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Tire Tech
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Coach Steve being aero!

TIRE TECH: Consider tires the most important component of your bike. Obviously they must hold air for the duration of a race—and how we take care of them impacts this variable. There are choices to be made for type and weight which in turn determines performance and durability. Using clinchers for training is the logical choice for cost considerations, but for race day you can choose either clinchers or tubulars.

Clinchers are more familiar; they have a separate tube inside that can be replaced. Tubulars have the tube sewn inside, hence the alternate name: sew-ups. Technology has improved clinchers to the point where ride quality is nearly as good as tubulars, but for me there's still a significant difference. Tubulars have taller more flexible sidewalls, so they absorb shock more effectively than clinchers. Because of this tubulars give a smoother ride with better 'stiction' in corners.

Clinchers have a wide range of quality, from inexpensive stiff tires suitable for training, to pricey lighter versions with a high thread count that gives a very responsive, comfortable ride.

High quality tubulars are more expensive than clinchers and glued to rims as opposed to fitting by bead tension only. Rims for clinchers and tubulars are completely different so tire type is not interchangeable. Tubulars come in cotton (Vittoria, et.al) or Nylon (Continental). Cotton gives a springier ride, but Nylon can handle more air pressure and lasts longer. In the old days we had the most supple option of all—silk—but alas, this seems to be a thing of the past.

Road tire width ranges from 19mm to 25mm or more. Narrower tires with high pressure are faster, but also have less height and more susceptible to pinch flats. Narrower tires also give less traction in corners and on wet roads. Smaller, lighter riders can get away with narrow tires, while larger riders should go with wider tires more proportional to their weight.

Tire pressure is a decision to be made every time you inflate. More pressure means less rolling resistance, but also a harsher ride. Sometimes the benefit of a smoother ride outweighs the benefit of lower rolling resistance if the road surface is rough. Also, tire failure risk increases proportionally to pressure.

Tire care is rarely considered but crucial. Not all flats are due to pinches or punctures. Some tire failures are caused by damage that happened before race day. Tires can fail because the sidewall was cut by a rock or from damage during transport. Always cover your tires when you travel; use tire bags or covers when you pack your bike for a flight. Friction from another object rubbing against them can wear through the threads of the sidewall; this is the end of the tire and maybe your race day.

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