The Goldilocks Principle: Deflategate

The Rider is the best book ever written about Cycling. I don’t mean that figuratively, I literally mean that literally. I say this despite having had my hand in writing our own Book about Cycling. What makes this book great is not just the prose, which is immaculate, but the spirit of the Velominatus that permeates the work. My friend @ErikdR recently sent me a copy in the original Dutch and, to my amazement, the English translation loses very little of the subtext that most translations do. Still, some expressions as they are written in Dutch carry so much meaning that it is impossible to translate into a foreign tongue. This is the essential underlying art, the intangible essence that separates language from communication.

Early in the book, Krabbé rides a short warm-up and upon reaching his turn-around point, climbs off to answer the call of nature. As he remounts, he carefully wipes his tires clean before setting off back towards the start/finish line. I had never noticed that bit of the book before but the Dutch version used a particular turn of phrase that expressed, if not a love, then an unusual degree of care given to an inanimate object.

And I realized, at that moment, that Cyclists today don’t love their tires anymore; clinchers have desensitized us against the miracle of riding on a membrane supported only by air. Tubulars, on the other hand, make you work to appreciate their miracle. You have to huff some glue (technically that counts as a win-win), you have to align the tyre properly, you have to keep the glue off both the braking surface and the sidewall, which seems like a paradox to the uninitiated. Tubulars make you work for it, they help you appreciate that a tire isn’t a bit of disposable kit; it is a commitment towards mutual benefit.

I was raised like every other Merckx-fearing Velominatus: on a strict diet of Rule #5, long hours in the saddle, and 19mm tires pumped to the highest number the sidewall said to pump them to. Which was usually around 10 bar (150 psi). Simple physics: less surface area meant less friction, and everyone knows friction is an asshole.

Until the last few years, I’ve ridden 23mm tires at 8 bar, no questions asked. In the past few years, however, we’ve come to understand that lower pressures and wider tires provide some significant benefits, like being faster and more comfortable, to pick two. I have accepted this transition like a toddler “accepts” his vegetables.

Like Grandpa adjusting to color film in his camera, I have gradually moved towards wider tires at lower pressures. I’ve been experimenting with 25mm, 26mm, and 27mm tires for the last few seasons, pumped up anywhere from 6.5 to 8.5 bar. (On the cobbles in Northern Europe, I ride them at 5 to 5.5 bar, depending on the conditions.) Empirically, the difference in ride quality by tire pressure comes down first to the quality of the tire and its materials, the weight and riding style of the rider, countered by the road conditions.

Mileage may vary based on your weight and tire, but for now I’ve landed on 26mm tires at 7.5 bar. Now I’m just waiting for my order of Gianni’s Digital Lezyne pressure gauge to show up so I can really get down to business.

 

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125 Replies to “The Goldilocks Principle: Deflategate”

  1. Since owning a pair of open paves(still not proper tubs I know) I have become much more attentive of their condition and find myself regularly checking for cuts and debris far more than I did with the Conti’s I had on before  ;even keep giving the sidewalls a wipe over to make that green stripe stand-out.

    The only downside(well apart from the cuts they seem to pick up) is that the lettering is upside down if placed next to the valve.

    Next step though is some nice tubeless rims like some Reynolds Assaults with some Schwalbe ones;anyone want a kidney?

  2. @fenlander

    I tried tubeless for a while before going back to running tubes in the rims (Campag Shamal).  It seems to be very flinty where I ride and I kept getting punctures that would not seal so in the end I gave up on running tubeless.  I think the current sealants struggle at road tyre pressures.  I also ran Schwalbe Ones for a while.  Loved the ride but they did seem quite puncture prone and I ended up switching to Ultremo DD though currently running Open Pave.

    One thing about tubeless tyres I did find is that fitting and removing is an absolute bitch compared to clincher tyres.  So if you do puncture putting a tube in is not as easy as with a clincher tyre.  The Open Pave are a doddle in comparison.

  3. I’m still running the cheapy 23mm clinchers that came with the bike. I reckon by now I might as well run them into the ground before replacing them with something half decent. And 25’s seem to be the way to go, probably Conti Gatorskins as it’s what my LBS recommended and they’re not to pricey.

    I tend to pump mine hard (110-120psi) as I’m a heavy rider and I’m convinced I get more punctures when my tyres are soft (although I’ve not had one on my new bike in over 1,600ks of riding).

  4. I found that 28mm and 5 bar on the cobbles/kassen/pave certainly helped my vegetables to the point that I can still make toddlers.

    Frank set me the homework exercise of reading the Rider – managed in two sittings.

