Category Archives: tires

The Legendary Black Beast of Aaargh

Globecanvas here.  New bike day!

Sure, it’s not artisanal, bespoke, fashioned by crafty dwarves, or worth the GDP of a small island nation. On the contrary, it’s a mass produced gas pipe chariot that weighs almost twice as much as my race bike.

But it’s a superfun ride, and most importantly, it’s something I can beat the crap out of without having to do much more than hose it off and lube the chain. I expect to put a lot of miles on it this winter.


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It’s a Surly Straggler frameset, Hayes CX-5 brakes, 32-spoke 30mm DT Swiss wheels. Every component is heavy and practically indestructible. I especially like the brakes, which significantly outperform the Avid BB7s on my cross bike, admittedly with a significant weight penalty. The only non-bulletproof concession is Grand Prix 4 Seasons 28c tires. I personally can’t bear the ride of hard commuter tires, and I can’t afford handmade rubber. I find the 4 Seasons to be a great in-betweener tire. I do wish they made them in a 32 or bigger size though.

I got the frameset from Billy at Overlook Mountain Bikes in Woodstock, who really went the extra mile to get my size, which wasn’t technically in stock anywhere in the world. (I’m a 54 in every bike ever, but the Straggler geometry is extra long, so I needed a 52.) The Bicycle Depot in New Paltz came through, as always, with excellent component advice and everything else.

I set the bike up single speed, but with two chainrings and two cogs, to give me a couple of gear options, 42×16 (70 gear inches) and 40×18 (60 gear inches). 42×16 will get the most use, but I’ve been doing big hill repeats a couple of times a week for training, so I also wanted a small enough gear to haul this hunk of iron up Mohonk 5 or 6 times in a row.

I had to take the bike out for an inaugural ride on day one, even though it was 40 degrees, foggy and raining.


Visibility was not great in the low-lying areas, so I headed up toward the Catskills. I was also curious how 42×16 would work on some of the more significant hills up toward Woodstock. It turned out to be mostly fine, up to maybe 10% grade; I could manage a cadence of somewhere around 20 and still keep the bike moving forward without either weaving like a drunken mailman or hauling hard enough on the pedals/bars to rupture my spleen.

Riding single speed is a great experience. The drive train is quiet and smooth, and the only way to adjust effort for grade is to make your legs go faster or slower. It’s a more connected, dare I say holistic experience than riding a geared bike. On the down side, you just can’t get where you’re going as fast.

Here’s the Ashokan Spillway, always an impressive sight.  I know it’s a recurring theme for me, but I wonder how many New York City residents realize what a scenic journey their tap water has taken before arriving in their bathroom.


I did unintentionally end up on Yerry Hill in Woodstock, which has 1/2 mile of 12% and a final kicker of over 20%. (I was aiming for Ohayo Mountain, which is a real climb but not a gutbuster, but I missed the turn.) Yerry Hill is especially mean in that there’s a really steep section that looks for all the world like it tops out, and then you come around a little bend and see the stupidly steep section in front of you. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t quite make it up the kicker in 42×16, but it wasn’t completely out of the question, and I think I could have managed in 40×18.

All in all, a great first ride on a fun bike. By the time I got home, my right hand was completely numb and my shoes were full of freezing water. What more could you ask for?



— John S, aka globecanvas

Grand Bois Extra Leger 26 mm Tires

Since riding the Grand Bois Extra Leger 32s on my winter cross bike, I’ve been waiting for a 25 or 26 mm Extra Leger tire to fit the English 700C. True, the 23 mm tires were available, but 25 mm is the minimum I’ll ride on the crappy roads in my area.

A few weeks ago I got my wish, and I installed them today.


If you’re wondering why my rings are silver: I recently geared down–34/25 wasn’t a useful low gear for my usual rides, which generally include 10,000+ feet of climbing with extended 12% to 22% segments. Although the climbs were survivable, I was wrecking my knees. I couldn’t get the rings I wanted in black, so I’m making do with silver.

Back to tires: The fit is tight in the THM Scapula fork, which is only rated for up to a 25 mm tire. Nevertheless, there is some room to spare.


I’ll report back after a few hundred miles, starting with the 72-mile Peekamoose route, which I’ll be riding tomorrow morning with new companions who haven’t been out that way yet. Peekamoose is a great ride, because you suffer like hell for the first 16 miles; thereafter, it’s high-speed downhill for the next 30 miles.


