Fat Tires and Middle Age

I bought my first decent bike more than decade ago, a Cannondale T700 touring bike. It came with 700×37 Continental tires and felt good. I rode it and liked it that way for a couple of years, until some racer guys gave me a hard time about my balloon tires on a ride up in Canada. I switched to 700x28s and commuted on it. I bught a Ritchey Logic racing bike and obsessed about stockpiling Michelin Supercomp HD 700x23s. I rode that bike and similar Michelin tires at PBP in 1999.

Three years ago I bought a Rivendell Rambouillet (http://www.rivbike.com) and in keeping with the Rivendell aesthetic I put 700x28s on it — but only after finding 700x25s at BMB were so narrow I had to watch the road constantly to avoid big nasty ruts. I also started riding tandem with Mary, my lovely fiancee, and toured on 700x28s and did the Cascade 1200 on 26×1.2 tires. I liked the wider ride of the 26×1.2’s, and on our new Co-Motion Speedster tandem we’re riding 700x32s.

Rivendell Bicycle Works advocates riding on wider tires. They are supposed to ride with the same or less resistance and give you the ability to go places racing bikes fear to tread. I bought a Rivendell Atlantis tourer as a replacement for the Cannondale, now 13 years old with more than 25,000 miles on it (and nothing really wrong with it, either, other than some spots on the steel fork where the paint has peeled a little).

I put 700×35 Paselas on the Atlantis, and whoa, what a great ride. I bomb around D.C. and I don’t have to sweat much of anything in terms of broken pavement. I tuned the brakes to let me ride hard and still keep things under control: some neat old Shimano XT II cantilevers I bought off Ebay, with Kool Stop salmon pads, that put the grip on the wheels like nobody’s business.

Anyway, now the bug bit me to go all 650b, as if anybody has heard of it outside the Kogswell, Vintage Bicycle Quarterly and Rivendell micro-niche circles. The idea is to be able to ride 38mm or even bigger without the bike sitting high up off the ground, at pressures of no more than 75 p.s.i. and closer to 40-50 p.s.i. Folks on the Riv and 650b lists at bikelist.org talk about riding around on the puffy tires not feeling the pavement and generally loving life.

650b wheels are about midway in size between 700c and 26″ mountain bike rims. They’re really French, and were big with the French touring and randonneur bike makers of the ’40s and ’50s. More on the 650b revolution at: http://www.freewebs.com/650b/

So I order the Rivendell budget 650b frameset, the Bleriot, which is sold by Quality Bicycle Products through local shops and the shops’ Internet portals. Advertised prices for the frame and fork, no headset or the required superlong reach brakes, range from $566 up before shipping. Rivendell charges $750 with a headset included. I won’t name my vendor  just yet because the frame arrived with a flaw in the top tube and has to go back. They’ve promised me a new frameset at no additional cost, so I’m not all that worried about it.

This is going to be my all purpose bike, groceries, hardpack roads, and I’ll give it a shot on a brevet or two. All in all it looks much more expensive than the going price. They could do a little better job on the white headtube and white accents; they’re OK but not quite up to Rivendell standards.

Still, All Good. Yet I’m left with the lingering feeling, maybe, that this newfound love of fat tires is really creeping middle age. Am I hungering for that Oldsmobile ride? Am I joining the set who demand that disconnected Crown Victoria road feel?

Mary just leaned in and looked at the title of this post and just laughed. So, it’s true. Oh well.

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One thought on “Fat Tires and Middle Age

  1. It’s not just Oldsmobiles that have a cushy ride. A 5-series BMW is a terrific drivers’ car, beyond all dispute; but it also happens to have a very civilized, comfortable controlled ride. Keeping all the wheels on the ground in bumpy sections helps car and bicycle handling alike.

    You _can_ have your cake and eat it too: you can have both comfort and performance. That’s what’s so wonderful about these 650B bikes.

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