The 2012 Tires

It is now time to unveil my tire purchase for the year.  In 2010, I conducted my first foray into high-end tires and purchased the supposedly indestructible Armadillos for my hybrid.   I made it 40 miles before I flatted.  In 2011, I bought Bontrager Race Lite Hardcase for my Trek’s rear wheel and loved it.  Sadly, the tire wore out and I needed to get some new ones.

This year’s winner is Continental Grand Prix 4 Seasons.

Since liked my first Hardcase so much, I considered buying some more.  After absolutely none of you spoke up on their behalf and other online reviews referred to them as “lead weights,” I thought perhaps I could do better.

I considered Continental Gatorskins, but the Grand Prix is a comparable tire with a reportedly smoother ride made by the same company.  I figured that if I was going to get a nice Continental tire, I might as well go all in.  Reports of problems getting the Gatorskins seated properly on the rim were also mildly troubling.

Schwalbe Marathons were my runner-up.  If the 4 Seasons fail me, I will probably turn to them.  I have no good reason for not getting them, other than I saw the Continental factory in the Robert Penn movie, “Ride Of My Life,”  and thought it was an interesting bit.  So now I have a tire from the same place.  Yippee.

At 220 grams apiece, the 4 Seasons are 50% lighter than the Hardcases.  They get very strong reviews from almost everywhere, including commentators on this blog whose opinions I have grown to respect.  They are light, grip well in all weather conditions, and reportedly last a long time.  Continental is a well-respected company that has been making bicycle tires since 1892.  It’s hard to argue with any of that, so I began my search for a store where I could buy them.

In theory, these tires can be bought in local bike shops.  In practice, that wasn’t so easy.  Visits to two stores and a phone call to a third had negative results.  A  phone call to a 4th store finally tracked down a pair at a cost of $79 per tire.  When I asked the shopkeeper if he would match an online offer of $46/tire, he said only if it came from a “brick and mortar store.”  The website was PhattTire.Com, so he could not match the offer.

And that is how the local bike shop lost my business, which is sad.  I would like to support them, but not at a near 100% markup over what I can find online.  My desire to help sustain the local bike industry only goes so far.  At the reduced price, I could still only expect to travel on these tires at a rate of 65 miles per dollar spent.  By way of comparison, I get about 265 miles per dollar on my automobile tires.  I never did that calculation until this week and was surprised at the figures.  If you ever thought bicycle tires are expensive, you’re right and now you have the facts to prove it.

The tires came in the mail yesterday.  Those who are not as incredibly experienced as I am may be surprised to learn that nice tires often come in small boxes and are folded.  Such was the case with the 4 Seasons.  I posed the boxes for the picture you see on the right, then set about putting the tires on my wheels.

If these tires are easier to put on than Gatorskins, then I thank the cycling gods that I didn’t get Gatorskins.  They don’t exactly form a lovely circle when removed from the box.  The Hardcases easily accepted a slightly inflated inner tube and went over the wheel rims with only the slightest challenge.  Not so with these tires.  Keeping the inner tube inside the 4 Seasons tire was a largely aspirational notion and getting the tire over the rim was a titanic struggle which I eventually won after many tense moments and occasional muttering on my part.  I was worried my frantic and increasingly blunt efforts to mount the tire would tear the inner tube.  Fortunately that didn’t happen.  After 75 minutes, both tires were on the rims.

If I have to do this on a ride, I’m just going to hide my bike in a bush and walk home.

So that’s that.  The tires are on the bike and I’m ready to go.  It was pouring rain so I eschewed a quick test pedal.  I should be getting in a few rides in the coming days so stay tuned for my first impressions.


22 thoughts on “The 2012 Tires

  1. Good luck with the new tyres. I think I have had about 200 miles for each pound sterling on the Schwalbe Marathons so that is better than your bike but not as good as your car. I’ll have to check that against my car after your interesting observation on comparative value for money.

  2. Nice! I recently got new wheels and had to remount my Schwalbe Marathons, with a similar amount of effort as you describe. I was certain I would damage the tube and would have to start all over again, but I made it. The thing that eventually helped was making sure the bead was as deep in the center ‘valley’ of the rim, thereby giving me a little more wiggle room. Was about to go out and buy a Tire Bead Jack when it popped on.

    Yesterday I was heading out the door to work, and I wistfully glanced over at my bike–and noticed that the front tire was on backwards. They have a directional tread with a helpful arrow on the sidewall, neither of which made any impression on me when I installed them. Oh well!

    • You just put a scare into me – I never thought to look for a directional arrow! Fortunately for me, the 4 Seasons are ambidextrous. I can’t imagine it’s a big deal for any road tire. My understanding is the tread is usually put there for cosmetic purposes only.

      • I’ll be changing it to how it’s supposed to be, just because, but I really don’t think it has made a difference in how it rides. I can see in theory that the tread should shed water better when installed properly, but… Not that I ride in the rain much. I’m just glad it’s the front tire and not the rear!

      • A quick follow-up: as I was laying (lying? hate that one) in bed this morning, not wanting to get up to turn the heat up, I started thinking of changing my tire around, and it suddenly dawned on me that I needn’t remove the tire at all–I just needed to remove the entire wheel from the forks and flip it. Duh. The quick release lever will be on a different side until my next tire change, but so what?

