Tire Size Confusion

So, who out there is confused about tire sizing? Anyone? I know I’m not the only one out there confused by the terminology, sizes, types, etc. Just the other day, my husband and a bike shop owner had an in depth conversation about the various attributes of different size tires, and I was completely lost. I decided I should learn a bit about tires, and maybe pass that info on to you. It seems that there are two major things to consider: Wheel Diameter, and Tire Width.

As I listened to their conversation, all I heard was a bunch of numbers, 700C, 26 inch, 590 mm, 29er, and I was very confused. Now I know that wheels come in lots of sizes, but the two main ones are 700C and 26-inch. 700C means a 622mm diameter wheel. And 26-inch is 559mm diameter. There’s a third less common 650B which may become more popular in the future with 584mm diameter. {In reality, the 700C or 26-inch is supposed to refer to the diameter of the outside of the tire, but this is not the reality. We’ll keep it simple and say that 700C refers to a standard size wheel, which is true. See how complicated this can get?} What about 29er’s? Well, to add more confusion, they are simply 700C mountain bike wheels measuring at 622mm. Sheesh!

Next is the tire width. Depending on how narrow or wide your wheel rim is, determines the width of tire that you can have. You shouldn’t put too narrow of a tire on a wide rim: it won’t seal. Also, go too wide on a narrow rim, and your tire will pop off. Dangerous! Most people think that a wider tire means slower speeds, and a thinner tire makes you go faster. This is generally the case. But, a wider tire tends to mean a smoother ride, whereas a narrower tire gives a stiffer, bumpier ride. That being said, your body can get used to almost anything, and your ideal tire width ultimately comes down to personal preference.

So, if you take a look at a tire you will see the size of the tire, for example, 700C x 23mm (23-622). This means the tire size is 700C with a 23mm width. The second number, in parentheses, is the ISO (the standardizing organization) designation, which says the same thing as the first number, but with width of the tire followed by diameter of the wheel. Thank goodness for standards! As long as you have a new bicycle, finding the appropriate size shouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, older bicycles might have non-standard size wheels, therefore the standard size tires might not fit properly.

I hope this helped. Just trying to decipher all the information really made my head spin. But, once you wade through it, it’s not really too bad. Now, trying to figure out which set of tires to get for your bicycle is a different story, and we’ll tackle that one another time!

Note: I got a lot of help for this article from Sheldon Brown’s website and if you want more information it is a great place to start.

Dream Bike: Gates Belt Drive or Conventional Chain

A relatively new concern when selecting your dream touring bike is the drivetrain. If you have decided on an internal gear hub it used to be a very simple choice: all bicycles had chains. However, over the last decade a new competitor has entered the arena: the Gates Belt Drive system. After taking an in-depth look at this new system I wanted to share my results and opinions.

Conventional Chain: This is the tried and true system. A metal chain connects the front cog to the rear cog on the rear wheel driving the bicycle forward. The downsides of a chain are that it requires lubrication, is difficult to keep clean, and can rust. The upsides are the durability, low risk of failures, and availability of replacements.

Gates Carbon Belt Drive: The newcomer to the bicycle industry, this is a carbon fiber belt connecting two special sprockets. At first glance there are some powerful incentives to this system. It is lightweight (~120grams lighter than a chain) and requires no lubrication or maintenance. In fact, if I were getting a commuter bicycle for around town I would really be interested in trying a belt drive. Touring around the world is a different scenario and I found problems with the carbon belt system.

On a tour in remote areas of the world my first concern is the availability of repair parts. If you damage the sprockets or belt there is virtually no possibility that a local bike shop will have repair parts. With that in mind you might starting wondering what it will take to damage a belt.

If you look at the manual for the Belt Drive (available here) there are several different actions which are listed as improper handling of a belt that may cause damage: crimping, twisting, back bending, inverting, zip tying, using as a wrench, mounting with a lever, or mounting by spinning the cranks. If any of those happen to your belt it is considered damaged and needs to be replaced (Page 5-7). While this may not be of much concern to the average rider, what if you wanted to carry a spare? Can you store the spare in your panniers in a fashion that does not violate any of the above? Basically, if any force is applied to the belt other than driving a bicycle it may be damaged.

Further in the manual, on page 34 it describes other scenarios that may damage the belt and require replacement: “… if a stone, a root, or a piece of clothing has been caught in the belt and pulled between the belt and the sprocket.” At this point it is advised that you always replace the belt. So let me think on this a minute. Do I want the drivetrain of my bicycle to require replacement because my pant leg got caught between the sprocket and the belt? Or if a rock drops on to the belt and rides through the sprocket? For a touring bike, no, and I don’t want to be stranded somewhere in the world waiting for a new belt to be shipped to me.

