• 2013/10/29 The "Vinegar treatment"
    • The "Vinegar treatment"

      Are handmade tubulars and open tubulars more susceptible to cuts than cheaper clincher tires?


      The short answer is probably yes. The longer answer is more interesting and here you will learn from the experts how to prevent a majority of these cuts from becoming a problem.


      The natural latex and rubbers that handmade tires use in their casings and tread rubber are softer and stickier than synthetic rubbers and vulcanized processes used for normal clincher tires. Therefore a Challenge tire may be more likely to pick-up a small sharp stone or piece of glass in the tread and hold it there for multiple tire revolutions, allowing the stone or glass to progressively cut the tread and eventually the casing. Essentially the same special soft, sticky materials that give the casings and treads incredibly low rolling resistance, cornering and traction also make them more susceptible to cuts if certain precautions are not applied.


      In January 2013, the Belgian woman’s team Challenge sponsors reported multiple cuts on many Challenge training and racing tires. They had some similar problems with other tires and with Challenge in the past but now it seemed much worse. We felt this was strange because our second, larger (meaning both more and bigger riders), men’s Belgian team was riding the same tires and were not reporting any problems. We went to the men’s team training camp in Calpe, Spain to investigate this problem (along with having other technical discussions).


      Immediately when I brought up the problem in front of team management they looked at me incredulously and said, ”What? You do not know that you need to apply vinegar to the tires before riding in this “season of the little stones”?” I could not have been more stunned.


      They then patiently described (like to a child) that “everyone in Belgium” knows that in the “winter” (which in Belgium is the standard three months plus two months on either side when you can get “winter” for two hours on any give day) you need to take special precautions against tire cuts.


      The state trucks that sand or grit the roads plus heavy rains that wash dirt from the fields combine to dump many small, sharp stones and pieces of glass into the roads. Cars then spray the stuff to the sides of the roads where cyclists are forced to ride through it. Average people know you need thick, heavy, hard tires on your commuting bike to keep from getting flats. Riders and mechanics for professional teams are all taught at a young age that you must treat racing tires with vinegar every two to three days during “winter” (or when “winter” suddenly reappears).


      Vinegar.” I said again, patiently, “Vinegar.” I thought they are pulling some old Belgian joke, which would be fine, but I did not want to pass along the joke before I understood I alone bore the brunt of the joke. “Yes,” they said, “You must wipe the tires with vinegar, any cheap vinegar, to clean the sticky oils from the tread and “dry out” the surface of the natural rubbers.” I know that vinegar is an astringent that will dry oils from your skin so I let them continue.


      The small sharp stone or glass may still stick in the soft rubber but after using vinegar the centrifugal force of the spinning tire will be sufficient (with the less sticky tread) to throw the sharp object out of the tire. The problem only comes when the sharp object stays in the tread and continues to cut, deeper and deeper.”


      Hmmm… fortunately a mechanic walked into our meeting at that moment so I told my manager friends to stay quiet and I asked the mechanic how he kept the sharp stones or glass from cutting racing tires. He said, “Well, of course, I must apply vinegar to all of the tires every day or two before riding in the “winter” season.” Normally in Spain or Italy or southern France it is not a problem but he heard from other mechanics that this year, with winter snows heavier and further south, they needed to use the same process in these areas.


      OK, the mechanics and managers were all in on the joke but I needed one more check. That night at dinner I chose one of the younger Belgian riders who came from a cycling family and asked him the same questions. He said his father taught him the same story when he was 12. Vinegar.


      Long story short, if you want to have all the incredible performance - low rolling resistance, cornering and traction – that the Pros enjoy with Challenge Handmade tubulars but do not want to get a bunch of cuts or punctures, simply keep a rag handy and wipe your tires with vinegar every couple rides in that “season of the small stones”.