As a child, I wore out a few bike tires riding around my New England hometown. The wind whipping against my face as I raced up and down hills was exhilarating. At adolescence, my bike was stored away and left there for decades. Last month, husband Patrick suggested a date night in Coronado. "We can bring the beach cruisers to the Landing, ride around town, watch the sun set at the beach, and then grab a bite to eat downtown." Worrying that I wouldn't be able to find my bike groove again, I hesitantly agreed to give it a whirl. I found out that the saying is true: you never forget how to ride a bike. After a couple of wobbly loops around the parking lot, I was on my steady way. The only thing slowing me down was my cracking tire wheels.
After our date, I told Patrick I would research bike tires to replace our weary wheels.
"There are different tires for each bicycle application," explained the first guy I called, Dan Large, manager of Adams Avenue Bicycles in Normal Heights. "It's just like with cars, whether it is a sedan, van, truck, or SUV. For mountain bikes you have a full range of tire-tread design and carcass design (the shape of the actual rubber). With a road-style bike (a commuter-type bike to get from A to B), you can have full-on race tires that get glued onto the rim, all the way down to wire-bead, inexpensive tires. A road-bike tire can cost $200 or it can cost $14 . But a good $35 road-bike tire will work pretty well."
What brands are good?
"There are a couple of brands out there that make amazing tires that last forever. One big brand is the bicycle company called Specialized. Specialized tires make a tire called the Armadillo and it is pretty much the best tire ever made. I can't say enough about this tire. They make the Armadillo ( $35 ) for mountain bikes, road bikes, and for commuters. It is basically a Kevlar flat protection system inside the tire. The rubber itself is a nice long-wearing rubber. Armadillo tires last about 2500 to 3000 miles. It depends on the person riding it and the conditions they are riding in. The Specialized race tire lasts between 800-1000. But for a commuter tire, you want a tire that is going to last a long time, something that you can throw your leg over the bike and not have to worry about the tire being flat. You can get cheaper tires that will do the job, but there is nothing slower than a flat and nothing more frustrating."
What wears a tire out?
"If you are riding the bike, it's the use that wears it out. But if you are parking a bike out in the elements and letting it sit, then the sun will dry the tires out and the tires will crack."
To maintain the tires, Large suggested "keep them aired up to the proper inflation recommended by the manufacturer. A couple of things will happen if there is not enough air in it. One, you'll risk getting a puncture in the tube called a pinch flat. If you don't have enough air pressure in the tire, the tube will get pinched between whatever stuff you are running over and the rim itself. The other problem you have when you are running the tires low is it makes it easier for debris to stick into the rubber. When the tires are aired up nice and hard, they tend to repel glass and stuff on the road. If the tires are too pumped up, you can blow the tire off the bead. A lot of tires have a bead that hooks inside the rim and it's what attaches the tire to the rim. It kind of locks it in, acts like a little hook. It can come off if you have it overinflated."
If you pay more for a tire will it last longer?
"Not necessarily," Large replied. "The more expensive tires tend to last less. You are getting higher performance out of them and less longevity. Say you buy a $100 racing tire, it's pretty much for racing. If you were to take it out and commute on it everyday, it would puncture real quickly. Most racecourses are pretty clean so the tires would last long on a racecourse. But you get them out on our streets here in San Diego, a race tire would not last as long."
What about treads on tires?
"Tread pattern is use-specific," he replied. It depends on "the different types of racing, off road or riding on the road all the time, or a bit of both. Bicycle tire companies make different types of treads for that too. There is a science to certain treads that are faster."
"If you want a more comfortable ride," said Drew, store manager at B & L Bike and Sports in Solana Beach, "something that will absorb the rough aggregate on San Diego roads, you typically want to go with a higher thread count. That will give you more grip and also a very comfortable ride. Or if you're going to go for a touring style ride where you are riding from Santa Barbara down to San Diego, you want an all-conditions tire. That's going to be one of the lower thread count, a higher amount of rubber, and usually a more dense rubber so you can resist the amounts of cuts and tears and punctures you get."
When do you know you need new tires?
"Some people say," Drew answered, "when your tires start riding like a garden hose, it's time to get some new ones."