Time is not your Tire’s Friend… How Old is Too Old?

As we gear up for a couple of cycling events in May when we’ll pull our Mark Johnson designed / Dennis Bushnell fabricated “Precision Triplet” down from the storage hooks it dawned on me the tires on the were the same ones I installed right after we acquired and overhauled the frame and components in March through April 2012; these are the before, during and after photos….

Again, the problem here is that those wonderful 28mm Schwalbe Ultremo ZX tires were now 7 years old.  And, even though there were less than 1,000 miles on those tires with plenty of tread still remaining, time has sucked the life out of the materials that make up the tire.

As you can see in the photo below, the outer tread that overlays the puncture resistant strip between the tread and tire carcass had dried-out and was cracking at the outer edges of the dissimilar material as the tires were simply hanging in the fairly-well temperature controlled garage that fluctuated perhaps from 50°F during the coldest winter days to 95°F during the hottest days here in Georgia.  This is not what you want a tire carrying three adults at speeds up to 50mph to look like. Truth be told, this not anything you want to see on any bicycle tire that you’re depending upon for your safe arrival at the end of a ride.

I was recently reminded of this when I pulled a set of old but never used Vredestein Fortezza tires out and fitted them to my ’99 Erickson single bike. They looked just fine when I pulled them out of my storage cabinet and fitted them to the wheels.  However, after sitting inflated on those rims for a week the threads in the tire carcass simply failed due to their age and the ravages of dry heat such that, when I pulled the bike down to go for a ride, I could clearly see the tire had ulcerations and not fit for use.

So, the Erickson received a fresh set of fresh, soft and supple tires as did the wheels for the triplet.  Both were Continental-branded tires, noting I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Continental bicycle and car tires.  However, having looked at all of our tire options and knowing both sets of tires on these two bikes will suffer a similar fate to the tires they replaced, i.e., death by decay not from worn-out tread, the Continental Gran Prix Classics on the Erickson and the Gatorskin Reptile on the triplet should be more than adequate.

So, how old are the tires on your tandem or bicycle? If you can’t remember, it might be a good time to take a closer look.

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?
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8 Responses to Time is not your Tire’s Friend… How Old is Too Old?

  1. leissp says:

    We usually wear out at least one set season so never more than a year from new. Tandems are really good for wearing out tires. I do check fairly regularly and have had to discard tires on my wife’s bike due to cracking sidewalks.

    • TG says:

      Yes, for folks who are riding a given bicycle or tandem on a regular basis tire-aging is a non-issue since the tires will likely be worn-out or damaged well before they die from old age. But, for folks who have multiple bikes and/or tandems that don’t individually get ridden a lot, it’s a good idea to keep track of just how old the tires are. Moreover, “spare tires” that have been sitting around in anything less than a cool, dark place should be suspect after several years. My thoughts on tire life were more or less aimed at the second group of bicycle, i.e., ones like our triplet that only gets ridden less than 300 miles a year.

  2. Paul Jaspers says:

    We go through a set of tires each year so never more then 18 months for us. Waxing nostalgic, I remember back in the day we use to hear about aging our sew-ups, tucking them away in the basement for a year or two. I wonder what is different here?

    • TG says:

      “Back in the day” sew-ups and in particular silk sew-ups were all hand-made and used non-vulcanized adhesives which required and benefited from curing. Curing in a cool, dark space over time also allowed the silk or very fine rubber treads to cure as well, making them a bit harder and less prone to flatting. So, if you were Eddie Mercxx or even Lance Armstrong and riding on silk sew-ups instead of modern, vulcanized clinchers, there was something to letting your sew-ups age in the mechanic’s cold dark basement for a couple years. I seem to recall some mechanics even went so far as to “bury” the sew-ups in talcum.

      But, like a lot of things from the past, technology has moved on and a modern, vulcanized tire is about as good as its going to get when it’s new. Over time, modern clinchers and even economical sew-ups will simply oxidize and become less pliable and more brittle from long storage, particularly in a space that is filled with UV light and/or gets warm… such as your average garage.

  3. Cliff Frank says:

    This is sn important topic, it’s good to see you covering it. RV’s have similar issues with the tires aging out before wearing out. But at close to $500 per tire a significant investment is involved. Fortunately motor vehicle tires are date stamped so one can know when they were manufactured.
    In both cases regular inspections can help avoid serious problems.

  4. bbjourneys says:

    Wow, what timing. Having not ridden our Cannondale Los Dos for several months, I pulled it down last Thursday and discovered the front tire was flat. I pumped it up in preparation for a Friday morning ride. Next morning it was very low so the spare tube went in – which got me wondering how old the tubes were – we rarely get flats.
    As I was changing the tubes the age of the tires became apparent as the bits of rubber hit the floor.
    We’ll wait for the Brown Truck to bring new rubber this week.
    As always, thanks for your timely and well written piece.

  5. Francisco says:

    Regarding the old practice of ageing tubulars to which Paul Jaspers refers, my understanding is that there were two reasons for it: firstly, to allow time for the bond between the (hand-glued) tread and the carcass to achieve full strength; secondly, to allow the tread to become more wear resistant. I have read somewhere that three months is enough time to achieve both of these objectives, and that keeping the tubulars under the rafters for a couple of years, as many did, achieved nothing and was in fact detrimental to the tyres.
    Personally I always like to have spares at hand. I store a few tyres at home wrapped in plastic bags to reduce outgassing but I wonder if this really helps to slow down the ageing process.

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