Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Thumbing a Ride

At 4 o'clock there was a knock on my door. I went out to the front steps as a FedEx van drove away.  Next to my front door was a big tivek package. My three new  Schwalbe Marathon tires had arrived from Wisconsin in two business days. Not bad.

A couple of hours later I was in my back yard with my new tires, some new tubes and Little Nellie. I had the bad Primo Comet off her rear wheel in a couple of minutes then the fun began.

Schwalbe tires are notoriously hard to mount on a rim. They are durable and puncture resistant and take a whole bunch of air pressure.  To accomplish this they are made of stiff rubber.  To add to my woes, the wheels on my Bike Friday are ever so slightly smaller than they should be.  (I can tell because mounting a Schwalbe tire on the front wheel of my Tour Easy is difficult but not cuss inducing and it's supposed to be the same size wheel.)

I had the tire on the rim except for the very last quarter of the circumference.  Getting this last bit over the rim is a bitch. I tied the tire down with zip ties to keep from losing ground then went to work. I tried and tired for ten minutes and that tire just wouldn't budge.  Then I looked down and realized I had worn the skin off both my thumbs. Ugh!

This was not going well.
(Why did I buy these tires?  First, they are $15 cheaper than Primo Comets and infinitely more puncture resistant.  They also have thicker tread which means they won't get all cut up like the Comet on Little Nellie did.  On the way home from work the other night, I ran into two recumbent riders. Both had Schwalbe Durano tires on their bikes.  I asked why and one of the riders told me that he had tried Continental tires and they blew off his rim.  There's not a whole lot left to choose from when you're buying 20 inch tires.  So it really comes down to how much tread and how much puncture resistance you want.  The more of either, the harder the tire is to mount and the more rolling resistance you'll get. Since the front tire on my Tour Easy bears little weight, rolling resistance is a plus; it keeps the front tire from sliding out on leaves and wet pavement. Since I like to occasionally ride on the unpaved C&O Canal towpath, a little tread is welcome on Little Nellie.  So the Schwalbe Marathon seems like a decent compromise tire for my purposes.)

What to do? I came inside and pulled up a video of an old British dude putting a Schwalbe tyre on his wheel.  I've seen this video many times before and I've actually watched a local cyclists use the technique and mount a Schwalbe with great ease.  Back to my tire. Nothing. I gave it to my son who is infinitely stronger than me. He gave up in 30 seconds. What to do? I needed protection for my blistered thumbs so I went into the basement and put on the pair of cheap cotton gardening gloves that Bike Friday sends to its customers to keep from getting dirty when assembling their new bike.

In no more than fifteen seconds I had the tire on the rim.  Dang!  Those gloves are now in my saddle bag.

I have two more Schwalbes to mount. I think I'll give my thumbs the rest of the night off. I will apply alcohol (a cold Shiner Bock or two) and try the other two tomorrow.  


  1. Ouch!! I can't believe you ripped the skin off your thumbs like that!! Glad you finally got the tire on!!! :)

  2. I believe more rolling resistance is not equivalent to more lateral traction. Rolling resistance is about how much a energy is lost when the tire deforms instead of it's "stickiness" to the road. Certainly some compounds will give more traction but I'd think that all things equal a soft supple tire would give better handling characteristics than a stiff tire like the Marathon which is more likely to bounce, IME.

    Schwalbe tires certainly have the reputation of being very tight relative to specs such that when mated with a rim that is somewhat larger than specs you'll have a killer time mounting the tires. The standard Bike Friday ERTO 406 double-wall rims they use now -- Alex DA 16 if my memory is correct -- is notoriously oversized. Mounting a stiff Marathon tire to the rim is finger numbing .. I've won bets with people that swore they could mount any tire with their bare hands ... and I use Marathon Racers with a folding bead. Although I had a much easier time with Schwalbe Stelvios, Primo Comets and Primo V-Monsters. FWIW, I use three levers.

    Just to give another example, I had a relatively easy time mounting Marathon Racers to Sun CR-18 rims (406).

    To what rim are you trying to mount the tire?

  3. As to the characteristics of the Marathon, I started with a Primo Comet on the front of my recumbent and had so many front end slid-outs that I almost sold the bike. Once I switched to the Marathons, the problem, for the most part, went away.

    I think my Tour Easy has a Sun CR-18 and Marathons go onto it with less trouble. It's still not easy though. As you mention, the Bike Friday has the Alex rims on it.

    I haven't had this problem on my 700C sized wheels (2 on the Sequoia and 1 on the Tour Easy). I think this may be because the bigger wheel might have some lateral give to it compared to the 406s.

    The more I think about it the more shocked I am that the gloves did the trick. One oomph and the bead went on!