    My 22 will now always be as clean as a whistle

  5. “Cyclists today don’t love their tires anymore”

    A very astute observation. Bike 1 has been a reet biatch recently for punctures. Sitting and inspecting the tyres carefully showed a bunch of cuts, bits of glass and one tear deep enough to go through to the tube which caused a pinch puncture on her last ride. Conti 4 Seasons with 2500km under them.

    The nine bike is seeing more action at present. Cheap Kenda OEM tyres that so far have shrugged the awful glass mud and thorn strewn roads of the North East of England.

    I’m gunna make cleaning my tyres part of the evening routine from now on.

  6. Moving to tubulars was the best thing I’ve every done for my bikes.  Hands down, no contest.

    Reasons:  a 24mm Pave Evo CG tubular has a ride quality like a big fat 32mm clincher, without all the weight.  They don’t puncture, even when ridden repeatedly over shards of glass.  I can ride gravel or mild singletrack on them, no problem.  Need to bunny hop a pothole onto a broken bottle?  I’ve done this more than once, sans problem.

    The mechanical work of mounting the tires brings you closer to your bike.  You must understand the machine, understand the interface, and care about it and love it enough to learn how to make it work.  Once you’ve glued a few tires, it’s no longer a chore.  Ignore the sturm and drang about how gluing a set of tires takes 4 days and requires sacrificing a chicken and whatnot.  Once you’ve got the hang of it and a nice base coat on your rims, a tidy and strong glue job can be accomplished with 30 minutes’ work, most of which is spent drinking beer and waiting for the glue to set up a bit.

  7. Back in the day when roads were often not surfaced there was a reason they used these………

  8. Oh no, the much feared “gate” has entered the cycling realm. As a U.S. historian, there is one “gate” and it involves Tricky Dick. It doesn’t involved a misshift by Andy Schleck, it doesn’t involved some underinflated pigskin. Nope, just the sitting President lying to the nation.

    Along those lines, just because I buy your grill/bbq, doesn’t mean I’m part of any “nation”; I just want to cook a fucking hot dog in my backyard.

    Excuse my giving a shit but, I just see this as part of the trend to declare every single fucking thing as a big deal, as epic, as the greatest/biggest/craziest/wildest _______ of all time. It’s like we’re happily ignoring all of recorded history and focusing on making right now the biggest fucking deal to ever occur. The sad part is that in twenty years, more Americans will probably remember cheating in a football game than the actions of Milhous. On that note, fuck it.

  9. One thing I really enjoy about The Rider is that I can pick it up and start reading from any point and be entertained. I’ve read it a few times from cover to cover, but picking it up before bed and just reading a few pages here or there is an excellent preface to a rest.

  10. @Ron

    Technically, Tricky Dick’s “gate” was just the name of the building, so it wasn’t really a gate at all. The metonymy grew from there. Nixon’s gait suggests he probably wasn’t much of a cyclist. Rumours abound, however, that he was Rule #33 compliant.

  11. Nice one, Frank  – and I’m really glad you’ve enjoyed/are enjoying the read.

    Part of the ‘secret’, I guess, is in the frequent – and almost un-translatable – use of the diminutive. “Ik veeg mijn bandjes schoon” immediately seems to suggest a sense of TLC in Krabbé for his poor ‘little’ tires, which are about to be put through an ordeal in the hours to come…

    @Teocalli I’ve been running Schwalbe Ones on my #1 bike, but, like you, I’m still a bit on the fence: beautifully responsive ride, but they seem more puncture-prone than the Schwalbe marketing team would have us believe.

    On the Giant Defy workhorse, I run Durano Plus. A bit heavy and sluggish by comparison, perhaps, but they have been utterly bullet-proof so far. (* Touch wood, salt over shoulder, mutter three hail-Merckxes…*). But I must try tubs at some point – soon, I hope.

  12. @Ron

    One thing I really enjoy about The Rider is that I can pick it up and start reading from any point and be entertained. I’ve read it a few times from cover to cover, but picking it up before bed and just reading a few pages here or there is an excellent preface to a rest.

    Spot on, Ron.

  13. @the Engine

    I love the quote “his 22 was still clean”. I think about that when I go uphill and did not need to use the lowest gear. Although  must admit that it’s not the 22 that’s still clean then…

  14. @VeloJello

    Any idea why cleaning tires is advised to be done using vinagre? I read somewhere is because of some sort of way put on the tires to keep them supple when they are shipped. But surely after the first 50km, that’s gone.

  15. @Teocalli

    Back in the day when roads were often not surfaced there was a reason they used these………

    Why would they use stuff that dentists use to keep your mouth open. Or was it for something that felt like pulling teeth?

