Our "Tires!" page has been and is being edited to reflect the fewer choices and changes in availability.
The article reflects my personal experience and that of other teams having a variety of needs. Expect to learn about ride quality, sidewall durability, tread life, handling, ability to withstand heavy loads, and the negative effects of gravel and or rough pavement. Discussions about tread compounds, threads per inch and the like will be reserved for the bicycle science type lists.
Several factors should be considered when selecting a tire for your tandem. Since no one tire will "DO ALL" and "BE ALL", sacrifice is often there to a degree. For example one cannot expect to ride on a narrow light fast road tire with a team weight of 450 - 500 pounds, at least not very far. Other considerations in tire selection include rough pavement or the need to load the bike for touring. Using the wrong tire for the job will result in great frustration and it won't be a fun nor safe day.
The general consensus is that tread on bicycle road tires has absolutely no useful purpose on wet or dry pavement as it is impossible to hydroplane a bicycle tire unless you exceed 120 mph. The more rubber you have in contact with the road the greater the traction. Tread is useful when on a loose or soft surface, conditions generally not encountered on the road. Tread on road tires decreases traction, increases rolling resistance, adds vibration, and creates noise. People are so ingrained to tires having tread from their automobile knowledge that its existence on bicycle road tires seems to be deeply rooted in marketing efforts.
My experience includes the use of several tires from various manufacturers, some currently in production and others that are now history. The tire recommendations and thoughts are based on current availability and first hand knowledge and should not be considered to be all inclusive as other options may exist to which I am not privy nor knowledgeable.
Tire Width, The Great Dilemma
Most of us want to go fast and do so efficiently making it natural to contemplate narrow, light and expensive tires. Selecting the proper tire width for the weight and task is probably the most misunderstood element in the determination process. I made a posting to the T@H list back in May of 2000 where I alluded to common misconceptions about running narrow "fast" tires as you will read below.
Time to put another set of tires on the tandem ('98 C'Dale RT1000).
Been running Conti. GP 3000 700 x 28's. Switching to same tire but in a 25c width.
Input from others running 25c tires? too narrow? wear characteristics?
Been getting 1000-1500 miles from 28c, rotating every 500 miles, front
To rear and changing direction of rotation.
Subject: Re: [T@H] Tire size
Date: Thu, 11 May 2000 15:15:27 -0500
We have gone through a couple sets of Conti GP 3000 with the first pair
installed for the 750 mile Paris Brest Paris event last August.
Fortunately, these tires improved the comfort of the ride as compared to
the old Super Sport 100's, something we strongly desired for an event
this long and the French road texture.
We have a couple of stories about PBP '95 and '99 posted on our website.
We barely made it to 2000 mi on the rear tire before hitting the cords
and 3000 miles on the front. They seem to wear about 30% faster than
the regular Grand Prix model.
25mm tires can be a bit narrow and likely have a higher rolling
resistance than the 28mm width unless one is able to run them at
extremely high pressure. It seems I recall an optimal tire pressure
inflation chart that showed I would need to run something like 145 psi
with 25mm tires versus 120 psi with the 28mm width.
The narrow tires may look fast, feel fast, sound fast, but I am not so
sure they are.
Mark and Sue Johnson
The Continental Grand Prix 3000 tire referenced above is no longer available.
Below is the chart referred to in the above post. You can see that extrapolation is necessary for all but the lightest teams. The chart refers to total weight of the ready to ride team and loaded bicycle. Before you look at the chart, be aware that there are weight differentials in many cases with different tandem teams as outlined in the following examples and formula applications.
To calculate the weight for a given tire or wheel on a multi seat bicycle, consider the following formula with its basics taken from a post on T&H by Mike Breaux on 04/01/04:
Front weight = [(captain weight x (rear compartment + chainstay)) + (stoker weight x chainstay)] / wheelbase or more simply total weight - rear weight
Captain 150#'s & Stoker 150#'s
Rear Weight = [(150 x 24) + (150 x (24+27))] / 69 = 163#'s
Front Weight = [(150 x (27+18)) + (150 x 18)] / 69 = 137#'s
So on an evenly weighed team, the rear wheel holds more weight / more pressure.
