Snow Job


Last week I was someplace warm where we go every year at this time for sort of an extended family get-together. I then returned to frigid temperatures and promptly traded my sunburn for windburn. Moreover, Mother Nature even rolled out the white carpet for me to welcome me back, so how lucky am I?

I didn’t mind, and I floated above the frozen landscape on my pillowy Rene Herse tires:

“Maybe I was wrong about the whole ‘supple tire’ thing,” I thought as I luxuriated in their resilience like a corpulent tourist rolling about on the down-filled duvet in a four-star hotel:

And then…

I should know by now that I am never, ever wrong. No longer was I the reveling resort guest breading himself on the bedspread like a cutlet. Now I was getting pickpocketed in the lobby, or getting “pantsed” by the pool:

After peeling the trademark overly-snug bead from the rim with my frozen hands like an Eskimo on date night I found the cause of the puncture–a sliver of glass about half the size of a sesame seed:

Here it is magnified 1000x using the electron microscope app on my smartphone:

I then replaced the tube, and this was enough to get me home, though of course I couldn’t properly seat the tire because it takes like half a day to do so with these things–though of course it’s not the tire’s fault, it’s everyone else’s:

I must admit that, while fixing the flat, the phrase that kept rattling around in my head like an internally-routed cable in a crabon frame was “Fuck these overpriced ballet slippers.” However, upon reflection, I realize this was a bit harsh–invective uttered in the heat (or, more accurately, cold) of the moment. I mean yes, arguably the boutique gravel tire industry is the biggest racket in cycling, right up there with ceramic bearings and $200 “racing chains:”

“Optimised by hand in Denmark” is the most artful euphemism for jerking you off I’ve heard in a long, long time.

I mean, I really like Ultraromance, but he’s basically telling you his tires are a Danish hand job:

“Center micro-diamonds” indeed. It seems to me that Rene Herse and Ultradynamico sum up the boutique tire marketplace perfectly. Basically, they’re the same tires made by the same company, and the only meaningful difference is whether you prefer to buy them from someone who’s extremely anal retentive or from someone who’s almost painfully ironic.

Please note that I am in no way saying they’re selling bad tires; rather, they’re all made by Panaracer, and as such they are excellent. If you want a tire with lightweight, supple casing and you know what you’re getting into then you certainly won’t go wrong. However, practically speaking, they seem far better suited to those who live and ride in more rarefied environs than many of us do, despite Rene Herse’s claims to the contrary:

The entire Rene Herse website appears to be designed to convince you that flats are your own fault and something that can be avoided entirely via skill and experience–the pneumatic equivalent of a chainring tattoo. Meanwhile, they assert their tires are for everyday riding, and yet they also sell tire wipers, so there you go:

Selling a quasi-superstitious accessory along with your tires sends something of a mixed-message, and if a pack of condoms came with a penicillin shot and a morning-after pill I’d be similarly wary.

Of course, I could potentially obviate the teeny-weeny punctures to which these tires appear to be prone by going tubeless. My inherent retro-grouchiness notwithstanding, I am not necessarily averse to this in principle, and in fact have two (2) bikes that are set up that way. (Well, technically one and a half; I had trouble seating the rear tire on my singlespeed mountain bike recently and so I just stuck a tube in there then filled it with sealant.) However, setting aside for the moment the fact that the rims on the RockCombo are like 35 years old and not designed for it, I am of the opinion that the only real reason to use tubeless is when you need to use really low pressures that would otherwise result in pinch flats. Otherwise, I believe that using a more robust and puncture-resistant tire makes more sense, since repairing a tube once or twice a year is no less (and probably more) convenient than periodically topping off sealant and plugging holes all the rest of it– not to mention the whole seating-and-sealing ritual if you do need to remove the tire. I suppose in the Jan Heineverse going tubeless will allow you to run a more supple tire with less rolling resistance, on top of which you also reduce that resistance even further by eliminating the tube, but in practice I suspect that for everyday riding these “benefits” are negligible, and that fussing with all that stuff is yet another way to…optimize yourself by hand in the Danish fashion, if you know what I mean.

All of this is to say I’ll be going back to these things:

They’re depressingly pedestrian, but they’re wide enough for trails, the knobbies are low-profile enough to roll smoothly and corner on pavement, and they’re robust enough for the city streets. The only “problem” with them is that they’re kinda heavy, but so is the rest of the bike–not to mention the rider–so I doubt it makes any difference.

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