Another concern of mine is that the belt is tensioned much tighter than a bicycle chain. I have seen numbers in the range of 85-100 pounds of force being quoted for the tension. That tension is always there placing stress on the bearings of the drivetrain. Additionally, checking that tension is covered on page 15-19 which requires one of two special tools, or that you apply 20 to 45 Newtons of force (~10lbs) and measure that the belt deflects approximately 10mm. Once again I feel that this may be fine for a normal around town bicycle, but on a tour I would prefer not to be dealing with this.

And the last straw for me is that the belt requires a break in the frame. Because the belt is one solid piece the rear triangle must be capable of being separated to allow the belt to be installed and removed. Placing a break in the rear triangle of the frame seems like a less than desirable option on a bicycle that you want to take to the end of the world and back.

With all of this in mind I settled on the conventional chain with my Rohloff. It just fits the requirements that I am looking for in a bike and has a proven track record. I look forward to further advances in technology and one day being free of lubricating the chain, but for now touring on a carbon fiber belt doesn’t seem like the most reliable option.

ACA Pacific Coast Section 4 Map 48

Bicycling down the Pacific coast is one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had so far. Each section of the coastline is unique, with different geologic features. Sometimes the road is a hundred yards above the ocean. Other times you’re riding with the waves crashing right beside you. The section between Monterey and Moro Bay is particularly scenic as you pass through Big Sur, which is home to the southernmost coastal redwood forest. If the traffic quiets down enough, you’ll hear the cormorants and seagulls, as well as sea lions and elephant seals. You may catch a glimpse of the California condor, soaring on updrafts above you.
South of Big Sur, just before Limekiln State Park, a new structure will greet you. In 2011, Matt and I were riding through this section and got a particular thrill. There was road construction in progress, which made the traffic very nice on this stretch of road. First we rode through this construction zone trying to imagine what it would look like when it was all said and done. There were giant columns being erected and a ton of heavy machinery.

Pacific Coast Highway 1 near Lime Kiln, California. Major road construction was in progress and we trailed a line of cars through the site.
Pacific Coast Highway 1 near Lime Kiln, California.

Next we ended up with the road to ourselves for a little while as the cars were held up. Directly overhead, on the side of the mountain, we could see workers. Then, the sound of a helicopter. We stopped and watched, fascinated, as the helicopter landed on the road, picked up some men and supplies, and took off, heading to the top of the mountain. It was a thrill to watch the process. We weren’t sure what the end result was going to be, as they had just started, but we were sure it would be incredible. And we had front row seats and the ability to pause and enjoy the show.

Fast forward to 2014 a few weeks ago, we were driving the same route we had biked before. What had taken us almost a week before now took us only a few hours. As we approached the place (we refer to it as the helicopter spot), I started to get excited. Surely the construction was done. What could it possibly look like?

Well, as you can see, it looks amazing. At a point on the highway that was prone to rock slides, now there is a tunnel/castle/feat of engineering.

Pacific Coast Highway 1 near Lime Kiln, California. 3 years ago we rode through this as it was being constructed, not able to visualize how amazing the structure would become.
Pacific Coast Highway 1 near Lime Kiln, California.

As you ride down the coast, take a moment to marvel at what human ingenuity can accomplish. And be sure to snap a picture!

Those Hills Are Intimidating!

On my first ever bicycle tour, we bicycled down the Pacific Coast. We started in northern Washington, near the Canadian border, and made our way south toward Mexico. After the first few days of climbing up and down steep, small hills, I realized how unprepared I was. The steep hills just about made me throw in the towel. Each night, I would glance at the map for the next day’s ride, and worry if it looked like there was a sizable hill coming up. As we drew south and closer to the biggest climb on the coast, Leggett (1 and 2), my anticipation increased. Would I be able to make it?

But here’s the thing. The big hills always turned out to be much easier to climb than I expected. In general, hills are graded gradually. Even steep ones usually aren’t steep for long. And the best thing about being on a bicycle is you can take a break whenever you need it. There’s no rule that says you have to keep climbing a hill once you’ve started. My husband’s motto is: Slow and steady, and onward and upward. As long as you keep making forward progress, you’re golden! My memories of the Leggett climb are ones of satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. The climb was gradual, and quite pleasant. The view from the top was amazing, and the downhill ride was exhilarating.

As I have gotten better at bicycling and touring, I have become a better judge of what my body is capable of. I find the least enjoyment with rolling hills, even as a well-seasoned tourist. I much prefer slow, gradual climbs. Additionally, I have learned to take with a grain of salt a car driver’s opinion of upcoming hills. Car drivers don’t even notice the millions of hills they climb with no effort; on a bicycle you have to fight and conquer each one.

