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Touring tyre test

 

UPDATE - After five years of faultless performance of Nokian tyres I find myself having to withdraw any recommendations. During the 1999 season we had 18 Nokian tyres fail. All failed when the hooked rim of the Rigida rims cut through the sidewall. Not only is this inconvenient it could also be very dangerous, as the result of such a catastrophic failure could be fatal during a fast descent or in heavy traffic. I must add that the tyres were like new with very little wear at the time of failure…

 

STOP PRESS… Niokia have admitted problems with thin rubber on the sidewall in the bead area. They have replaced all the damaged tyres free of charge - credit to them. How the new tyres perform will be posted early in the season.

Tyres for touring...

Twenty years ago the range of good quality touring tyres was mean indeed, with the lamentable
Michelin "World Tour" as the most easily available heavy touring tyre, more exotic tyres being sold
by specialists and the situation if anything got worse over the next decade. But now, another type of
bike has come to the rescue with the increasing popularity of hybrids. These use the touring standard
700c rims and now the range of tyres suitable for touring is dazzling. It is impossible to review all
the tyres available in an article, and just scanning catalogues for specifications is a fraud so here are
my views on two manufacturers touring tyres which I think should cover pretty much every touring
eventuality, and which I have had extensive touring experience with.

The first company is NOKIAN tyres. These are made in Finland, and are very keenly priced. In fact
their pricing policy seems to be aimed at putting the cheapo import tyres out of business. I've used
these tyres on our fleet of hire bikes and thay are quite staggeringly reliable. In four years I've yet to
have a tyre fail and they last for around 5000 miles of loaded tarmac touring for a rear, and about
double that for a front. They seem to roll well and have good wet weather grip. They have two
models that are of particular interest, the City Runner, and the Ultra Tour. These are of similar
construction, both being gum walled, i.e. have a rubber covered sidewall. This makes them resistant
to side wall damage, particularly useful if you venture off road or on broken tarmac. The downside
is that this makes them quite heavy. The City Runner is a "cut slick" with almost no tread. I like this
a lot, as often as not tread does nothing except identify the tyre to the public, and can give weak
points for punctures and splits. The chance of a bike tyre aquaplaning is slim given its tiny contact
patch so any tread will only be of benifit off road. My only criticisms of the tyre is that it's a very -
very tight fit, I have fairly strong hands and had to use two tyre levers and a lot of strenght to fit it.
No one with less strong hands would have managed it. I generally like tyres that are snug as in a
blow out situation a tight tyre will stay on the rim long enough for you to stop, but these are
rediculous. Also the tread is the same thickness across the tyre - making it thicker in the middle and
thinner at the edge would extend it's life without adding weight. Its rated pressure is 58 lbs but I've
safely used it at 90 lbs when heavily loaded. At 585 grms in 700c *35mm it's no sylth but compared
to the 670 grm for the Ultra Tour it's a lightweight. This tyre is serious stuff and really up to a round
the world trip. The tread is thick but slick at the centre and has an deep herringbone pattern on either
side of this central band to give some extra grip in muddy conditions. The weight makes it feel
sluggish, but it rolls remarkably well for such a tough tyre. At their low price both these tyres are
worth a try, and are certainly up to expedition or tandem touring.

The second company is Continental. For many years now their "Top Touring" tyre was the first
choice for those looking for a reliable, long lasting touring tyre. Now it has been replaced by the
"Touring 2000" tyre. This is not cheap, but has proved very reliable, and should give similar milages
to the Nokian tyres. It is a skinwall tyre which helps explain it's 530 grm weight, but has a thick
tread in a similar style to the Nokian Ultra Tour, with a narrower centre slick band. It is supposedly
directional, but for a road tyre I take this with a pinch of salt, and anyway it looks odd! Grip is
excellent and the tyre feels lighter than the Nokians though when freewheeling there is no
discernable difference in rolling resistance. Being a skinwall you need to be a bit more careful about
where you ride, and potholes are more dangerous. The big question is; is it worth twice the price of
the Nokian tyre? The answer has to be no, but I use a 2000 on my lightwieght tourer and a City
Runner on my Expedition Tourer, and having used both extensively they are hard to fault, but it is
important to realize as with all things that there is no such thing as the perfect tyre, everything is a
compromise.

©Geoff Husband

And now for a second opinion on those heavy Nokians from very experienced cycletourist Rawdon
O'Connor...

TYRE TEST
37X622 NOKIAN ULTRA TOURS

	There's a right and a wrong way of doing everything.  When I had the opportunity to test
these highly regarded touring tyres I looked forward to seeing if they were as good as all the cycling
press reviews said.  After four months I have to say that I'm extremely disappointed with them. 
Why?  Because tyres that would be superb on a mountain bike don't necessarily work in a larger
size.
	37mm tyres on 700c rims are going to be heavy.  The Ultra Tours weigh in at over 650g
apiece and that's their weakness.  On a mountain bike rim, this 1.5" size is splendid for general use. 
The Nokian's low rolling resistance and inspired tread pattern would make first rate rubber both for
touring and commuting.  On larger rims they're just too heavy.
	On the flat and rolling on the big ring they're comfy enough but slow down rapidly when the
road starts to rise uphill or in the face of a headwind.  On the middle ring there's an odd sensation of
being under geared.  The smooth rolling of the massive air-pocket comes at the expense of lots of
effort and no sensation of speed.  The speedo says 15mph, however, so they do the business.
	On my favourite 1:3 I was going so slowly that the front wheel was lifting in a 22" gear. 
Rotating mass is a real pain to push.  Over a flat circuit of 20 miles I was 10 minutes slower on the
Nokians than on 32mm Avocets.  Low rolling resistance figures are often extrapolated into notional
time trial improvements but in practice there is more to the equation than just numbers.  I ran them
at a selection of pressures from 50 to 90 psi but they ran smoothest at the recommended 75 psi.
	I found the Nokians easy to get on to Mavic Mod 4 rims but absolute sods to get off.  The
37mm wide tyres fitted my forks only as they were built to take 37's in the first place but the front
tyre fouled slightly on the 40mm ESGE mudguard.  Specifically, the moulding flashes rubbed
somewhere whatever I did but the noise soon dissipated.  Most  fork crowns would not entertain a
tyre this wide.
	The sidewalls have a dynamo track and there is plenty of grip for a Nordlicht bottle dynamo. 
It needs to be set lower than mine can be, however, or the roller runs on the nobbly edge of the tread
making the dynamo very noisy.
	In summary, I'd recommend these tyres to anyone wanting one set of tyres on mountain bike
rims for touring and commuting.  I cannot recommend them in 700c at this width.  They are just too
heavy and probably won't fit the bike.
© Rawdon O'Connor.  January 1998

Welcome to our Cycling Holidays site - The aim of the site is to give free advice, tests, reviews, background, history and just general chat about cycling in france and cycletouring. - For our commercial site offering cycling holidays in France please go to BRETONBIKES.COM, or contact us directly by email at cycling@bretonbikes.com