Random Stuff

  • For some reason, I’ve been on a Joy Division kick. I hold many hours of teenage listening to Joy Division responsible for my early mid-life hearing loss. Atrocity Exhibition remains one of my favorite songs to blast at high volume. I just made this my desktop, you can save it and make it your desktop too, if you like.


  • Off for a tough ride tomorrow with the usual suspects. It’s only ~90 miles, but it has 9000 feet of climbing, most of it on gravel. Report coming early next week, provided I survive, of course.
  • Speaking of tough rides, I’ve gotten a few comments from people who have ridden my routes that I tend to underestimate the difficulty, both of the route as a whole and specific climbs. I’m sorry about that. If you’re coming out here from the flatlands around NYC, here is a brief guide to interpreting my comments: 1) If I say a ride or a climb is moderately difficult, it’ll be tough but you’ll make it. 2) If I say it is hard, you’ll barely survive. 3) If I wax lyrical about the difficulty, you might want to proactively call an ambulance. This is not bragging; in fact, I don’t claim to be anything more than an average rider. But after 10 months of riding out here, I’ve been immunized against hills and mountains and 15% grades on gravel.
  • Did I mention I’m getting a Weigle? I’m trying to get Peter to paint it pink, but I think that’s probably a nonstarter. Just bought the saddle.


And yes, it will be used just like my other bikes—sun, rain, hail, dirt, snow. Maybe not with this saddle, though. A Weigle, by all accounts, is an art object, but it’s one meant to be used. Plus I like bikes, and just things in general, after they’ve gotten a little use. It will have semi-modern components–alloy Record 9-speed, clipless pedals, Herse crank and rings. Oh, and it will be a 700C bike.

Now I want a fatbike for the winter. Preferably one like this, but with XX1, or maybe even a Rohloff:


Grand Bois Hetre Extra Leger. Shaved. Tubeless.

Thanks to Peter Weigle! According to his note on the inside of the tire, the front went from 370 to 313 grams. The rear tires, on which Peter left a trace of tread, lost about 40 grams.

Extra Leger Shaved

First 1000 miles on these will be on the new English 650B. Next thousand will be on the Herse (probably with tubes though).

Knees are recovering and I should be back in business shortly. If my knee wasn’t injured, I’d be in the middle of George Swain’s Catskills Climbfest right now instead of sitting in front of my computer, working.

And PS: Can anyone make my grass grow? Believe it or not, it was exactly 50 degrees colder today than it was on Tuesday. 92 degrees to 42 degrees in 4 days, plus 30-40 mph winds.


Gentlemen’s Ride

On Friday, my long-time riding companion Guy came up for a ride. He was kind enough to ride from the Poughkeepsie train station to New Paltz, where I picked him up (did I mention that I got my driver’s license on Tuesday?) I made him drive us back because I remain a less than enthusiastic driver.

We got up bright and early the next day for our gentlemen’s ride. A gentlemen’s ride is when you don’t worry about time, stop when you want, and generally just have a relaxing day. Instead of frantically trying to fit X number of miles into a certain number of hours, we planned on taking the whole day for just 60 miles. We stopped for pictures. We stopped at the top of major climbs. We stopped for lunch. We stopped for dinner. It wasn’t really exercise, but it was good fun and a nice way to spend 8 hours. It was also nice because I overdid it in the previous 7 days, logging about 200 miles. Not much, but a lot for this early in the season after a winter that was bad enough that I didn’t manage to keep in optimal shape.

I won’t bore you with the details of the ride; suffice it to say we went over Peekamoose again. I was there just last week, but it is a really beautiful ride. Plus it is ideally suited to a gentlemen’s ride because 75 percent of the effort is concentrated in the first 15 miles (although the first climb is a brute). After that it’s mostly coasting and enjoying the day. The route is here if you are interested.


Some pictures.

Headed into the major climb of the day: just 1000 feet, but it includes ramps of up to 16%.

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The long coast down off of Peekamoose. Spectacular as usual. Click on this one for full size.

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I tried to convince Guy to climb this gravel driveway/road. Just for fun.

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Rondout reservoir, at the base of Watson Hollow Road. We ran into some cyclists headed the other way up Peekamoose on a decidedly more serious expedition, which to me–even if I’m trying to get exercise–seems like an unpleasant route since it’s 12 miles of false flat and outright climbs, followed by a descent that is far too steep to enjoy. I’d rather do the massive climb at the beginning and then enjoy the high-speed run down the other side.