  16. @Teocalli

    Back in the day when roads were often not surfaced there was a reason they used these………

    They would become razor sharp and then drop down and slice your tyres (or fingers if you dared adjust them). You want these in the way you want coaster brake levers and a bar end mirror.

  17. @KogaLover

    @VeloJello

    Any idea why cleaning tires is advised to be done using vinagre? I read somewhere is because of some sort of way put on the tires to keep them supple when they are shipped. But surely after the first 50km, that’s gone.

    Haven’t a clue. I reserve vinegar for my chips and, when the season permits, my conkers.

  18. Thanks for the bandjes banter, Frank…I think we’re starting to like our vegetables, but the bike brands aren’t all on board with their tire clearances. What’s up with that?

    [Btw, I’m currently running 28mm Conti GP 4 Seasons due to post-winter asphalt irregularities and crap still on the roads. I’ll soon switch to my standard GP 4000 SII’s in the 25 width (5-6bar–I’m about 75kg)]

  19. Clinchers do seem to lack the mystery and wonder that tubulars have. After all, pop a clincher off the rim and there’s no hiding that there’s a tube inside doing the work to hold the air. Plus, learning the art of gluing on a set up tubs is nearly as unique as learning to build the wheels themselves (and not the latest, greatest, super-aero, carbon-fiber, high-dollar, bling people want now). But all this noted, I do have a particular favorite type of clincher.: A specific brand open tubular, high thread-count, pricey perhaps, tan sidewalls preferred, with a latex tube. Is it exactly like riding a tubular? Damn near. But as good as it gets, never quite as cool as the original.

  20. @Steampunk

    @Ron

    Technically, Tricky Dick’s “gate” was just the name of the building, so it wasn’t really a gate at all. The metonymy grew from there. Nixon’s gait suggests he probably wasn’t much of a cyclist. Rumours abound, however, that he was Rule #33 compliant.

    Velomi-koan: Can a man truly be Rule #33 compliant if he is not a cyclist?

  21. Cyclists today don’t love their tires anymore; clinchers have desensitized us against the miracle of riding on a membrane supported only by air. Tubulars, on the other hand, make you work to appreciate their miracle.

    Spot-fucking-on.  I rode in the damp this morning and let a little air of of the 25mm Veloflex tubs that are my daily ride.  They hissed along and kept bike confidently attached to tarmac.

  22. I ride on Specialized Rovals 45mm clinchers with 25mm Continental GP 4000s II. I only had a slashed side wall in 12.000 km, but I’ve patched that and they’re still going strong, I think I might do another 10.000 km on them. I pump them to 6.5 bar (95 psi), but I weigh only 62 kg.

    I love this tire setup, they are very comfortable on rough roads, they’re fast, grippy and hard wearing.

  23. You people running Contis need to branch out.  There is much more to a good tire than puncture resistance.

  24. @Nate

    You people running Contis need to branch out.  There is much more to a good tire than puncture resistance.

    What’s your best recommendation that won’t cost more than $60.00 per tyre — tire ??

  25. @unversio

    I forget if you run tubulars or not.  Veloflex clinchers seem to be readily available under $60.  I don’t honestly know if I can recommend tubulars under $60 stateside although I have heard good things about some sort of lower end Vittoria Corsa.  Haven’t tried it.

    My parents are in France right now, I am going to have them bring back a suitcaseful (actually, 3 or 4) Veloflex tubulars, they are much cheaper in Europe than over here.

  26. @Nate

    Both. About to glue up Conti Competitions, but would rather try something new — and reliable. So now lets’ allow a range of 60.00 to 90.00.

  27. You might be able to find Veloflex Master or Criterium online for 90. Puncture resistance improves with 6 months’ aging. There will be a date code on the base tape. 

  28. Compelled to buy Veloflex Arenberg 25c Tubular and Corsa 25c Open Tubular — soon. Hand Made in Italy.

    All I needed was one good idea to “branch out” from the usual — Contis.

  29. @unversio

    Compelled to buy Veloflex Arenberg 25c Tubular and Corsa 25c Open Tubular — soon. Hand Made in Italy.

    All I needed was one good idea to “branch out” from the usual — Contis.

    I run the Arenberg tubular as my daily tire.  It is fantastic, probably my favorite.

  30. @Nate

    As with most koans, yours made me almost fall off my chair. Like the sound of one tyre touching the road (in an ever-increasing contact patch).

    Me: 25mm for some years now. On my current HED Belgiums, the 25s look almost like 28s…

    Gatorskins for winter, something sleeker for summer.

  31. > Simple physics: less surface area meant less friction

    Actually simple physics never said that. Simple physics says the friction is a constant coefficient (depending on the material, etc) times the force of adhesion (in our case, essentially the weight of rider+bike).