Captain 170#'s & Stoker 120#'s
Rear Weight = [(170 x 24) + (120 x (24+27))] / 69 = 143#'s
Front Weight = [(170 x (27+18)) + (120 x 18)] / 69 = 147#'s
In the above example, the same pressure would be used.
Captain 170#'s & Stoker 50#'s
Rear Weight = [(170 x 24) + (50 x (24+27))] / 69 = 96#'s
Front Weight = [(170 x (27+18)) + (50 x 18)] / 69 = 124#'s
So with a lightweight stokid, the front holds more weight than the rear and it makes sense to adjust the tire pressure accordingly.
Triplet Weights 170#'s, 45#'s, 50#'s & front 24", middle
27", rear 27" and chain stay 18"
Rear = [(170 x 24) + (45 x (24+27)) + (50 x (24+27+27)] / 96 = 107#'s
Front = [(170 x (27+27+18)) + (45 x (27+18)) + (50 x 18)] / 96 = 158#'s
Click on the image to enlarge
Questions to ask yourself when selecting a tire
A person's mindset is also a factor in deciding what tire is best suited for the team. The questions below should help sort through your concerns.
1) Are you into fast sport or competitive riding?
2) What is your team weight? ..under 275? ..over 350?
3) Would you prefer durability (longer wear) at the expense of added weight and increased rolling resistance? Gram counters and competitive or fast sport riders will invariably say no.
4) Are your roads excellent, good (occasional problem but can avoid the bad spots), or poor (unexpected hits, too many to miss)?
5) Are you a careful captain and take it easy over railroad tracks and rough spots or do you hammer through everything to prevent loss of speed?
For simplicity, please allow me to make some generalizations for the purpose of categorizing teams and tire recommendations. Categorizations will not fit all teams across the board but at least some thought should be stimulated!
A Team = Go fast hammerhead racer types and wannabes that count grams, willing to spend money to save weight, interested in greatest efficiency and not concerned about shortened tread life as a result. These teams are usually very fit, ride a large number of miles, participate in competition or do fast sport riding. Team weight is often near 300 pounds or less.
B Team = Possibly new to tandems, getting in better shape, weight is dropping, not competitive all the time but may be with the right crowd but does not necessarily seek it out in order to have a "good" ride. These teams will sometimes stop and smell the roses. Longevity and durability and reasonable performance from a tire is expected by this team and they do not mind spending a little extra for a quality tire. These teams often enjoy and ride fine equipment. Team weight varies greatly but is often between 300 and 350 pounds.
C Team = Into smelling the roses, prefer longevity and durability. Not interested in average speed or saving a few grams. Does not mind being passed. May prefer a more expensive quality tire or something quite basic. Working on long term goals of exercise, possibly weight loss but not always, and improved health.
Please note that all tires discussed are assumed to be 700C unless otherwise noted.
"A" TEAMS under 300 Pounds:
Consider a 25 or 28 mm width tire with either a Kevlar or wire bead. Both widths are available in the tires discussed below. The Kevlar bead permits folding for ease of carrying a spare and it also saves weight. The steel bead may be a better choice for those that ride in conditions where long term braking generates rim heat.
Our favorite folders are produced by Continental. The Grand Prix 4-Season comes in 25mm and 28mm widths, is reasonably light, corners well, has excellent tread life, and a comfortable ride.
Light teams that count grams seeking the winning edge should consider the very fast Grand Prix 4000. Expect to shave 70 grams by comparison with a 25mm set, the maximum width available in this model.
Wire Bead Tires:
Our absolute favorite is the time tested Continental GatorSkin. Having personally ridden these tires for nearly a decade, I can report zero sidewall failures nor S-bends in the casing. Longevity, handling characteristics and ride comfort are good with this tire but reliability is the main feature that causes me to continue to use these particularly on our triplet and quad given the very precious cargo! These tires are full size meaning the width numbers are accurate and sometimes conservative. A 28mm tire may measure 29mm once inflated a number of times which may lead to clearance problems with older pre 2006 Alpha Q carbon forks. Lightweight teams would likely opt for the 25mm width if the GatorSkin is the tire of choice since they are 'full' size.