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We stopped in Grahamsville for lunch. The deli there is actually quite good; if you have a chance plan a trip through town, it’s a good place to stop and very friendly.

From there, we rode back on 42 crossed over to Ulster Heights Road, and then descended at very high speeds on Irish Cape Road.

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On the return trip from Ellenville, on Berme Road just past the prison, we ran into this roadside shrine. One hypothesis is that it was the scene of a fatal car accident, which would be odd because Berme Road is so torn up I can’t imagine anyone going fast enough to hurt themselves on it. (This picture also, incidentally, illustrates the resolving power of the Foveon sensor in the Sigma DP1 Merril. The second and third pictures are crops from the first).

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From there, we did the climb back to my place. The countryside is lovely, but I’ve done it so many times now it’s left me wishing for a teleportation device.

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And that’s all for this week. Short ride tomorrow, then off to Chicago for a couple days of meetings. I’m hoping to talk someone into a ride over Slide Mountain next week, or maybe Ferguson Road.

And one last bit of news: The 650B English is done and is off to paint. So maybe within the next two weeks the bicycle stork will be delivering something.


750 Miles on Grand Bois Extra Leger

This winter has been rough. Snow, more snow, 27,000 miles on planes, and the isolation of living in the mountains. I thought I wouldn’t mind, since I come from the country, but the contrast to downtown New York City is pretty stark. It’s worth it, though, for the glorious spring, summer, and fall. Now I understand why people buy summer homes!

One thing that did improve my winter was the arrival of several pairs of Grand Bois Extra Leger tires in 32 mm and 23 mm. Because of the snow and travel, I’ve only put about 700 miles on the 32s and less than 100 on the 23s since they arrived in late December.

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These are the best tires I’ve ever had a chance to ride, period. Handle one and you’ll see a clear difference in construction–the sidewalls of these tires are so pliant they actually wrinkle.The ride is spectacular–I’m riding very rough roads and a lot of gravel, and the Extra Legers ride fast and smooth through everything. Given the type of abuse I subject tires to, I was worried that they would flat faster than a pair of Parigi-Roubaix on the north end of NYC’s West Side bike path the day after July 4, but as it turns out they’ve been flat free, even after a missed turn earlier this week resulted in a 2-mile ride over fist-sized sharp gravel.

Some of my friends are going to be mad at me for saying this, but the 23 mm version makes tubulars irrelevant, and the 32 mm version is superior to any other wide clincher available in 700C.

Now, let’s see how durable they are…next review in 1000 miles. It might take a while, because it’s starting to get nice out, which means switching back to the English on FMBs.

And one last note: Give me 25s, damnit.


This Week in Consumption

I bought some (deep breath) Grand Bois Col de la Madelaine Extra Leger 23 mm tires. I won’t try them until the spring, but given that they are limited production, I wanted to get my hands on some before they were sold out.

Grand Bois Col de la Madelaine Extra Leger (Large)

Ah, Christmas. The time of year you get things you really want but wouldn’t buy otherwise.

I present to you the Assos Fugu Glove. As you can tell, I love them…they’re already covered in grime and snot. I’ll review them later but they were definitely worth Margot’s money.

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Assos certainly gets an award for best font.

I’m busily working away on a new radiotherapy for castration-resistant prostate cancer (and driving Margot crazy with Einstuerzende Neubauten’s “Sabrina” on repeat) but I do have rides and routes to report. Later in the week I’ll write about my trip to Pitcairn Mountain Road, and another 50-miler including a climb up Meads Mountain Road, a famous Catskill climb that is almost–but not quite–as terrible as Platte Clove. I also still owe you a report and directions for the Brewster to New Hamburg summer classic.

All coming this week, and I hope you don’t stop reading just because I managed to use the words “snot” and “castration” in a single post.


A Review: Grand Bois Extra Leger Tires

Not even six months ago—and being of the decidedly entrepreneurial bent (in my entire life, I’ve only been “employed” by someone other than myself for 6 months)—I was considering getting into the tire business myself. Not as a huge money maker, but instead because I thought there was no reason why someone couldn’t make a clincher as nice as my favorite tubular, the FMB Paris-Roubaix 25 mm. I even went so far as to start researching the equipment needed and scoping out sites for a mini-factory. I figured I’d make a little money, employ 5 or 6 people in upstate New York, and most importantly get the tire I wanted. The tires would be expensive, sure, but no more than a high-quality tubular and they’d be made in the US.

