Thursday, 2 July 2009

Rain, winter, rocks and armadillo tyres

  • What tyres to use for training and commuting?
  • Change to a different tyre for special events/charity rides?
  • Life expectancy of cycle  tyres?
  • Which tyres for which conditions?
With road cycling tyres costing anywhere from $40 to $150, these are questions worth asking. I'm still figuring them out for myself..

Of course, a simpler situation would be to never ride over rocks, glass, nails and any other debris on the roads. Can't always be avoided it seems :(.

To quote Wikipedia:
Thin-walled tires, especially those used in road racing bicycles are particularly susceptible to puncture by road debris, such as thorns, and small pieces of glass that would not affect tires with more substantial tread. The equipment needed to repair or replace a bicycle innertube is comparatively minimal, and frequently carried by cyclists.
Yep, no doubt the king of the annoyances of a road cyclists existence!

For a long time I have been riding on Specialized All Condition Armadillo Elite tyres. I have logged about 3,500km on my most recent pair. The front is still good (some rotation may have been an idea?), but the back tyre was getting toward the worn through state. This is unusual for me, I usually get a gash or slit in a tyre well before this point. This being the reason I have been using the armadillo tyres of commuting, training and if raining duDamaged Armadillo tyre with inner tube intactring one off events or charity rides.There is absolutely no doubt that the armadillo lining prevents punctures from sharp objects piecing or cutting through the tyres. Almost as if to prove a point, I accidentally rode over a rock  and shredded what was left of the rubber on the tyre. Surprisingly, the inner tube remain inflated and the tyre lining in tact. I was fully expecting a "snake bite" and was surprised to maintain inflation. Upon dismounting I discovered the carnage on what was my somewhat worn, but now unusable rear tyre. I am very satisfied, and cannot question the durability and robustness of the armadillo tyres.  Are these the most "bomb-proof" tyres on the market?

On New Zealand roads rain or shine, light or dark, 3,500km is a long durable life for a rear tyre. With other tyres I have used I invariably  end up with a sliced tyre or a whole through the sidewall.

While the armadillo tyres being harder to penetrate or slice, they do not prevent other causes of punctures. I have had a few "snake bites" when I have inadvertently ridden over rocks and debris on the edge of the road. Particularly at night when visibility is reduced. Conventional wisdom is that under-inflation is the usual cause of "snake bites", but at 90-110 psi I don't think this should have been the case. Regardless, I seem to average one every few hundred kilometres, and generally while commuting when traffic lines leave me at the roads edge along with rocks and other debris. On the bright side, I never had a puncture during an event with the armadillo tyres, although I had one at the start line of the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge in 2007.

During dry weather for events or charity rides, I have found a preference to ride on Continental Grandprix 4000 S "Black chilli" tyres. These are an absolute pleasure to ride on. Like every tyre they claim to have good rolling resistance, and I can say I have more speed in these tyres when free-wheeling down the same hills - quite possibly something in the claim? But the smooth ride comes at quite a cost if you slice the tyres while commuting.

I was a little short of cash, so for the half the cost I have fitted some Maxxis re-fuse tyres. Like the armadillo's, these tyres have a kevlar belt to increase puncture resistance, but not around the tyre wall, and also not with the enhanced kevlar processes that Specialized explain in the video above, and presumably patented all to themselves. I'm interested to see the both comparative durability, and the "feel of the ride" for these tyres in a training and commuting setting . In theory, without the kevlar in the tyre walls, thus less stiffness there should be a slightly smoother ride. You just don't know until you try.  Hopefully I can find something between the durability of the armadillo's and the smooth ride of the black chillis? The Continental Ultra Gatorskin seems like a good option to consider in the future as well.

The armadillo tyres are certianly not come cheap, but if you are looking for something that is durable and unlikely to cut open then they are probably just what you might be looking for.  The standard addage probably applies once again:

Buy cheap, buy twice

Below is a table summarising my own choices from my own bad puncture luck on which tyres use I would consider using in different conditions. Not really expecting to find anything that will support all conditions perfectly, but you can only be optimistic :). Obviously, not far from comprehensive as I am still very new to road cycling. I'll keep it updated over time. The Maxxis Re-fuse are currently half the financial outlay as the other three tyres listed so far..

Tyre Commuting Training Events/Charity Rides
Specialized Armadillo Elite Excellent Excellent Ok, may be a little slow?
Continental Grandprix 4000 S Not recommended If dry and clean Excellent
Maxxis Re-fuse Evaluating Evaluating Evaluating
Continental Ultra Gatorskin Sidewalls prone to slicing Sidewalls prone to slicing As sidewalls are penetrable, may as well ride a better performing tyre
I have used various other tyres which have, well FAILED to meet my requirements for NZ conditions, resulting in a short useful product life and rapid tyre destruction. I can barely remember the exact make and model as they got so little use. Particularly brutal have been lightweight racing tyres without kevlar or other protection. These are typically sold on new bicycles, even when they are ridden in New Zealand conditions.

Updated: 16/7/2011 - Gatorskins are made of cheese. See


  1. I believe the correct spelling is ARMADILLO.

  2. Overdue for some updates to this post.
    I have been running fractionally wider 25C Continental GP4 tyres lately - about 5000km without a puncture. Ride smooth and much better over the chipseal that prevails on New Zealand roads since I can run them at 90-95PSI instead of the 110-115PSI I use in 23C tyres to prevent pinch flats.