New Wheels for the Triplet! But Are My Rims & Tires Too Narrow?

It’s been both interesting & occasionally even informative to watch several different “threads” running on “wider is better” themes across cycling. Frankly, I believe that so long as the average recreational/sport cyclists use wheels and tires at pressures that fall within a fairly wide band of “acceptable” for their weight, road / trail conditions and expectations for cost, durability and performance then all is good.

In many respects I merely see the push for “wider is better” in the same light as the 29er wheelsize and now the push for 650b wheelsize for off-road: it’s all about finding a way to sell more bikes to people who already own bikes.  That’s what product “improvement & innovation” is really all about in the cycling industry… generating new business from your current consumer base and finding ways to reach out to new consumers.

heineAs for the different threads, the longest running one is the drumbeat like messaging from Jan Heine & what was Vintage Bicycle Quarterly where they’ve since dropped Vintage from the name to broaden their market.  For Jan’s preferred type of riding, clearly the retro / classic French / rando bikes with their large volume 650b tires that can handle unpaved roads of varying surfaces as well as lousy concrete or asphalt while still holding their own on smooth roads with unparalleled comfort on all of those surfaces.  I have yet to taste that forbidden fruit but it’s on my bicycle bucket list!  In the mean time I eagerly await and then tear through my Bicycle Quarterly to get Jan’s views and test results on tires. The Spring ’13 edition is almost required reading for anyone with an interest in bicycle tires and wheels; more in Jan’s blog entry HERE.

Calfee-Dragonfly-Double-Disc-650B-Adventure-BikeCalfee has even gotten into the mix with a 650, wide-tire capable variant of its Adventure single bike, noting it wasn’t too long ago that Bicycle Quarterly tested a rando-type Calfee Adventure (review here) which Jan & Mark Vande Kamp continue to talk about as a benchmark for other bikes they’ve since tested.  As for the 650×42 adventure, here’s what Calfee posted to Facebook with the accompanying video: “The Calfee Tetra Adventure dual disc platform has been updated to allow adequate clearance for 650 x 42mm tires, a size long popular with endurance road enthusiasts. This platform allows you to easily swap wheels and, then, wheel and tire sizes. The dual disc Adventure platform is also compatible with 700c tires up to 35c knobby offering tremendous versatility. This Tetra Adventure features a number of component highlights; Exposure Revo generator hub and light, prototype TRP Spyre road disc brake calipers, custom Wound Up fork featuring Calfee rack fitment, ENVE 27.5″ carbon hoops, Calfee BarStem and Nitto Mark’s Rack M1. Mike used this dexterous machine on the challenging Giro / Steel WUl Spring Sportif last weekend and will pedal it to Yosemite from Capitola this Saturday and Sunday. Beautiful…”

beastleyA more recent thread on the off-road “big tire” scene showed up during this year’s Sea Otter Classic. Apparently a very strong 43-year amateur off-road cyclist — Manual Beastley — showed up with a fat-tire, $199 Mongoose Beast bought at Walmart and raced it well in just about every event at the Sea Otter to prove how versatile the fat-tire bikes can be. As you’d expect, the folks who design, build and sell fat tire frames & equipment were both excited and I suspect taken aback by this: good news was, fat tire bikes are versatile. Bad news is, $199 bike in the hands of a good rider can deliver the goods better than other ‘competitive riders’ on bikes costing 20x – 30x as much.  You can read more about this at Bike Magazine’s  blog HERE where you’ll also find some stills and a link to this video:

And, what I’m guessing may be due in part to a bit of cabin fever with the way winter continues to linger and keep folks off of their bikes and tandems, a recent thread at one of the tandem forums started off this way:

Let me start with a rather blunt statement… it would seem that using 19mm wide rims, especially on tandems is akin to using skinny downhill skis after circa 2005. It seems the tandem industry needs to wake up and ask themselves why 19mm rims are still being used as the mainstream selection for road tandems. Currently you will not find a single boutique tandem wheel using rims 23mm or wider and very few other rim choices available in the “tandem capacity” realm.

Having ridden the aforementioned narrow rims since 1998 I felt I needed to weigh in on this subject, I shared the following perspective….

Perhaps it’s because they’ve worked rather well for many teams?

We started out on Santana’s OEM spec Araya VX300 rims on our ’96 Arriva @ 23mm. At the time, the “hot rim” for tandems was the Mavic T217 @ 22mm with a deeper section, better profile, etc. and we switched to those within a month after buying our Santana. This worked quite well since I’d also ditched the rather dead-feeling and wallowing Specialized tires that came on the Santana for what I had in the garage: a set of 23mm Vredestein Fortezza Tri-Comps. It was a huge improvement and our Santana’s cornering and road feel was much more to MY liking.

