Posts in Category: Cycling

Tire Obsession – Schwalbe G-One Speed

When the Elephant NFE was first constructed it was only natural to put Rene Herse tires on it. The tires were the Babyshoe Pass 650B x 42mm and were tan. Somehow the combination of a red bike, black rims and fenders and silver cockpit just looked off with tan tires. Of course, the same Rene Herse tire is also available in black, but the cost ($87 per wheel) and flat-tire likeliness of the extralight casing were a combination that was too risky for a ride that’s used in the city on daily basis.

There was enough room under the fenders to try something with more volume so after much soul searching and considerations, you decided to try the Schwalbe G-One Speed in 650B x 50mm.

  • Size: These tires are very voluminous! At 50mm they are like balloons. They actually “only” expend to ~48mm on the Velocity Aileron but these rims are relatively “narrow” at 20mm internal width. They will probably reach their advertised size on wider rims.
  • Weight: These tires are not light. According to Schwalbe, they weight 500 gram per wheel.
  • Suppleness: This is where these tires differ so greatly from the Rene Herse tires. These tires seem to be based on mountain bike tires which makes their sidewalls thicker than the Rene Herse tires. Since the air volume in them is so substantial it is hard for this rider to identify the difference between a similar sized supple tire and these, but subjectively these are solid, but are somewhat stiffer than other tires in the stable.
  • Color: Black….but….the black model has been discontinued. Anyone interested in these tires in 2020 will be forced to buy a model with tan sidewalls.
  • Tubeless: Yes although you have no personal experience.
  • Price: The original tire cost 49 Euro. Since they have been discontinued one can only find the newer tan colored version which is available at ~27 Euro. One can still find the 2019 model in tan which was much lighter (400g) and is priced at ~42 Euro.

Now that the technical details are out of the way, how do they ride? How well can they handle the mean streets of Berlin? What about off road riding?

Overall these tires are pretty great. You bought them in March 2019 and have ridden them almost daily since. So far they have not had a single flat tire (the rule is that as soon as one make such statements, a flat tire will arrive). The little round pattern on the tire surface are meant to provide an indication of the health of the tires. The one in the front looks brand new. The back tire thread is starting to wear, but is holding nicely.

These are not as lively as the Rene Herse, but they are very robust. Like most engineering decisions, any benefit also have a price and in this particular case, the price is the extra weight and the less than lively feeling. This being said, for a bike that often is used with groceries and always has fenders and a dynamo on, it is a reasonable balance.

It is interesting that Schwalbe decided to pull these out of the market and replace them with a tan version. The decision is probably based on two factors: tan is all the rage these days. More and more bikes are shipped from the larger manufacturers with tan tires. Tan sidewalls are what fixies were 10 years ago. The second possible reason for pulling these out of the market is that a 650B x 50mm tire is very niche. There are not many commercial bike frames that are at the same time “road” and can fit such wide tires. So one option is enough and tan won the fight.

A good tool is one that fulfills its purpose. The Schwalbe G-One Speed fulfill their purpose nicely. Do they live up to their “speed” name? Not that much, but further studies are needed to make an evaluation. Where they do excel is in providing a cushioning ride and their ability to run across a wide variety of terrains without flatting. At half the price of a Rene Herse tire, these are a great value.

Tire Obsession – Rene Herse Snoqualmie Pass

When you designed the Seven Mudxium, the bike was built for Bruce Gordon’s Rock’n’road tires. The BGs measure 700cX43mm and weight 540 grams. They were great to start with, but pretty soon after the bike was completed, you joined some Brevets (long distance rides) and the BGs were a total overkill for these rides. This is when you started looking for alternative tires and came across the Compass Tires Snoqualmie Pass.

Rene Herse tires used to be called Compass Tires until Jan Heine, the owner of Rene Herse, bought the rights for the name Rene Herse. From your perspective, Rene Herse tires are the baseline against which all wide tires are measured which is the reason why the first Tire Obsession article is focused on this brand and more specifically on their large volume 44mm wide 700c (i.e. 28 inch) road tires.