On a recent tour, we tried out an Android app simply titled “Elevation Profile” that we used to show the elevation profile for the next day’s route. It was much more accurate than the map profiles we had been using. And since I had more confidence in myself, it felt good to see what I was capable of achieving.

Once again, bicycle touring can be seen as a metaphor for life. How many times do we stand before an obstacle and psyche ourselves out before we even try? Worrying about how big that hill was the night before didn’t change the fact that the hill existed, or that I had to climb it. The best thing to do is take the challenges as they come. And there’s nothing better than reaching the top of a particularly long climb, taking a deep breath, and smiling all the way down the other side.


Deciding on my dream touring bike

After pinching pennies and saving for years, and setting aside a tax refund I finally had saved enough to order my dream touring bike. You may think this very exciting; however, this meant that I actually had to decide on what bike that would be. Unlike the Raleigh Sojourn which I just picked up from a bicycle shop, I needed to educate myself and make some important decisions.

Before I could even think about anything else I needed to really nail down what I was looking for this bicycle to do. I am not going to have the luxury of purchasing another bike like this for a long time so I need durability. I wanted to travel around the world with no boundaries so I need versatility: it needs to be at home on dirt and gravel as well as on the pavement. It must be comfortable to ride and should be made in America to support my local frame builders and needs to be able to packed up for easy travel. With all of these criteria in mind I began looking at each piece of the bike.

Frame Material: This ends up being incredibly easy; if looking for comfort, repair-ability, and durability only one material really meets these criteria. Steel. A bike framed out of steel rides well, can be welded by any stick welder in the world, and should last forever.

Drivetrain: Currently there are two viable options: a derailleur system or and internal geared hub. The derailleur setup technically meets every criteria I laid out, however I am sick and tired of tweaking the shifting of these systems and cleaning the dirt and grime off them. Not to mention my wife’s experience with a stick snapping her rear derailleur right off and me having to tow her 2 miles on a dirt road back to civilization.

Internal gear hubs (IGH) move all the gears inside the rear hub. There is really only one option for touring with an IGH because of the large gearing required for a touring bike and that is the Rohloff Speedhub. With 14 gears covering a 526% gear range, it is the equivalent of a 27 speed derailleur. Additionally, you can change gears while stopped, no real cleaning is required since the gears are inside the hub, and if the shifting cables break you can set the gear manually. It will not auto return to the lowest or highest gear like a derailleur. The downsides are that no one will likely be able to repair it in remote areas of the world, and it weighs slightly (~150grams) more than a full derailleur system.

The last piece of the IGH puzzle is deciding if you want to use a chain or a Gates Carbon Belt Drive. While the carbon belt drive offers a grease free option and is lighter weight than a chain, I decided there were several significant negatives. You can read more about this comparison in its own article. My final choice was to use a chain for my long distance touring bike. While I will still have to grease the chain, I will always be able to find a replacement chain and my frame will be one solid piece of steel.

Wheel Size: 700c or 26” is the simplest way to sum up this question and I will try to make this short and sweet. 700c wheels tend to feel smoother and have less rolling resistance. 26” wheels accelerate quicker, are less likely to have toe-overlap and are available world-wide. Because I didn’t need speed, and wanted to go worldwide I choose 26” tires. However I do think that there will likely be a time in the future where 700c wheels are the dominate tire size since it seems to be the direction manufactures in the US and Europe are going.

Manufacturer: There are several touring specific manufactures in the US, however only Co-motion happened to have a dealer nearby me that stocked bicycles for me to test ride. This let me actually try out the Rohloff and feel the geometry of the bike, and after riding it I knew that this company knew what they were doing. Since they hand build each bike in Oregon if you need a custom frame change it is only $300 extra.

Conclusion: After all the research and time I spent looking I finally, nervously, decided that the Co-Motion Pangea Rohloff was the bike for me. I will document my experience ordering the bicycle, and give a review of it further down the road. If I missed any considerations, or you want to share your dream bike, leave a comment below!

How to Change a Flat Bike Tire in 12 Easy Steps (With Pictures!)