When we commissioned our ’98 Erickson Glenn Erickson was spec’ing the deep section Mavic CXP-30 rims @ 19mm but with a 34mm deep section for lightweight teams running narrow 23mm – 25mm tires. To say we were pleased with how the Erickson handled compared to our Santana would be a huge understatement: it was an amazing transformation. At the time we were 260lbs wet and still running the 23mm tires on our very smooth roads here in Georgia.

I didn’t move to a 25mm wide tire until we did our first tour in 2002, but by that time we’d moved to the Velocity Deep-V rims as Mavic had discontinued the CXP-30 in favor of the CXP-33. The handling through the corners was almost as good as our 23’s and they were definitely a welcome addition on less than smooth roads. However, we quickly found out why many teams prefer or even need 28mm – 35mm tires when we flew to San Antonio for a Southwest Tandem Rally in New Braunfels, TX. OMG, we’d ridden on chip seal before but not Texas-size chip seal. It was an eye-opening experience. A trip to Dayton, Ohio for a Midwest Tandem Rally also made us appreciate how folks who have to deal with concrete roads & expansion joints also need a wider tire with a proportionally wider rim to support that tire.

However, at least back here on our home turf and most areas in the Southeast where we do 99% of our riding the 19mm spec rims with nothing larger than a 25mm tire continue to deliver outstanding performance, comfort and reliability and since we don’t race or do time trials optimizing for aerodynamics is not high on my list of imperatives. If it was, we certainly wouldn’t be riding on our very comfortable Topolino’s. But, then again… we only weigh a combined 275lbs which puts us into an entirely different world than teams who weigh 340lbs, 375lbs, 400lbs, etc. And where/how you ride also factors into the equation along with preferences, regardless if those preferences are founded on fact or emotion.

So, I guess my point is, most folks tend to use what works or to mimic what they see other folks using and stick with it until something “better” comes along and trends follow-suit. The trends established in the late 90’s that carried us through the first decade of this century have gone pretty much unchallenged up and until more recently. The wider is better movement is just that: a new trend that may certainly have merits. However, I don’t believe it is either a revolutionary change or one that will have a positive or negative effect on most teams that have used the more narrow rims without any real issues.

Shall we discuss the move away from internal tubes to open frames as well? Or is that also one of those areas where the pros and cons will both be objective and subjective and at the end of the day have more to do with trends and preferences? How about carbon forks vs steel? The evolution of bottom brackets? Compact doubles vs. standard triple drive chains?

It all makes for interesting discussion, but there’s no right or wrong. If something looks silly to you then find something that looks less silly. Let’s face it, we all look like silly idiots to 95% of the non-cycling public out there in our little plastic hats and form-fitting lycra shorts.

Just some food for thought. And, yes… we’ll likely experiment with some wider rims and tires on our Erickson at some point. But, in the interim I still find the 24mm wide Dyad rims with 28mm tires to be an excellent combination for our Triplet, not so much for our Calfee. But, that’s just my preference.


Speaking of the triplet and those 24mm Dyads, we just received a new wheelset from Mel at Tandems East. These 40/48 Dyad/White Ind. black beauties (no photo yet, that’s just a placeholder) replace the original silver 48/48 Dyad/White Ind. wheelset that came on the triplet to complete the cosmetic redo.  We have some 36/36 DeepV/White Ind wheels that we’ve used with 28mm tires in the past, but with 400+ lbs of riders a wider rim and more spokes are good things to have.  Now, should we have gotten an even wider rim to support 32mm or even 35mm tires?  Hard to say, but we can certainly use these wheels on our Erickson or the Calfee with our Reynolds Ouzo Pro Tandem fork to see how a wider, lower psi tire performs and probably will.


About TG

I've been around a bit and done a few things, have a couple kids and a few grandkids. I tend to be curmudgeonly, matter-of-fact and not predisposed to self-serving chit-chat. Thankfully, my wife's as nice as can be otherwise we'd have no friends. My interests are somewhat eclectic, but whose aren't?
This entry was posted in Advice & Commentary, Analysis, Bloggishnish, Pimpin' for our Friends, Technology & Equip.. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to New Wheels for the Triplet! But Are My Rims & Tires Too Narrow?

  1. cbratina says:

    We have been using Grand Bois Cypres 700x32c tires on our Lynskey tandem for over a year and love them, not only more comfortable but faster than the 28c Grand Prix 4 Seasons we were using. They are on Deep V rims that I am very tempted to replace with Dyads or Pacentis. Peter Weigle tried to talk me into 650B but the selection is so limited and the availability while touring is too scary.

  2. Wayne Sulak says:

    Glad to see Calfee adapted the Adventure to 42mm tires but if it still a long trail bike and disk brake only then it is somewhat of a disappointment. Easier for the builder but dual disks are not needed for many and add weight which Calfee usually attaches great importance. I wonder if he could build a 650B tandem with rim brakes? Oh well that is not in my budget so I will just wait for someone else to order one.

