted in cars and know about run flat but even equipment freaks, of which the bike community has many, know nothing about this. In a world with green imperatives it’s time everyone does.

   
 
 
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