  1. Realize your tire is flat and stop your bicycle. Look for a safe place off the side of the road to change the tire. You don’t want to be doing this on a blind curve.
  2. Take off all your panniers and water bottles, otherwise your bicycle will be too heavy to flip and/or you will have things falling off your bicycle.
  3. Turn your bicycle upside down, and remove the wheel from the bicycle.Removing the wheel from the bike by unscrewing the quick release skewersClose up of the fork, make sure you unscrew the skewers enough to clear the fork.Removing the wheel from the bicycle.
  4. Visually inspect the tire. You may find the culprit. If you do find something, don’t assume that’s the only one. There could be more than one hole in the tube.Close up picture of the tread on a tire
  5. Release any air left in the tube.
  6. Using tire levers, lift up one side of the tire to remove it from the rim, all the way around.Prying the tire over the rim by inserting a tire lever.Prying the tire over the rim by inserting a tire lever, then use the hook end to attach to spoke, freeing up your hands for a second tire lever.
  7. If present, unscrew the nut on the valve so it can be removed from the wheel.Pam unscrewing the lock nut from the presta valve, some valves may not have this.
    • If you have not located a leak: Keeping the tube inside the tire, inflate using pump.Bicycle wheel on the ground with one side of the tire reomove from the wheel Holding your ear close to the tube, while still inside the tire, you may be able to locate the leak which may be either heard as a hiss, or felt as the air escapes.Pam listening for a hard to find leak.
  8. With the leak located, patch the tube. Follow the directions on your patch kit. We prefer the patches that are peel and stick, they work just as well as glue and are easier to apply and get pedaling.
  9. Decide if you are going to replace the tube or reuse the just patched one. Put one side of the tire back onto the wheel, and lay the tube inside. Make sure the tube is not twisted. I like to inflate it just slightly here.Pam replacing the tube with a new tube.
  10. Using tire levers, or your hands, reseat the tire onto the wheel. Using a tire level to seat the tire back on the rim.Using a tire level to seat the tire back on the rim.Make sure the tube is not pinched between the tire and the wheel, and that the bead of the tire is seated properly in the hook of the rim.Straight on view of a tire, notice the hook (the bump on the inner edge of the tire which will engage with the rim to keep the tire on the wheel)
  11. Re-inflate the tube halfway watching for any signs of the wheel slipping off the wheel. While inflating watch carefully for the tire bulging or not seating. In this picture the hook of the tire did not catch the rim and if you keep inflating the tube will like burst.Make sure the tire is seated on the wheel all the way around. Bounce the tire on the ground a few times to settle the tire on the seat and the tube inside the tire.Inflating a tire with a stand up bicycle pump.
  12. Inflate the rest of the way and replace the wheel on the bike. Turn the bicycle upright, replace all panniers and water bottles, make sure your light is on, and congratulate yourself on a job well done.

On a related note, what if the flat tire is caused by damage to the tire itself? For example, the tire has been damaged and is now rubbing the tube, causing constant flats. One great remedy is using a dollar bill. Place the bill inside the tire, next to the tube. This creates a barrier and protects the tube until a more permanent solution can be found. Another thing that could help is rotating the tires. If the damaged tire is the rear, which is carrying most of the weight, you may want to rotate the tire to the front where it will be subject to less stress than the rear. That might save you from having to change it a few times, at least.

Do you have any tips or tricks you want to share? Feel free to leave a comment below!

How to build (and not destroy) your relationship on tour

Day 36 of our Pacific Coast bicycle tour started off on the wrong foot. The previous day’s mileage had been cut short due to allergies, and we both went to bed cranky. The biting flies didn’t help put us in a better mood, either. While packing up the next morning, I could not for the life of me find my leg warmers. I just knew Matt had put them somewhere, and now they were lost. It was a cool, Pacific coast morning, and I didn’t want to ride with just my shorts. I had had it. This bicycle touring had quite suddenly become not fun. We were getting on each other’s nerves, and it was starting to show.

So, how do you maintain a good relationship while spending every waking minute (and all the sleeping ones) with another person?

It’s not all rainbows and sunshine. First off, you have to realize that it’s bound to be rocky sometimes. Even the best couples go through rough patches sometimes. Everyone only has so many nerves, and it’s easy to let little irritations become big ones.

Cut the other person some slack. Are you tired and sore from the previous day’s ride? Well, he probably is, too. Was your sleep interrupted by some rowdy campers? Guess what. He’s right there with you. Are you cranky because you had trouble breathing through your stuffy nose? News flash. He had to hear you snore all night. A little patience can go a long way.

Give yourselves some space. Sometimes, you just need to be alone. That’s perfectly normal, and will probably save you both some sanity. Just make sure to communicate what your plan is, so he doesn’t think you’re purposefully avoiding him. You’re riding together, eating together, sleeping together. Sometimes, too much together can be too much.

Enjoy the little moments. When it starts to feel like work, slow it down. Find an awesome spot to sit and enjoy the view for a minute. Breathe the fresh air. Give each other a hug. Remember your reason for embarking on this epic journey together.

It’s going to be tough sometimes. But it’s also going to be amazing. You’ll grow closer than you ever thought possible. Besides. Think of the stories you’ll be able to tell your grandkids. Oh, and day 36? It ended on such a high note, at a campsite with a beautiful patch of grass and a view of the Pacific Ocean. I couldn’t wait for the next day’s ride.