        And this is why we should always stay in bed a few minutes longer.

  3. At one time, there were directional arrows on the C4S. My last two sets did not include them. I’m glad I didn’t tell you that these are hard to install. They are. Your experience is not unusual in the first attempt. Your description sounded as though your tire changing needs some refinement. Install one bead of the tire on the rim. Align a mark on the tire with the hole in the rim for the tube stem … this allows you to locate the place in the tire where the puncture was caused in the event that a flat happens. Install the tube next. From the stem, work the remaining bead of the tire onto the rim being careful not to pinch the tube. Gloves help for the last 6 inches, rolling the tire onto the rim. Do not use tire levers putting the tire on the rim. Complete tire change with the new tires should take less than 10 minutes. I hope you love the tires as much as I do. $70 – $80 is normal retail price on these. To extend the life, be sure to check for imbedded glass and rock regularly.

    • I follow your technique to the letter until the part about using gloves and not using levers to get the tires over the rim. Just a small adjustment needed! My last timed tire change (using the friendlier Bontrager tires) was nine minutes, including a brief cell phone call from my wife. I just need to step my game up to handle these folding tires.

  4. My old road bike, a Trek 1000 thats now been converted to fit my fiancee, has Gatorskins on the front, and GP 4 Seasons on the back. I bought them after flatting 5 times within the first 20 miles of a charity ride (I found that both of the old tires had cuts that allowed the tube to peak through). They seem to be grippy, and resilient. The only beef I have is with how hard they were to install – the bead is really really tight!

  5. Good choice, I’ve had good luck with all the conti tires I’ve used. Folding tires will get easier to put one with some experience and harder thumbs.

    While I’m sure the Marathons are good tires I think there probably more of a long distance touring type where the grand prix is a sport tire.

    • It remains to be seen if I pay a price for getting the tire that is slightly more sporty over the tire that is better for touring. If it doesn’t flat on me, then I believe I will have made a good choice.

  6. I have amassed quite a collection of tyres across my various bikes. Prior to purchasing some Conti’s I was an avid supporter of Schwalbe tyres. Over time it became evident that they were puncturing far less than the other brands and in some cases not at all. I have 4 sets of Schwalbe tyres currently but not all in use.
    Last year I purchased 2 sets of Conti’s for racing and didnt experience a puncture in either pair. Over the winter I have mostly been using Schwalbe Lugano tyres as they have a dimple tread on them for the variable road conditions and have had no punctures in them. The only punctures I seem to have experienced have been with Michelins. The Conti’s are awaiting better weather before they get ridden again as they are pretty much slick tyres
    I am quite a frequent changer of tyres and can have a tyre off and another one on and inflated in less than 5 minutes. I think maybe the first fitting of a tyre can be tough sometimes as the material hasnt been stretched. After the first change they are much easier.
    It seems the Germans have cracked the secret of bicycle tyre manufacturing. In fact I wonder if there is some link between the two companies?

  7. By the way, the Conti’s are Grand Prix 4000s and Grand Prix. The Schwalbes are some old Stelvio’s, no longer made, Luganos and Duranos. they are regularly swapped around between my two road bikes. The ‘other make’ tyres are relegated to the occasional use bikes.

    • Once again, it is apparent you have forgotten more than I know about bikes. I’m encouraged that Contis make your short list for quality tires. I’ve thought about the German connection as well and cannot imagine why they are the world leaders in tire production. They must have figured something out early on and cornered the market!

  8. I have only heard good things about the Continental tires and I hope you get lots of revolutions from them.

    Late last summer I shelled out for decent tires for the first time (Marathon Duremes) and I had a very similar experience to yours when attempting to put them on the rim. In fact, you did better than I did because I managed to puncture the tube during the wresting match.

    I found that to get the last few inches of the bead over the rim it helped to hook three tire levers under the tire first without putting any force on them. When they are all securely in place, pry two back levers and hook them on the spokes. Finally, pry the tire over the rim using the last lever. Although I have read with interest about methods for installing a tire without levers I cannot imagine having done it with these particular tires on those particular rims.

    Here is a description of the leverless method:

    • Good Lord! That was a rather confusing comment. I just realized that I simultaneously combined a description of putting a tire on and taking it off. I’m sure you can work out what I actually meant to write. In my defense, I was typing that at my kitchen table while carrying on two different conversations. Multi-tasking gone horribly wrong! I wonder if my conversations were equally confusing.

  9. I’m a big fan of Schwalbe, I have Marathon Plus on my singlespeed MTB commuter, they’ve never punctured and I have Scwalbe Luganos on my Giant Defy road commuter. Which have had 2 punctures in 2 years. Not a bad stat considering just how shite our roads are for potholes and debris and the weight they’re carrying.

    On the recommendation of fellow biking blogger John Berry (him of the mad mileage fame) I have some Michelin Carbon Krylions on my carbon road bike. I have yet to test them out for resiliance and mileage.

    I go more for tyre tread pattern for my Mountain Bike than puncture resistence as the trails here are very muddy, punctures are an occupational hazard off road!

  10. Sounds good. I have not ridden the 4 Seasons, but have heard good things. And I am a total Continental disciple now.

    After riding Specialized Armadillos, Bontrager, and Michelin, the Continentals (Hardshells and Gatorskins) have been by far the best, most durable tires I have ever used.

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