Rolling Into The New Year

Hey, look at that, it’s 2021! Twenty years after that famous movie and still no commercial space flight:

What a fucking ripoff.

Speaking of grip, as I mentioned last year, I got some new tires for Christian Hanukkah:

Rene Herse are probably the most talked-about bicycle tires since John Boyd Dunlop came up with the idea of filling them with air back in 1888, so let’s, uh, talk about them:

[“The only thing worse than being talked about is riding a tire with a low-threadcount casing at a sub-optimal pressure.” — Playwright and noted gravel enthusiast Oscar Wilde]

By the way, after typing the above it occurred to me to check whether or not Oscar Wilde did indeed ride a bicycle, and a little popular search engine yielded a biography that suggests he was quite taken with them:

I found out that the thing he desired most in the world was a bicycle; he talked of nickel-plated handle bars, and chains—and finally I told him it might be arranged.

So yeah, he’d totally be riding a Rivendell with Rene Herse tires.

Anyway, if you’ve dorked out on tires recently you’ve no doubt come across rapt accounts of how Rene Herse tires roll like bacon grease off the hood of a car on a hot day, and having put several rides on them over the holidays I can confirm that they do in fact feel quite cushy on pavement:

They also roll exceptionally smoothly on dirt and gravel…

…and they even offered more traction than I expected when I briefly steered myself onto a moist mountain bike trail:

I imagine this is due to the [overused word alert!] supple casing, which probably conforms well to rocks and roots and thus makes up for the absence of knobs or a deeper tread pattern to some degree. However, since I’m palping them with tubes, and since they’re fairly narrow (nominally 1.8″), I probably couldn’t get away with them in a mountain-biking capacity for long. The wider Rat Trap Pass and certainly the hilarously-named Humptulips would be much more capable for off-roading, especially if set up tubeless, but I highly doubt the M-16 has clearance for either, and I’m disinclined to attempt tubelessness on those vintage rims. (Though the bead does fit snugly enough that I suspect I could get away with it.)

All of this is to say that I like them very much, and the M-16 is a much more refined bike for my having installed them.

As for durability, obviously it’s too early to draw any conclusions, but I will say that my last few rides were on wet pavement in exactly the sort of conditions that inevitably result in flats. (You know, the snow melts, the streets fill up with debris, that debris sticks to your tires due to the moisture…) In fact it was precisely these conditions that compelled me to sideline the Gravel Kings on my Rivendell and switch to Schwalbe Marathon Supremes for the winter–yes, I loved the ride of the Gravel Kings, but I also incurred a few too many punctures for my liking on urban roads. (And no, I’M NOT GOING TUBELESS ON MY RIVENDELL.) So far the Rene Herses have been trouble-free on wet glass-strewn streets, and while I certainly wouldn’t be foolish enough to declare them more robust than the Gravel Kings at this very early stage, the fact that they’ve maintained their integrity thus far is at least encouraging.

Speaking of the Rivendell, and the Marathon Supremes, overall they go quite well together:

It’s sort of silly to attempt to compare two different tires on two different bikes with two different wheel sizes, but at the same time I do use both bikes similarly, and both tires are approximately the same width, though I have yet to bust out the calipers and take exact measurements. (This is partly because I’m lazy but mostly because I don’t have measuring calipers–though I suppose the fact I don’t have them is itself a function of my laziness.) So far, I find that the Schwalbe is a reasonably light tire given its apparent robustness, and it also feels quite smooth on pavement, though it seems to want a bit more air pressure on the road than the Rene Herse does in order to feel “fast.” That’s all fine, but the higher pressure does mean it doesn’t feel as good as the Rene Herse on dirt–which is also fine, since the Rivendell skews more “road” anyway.

As for whether I’d choose them again for the Rivendell over a boutique tire like the Rene Herse, given they were on sale for about half their full retail price, I most certainly would. However, it’s worth noting that when they’re not on sale the Schwalbes cost about as much as the Rene Herses, and if I were paying full price and basing my decision on ride quality alone I’d go for the latter. BUT…if it turns out the Rene Herses aren’t up to the debris-strewn roads and trails of the New York City area, and the Schwalbes are, then that obviously kicks the Decide-O-Meter back in the other direction. So I guess we’ll see what happens in a few months.

Of course if you’re looking for a smooth-riding moderate-width all-terrain tire and you happen to live someplace where flats aren’t a huge concern, or you’re planning to go tubeless, Gravel Kings and Rene Herses are both made by Panaracer, and here’s what Jan Heine and Panaracer have to say about that:

“The Gravelkings and the Compass tires are two different types of tires. The reason that Compass tires are so successful is that Jan and Compass have a clear vision for what they want in a tire, and Panaracer has the technology to deliver that. The materials and the construction of the Compass tires vary from the Panaracer line, because of the performance that Compass wants to deliver to the customer. The components that go into the Compass tires, and the processes to make them, cost more, hence the price difference. Both are high-quality tires, but the ride and performance are different. If you’re looking for the most supple tire that incorporates all cutting-edge tire technology, you’ll choose Compass. If you’re willing to sacrifice the ultimate ride quality Compass is known for, to get a little more puncture and sidewall protection, then Panaracer has you covered there.”

The irony here is that my only problem with the Gravel Kings were that they didn’t have enough puncture protection, so I feel like I’m caught in a marketing Möbius strip:

Pro tip: if you’re having trouble seating your tubeless tires, make sure you’ve installed your Möbius strip the right way around.

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