  3. Ross says:

    TG, love this article. I just rode Paris Roubaix Challenge (for the amateur masochists) on a BMC Gran Fondo GF 01 with Easton rims on 28c tires at 65/75 psi. Cadillac of the cobbles baby! BMC ran about a dozen people through the Tour of Flanders course and then another dozen on the Paris Roubaix course (153kms, 53 on cobbles, worse than off road!)) and no punctures. I can assure you we were a diverse crew, ( I weigh 90kgs…sorrry, thats 200lbs) with weight and power. The bikes performed well and the folks on the side of the road, with wheels off, and tubes out, were nearly all on narrow rims and small tires. In my experience, the wider rims and bigger tires (which I have on my tandem too) are they ride better, roll faster, corner way better and are less puncture prone. We just raced Boggs 8 hour Enduro, and cross riders there were racing on 23 mm rims and 35mm tires and smokin’ the course. Fat tires are here to stay!

  4. Peter Leiss says:

    My lovely wife and I ride our Erickson with Dyad Rims and Continental Gator Skins 700 x 32. I have riding the Grand Bois 700 x 30 on my rando/commuter and they work really well…maybe I should try them on the Erickson

  5. Richard James says:

    With perfect pavement, I can see how narrow rims and tires would be optimal (and a lot lighter). Horses (or wheels) for courses, and all that…

    The good news is that it’s easy to experiment without buying a new bike, now that tandems have disc brakes: we’ve had good success stuffing 650Bx42 tires into Co-Motion front and rear ends intended for 700x28C (e.g. Supremo, Speedster). On the broken roads of New England and rough pavement of the Pacific Northwest where we ride tandem, the large capacity tires smooth out the ride and contribute greatly to stoker comfort (also nice for the captain’s hands). Rims the weakest link in the system: Velocity Synergy extrusion seems prone to splitting in half under the pressure of 80psi and 300lbs+ of rider weight (cracks under the rim tape: we’ve killed three in less than 12 months, both US and Austria-made). We’ll try 36h MTB 650B rims next.

  6. T. Guy says:

    When I put a set of Challenge Eroica (700x30c) tires on 23mm rims under my single bike for the past winter, it was a revelation for me. Great for the rough pavement and road slop and trash we have in our part of the Rockies. It has opened up whole new worlds of crummy pavement and gravel roads and packed dirt that I never considered for cycling because my bike with skinny rims and tires really couldn’t take me there.
    Recently, Hutchinson released their road tubeless Secteur 28 tire, the first 700x28c road tubeless tire, and as soon as I have saved up enough cash I will put a set on new Hed Ardennes+ rims @ 25mm wide for use on our Calfee Tetra Tandem. For us (as a 370# team), the beauty of this is that we won’t have to run the rock hard high pressures we needed with skinny Deep Vs to keep the our 28c tires from pinch flatting (because there is no inner tube) and to not have the tire squirm/squishy feel when cornering because the tire is better supported and has more volume due to the wider rim. More conforming to the road surface and less bouncing, more comfort for my stokers’ butt and my hands. I can dream of better tandeming…..
    So yeah, I have to agree with you, Tandem Geek, that most teams just mimic what other tandem teams use. That’s what we did. And if you are light enough to run 25c tires, it works just fine for you, and you will ask why we need 23 or 25mm rims But I’ve had to make a lot of compromises in riding technique and style to make single bike wheels and tires work for us on our tandem, compromises that wider rims and road tubeless 28c tires address head on. I can dream of a better tandem……

  7. “…In many respects I merely see the push for “wider is better” in the same light as the 29er wheel size and now the push for 650b wheel size for off-road: it’s all about finding a way to sell more bikes to people who already own bikes. That’s what product “improvement & innovation” is really all about in the cycling industry… generating new business from your current consumer base and finding ways to reach out to new consumers.”

    The bike industry isn’t really pushing sales of wider tyres at all unless of course you believe that 25mm is wide… They simply sell whatever the pros use and that’s the sole reason why 23mm (to be replaced by 25mm in the near future) is still the most popular road tyre size on the market… It’s been always like that and always will be.

    The wide tyre trend is driven by a handful of open minded, independently thinking individuals who value research, facts and numbers (combined with their own experience) over marketing blurb, assumptions and prejudice. None of them claims that tyres should be as wide as possible but only that for vast majority of non-competing riders existing dominating standards (23mm-28mm) most often offer no benefits (other than perceived ones) in terms of both speed and comfort.

    Wide, narrow, firm, comfortable are all relative terms, anyway and depend on the scale of reference used.
    Unless you test the extreme ends of the scale in various conditions, you’ll never know what wide and narrow really is.

    E.g. how about riding shaven 2.10″ wide mountain bikes tyres at speeds typical for a “proper” road bike? Please have a look 🙂

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