Tires and Attire

This morning I officially acknowledged that I have to give up on the Panaracer Gravel King tires that came on my Rivendell:

They are exceptionally light and smooth-riding tires, they’re good on a variety of surfaces, and they’ve been largely trouble-free on country roads. (This includes actual country roads like the ones I ride on my vacations, as well as the ersatz “country” roads up in the suburbs where I ride on weekends.) However, in terms of puncture resistance they are simply no match for the glass-and-debris-strewn streets of New York City, and when riding here in town I flat with them a bit more often than I’d like. I took the above photo as I walked home after incurring my latest puncture, and the reason I walked instead of fixing it is that when you flat at the end of your ride within walking distance of your home what’s the point of changing a tube? Instead I decided to finally get new tires, so I won’t bother getting my hands dirty on those grimy wheels until they arrive:

So with what will I replace the decadently plush yet tragically vulnerable Gravel Kings? Well, as it turns out, while there are many tires to choose from in the increasingly popular 27.5 sizeway, there’s a bit of a hole in the market as far as nimble yet robust pavement-oriented all-rounders. As far as I can tell, the majority of 27.5 tires on the market (excluding mountain bike tires, which is a whole other thing) fall under the following categories:

  • Gravel Tires

There are roughly a gazzillion expensive half-smooth, half-knobby gravel-specific 27.5 tires available to the discerning very-small-rock enthusiast. However, they’re generally either too wide for a bike like this, have all sorts of knobs and trippy tread patterns that are pointless on a bike like this, or are race-oriented and would most likely get cut to ribbons in the gutters of New York City. Also they’re expensive.

  • Boutique Rebranded Panaracers

Nowadays the true cogniscenti ride tires from Rene Herse or Ultradynamico–which I’m sure are fantastic if you exclusively ride highly Instagrammable roads and trails, but which are even more expensive than their myriad gravel counterparts, and which I also would not subject to the piles of glass that accumulate in the road shoulder from the previous night’s car break-ins. EDIT: People are reporting the Rene Herse tires hold up well in an urban environment, so my concerns may well be unwarranted.

  • Urban And/Or “Touring” Tires

There are various tires available in 27.5 that are designed to stand up to the rigors of commuting across the rainy, cobblestoned streets of European cities on a 45-pound bicycle day in and day out, but while I want good flat protection I also don’t want to compromise the sumptuous ride of the Rivendell too much. Not to get all princess-and-the-pea here, but when I see a tire is ebike-rated I’m hesitant to put it on a bike that I consider to be my rolling vacation as opposed to a workhorse.

Anyway, after much searching I think I finally arrived upon a tire that seems to be a good balance of ride quality and puncture resistance, and that also seems to offer decent volume without having too much tread. (And best of all, it was on sale.) I’ll let you know once they arrive and I get them on the bike. As for the Gravel Kings, I do like the ride very much, and apart from the punctures they’ve still got plenty of tread life left, so I’ll put them away and save them for a special occasion.

And no, I’m not going tubeless, not on this bike.

Speaking of knobby tires, as I mentioned yesterday, I’m coming off a three-day dirt bender, and in addition to my singlespeed I also spent some time on my Jones:

And on the M-16:

And while the latter bike may have been a state-of-the-art mountain bike in its heyday, I find that it is at its best when you ride it on surfaces like this while you’re wearing sneakers:

Then again, I may be projecting, because increasingly I feel as though I’m at my best when I’m riding on surfaces like that while wearing sneakers, no matter what the bike. This shift towards being casual has informed my on-the-bike sartorial sensibilities, so when Pearl Izumi graciously offered to send me some more clothes recently, I passed on the Lycra and headed straight to their “bikestyle™” department. Once there, I picked out their Rove Barrier Jacket:

And their Rove Thermal Shirt:

And yes, I’m going to talk about clothes again, because I’m XX years old and have finally come to terms with the fact that all I care about is riding bikes and what clothes I wear while riding bikes:

Anyway, it’s been freakishly warm here, but I have been wearing the shirt in the early mornings:

Though as you can see I still haven’t gotten around to trying that Just For Men beard dye they also sent me:

Do you really need a $140 bike-specific thermal shirt to do the whole “gravel casual” think? Of course not. Can’t you just wear a $40 quilted flannel or something? Absolutely. In fact I often do just that. But now I don’t have to anymore, and I refuse to apologize:

I’m not going to approach the totally subjective question of whether or not it’s worth paying $140 for a shirt like this, but I will say that it is objectively way better than the “regular” ones I usually ride in, for the simple reason that it doesn’t feel all tight in the armpits when you’re holding the handlebars. (The shoulders are “pleated” so they don’t bind.) Of course, if you have this problem it may very well be less a sign that you need a new shirt and more a sign that you need a new bike–perhaps *ahem* an upright one with swept bars and a really long quill stem. But if you’re perfectly fine with the bike you already have–or, like me, you’ve got various bikes with various cockpits–I’d go so far as to say that if you’ve got $140 budgeted for a toasty warm shirt that you can wear all the time then this is an excellent choice.

In addition to the comfort factor there are also other bikey touches which, to be honest, I almost didn’t notice. For example, there’s this very subtle pocket where you can keep your bike lock key or whatever:

And there’s also a little orange flag in the lining that you can pull through a slot in the back of the shirt for extra visibility while you’re riding, or if you want to play flag football with your bros:

It’s quite bright, though it looks a little washed out in the photo, probably because I took it on a very sunny day at what must have been solar noon. Just to give you an idea of how bright it was, take a look at how shiny the bike is:

Now consider the bike’s slovenly proprietor, and that I haven’t washed it since receiving it last winter.

All of this is to say that so far I really like the shirt, and it has upped my trying-to-look-like-I’m-not-wearing-bike-specific-clothes-while-in-fact-wearing-bike-specific-clothes game considerably. And there’s nothing as rewarding as feeling contempt for the Lycra hordes when your clothes come from the exact same company theirs do. After all, isn’t smugness what cycling is all about?

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