Gear Guy

Conti Grand Prix Tire     Photo: courtesy, REI

Q:

What tire will keep me rolling on a West Coast bike tour?

My girlfriend and I are heading down the West Coast for a multi-week bike tour this summer. I'm trying to get some good information about the best tires for my touring bike (700c size). We want to be efficient and not get any flats. Can you help me, Gear Guy? David Seattle, Washington

A:A lot depends on how much weight you're carrying on the bike. And, what kind of roads you'll be on. With less weight, and good roads ahead, you can ride a thinner tire for less rolling resistance and lower spinning weight. Some people tour on tires as thin as 700x25, but I think that's a bit extreme. (Worth noting to newbie bikers here that this sequence of numbers equates to tire diameter and rubber width in millimeters, respectively.)

It's not just weight and rolling resistance that are important—a fatter tire rides more comfortably (a good thing when spending long days in the saddle) and is more resistant to flats, particularly "snakebite" flats that occur when you hit a sharp edge such as a curb and the tire deforms, catching the tube between itself and the rim. So I'd say a minimum size for a touring tire that offers a good combination of performance and comfort is 700x28. Continental makes an excellent tire called the Grand Prix 4-Season ($51; www.conti-online.com) that's available in that size.

I prefer to go even more relaxed than that. On my touring bike—a Bob Jackson Special Tourist—I run another Continental tire, the Top Touring, that is 700x32. That's a pretty fat tire. But I like the Top Tourings because they ride comfortably, have a fairly aggressive (but smooth-rolling) tread for good traction and braking, and are very nearly immune to flats. They've also got plenty of "float" for that odd patch of gravel road. They roll fine—I'm not breaking any speed limits when I'm touring. They're available from Bike Nashbar and other bike stores for $45 a pop (www.nashbar.com).

Have a great ride. That should be quite some trip, with or without any maintenance pit stops.

For more must-have road-touring gear, read "The Essential Road Cyclist" in Outside's 2004 Buyer's Guide.

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