NEW for 2011 is the Continental Gator Hardshell, a beefed up and 70g heavier version of the Gatorskin. For a slight decrease in ride quality, longer tread life, and maximum durability, you may find this to be your most practical and favorite training tire. It would also be a good choice for the rear tire given the rapid wear that takes place on a tandem.
A narrow rim is preferred for 25 mm tires such as the Shimano Sweet 16, Spinergy, Topolino, Rolf Prima Vigor, and Bontrager Tandem Wheels. Other narrow rims would be the Velocity Deep V, Velocity Fusion, or the Velocity Aerohead rims. Use of a narrow 25 mm tire on a fairly wide rim, common to many modern tandems such as the Velocity Dyad or Chukker models, will unnecessarily expose the sidewall to road debris and the lowered profile increases the propensity for pinch flats.
"A" TEAMS Up To 350 Pounds:
A 28 mm width tire is recommended with either a Kevlar or wire bead.
The foldable Continental tire to consider in a 28mm width is the Grand Prix 4-Season with its Dura Skin sidewall protection.
The wire bead Continental tire to consider is the GatorSkin. The GatorSkin provides extra sidewall protection and for a longer wearing tread go with the heavier less performance oriented Hardshell model.
A Team summary: Use the folding Continental Grand Prix 4-Season if you have the extra money and don't mind the cost, want the ultimate in performance, and increased ride quality or comfort.
I have personally ridden the GatorSkins for nearly a decade and have been very pleased with them. We usually get 2000-2400 miles out of a rear tire before cords are exposed while running 120 psi with a team weight of 295 pounds. Teams that climb a great deal or those with greater weight should expect fewer miles. Ride quality of the GatorSkin is excellent and tread wear good with excellent sidewall life as I have had zero failures to date. New for 2011 is the Gator Hardshell model. It is a heavier tire with thicker rubber, will be slower and ride slightly harsher than its cousin, the Gatorskin. That said to help balance the wear between the front and rear, the Hardshell would be a good choice for the rear tire.
The Continental tires discussed here are basically slick (as desired) as they have very little tread with some siping as shown in the pics above.
"B" TEAMS 300-350 Pounds:
Consider either the Continental GatorSkin or Gator Hardshell 28 mm width tires for low rolling resistance and good performance. You will feel confident running these tires if you sometimes enjoy good solid or somewhat aggressive cornering. The characteristics and expected life of the Continental tires are discussed under A Teams above.
The Continental 28mm width GatorSkin or the Gator Hardshell are our favorites for this team weight. We have personally used the Gator Hardshell on our quad at 140 psi, not to be construed as a recommendation. Our quad and its riders recently tipped the truck scale at 640 pounds!
"C" TEAMS Over 350 Pounds:
Jumbo teams and those on triplets or quads are advised to remove their tires every 700 miles and check the bead tape since with heavier loads the rim can actually wear through it causing a cut to form that will lead to a sidewall failure and blowout. I personally replace both tires after 700 miles regardless when used on our triplet or quad.
That said, my favorite tire for teams in this weight range is the 28mm Continental Gator Hardshell. We have used these tires on triplets, quads and quints at 140 psi (not to be construed as a recommended pressure) and find the sidewall wear at the rim junction is far less than that of other tires. The 32mm width GatorSkin tire would be my first choice for this team weight should there be sufficient frame and fork clearance for the tire.
For 26" wheels, often used with Jumbo teams, triplets, quads and even longer bikes, consider the 1.5" Kenda Tandem Tire. It features a generous width capable of gravel stints, displays excellent wear properties, and has a high pressure rating of up to 100 psi, something fairly unusual for a nice wide tire!
Kenda Tandem Tire 26", 1.5" @ 100 psi!