Let’s get the details out of the way:

  • Size: 700c 44mm or 28″ 1.73″ depending on where you are on the planet. In other words, these are wide tires that many bikes typically can not accommodate. Even these days, where every cycling brand has an all-road or gravel bike, 44mm is still out of reach. Moots for example, just introduced an update to their Routt RSL model that can accommodate 45mm tires. These tires are true to size on wide rims and can even come out a few millimeters wider depending on your rims.
  • Weight: There are four “models”. Each model is differentiated by the casing starting from extra light and ending with Endurance Plus. Your casing of choice at the moment is the endurance which comes in at 378 g. You have been riding the standard casing which also weights 378 gram.
  • Suppleness: The Rene Herse tires are considered the “OG” in suppleness. In fact,before they came out with their tires, the word supple was rarely used in the cycling community.
  • Color: The endurance casing has a dark tan color while the standard casing comes in light tan. This is actually one design choice you’d love to see changed and the reason why you only use these tires on this specific bike – tan works well with titanium frame. For the other bikes in the stable, black tires look much better.
  • Tubeless: Yes. Although, no personal experience. There are stories about how difficult it is to set these up as tubeless exactly due to the suppleness. A quick search will reveal interesting videos on YouTube where people even record the air leaving the tires. Since you use tubes, this has never been an issue.
  • Price: These tires are very expensive. The Endurance casing will set you back $87 (before shipping) or 84 Euro. These are probably the most expensive tires you own. There are reasons why a small brand have to charge a lot for small runs of made by hand Japanese tires. Still, for the price of one tire one can buy 2, 3 or even 4 tires with much less suppleness.

The Rene Herse Snoqualmie Pass are amazing tires. They feel like road tires without having to suffer from every little crack in the road. They allow the rider to take off the road and traverse almost any terrain. They allow you to float on rough forest roads and provide you the confidence to bomb down a mountain without worrying about loosing traction. They are very light for their volume and with the Endurance casing are also rough enough to withstand the “normal” Berlin city road – broken bottles, broken streets and all sorts of random nails.

There is also something very Germany about these tires. They adhere to standards and have been known to be rather picky when it comes to the rims they match best. For example, according to Jan Heine, the Velocity Blunt SS rims, do not have enough of a lip to actually hold these safely in a tubeless configuration. Another example is mounting them on Zipp carbon rims where multiple layers of tubeless tape are needed to make them airtight. Regardless of such small issues, all of which are easily fixed, these tires are amazing. You never knew that tires could make such a difference in a ride before putting these on.

If your bike has room for 44mm tires on 700c wheels, you will be loving these.

Tire Obsession – KPIs

Bicycles tires are somehow an obsession. It is unimaginable how much time one can spend researching tires. Yet, it also makes sense. If you ever changed the touring tires on your bike, the ones with the puncture protection and white reflection strip on the sidewalls, to supple, volumenous tires, you’d understand.

You never claim to be a reviewer, but since you do spend time investigating tires, it may be a good idea to share. So in no particular order, here are some bicycle tires key performance indicators (KPIs) worth considering

  • Size. This one might be obvious but many people still follow the popular thinking that narrow is fast. There are long tirades written by modern cycling heroes such as Jan Heine about the benefits of the wider tires. The very short summary is: narrow tires feel faster since they are pumped with more air and are very stiff, but they produce a lot of vibrations which require the rider to compensate for the loss of momentum. In short, wider is better to a degree. Like every solution, no single KPI stand by itself. Size is typically measured in rim size (e.g. 700c or 650b which are international standards for 28 inch and 27.5 inch rims respectively) and tire carcass width.
  • Weight. Tires vary widely in their weight. For example, the Continental Terra Speed 650b tires at 40mm weight 390 grams. For comparison, the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires, at the exact same size, come in at 920 grams. Like every other solution, one has to look at the customer requirements in order to make a decision on the correct solution. The Schwalbe tires are great for people who really never want to worry about getting flats and are looking for a tank-like tire. The Continental tires are likely to wear out much faster than the Schwalbe and are likely to be more flat-prone (no personal experience). One aspect to keep in mind that shaving weight off rolling elements on the bike (tires, tubes, rims, spokes, cassette, hubs) is the most effective way to becoming faster. Riding your bike a lot also helps.
  • Suppleness. There are complete YouTube channels dedicated to this term. The short version is that a supple tire is one with flexible sidewalls. It provides a lot of cushioning and with it reduces or absorbs a lot of the road vibrations which makes one faster. One should experience supple tires to appreciate the benefits.
  • Color. There are two main sidewall colors for bicycle wheels these days: black or tan (often called gumwall as well). This KPI will probably not effect the way the bike ride, but it will impact the way the bike looks. Your own personal rule is: if the bike has a natural color (like unpainted titanium, stainless steel, gray, white etc.) tan sidewalls look amazing (see above). If the bike is colorful, black tires are the way to go.
  • Tubeless or not. Some people swear by tubeless, some find it messy and see less value. It is a KPI to consider, but its value is really up to one’s personal preferences.
  • Price. Bike tires vary in cost immensely. One can purchase a tire for under 20 Euros or spend 90 Euros on a single tire. In fact, the Schwalbe tire in the example above cost 24 Euro while the Continental tire with cream sidewall cost 45 Euros. The cost of a tire has many factors such as country where they are produced, size of production, popularity, perceived value and more.