I had heard rumors of a new ultralight tire from Compass that was supposed to ride like a tubular, so I snapped up a pair of 32 mm Grand Bois Extra Léger tires, literally within minutes of them becoming available at the Compass Bicycles site. Compass has finally started using Priority Mail, so the tires arrived within a few days of ordering (they used to use regular post, and things would arrive in 7 to 10 days, if at all) My initial feelings about the tires before they arrived were mixed…although I was excited to get what might be a truly superb clincher tire, there would be no need for me to manufacture my own.

When I opened the package, it was apparent right from the beginning that there was something different about these tires. The sidewalls are so flexible that they actually wrinkle when unmounted—something I’ve never seen before except in the highest-quality tubulars.


They mounted up relatively easily, although I had to use a tire jack to get the rear tire on. Later, when my latex tubes arrived, the tires had stretched enough to get on and off by hand. This is in sharp contrast to the Challenge Eroica tires that I purchased and subsequently returned—those tires were so tight that I couldn’t even jam a tube under them.


I pumped the tires up to 60 psi front and 65 psi rear (I weigh 145 lbs) and went for my usual 18-mile lunchtime loop with 2000 feet of climbing. It was a revelation. All traces of road buzz were eliminated relative to the regular Grand Bois 32s that I have on another bike. I suspect the smoother ride and reduction in road buzz made me feel a little slower than usual. However, my speed on multiple days on this loop averaged +0.3 mph of my usual speed. I’m not ready to say that they are any faster, but they are unambiguously more comfortable than the standard version. Even better with Challenge latex tubes.

The Grand Bois Extra Léger tires are available in 23 mm, 32 mm, and 42 mm. I think that’s an unfortunate range of sizes. 23 mm will fit on most race bikes, but many people (and everyone I know) are going with 25 mm or 27 mm tires these days. If Compass cares about selling tires, they would make a true 25 mm Extra Léger tire. Not 26 mm for the simple reason that many who own race bikes would reject it out of hand because they will think it won’t fit on their bikes.

I’ve had a chance to ride some really good clinchers and tubulars. Because these are 32s, it is impossible to do a direct comparison with tires other than the regular Grand Bois 32. However, based on what I’ve seen I’m confident that the 23s will ride better than any other clincher in the 23 to 25 range, and will probably provide as close to a tubular experience as it is possible to get on a clincher. I’m going to buy some Extra Léger 23s and compare with other tires in the 23 to 25 mm size range.


The Magic of Latex

Finally found them: 28 to 35 mm Challenge latex tubes. These tubes are difficult to find except in late summer and early fall, when retailers start stocking them for cross.


I like latex tubes, and yes, I can tell the difference. So much so that, on my English, I use latex tubes in my carbon fiber clinchers–a practice generally considered inadvisable because of the potential for melting. However, I don’t brake much, and I’ve been pairing latex tubes and carbon fiber clincher rims for years without incident.

The other nice thing about latex tubes is that–at least in my hands–they are resistant to puncture. The tube that currently resides on the front wheel of my English has survived three years. No punctures, and most of that time was riding in New York City. Contrast that with the butyl tubes on the Herse (no choice because it is 650B), which puncture at least once or twice every thousand miles.

There is considerable disagreement regarding whether latex tubes reduce or increase rolling resistance. Jan Heine’s real world tests indicate that they increase rolling resistance slightly, while other more carefully controlled but less realistic tests suggest that rolling resistance is reduced. The latter result makes more sense to me in the context that more supple tires generally have lower rolling resistance, but who knows?

Online, you will see complaints about punctures occurring when mounting latex tubes. There are a few ways to avoid this: First, try to mount the tire by hand. If you need help, a tire jack is a safer bet than a lever. Second, after mounting the tire inflate it slowly to 20 psi, let it rest for a few minutes to release any tube trapped under the bead, then add another 20 psi and let it sit for a while longer. Grab the tire with both hands and wiggle it to ensure both beads are seated. Then pump to full pressure. Thereafter, you can inflate as you normally would. I’ve never punctured a latex tube using this method.

I received the Challenge tubes today, and on a short break from work mounted them under the Grand Bois Extra Legere tires I received recently. I have only ~100 on the tires so far, so don’t ask about them yet. I’m planning to take Friday off for an 80-mile double crossing of the Shawangunk Ridge. I might have an opinion after that ride.