    The less contact area you have, the more weight each sq cm supports and the more fiction it generates.

  32. @Steampunk

    @Nate

    As with most koans, yours made me almost fall off my chair.

    If you had hit your head falling, maybe you would have attained satori.

    Like the sound of one tyre touching the road (in an ever-increasing contact patch).

    On Sunday I was out with my boys.  They saw a unicyclist riding up the hill here.  All three of us were mesmerized at the sight.

  33. @Ron

    I assumed there would be much more moaning about the fact that its a reference to a recent American Football incident, which is much worse than what you are describing.

  34. Frank,

    You sure are an excellent writer with a great sense of humor. “everyone knows friction is an asshole”. How can anyone read that without laughing. Thanks for the great, short article.

  35. @ErikdR

    @Teocalli I’ve been running Schwalbe Ones on my #1 bike, but, like you, I’m still a bit on the fence: beautifully responsive ride, but they seem more puncture-prone than the Schwalbe marketing team would have us believe.

    I’m riding the Schwalbe Ones as well, in 26mm; both on the Nine Bike and the #1. Great tire, and not too much trouble with punctures, although 4 of the 5 flats we saw at Arenberg were on the Ones.

    They are a wonderfully responsive tire, and I love the way the tread wraps all the way around to the sidewalls; great for cornering, especially in the wet.

  36. As a commuter the GP’s wear out to quick and at $60 every few months it’s a bit steep. Zaffiro Pro’s are my goto for commuting and GP’s for roadie training. Saving for a set of carbon 35’s with tubs for race/fondo’s at 1100g for the wheels. I find 23’s a bit harsh and just ordered 28 zaffiros to try next week. At $20 with nice soft grippy rubber, 290g and good durability they’re hard to go past.

  37. @unversio

    Compelled to buy Veloflex Arenberg 25c Tubular and Corsa 25c Open Tubular — soon. Hand Made in Italy.

    All I needed was one good idea to “branch out” from the usual — Contis.

    You may want to hold out for the new Veloflex Vlaanderen 27mm!

    Veloflex is now my go-to brand. I’ve used only Veloflex or Vittoria since the mid 1990’s. The thing I didn’t like about Veloflex was that they only made a 22mm, which was actually a 21mm. Then they made the pave marked 23mm,that was really 22mm. Now they have the corsa/master in 25mm, that is a 24mm. perfect. It’s been my experience that the corsa/master lasts at least 3x as long as the Vittoria corsa sc open, and the veloflex gets 1/4 the number of les crevaisons.

  38. @frank

    @ErikdR

    @Teocalli I’ve been running Schwalbe Ones on my #1 bike, but, like you, I’m still a bit on the fence: beautifully responsive ride, but they seem more puncture-prone than the Schwalbe marketing team would have us believe.

    I’m riding the Schwalbe Ones as well, in 26mm; both on the Nine Bike and the #1. Great tire, and not too much trouble with punctures, although 4 of the 5 flats we saw at Arenberg were on the Ones.

    They are a wonderfully responsive tire, and I love the way the tread wraps all the way around to the sidewalls; great for cornering, especially in the wet.

    Shit, really (punctures)? I’m about to glue a set on this weekend. I’m making the switch from Conte GP4000 tubies.

    @the Engine

    @Teocalli

    Back in the day when roads were often not surfaced there was a reason they used these………

    They would become razor sharp and then drop down and slice your tyres (or fingers if you dared adjust them). You want these in the way you want coaster brake levers and a bar end mirror.

    After rolling through glass or other debris, it was the mark of skill to be able to reach back (while not looking) with your hand against the seat tube and clean the back tire at speed without losing digits (amongst other skill moves). Alas the spacing of my #1’s seat tube to tire does not permit this (perhaps to my betterment).

  39. Couple of things – almost finished reading “Gironimo” by Tim Moore – a freebie in the KT15 musette. great read and laugh out loud. “The Rider” is next though @Frank – though I’ll probably steer clear of the dutch version.

    Getting some new wheels made up – White Industry T11 hubs and HED Belgiums 32/28 – hope I don”t wreck these. I recently put a set of 25mm Vittoria Open Pave’ clinchers on my Mavics at 120psi/ 125psi – such a difference to the Gatorskins and Durano-Plus that I have previously run. Will probably get another set of the Pave’s for the HED’s as a winter setup.

    …And my 22 is pretty bloody filthy!

  40. @fignons barber

    @unversio

    Compelled to buy Veloflex Arenberg 25c Tubular and Corsa 25c Open Tubular — soon. Hand Made in Italy.

