Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Choosing Tires for the South Downs Way

Choosing Tires for the South Downs Way

The below paragraphs will hopefully help you choose the correct tire of the south downs way, the guide could also apply to other long ditance off road tour routes, if the surfaces are simailr.

If the weather is bone dry then you would want different tires, than if it were wet. Some talk of flints of doom, but I didn't see any of that. I rode for 9 hours in total with no punctures, and after careful inspection of the tires after by returns there were not cuts or gashes. 

A Word on Flints

Flints are a rock made out of glass (Silicon Dioxide) if they are broken in the right way, they can be used to make razor sharp cutting tools. Vast sections of the South Downs Way are covered in Flints. But that does not mean they will constantly be puncturing you tires. A few years ago I sustained the below damage to a tire and the inner tube popped out.

It was caused by the below flint that way stuck in the ground very securely with the sharp edge sticking out of the ground. It was a perfectly broken flint, held in a perfect position. Very unlikely to happen.

Now I have only ever had this happen once in 10 years of cycling. And the problem was quickly got around by cutting up my old inner tube and laying over the inside of the tear before inserting a new inner tube, and limping home. A better option might be to carry a piece of tire side wall in your repair kit, and even a tube of super glue.

The fact here is that you could run some serious rubber to protect against this freak occurrence ,and it may never happen. Better to take a repair kit to cover the slim chance of it actually happening. A small pair of scissors will see you through. You can chop up the damaged inner tube, lay it in tire 4 deep, in playing card sized pieces and it will hold the new tube in.


Things to watch out for:
  • Green Chalk - Algae covered chalk which is very slick.
  • Cycling on Side Slope - Expose side walls to sharp flints. 

The side slope as described is typically found in long sections of wheel rut, so cycle on the centre ridge or off to one side if there is an option to do that.

South Downs Way Surfaces

I have included a selection of pictures below so you can make you own mind up. There were some farm track muddy sections, flinty paths, mud / flint paths, cobble farm tracks, tarmac, concrete, smooth-ish, compacted aggregate, and grass. It is a smorgasbord of surface dressings.

When belting down Beacon Hill, near East Harting you might want you knobbly tires. Wet grass is very slippery. And I would be very nervous about going down this hill on slick tires.

The flinty decent from Bignor Hill is fine with any type of tire, in wet or dry conditions. The flints are grippy.

Heading up the gentle incline west past Glatting Beacon, grass again so low profile knobbles would be useful if wet. 

The mud covered flint path ways of Graffham Down, you would probably be OK on slicks as they would bite down through mud.

 Narrow side paths of Heysott Down probably want some knobbles for that . . . . .

Another downhill grassy slope, glatting beacon would be to the left in this shot.

An image borrowed from the Petersfield Post.  I doubt it would be possible to pedal up that hill without some fairly serious mud tires. 

So if nothing else we can see that surfaces are varied. If you are racing or doing a very long stint in one day, then hope for dry weather and run something semi slick, perhaps even full slick. The care you have to take on grassy, muddy bits will likely be paid back double when you get on the tarmac or hard pack. 

If you are not racing or doing more than 30 miles a day then go for some knobbles, then you can enjoy the fun bits in the knowledge that you have good traction. Look for tires with following attributes:

  • Low Profile (but not slick) Centre Tread
  • Good Side Lugs
  • Puncture Protection
  • Side Wall Protection
  • Thickness of 2" or More
  • Size of 26" or More
  • Good Load Rating if Carrying Luggage
This would lead me to recommend the following tires, these are all based on 26" 559 sizing. Most are available in 27.5 / 650b also.

When Wet 

You may wish to try the below after a prolonged period of wet weather.  Don't go mad with the knobbles, but you will need some.

For Wet

When Damp

Unless there has been a prolonged period of dry weather, then I would suggest using something with side lugs. 
For Damp
When Dry (as a bone)

If the weather has been dry for a couple weeks, then you might optimise your performance with some of these slicker tires. 

For Dry
Sorry they are all Schwalbe, but you know you can get an idea of tread levels.

BUT I here you say what did you use? Well despite owning a pair of £80 Marathon Mondial, which are a very well made tire, I ran a pair of £15 a pair Impac Trailpac Tires, and they were fine.

Ultimate Conclusion

Just remember you can do the South Downs Way on any tire you like. If the worst comes to the worst you can always get off and push. The main thing is to just get on a do it! It is a great route.

Illustrator Devon

Energy Strategy

Property Investment Company London 

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