Now that we defined the key performance indicators for tires, we can dive into all the tires you love and some that have opportunities to improve.

How Green Is Green?

The Deutsche Bahn (DB, the German train company) is running a campaign to increase the public’s perception that they are a “green company.” They advertise 150 new and specific actions around climate and nature protection as well as resources and noise protection. Trains are certainly a great environmental friendly mean of transportation.

But is it that green?

A few weeks back yours truly tried really hard to travel from Berlin to two different places with a bike on the train. If ever there was a green initiative it must be taking your bike on the train to another city. You can avoid taking any taxis in your destination and be even more green than just taking the train. Everyone wins.

As it turns out, the German train system has some serious limitations in helping customers reach this next level of “green.”

First, the DB Navigator app allows one to specify “carriage of bicycle”. This is great, but the option is hidden several menus deep. Unless one knows that the option is there, the app does not seen to provide an option for such esoteric condition. Once clicked, the app shows a large selection of connection. One can click through several options, including one nicely named “Continue to bookings”. The feeling of “yey, I am about to buy a train ticket for myself and the bike” washes all over when you click on the continue to booking button. There are a few more menus to click through and there, at the very end, once you get to the “payment” and have already clicked on the pay now icon, you receive a message saying that all the bike places are taken. You are even asked if you would like to continue with the booking just for yourself and not for the bike.

Mind blown.

Did the Product Manager ever speak to the UX designer? The app asking if you’d like to still book the train ticket, without the bike, is as close as you ever got to being insulted by an app. What was the expectation here? “Sure, I’ll leave the bike at home since I went through all these menus and you just told me at the end that I can not take my bike?”

What should happen? When a customer asks to buy a ticket for herself and a bike, the app should show all train connections that answer this simple criteria. The search algorithm should take into account from a to b with bike and only show the valid options. Why bother showing any connections that can not accommodate the customer ask?

In order to investigate the gravity of the issue, you actually swing by the central station to ask the service center if they can find a ticket for yours truly and the bike. As it turns out, the answer was….yes!  How? Manually. The system being used by the kind people at the Travel Center was no more smarter or easier to use than the DB Navigator app. The poor service person had to click each train to see if there were bike places available. “No worries, I’ll wait” yours truly proclaimed and the poor fellow just clicked slowly through.

Eventually, the bike and the rider made it, but not before spending way too much time for a very simple ask. Since bike places on a train are numbered, much like seating, it is unfathomable that building such a function is so difficult, Once this “feature” is actually fixed, the Deutsche Bahn can actually advertise their 151th green initiative: take your bike on the train without spending hours of compute cycles in trying to find a train.

Cycling Purchases vs. Cycling Time

2019 was a year of much travel. Roughly 3 months that year were spent in hotels, and both airline and hotel loyalty cards were maxed out. When you live in a hotel or on a plane, your cycling time is reduced, but another effect could be seen: cycling-related purchases increase significantly.

You spend a lot of time before SARS-CoV-19 hit trying to understand why you were collecting bike related components and making changes to perfectly great bikes while riding a lot less. As soon as the global pandemic hit, countries restricted travel, and you stopped flying non-stop, your cycling-related purchases came to an almost grinding halt. Of course, here and there you still need the odd replacement tube or a USB light, but your cycling-related spending quickly approached zero and time in the saddle increased significantly.

Why is it the case that when you cycle less, you spend more money on bikes and when you actually ride your bike, your spending goes down?

The obvious answer is The Internet. Jokes aside, buying cycling gear has become a very easy itch to scratch. It can be done from anywhere with a few clicks of the mouse. When are travel, when you spend a lot of time in an office or hotel, trying to stay connected with the cycling world means that you inevitably find things that look interesting. ECommerce now makes it almost too easy, frictionless if you will, to satisfy that hunger to be connected to the the bike. So you click. The box arrives often before you do and is waiting for you. But how long do you take to install or use your purchases?

This is when you realize that frictionless is not always the best strategy for a healthy bank account. Adding some friction actually makes you think about your spending and will eventually get you more time on the bike than in the workshop. In fact, the goal for cycling should be to spend more time riding the bike than working on the bike (which inevitably follows once you buy some bike components).

And honestly, your bikes are fine. As long as it rolls and you can ride it, you should prioritize riding over buying. Add friction by sitting on the saddle, two hands on the handlebar, pedals pushed up and down and let the wind blow through. This is a form of friction since with two hands on the handlebar, you can not type and click “Buy Now”.