Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’…

I know there’s one question that’s been foremost on your mind over the weekend, and the answer is yes, I’ve been quite pleased with the be-fendered RockCombo:

Indeed, I’d go so far as to say its new road-ish guise is a major step in its journey towards self-actualization as a bicycle, whatever the hell that means. In the spirit of dorking out on bikes I’d also like to address the Rene Herse tires with which it is shod, since these inflatable rim covers, as well as the entire Jan Heine oeuvre, have a dedicated and enthusiastic following:

I always felt weird about buying these tires for myself in the same way I’d feel weird about buying myself a pair of $200 silk underpants, and so I got around the weirdness by putting them on my Christmas list instead. (Along with the $200 silk underpants, obviously.) I then rode them on the American M-16, but only for a short time, since I ended up returning that to Classic Cycle. So only now that they’re on the RockCombo (a.k.a. “Eye Of The Tiger Bike”) do I feel like I’m really getting to know them.

The Jan Heine universe is an odd one. On one hand he prizes classic bicycle design, and on the other he’s obsessed with testing and performance–like if you pumped Grant Petersen full of PEDs while he slept. I suppose this combination is not unique to him and is characteristic of the randonneuring scene as a whole. In any case, the upshot is he does stuff like set record times on bikes with rod-shifted front derailleurs and wind tunnel-tested fenders:

Please note I do not mean any of this derisively. Indeed, one of the most beautiful aspects of cycling are the infinite number of ways you can choose to approach it. It’s just that as a lazy washed-up former Cat 3 and recent jorts convert I’m both fascinated and bemused by all this, because it seems to be what happens when a retrogrouch and a Fred collide in a particle accelerator. But that’s entirely subjective, and I celebrate anyone who makes their brand of cycling available to anyone else, whether it’s through designing and selling products, or writing about it, or taking pictures of it, or whatever the case may be.

Anyway, as a cycling consumer, it seems to be that tires have been central to the Heine-iverse in that, while expensive for what they are, they’re still a relatively affordable component you can fit to pretty much any bike. Also, many (including Heine himself) point to his role in effecting what he calls the “Wide Tire Revolution,” so in that sense they’re his flagship product.

Having ridden these tires on two bikes now, I’ve observed the following:

  • They’re clearly very well-made, as you’d expect from any higher-end Panaracer product
  • This quality is apparent before you even ride the tire, as anybody who’s handled and mounted a lot of them knows what a well-made one feels like
  • They do have a distinct feel that is identifiable across bikes

With regard to that distinct feel, it’s what most people now call “supple,” which is sort of the “laterally stiff yet vertically compliant” of tires in that it’s both vague and obvious. Of course a nice bike feels “laterally stiff yet vertically compliant,” and of course a nice tire feels “supple.” That’s just what they’re supposed to feel like. However, I’d go a little further, and say that on pavement the Rene Herse tires are sort of “floaty and muted”–kind of like your bike took a Vicodin. That’s not a bad thing–obviously some people really, really like Vicodin–but after riding two pretty different bikes with these same tires that’s what they feel like to me.

But are they faster or not? Well, according to Jan Heine, one of his offerings is among the fastest in the world. On the other hand (or wheel), Bicycle Rolling Resistance has been a little more critical of certain models based on their tests:


Here’s another example from when Heine’s tires were still sold under the “Compass” name:

Though Heine himself claims they were doing the test wrong:

As for the rest of us, I suspect if you’re reading this blog you don’t care too much what Bicycle Rolling Resistance or Jan Heine say, since in practice any quantifiable performance differences between two quality tires is effectively meaningless, and whether a tire is “fast” or not is informed largely by feel. I’m sort of entertained by the narcotic haze of the Rene Herse tires, but on pavement I’m realizing I prefer something a little firmer, and as a result the Marathon Supremes on my Homer Hilsen feel “faster” (maybe “more responsive” is a better phrase) to me on the road. At the same time, the Rene Herse do feel fantastic on smooth dirt and the the sorts of surfaces for which people now use the catch-all term “gravel,” but so do some other Panaracer products I’ve used, so who the hell knows?

One thing I do know is that I used to think tires (volume, pressure, casing, etc.) informed ride characteristics to such a degree that they made other factors we often quibble over such as frame material irrelevant. Now, however, I’ve come to think the opposite, and that while some tires are heavy and stiff while others are light and mushy, they don’t fundamentally alter the overall feel of the bike. The Eye Of The Tiger Bike feels classier and more doped-up with the boutique tires on it, but it doesn’t feel meaningfully faster or profoundly different than it did with the cheap wire-bead WTBs that were on it before:

Then again, maybe the fenders are holding me back. I should probably get into the wind tunnel.

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