Wheel and Tire Selection
This week we are joined by gravel cycling expert and owner of Boyd Cycling in Greenville, SC, Boyd Johnson! Boyd is here to give the lowdown on everything you need to know about your wheel and tire selection for BASC 2022! As he says it, read on to learn how “a couple small improvements can make for a large improvement in ride quality” at Bicycle Across South Carolina!
Tips and Tricks
The number one fear people have when venturing onto dirt roads is flat tires. While sometimes there’s nothing that can be avoided with a flat tire, there are some simple things you can do to improve your ride quality and avoid flat tires at the same time.
Tip #1. Go up in tire size
For those of us who have been riding for a while, we remember the days of riding on 19mm wide tires, even on dirt roads. The first gravel race I ever did was in 2009 and we were all racing on 22mm road tires (at 110PSI because we didn’t want to pinch flat). It was a bone jarring ride for sure.
With the combination of pavement, gravel, and even some more rocky roads, the BASC is a great opportunity to test both your physical abilities and your equipment. I would strongly recommend 40mm as a minimum tire size. Going larger in tire size will help improve your handling, let you roll over the rocks and gravel much easier, and will prevent flat tires as there’s more of a buffer between the ground and your rim.
Tip #2. Lower your tire pressure
As your air volume goes up your tire pressure should decrease. Compressed air can be very stiff and running 80PSI in a 40mm tire will transfer every bump in the road straight to your hands and arms. With 50 miles each day, and potentially 3 days in a row you want to have a smoother ride to keep your body fresh. Your exact tire pressure may vary, but a good starting point on a 40mm tire is about 40PSI. This will be influenced by tip #3.
Tip #3. Try running tubeless
When running larger tires at lower pressure, tubeless has a large advantage. Most of us are familiar with the typical wheel and tire setup; your bicycle tire holds an inner tube which inflates. However, if you are running a tubeless specific tire, you can run this without the need for an inner tube. The tire will be air tight which has many advantages.
This is not quite as simple as ditching your inner tube and going for a ride. There is a bit of initial set up which is why running tubeless has not caught on more. However, once you get through this initial setup the benefits of running tubeless are very noticeable in gravel riding. This is why nearly 100% of people who race gravel are running tubeless.
There are 4 things needed to run a tubeless set up.
Tubeless tires have a reinforced bead and casing that creates an air tight seal with your rim. Fortunately most larger tires (35mm and above) that are designed to run lower pressures (under 60PSI) are tubeless compatible. However, you will want to make sure the tire you are riding is listed as tubeless approved. Most tires that are tubeless approved will have a designation on the tire
#2. Tubeless Valves
You will also need tubeless valves in order to create an airtight seal. A tubeless valve is different from the valve on an inner tube as the head of the valve sits in the rim and the valve nut is tightened on the outside of the rim until it’s fully tight. This prevents any air from escaping through the rim.
#3. Tubeless Rim Tape
The tubeless rim tape is an adhesive tape that you lay down on your rim bed. You will wrap the tape tightly around the rim which creates an airtight seal. Even if you want to run an inner tube, the tubeless tape makes for a great rim strip (to cover up the spoke holes). You’ll want to make sure you have the correct rim tape size for your rim width. Measure the distance between the hooks on the inside of your rim and add about 2-3mm.
This rim has an internal width of just under 25mm. With this you would want your rim tape to be 27 to 28mm wide.
#4. Tubeless Sealant
One of the major advantages of a tubeless setup is puncture protection. When you run an inner tube, the inner tube is very flexible. This means any puncture of the inner tube will allow air to escape. On gravel riding the typical flat is caused by hitting a rock, which can bottom out the tire, causing the “snake bite” puncture where the inner tube has two holes caused by the rim.
With a tubeless setup, your air is held by the casing of the tire, which can not expand. So if you suffer a small puncture in your tire you can seal it (many times before you even know you suffered a puncture). You will add tubeless sealant to the inside of your tire and in the event of a puncture, the sealant will go through the hole, plug it, and stop the leak.
Running Tubeless: Benefits and How to Do It
One of the things that helps is running a wheelset with a tubeless specific rim bed. A tubeless rim bed will have two shelves which hold the tire bead in place as well as a center channel for tire installation.
The benefit of running the bead shelf is that if you do suffer a puncture the tire will remain seated on the bead shelf. This protects the rim and also makes for a much safer system if you happen to lose air as the tire does not fall into the center of the rim.
At Boyd Cycling, all of our rims have had a tubeless ready rim bed since 2015. Looking at ideal options for the BASC ride, there are a few options I would recommend:
- The GVL is a very budget friendly set ($425 retail for the set) that is a great upgrade over the stock wheelset you may have on your bike. This wheelset features a tubeless rim bed and 25mm internal width (perfect for tires in the 35mm to 50mm range)
- If you are looking for a bit more performance and weight savings, the CCC alloy is a light weight and higher performing version of the GVL. Coming in at $725 for the set, the CCC is one of the best performing alloy wheels on the market.
- Finally, for those looking for the best possible performance, upgrading to a carbon wheelset gives you better weight, better strength, and improved wheel stiffness. The Jocassee carbon wheels weigh just over 1300 grams, yet are strong enough to be used as a mountain bike wheelset. The 26mm internal width works great with 35mm and up gravel tires. I will personally be riding the Jocassee wheels for this year’s BASC ride.
If you are interested in more tubeless tips and installation advice, you can visit our tubeless page at https://boydcycling.com/pages/tubeless . I will also be on site for all three days of the BASC in case you have any questions. Lastly, I will give one more important piece of advice. No matter what you plan to run for equipment at the BASC, test it out beforehand! If you have never run tubeless before, give it a try now and see how you like it. Do not wait until the day before the event to try setting up your wheels for the first time.
Boyd Cycling is a craft wheel manufacturer based in Greenville, SC. All wheels are built in house to exacting standards and are found in bike shops and bike brands throughout the world. Boyd Cycling is proud to partner with the BASC and will be giving away two sets of GVL gravel wheelsets to two participants in the 3 day event (one male and one female).
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