July 9, 2011 – Gunnison, CO – As you may have noticed over the course of the past eleven months, I am a prolific blogger and all of this social media – twitter and Facebook – well, I just cannot get enough. I’m constantly blogging, updating my status on Facebook and tweeting every little thing. Okay, so I exaggerate. It doesn’t come easily for me nor does it feel natural, but that’s just part of being 46 years-old and not wired, in many ways, for this world of crazy technology. (I didn’t remember if I was 46 or 47 but I asked Susan yesterday and she confirmed for me that I am indeed 46. I guess I could have just done the math…)
But I am wired for riding my bike and I am okay with some technology. People often ask me what my favorite innovations in mountain biking are and lately, I always have the same reply: my iPod shuffle (anyone remember mixed tapes?) and tubeless tires. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my Ergon grips, my Canyon carbon fiber bike, my SRAM XX two-by–ten drivetrain and triggers, my DT Swiss carbon wheels, the stopping power of my Magura brakes and all of the other top-shelf accessories that our industry has developed and produced over the 25 plus years that mountain bikes have been around. But there’s nothing quite like dropping into a cool canyon in evening light on a tasty trail with your favorite tunes cranking out the soundtrack of your ride and insane traction provided by fat, tubeless tires with scant air pressure.
This morning I had an awesome ride on our local trails at Hartman Rocks: just my sweet Canyon Topeak Ergon Team Edition bike hovering on Continental X-King 2.4 Tubeless tires, my shuffle and me. I had to unplug a couple of times as I came across friends on the trail but, in most cases, they were also plugged in and silenced theirs too, or at least removed an ear bud (I actually like this pair of super cheeser headphones the twins brought home from a garage sale last summer. Big old foamies over the ears!), to say hey to me, as well. I like meeting people I know riding solo listening to tunes. There’s this unspoken understanding that while polite pleasantries will be exchanged, you both just want to get back to pedaling in your solo world with your tunes.
As many who mainly ride alone will tell you, it’s always a bit of a let-down when you realize your shuffle is out of charge or you can’t find it (those things are so dang small) or one of the kids borrowed you ear buds, but of course, just being out there usually trumps everything and it’s actually kind of nice to enjoy the silence now and again. However, as much as I love my shuffle, it doesn’t make me a better rider. My tubeless tires do.
Back in the day, most of us used to run 45-50 psi in our tires all the time: racing, training, everything. Otherwise, it was just too easy to flat. John Tomac would run less but he was so smooth he could usually get away with it. Now, on my fun bike or my training bike, aka, my everyday bike, I have my Conti 2.4 Tubeless tires with a scoop of Stan’s pumped clear up to 25 psi. If I put the pump to them every couple of weeks, I’ll find that, at times, I’m out there with 15-20 psi. Granted, the sidewalls are beefy and the tires aren’t designed to be svelte but that’s still crazy low pressure.
When I’m not racing, which is almost always (especially now), I want traction and reliability. We have some sharp-assed rocks around here and I don’t have the time to be monkeying around with my tires at home nor do I have time for getting flats or cut sidewalls out on the trail. I have never gotten a flat on any of the Conti tubeless ready tires. That’s nearly four years and many, many demanding off-road miles.
Along with reliability, which is great, this tire setup gives me, arguably, the most important thing in mountain biking: traction. Go ahead, reduce our sport to it’s most essential four or five elements and you’ll rarely leave traction off of the list. Braking, shifting, pedaling, reading the terrain, climbing, descending; what is the common element in all of these? Traction. I do some mountain bike clinics up at Crested Butte Mountain Resort and I always spend a little bit of time examining the tires of the riders I’m helping. Generally, they’re not tubeless and they’re pumped up hard as rocks. Imagine having less experience, fewer skills and less traction. I know it sounds like one of those too good to be true ads but it’s true: become a better climber, descender, mountain biker immediately, simply by running appropriate and compatible tubeless tires and wheels with lower pressure.
I even raced this heavier tubeless ready tire setup at Leadville in 2009. In 2007, 2008 and 2010, I ran what we have always called ghetto tubeless: regular lightweight tires on sealed rims with Stan’s latex. Ghetto tubeless is great for racing as your entire wheelset is so light and fast but the stress of preparing them and then racing on them has probably taken years off my life. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent pre-Leadville in the garage messing around with ghetto tubeless, trying to get tires to seal, trying to get sidewalls to seal, trying to get tires to not lose 15lbs (or go completely flat) overnight. It’s unnerving to line up for a big race on a tire that was flat that morning when you woke up. In every race where I have run lightweight tires tubeless, I have had to hold my mouth just right when I descended so I didn’t flat, and, even with that, two out of three years of riding ghetto, I crossed the line in Leadville on a low rear tire.
That one year I raced with the bomber setup, I never fretted about my tires, not before or during the race; and that’s how I enjoy riding now, often times plugged in with Maiden, 16 Horsepower, Petty or Reznor providing the soundtrack and fat, robust tires pumped up soft floating over and through whatever variations the trails present. I wouldn’t mind trying a bike with a pair of those wagon wheels one day, though, but tubeless, of course.