    All I needed was one good idea to “branch out” from the usual — Contis.

    You may want to hold out for the new Veloflex Vlaanderen 27mm!

    Veloflex is now my go-to brand. I’ve used only Veloflex or Vittoria since the mid 1990’s. The thing I didn’t like about Veloflex was that they only made a 22mm, which was actually a 21mm. Then they made the pave marked 23mm,that was really 22mm. Now they have the corsa/master in 25mm, that is a 24mm. perfect. It’s been my experience that the corsa/master lasts at least 3x as long as the Vittoria corsa sc open, and the veloflex gets 1/4 the number of les crevaisons.

    I’ve been on the same pair of Veloflex Arenbergs since I set up a pair of tubulars, over a year ago. They measure at 25mm, I ride them around 6.9 bar (100 psi) and I’m a huge slow bastard, 90 kg. More tire pressure than that seems harsh. Also, climbing on wet roads and having the rear wheel slip a bit freaks me out thinking the tires will slip much worse coming back downhill, so I like to not put in too much pressure.

  41. @Dima

    > Simple physics: less surface area meant less friction

    Actually simple physics never said that. Simple physics says the friction is a constant coefficient (depending on the material, etc) times the force of adhesion (in our case, essentially the weight of rider+bike).

    The less contact area you have, the more weight each sq cm supports and the more fiction it generates.

    So what does this mean? Friction is the wrong term?

  42. @Dima

    > Simple physics: less surface area meant less friction

    Actually simple physics never said that. Simple physics says the friction is a constant coefficient (depending on the material, etc) times the force of adhesion (in our case, essentially the weight of rider+bike).

    The less contact area you have, the more weight each sq cm supports and the more fiction it generates.

    Yes, but this fiction you have generated does not address rolling resistance, rather it addresses traction, which is the problem old mate is raising above while riding up hills.  He’s lifting the rear with his mighty thrust (which some might attribute to poor technique rather than any function of physics), reducing the load, leading to slippage.   The same can happen under heavy braking, of course, but misunderstanding this as a function of tyre pressure is not helpful either.

  43. @Gianni

    @fignons barber

    @unversio

    Compelled to buy Veloflex Arenberg 25c Tubular and Corsa 25c Open Tubular — soon. Hand Made in Italy.

    All I needed was one good idea to “branch out” from the usual — Contis.

    You may want to hold out for the new Veloflex Vlaanderen 27mm!

    Veloflex is now my go-to brand. I’ve used only Veloflex or Vittoria since the mid 1990’s. The thing I didn’t like about Veloflex was that they only made a 22mm, which was actually a 21mm. Then they made the pave marked 23mm,that was really 22mm. Now they have the corsa/master in 25mm, that is a 24mm. perfect. It’s been my experience that the corsa/master lasts at least 3x as long as the Vittoria corsa sc open, and the veloflex gets 1/4 the number of les crevaisons.

    I’ve been on the same pair of Veloflex Arenbergs since I set up a pair of tubulars, over a year ago. They measure at 25mm, I ride them around 6.9 bar (100 psi) and I’m a huge slow bastard, 90 kg. More tire pressure than that seems harsh. Also, climbing on wet roads and having the rear wheel slip a bit freaks me out thinking the tires will slip much worse coming back downhill, so I like to not put in too much pressure.

    Gianni, i am not as fat as you but I bet your Arenbergs would be perfectly happy at 90 if not 85 for more traction in the damp. You should try it out.

  44. @frank

    Did you manage to source a set of the latex tubed Ones? I have some 24s on my Shamals, they are a very nice tire. However I am given to understand that Schwalbe are now producing them with butyl tubes, which defeats its own purpose even more than a burned steak.

  45. @RobSandy

    If you’re riding anywhere that involved corners & wet road (and from memory you’re in the UK, so check) then steer very clear of the Gators…you may as well mount solid rubber for all the good they’ll do sticking to the road.

    If you’re shopping Contis, the GP 4 Season is magnitudes better in handling, still more than competent at avoiding punctures & near identical in price. GP 4000s are their slightly softer fairweather cousins for when the sun comes out (no use for you then).

  46. @Steampunk

    @Nate

    As with most koans, yours made me almost fall off my chair. Like the sound of one tyre touching the road (in an ever-increasing contact patch).

    Me: 25mm for some years now. On my current HED Belgiums, the 25s look almost like 28s…

    Gatorskins for winter, something sleeker for summer.

    how fucking big do those HEDs make the tyres look? The visual difference between my old DA C-24s & new Ardennes LT+ with the same 25mm GP4000s mounted is striking.

    Also, see my previous comment re: the Gators.

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