The tubeless transition: Where the rubber meets the road

Now that I’m finished with the tubeless conversion, running American Classic Timekeeper tires on H Plus Son The Hydra rims, how has the riding been?

Before all that: One thing I will say is that the rubber used on these tires…stinks. Literally. While not overpowering, it reeks mildly of cat poo with scent notes of dead cockroach. It’ll gas out and go away after a while, and it’s not an issue when you’re riding, but it’s worth noting lest you sniff around your yard right after opening these tires’ boxes, looking in vain for wayward cat droppings. Consider your noses warned.

The Timekeepers are meant for tubeless-compatible rims with hooked inner walls, as evidenced by their maximum pressure rating of 85 psi. As per the ISO and ETRTO, the maximum pressure limit for hookless or “straight side” tubeless rims is a full 12 psi lower; these tires explicitly won’t work with those. That said, for my first few rides, I inflated them to that lower 73 psi limit. I wanted to compare them to my Continental Grand Prix tubed clinchers, which comprise the lowest-tier German-made clinchers from the company. I run those at 80-85 psi.

I had some apprehension over going tubeless. The main concern is a phenomenon humorously referred to as “burping,” but its occurrence is anything but. In essence, burping is a failure of the seal between tire bead and wheel rim, resulting in partial or total loss of air. If you’re running low pressures like you do on a mountain bike or cyclocross bike, burping may not be as big of a deal, but on a road bike with much higher pressure, the consequences are much more severe.

The apprehension went away within the first kilometer of riding, though. That bead-to-rim seal I worked hard to attain just held solidly as I rode, straight and leaned-over turns alike. If anything, the Timekeepers seem to hold air pressure better after I took them out for an initial ride. Two days after first mounting them, there was quite a lot of pressure loss overnight on the rear tire before I rode the bike, dropping to 13 psi from about 80. However, about six hours post-ride, both tires are very reassuringly solid still, eventually losing less air and reading 45 psi the next day. That might have been the sealant doing its job and further permeating into the tire after the ride.

Granted, tubeless tires may never be as airtight as a tube and clincher combo, with more spontaneous pressure loss over time than with tubes, but if you stay on top of your tire pressures this shouldn’t be a problem.

I’m a sucker for tan sidewalls. These look pretty good. The Timekeeper branding blends in too well though.

Even with their positioning as American Classic’s “best” road tire, at $35 (PhP1,825) apiece, I feel the Timekeepers are a value proposition first and foremost, which is why the similarly priced Conti Grand Prix tires serve as a handy benchmark. I have to say the Timekeepers perform quite well against them. Grip is good, taking care of the many kinds of broken road surfaces around my village loop – even short stretches of legit gravel. Riding the Timekeepers tubeless at 73 psi front and rear allows for a slightly plusher ride without compromising on response.

It’s still early days for these tires but they are looking – and working – quite good indeed. Perhaps I could revisit testing them with less air pressure, or subject them to the dusty surfaces that Continental’s road bike rubber seems to hate.

Just don’t sniff too hard when you take them out of their boxes, perhaps.

Bino’s trainer comeback, part 1: Schwalbe Kojak tires

I have not written about Bino, my Dahon Vitesse folding bike, in a long, long time. He’s still with me, although I haven’t ridden him very often.

Minoura’s small-wheel adapter for the LR340.

Recently, my wife thought of following in my pedal strokes in returning to indoor cycling of her own. I still have the Minoura LR340 magnetic turbo trainer, and that still has its small wheel adapter to work with Bino’s much smaller wheels. However, there are a few things that need to be done before this plan can take off in earnest.

Tread pattern on the Marathon Racer tires. Center is non-continuous.

The more immediate one concerns Bino’s tires. The Schwalbe Marathon Racer tires are not a good match for the LR340, with their heavily grooved and pattern-cut treads. Most wheel-on turbo trainers require a tire with smooth tread to work their best and last as long as possible, and a treaded tire will make a huge mess of rubber particles on the trainer as it heats up. In a rookie mistake realization, I’ve already gouged a bit of a groove on the LR340’s resistance roller as is, running it without cleaning the rear tire it contacts first.

Step one, then, is to get suitable tires…and really, only one model in the Schwalbe lineup fits the bill: the Kojak.

Telly Savalas portrays the popular lollipop-sucking detective of this mid-1970s crime show.

People one generation older than me will perhaps know of a TV crime show of the same name. That’s exactly why Schwalbe named this tire like it did – its lack of tread pattern matches Detective Kojak’s smooth, bald pate. Even looking at other 406 mm (20″) tire offerings from other tire makers, the Kojak is one of the few options that looks most like a shrunken-down, slick-tread road bike tire.

The narrower Kojaks don’t fill the fenders as well as the outgoing Marathon Racers.

