Feeling flat.

Last year I rode slightly over 5,000 miles without experiencing a single flat – and that was only after discovering that the Maxxis Fuse tires I was riding had been worn right down to the quick. I took those tires off, mounted them to a beater and rode them on the trainer every night all winter long. Then, with no sign of imminent death in sight, I proceeded to use them for leisurely rides with my wife on the “neighborhood bike” this past spring.

I recognize this as a streak of good luck, but all such things must eventually pass and since the first of June my winds of fortune have shifted. Naturally enough, some of the bike projects I was completing at the time experienced pinch flats or tube failure due to age and/or burrs in old rims. Recent tire failures have also resulted in multiple flats, a not-so-fun aspect of my recent KATY Trail journey. Yesterday the temperatures hit 101F and the humidity raised the Head Index to 110. Concurrent with those meteorological facts is that I was, as usual, out on my morning ride.

Front tire, before replacement on ca. 1988 Freschi Supreme Super Cromo

The Freschi is one of my personal riding favorites but I’ve gazed with suspicion at the vintage tires for some time now and it was with a sinking heart, four hours into the ride – and only about ten miles from home – that I heard a loud bang from my rear. Looking down quickly I could see that the side wall had given out. Damn! Of all the luck! 

Jumping off and removing the wheel, my hands and the tire and the rim were immediately slippery with the perspiration that automatically began to flow from my forehead and pour down upon the work area I was so intently focused upon. The tire is a tight fit at the best of times and getting it back onto the rim caused me to struggle more than I might usually do. My thumbs kept slipping off the tire as I vainly tried to roll that last ridge over the metal edge.

As aged as those tires are – by my reckoning, probably 23 years old – it came as no surprise that they failed. What is surprising, however, is that they lasted so long. Working with vintage bikes, I frequently deal with old, crusty, brittle, and flaking tires, many of which are forty or more years old – and many of which still have the original inner tube. It’s stunning how many of these eye sores will not only hold air, but will still provide a ride. I do test rides and neighborhood jaunts on such tires all the time and – as in the case of the Freschi – occasionally even ride longer distances.

Most modern tires don’t look quite “right” with vintage bikes and so I try to use the vintage tires when I can get away with it. But the fact of the matter is this: “vintage” and “dependable” can seldom get used in the same sentence with the word “tire.” (Unless one were to make the statement, “My vintage tires are far from dependable.”) So I wind up either riding and taking a chance, or sourcing tires that might be a good fit with the vintage aesthetic of a particular bike.

Case in point: The first week in June I had a tent in an art fair located a few miles from my house. Vendor parking was blocks away from the exhibition space and I figured if I took a bike with me I could ride home for lunch. Good idea, except that I decided to bring the 1989 Peugeot Touraine, fitted with original tires and tubes. When I went to mount the bike at lunch time, I discovered the tube had given up the ghost. So now I’m looking for replacement tires and tubes for a bike that I probably won’t ever ride more than a block or two (on one Sunday afternoon in May.)

Rear wheel and original tire of 1989 Peugeot Touraine

A lot of C&V enthusiasts swear by the Panaracer Pacelas and I’ve purchased a few pairs. They are frequently on sale and with light walls Pacelas are a pretty good modern match for vintage rides. The problem I’ve encountered is that the bikes I want to use them on are fendered and the diameter of Pacelas is such that it’s nearly impossible to use them in this application. Thus, the majority of my “leisure ride” bikes have wound up with the Pacelas by default. Kenda makes a light wall tire but it too seems better suited for less aggressively ridden bikes than vintage road bikes. They’re cheap enough, but I dislike the tread pattern and they seem to have greater rolling resistance than I’m comfortable with. As I’ve written before, Gatorskins provide me with a good compromise between a somewhat vintage “look” and modern sensibilities.

For the Freschi I’ve decided to take a chance on a modern tire. I want something that is “grabby” and racy and has a minimal tire pattern (like the vintage tires on it at the moment.) I’ve ordered a set of Maxxis Detonators to try out. They’re reasonably priced (I paid $28 per tire) and in lieu of light walls, they have a thinner red pin stripe. I am hoping that the red stripe will compliment the red bar wrap and chrome frame of the Freschi rather than look… well, stupid. If I’m wrong, I’ll find something else I guess.

In the meantime, I don’t expect the tires to arrive until the end of the week and so, with the wheels off, I have the opportunity to clean up the Freschi and give her the shine she deserves.

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