Rolling smoothly on new spring tires

As it turns out, the revelation wasn’t as earth-shattering as I first thought it would be, and the experiential revolution was not so dramatic as I had hoped. But I’m still pretty happy with my new tires.

The revelation I am speaking of was learning last week that the rims on my Kona Unit 29er mountain bike are the right size to accommodate road tires – the kind you’d find on a bike with drop handlebars. It turns out all 29-inch mountain bike tires, which were all the rage a few years ago for their ability to roll more easily over obstacles on the trail, take the same rims as standard road bike tires.

I had wondered for some time whether that was the case, but I never got around to asking the guys at the bike shop whether the road tires would actually fit. Well, I did (ask, finally) and they do (fit, the road tires). So I ordered a set of Continental TourRides for my Kona.

This all happened after a few disheartening scouting trips out to the various abandoned railroad grades that criss-cross the Keweenaw. As of a week or so ago, it looked like the snow, so compacted from snowmobiles and grooming tractors, would never melt off of them.

This week’s sun and rain has proven otherwise. The snow is melting rapidly. But the old railroad grades will likely remain too muddy to really ride for at least another week or so. And this year, more than others, I have been really, really impatient to ride my bike.

When I was growing up in the Lower Peninsula, a lot of four-wheel-drive truck enthusiasts with jacked-up, tricked-out pickups would put small tires on their trucks in the wintertime. The idea was, I think, to protect their expensive Mickey Thompsons and TSL Super Swampers from the snow and sludge (those were the big tires that were popular back then; I don’e know and can’t even imagine caring what kinds of four-wheeling tires are popular, these days). I don’t know if this is still common practice down in the Lower, and most truck owners in the U.P. seem to have sense enough to buy tires that actually get them places instead of just looking pretty.

At any rate, the small tires on the big trucks of my Lower Peninsula youth provide a suitable analog for the road tires on my mountain bike. They are just there to get me by until things dry off, off road.

My initial fear was that those 32-mm road tires on a bike frame designed to clear tires three times that size, would look as goofy as the winter tires on those jacked-up Fords, Chevys, and Dodges. This proved not to be the case. The bike looks decent with the road tires on it.

The only thing I lost in the transition was an inch or so of rolling diameter, so each pedal stroke generates three or four inches less forward motion compared to the wheels equipped with mountain bike tires.

The upside is the smooth road tires roll really, well, smoothly down the road. None of the humming the knobs on my mountain bike tires make when I ride them on pavement. And I am out on my bike a lot earlier, learning to appreciate how spring looks from the road.

Not a revolution, but I like these new tires.