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Mar 30 / joshua

Hardass Hardshells

Most of my riding these days, what little that is, is traveling back and forth from work. Heavily trafficked roads with nice bike lanes that seem to be magnetized for road debris. And I hate fixing flats. Not so much that I would take the bus and call it a day, but definitely enough that I’m willing to give up a lot of suppleness for puncture resistance on training rides (race day - tubulars, open or otherwise for me). And I’m up for trying the latest and greatest offerings each year to find the perfect balance.

Last year I took things to the extreme - no Gatorskins or Armadillos for me, I went straight to Schwalbe Marathons. About 3 times as heavy and thick as a normal tire. The sidewalls are so stiff, you can ride them with zero pressure and it still feels like you have 40psi underneath you. Nice reflective stripes, too. As advertised, they were almost unflattable (one very long nail, most likely diamond-tipped titanium, pierced the husk on one occasion. Only a solid rubber tire might have survived - I do not hold a grudge.) Perfect for a transcontinental journey or a hybrid, but in the end it was just too much for me and they rode like total bricks. And, more importantly, they were too much for my wheel wells - my training/rain bike is set up for long reach calipers and full fenders with ample space for normal 25mm tires, but the extra thick tread on the Schwalbe tires rubbed against the fenders if there was the slightest maladjustment. And my fenders are always suffering from maladjustment from being put in or on top of the car, or from less than gentle handling in the garage.

So, the Schwalbes are sitting in a corner and I just replaced them with Continental Hardshells. I did used to run Gatorskins and had decent luck, but I figured a few ticks farther down the “durable” side of the scale could not hurt. I’ve ridden them on some longer rides now and a few times on the work commute. Short term conclusions:

#1. These are good training tires. I’ve never been excited about how Conti’s grip or how supple they feel (although I haven’t had a bowl of the Black Chili variety), but they are very predictable. I’ve already ridden over many sections of urban pave (read: mixed sharp road debris and potholes) and nary a nick in the tread. They ride ok - no death grip fear of sliding out on a nice wet downhill if you ride it just a bit on the cautious side, assuming a nice fellow doesn’t decide to pass you hot and caress your shoulder at the same time.

#2. These are heavy, non-racing training tires. The thing about Gatorskins is that you can fake it and race on them if necessary. The Duraskin sidewalls are stiff, but not atrocious, and the folding tires do not have such a big weight penalty that you’d blame your Gatorskins on your fantastic mid-climb implosion. I would blame Hardshells, though (along with my lack of training thus far and a lame left leg that you will eventually hear about). Especially the steel-beaded versions I have. I was able to experience just such a feeling on last Sunday’s ride as we pedaled up Mt. Scott. I did what I could to keep the pedals turning, but DW came by just fast enough to show me what climbing is supposed to look like and even at my regular pace those tires sucked everything out of me before the top. As I found coming down (but luckily not going down), they are not up for real race cornering and you really can feel the stiffness. If the race is a long, straight downhill, maybe a tire to consider.

Alright, the blog bank account is open. Chapeau.

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