Another difference is the rated width. Unlike the 40 mm (1.5″) Marathon Racers, the Kojaks are slightly narrower at 35 mm (1.35″). With this change, the recommended pressure range increases accordingly, up to a rated 95 psi (6.5 bar) maximum. While the Kojak isn’t explicitly designed as an indoor training tire, the added air pressure and smooth tread should work well with the demands of that job.

I’d like to report that installing these tires was easy, but that would be a complete lie. Schwalbe’s 406 mm (20″) tire offerings almost universally have tight wire beads, and there’s something with the diameter and 14 mm width of Bino’s Newson Sportec rims that makes tire mounting disproportionately hard.

With the swap to the Kojaks, a third difficulty factor arose with the reuse of inner tubes…which were simply too wide for this application. On a road bike, there is little issue with using an inner tube meant for, say, 32-47 mm tires inside a 28 mm tire. On a small-wheeled folding bike, I found out the hard way that the size discrepancy between inner tube and tire width must be kept to a minimum. There just isn’t the same amount of room to stuff away excess inner tube material into the inside of the tire…without it folding in on itself so badly that it makes its own holes and punctures, or pinching between rim and tire bead (the inner tube will blow out explosively when inflated in this condition). My 47 mm (1.75″) inner tubes worked fine with the 40 mm (1.5″) Marathon Racers, but barely worked with the 35 mm (1.35″) Kojaks.

Not sure how I would have mounted this without my trust tire bead jack and Pedro’s tire levers.
Best tire levers around – it takes a lot to break one. Buy a pair for each bike you own!

It took multiple dismounts and remounts to get this absolutely right, stuffing any exposed or pinched inner tube inside the tire bead. It got to the point where one of my burly Pedro’s tire levers had had enough and snapped at the final attempt. If a tire is tough enough to destroy a Pedro’s tire lever while mounting, your wheel and tire combination is no joke to fit. Such difficulty of turnaround is one reason why working on Bino’s tire punctures on the roadside frankly fills me with a bit of dread. On a particularly bad day with crap weather, I wouldn’t look past just folding the bike, hailing a cab, and going home that way. It is a boon, then, that the Kojak tires supposedly come with a measure of puncture protection built into their carcasses.

With the Kojaks mounted, Bino is a QR skewer swap away from being ready for trainer duty. The other half of the puzzle is modifying the LR340 itself, in a bid to replace its broken components with a field repair. That will be a tale for another time.

Showing some skin(wall): Fairweather For Traveller 700C x 28 mm tires

My initial dalliance into gumwall/skinwall tires didn’t quite go as smoothly as expected. I had bet on Clement tires (now known as Donnelly Cycling, after Pirelli’s loan of the Clement Pneumatici name ran out), which were well-reviewed, and I was curious to see how well 32 mm rubber would fit my kind of riding. For some reason or other, the experience didn’t impress.

This time might be different.

A friend of mine was in Japan a few months ago, and one of the stops on his itinerary was Blue Lug. This seems like a boutique bike shop of sorts, carrying parts that are highly sought after by both fixed-gear enthusiasts and serious long-distance cyclists.

My eye was drawn to these unusually colored tires. They’re branded “Fairweather,” Blue Lug’s house brand, and the actual production is carried out by that darling of custom tire manufacturers, Panaracer. While the Japanese firm sells its own line of tires, some of you may know them as the guys behind high-end rubber from Soma (e.g. the Cazadero gravel tire), Bruce Gordon (e.g. the legendary Rock n’ Road mixed-surface tire), and Compass Tires.

These in particular are the “For Traveller” model at 700C x 28 mm. Aside from this rust colored tread, they’re offered in black, “algae” blue, and a gray hue called “asphalt.” Fancy colors aside, the tread also features two rows of herringbone pattern siping and a central file section. Blue Lug also offers a 32 mm version.

Mounting them was a bit of a struggle, though nothing out of the ordinary if you come from Continental’s folding-bead clincher tires. Like those, the beads here are ridiculously tight when new, necessitating sturdy tire levers or a tire bead jack on initial fitment to get that last part of stubborn bead over the rim.

Mounted on my wheels with 19 mm internal width, and inflated to 70 psi, the Travelers measure a genuine 28 mm wide.

Initial impressions after a 94-kilometer ride are quite good. Running them at 80 psi at the rear and 70 psi up front, the ride feel over concrete roads is a bit firmer than before; the jury’s still out on whether cutting down pressure will help increase suppleness. One advantage they do have over my Continentals is they aren’t as easily fazed by dusty surfaces, most likely due to the herringbone and file pattern cut into the tread. Unlike the old Clements, these don’t seem to have any problems with wet roads, and, touch wood, no punctures yet.

Given how well received Panaracer tires are, I think I’m in good hands with these. I’ll see how well I get along with them.