BikeLife: Rubber Meets the Road

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Hey kids, I wrote this post a while back, then forgot about it until I made this review of these tires. So, if you can overlook my redundancy it will be better. I don’t want to waste this post and I do love these tires.

One of the things I love about my Salsa Fargo Ti is that I can run an incredibly wide range of tire. This is becoming more and more common as the gravel craze takes over the cycling world and more and more manufacturers create bikes capable of multiple duties. The Fargo came with Schwalbe 2.25 Racing Ralph’s. For me, they were a non-stop flat fest.

Several years ago I swapped for a set of 28×2.0 Continental Travel Contact touring tires, which I’ve had on the bike since. These tires are solid. ZERO flats in the entire time I had them on the bike and I put many thousands of miles on them. These tires worked for long road rides, a bit of singletrack and gravel roads. I used them when the Fargo was stripped down and light as well as when I had my panniers and packs and was more loaded. They were great, but they were also the worst tire in the world when it came to one particular situation which I often find myself in now. Tires at high pressure, hard pack dirt or a light dusting of dirt on tarmac. Then add brakes. These babies, due to their mostly slick center pattern, are like ice.

Salsa vs Tacoma. Schwalbe vs BF Goodrich.

So, I ordered new tires. Two sets, both 40mm which is far narrower than anything I’ve run on this bike so far. But, I like to tinker, so I’m curious how this will work. The first set came on a recommendation from Dan Bailey, a fellow Fuji snapper who I actually don’t know outside of a few, brief online interactions. He’s also a Fargo rider, pilot, photographer and Alaska dweller which means he’s a Hell of a lot more talented than me and probably more intelligent. And braver. He mentioned he had kitted out his wife’s bike with WTB Nano ’40s. I bought a set. These are a pure gravel tire. Light and fast.

But at the same time, I also bought a set of more classic tour tires. Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour, also in 40mm. Why? Again, I like to tinker but I also have an interesting history with Schwalbe tires. Well, at least interesting to me. Schwalbe is the maker of the legendary tour tire, the Marathon, which people have been touring with for decades. This is a tire capable of tens of thousands of miles of fully-loaded touring through the entire range of conditions. EPIC. Heavy, yes. Stylish, no. The model I bought has a bit more bite than the classic model and felt like it would be fun to experiment with. They call the Marathon Plus Tour the “flat-less” tire because you can truly run over just about anything and not flat. Glass, goat head thorns, discarded mini vodka bottles, discarded diapers, needles, small animals. You know, all the good shit. I’ve run these tires on my Bike Friday, my Trek 520, my Bianchi, my city bike and a range of other misfits over the years and never wore out a single set. Never. Not once. I sold all the bikes before the tires headed south.

Before I go any further, flatting isn’t a huge deal, if it’s a basic flat, but it sure is nice to just ride, so having a bombproof tire is a good feeling. So I strapped these babies on and lit the candle. (My post kidney stone, fluttering, sputtering candle.) Just a quick spin so far as my life is about to hit overdrive but I have to say they are rock solid on everything from the tarmac to hard pack to small gravel, large gravel, and loose sand….to a degree. At 40mm, this is far from a mountain bike tire but they are going to work well for how I use this bike most of the time. I might swap them for the WTB’s to see the difference.

UPDATE: I’ve put about twelve hundred miles on these tires so far and I love them. The reflective sidewall has always bugged me, but I have to say, they work. When I’m lit by headlights you can’t miss me. It looks like a UFO traveling along at far, far, far below lightspeed. And, I’ve ridden these tires on the tarmac, dirt road, thick gravel, small gravel, bike trail, and some singletrack and they work on everything. Loose sand is where they don’t quite cut it but that was to be expected.

I’m an oddball. I love things that last and am so intensely keen on keeping track of how long certain things last. Like tires. I will record my lifetime mileage because I can’t NOT do this. For you rubber geeks, I’ll keep you posted. Now, get out and ride.