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At Tour de France, wider tires, lower pressure mean faster, not slower



Tour de France sees wider tires lower pressure
go faster, Tour de France teams are opting for wider tires and
lower pressure.

McMahon/Business Insider

DREUX, France — There’s no shortage of
tech talk
when the Tour de
rolls around, and it invariably has something to do
hyper-aero frames
ultralight wheels
nonround chainrings
, slippery apparel, and even

powdered chains
. Teams will try just about anything to go
faster. So it’s refreshing to see a more analog innovation taking
hold in the world’s preeminent bicycle race: wider tires and
lower tire pressure.

As we wrote in a recent review of one
Tour-worthy bike
, there’s been a trend toward riding wider tires with lower
, and for good reason: It’s essentially faster and more comfortable in non-lab,
real-world conditions. That’s been backed by an increasing number
of research studies, including a
report by VeloNews
. That flies in the face of conventional
wisdom that said to go fast you need narrower tires with higher
pressure. Think rock-hard, 22mm tubulars.

Vittoria Corsa tubular tires TdF BMC
tire width of choice for Greg Van Avermaet, the reigning Olympic
champion and leader of the Tour de France for several stages, has
been 26mm versus the traditional 23mm.

McMahon/Business Insider

Last week at the Tour, Business Insider spoke with Geoff Brown, the head mechanic
of the
EF Education First–Drapac p/b Cannondale
team. This is Brown’s 21st Tour, so
he’s seen his share of trends. (He used to wrench for one

Lance Armstrong

We asked Brown about the trend to embrace wider tires and lower
tire pressure, something that once seemed counterintuitive in pro
cycling but has become a standard of sorts among the very top teams.

“It depends on the road surface, but 10 years ago the standard
was 23mm tires at 8 or 8.5 bar, or 115, 120 psi,” Brown said.
“And now it’s 25mm for regular road racing and 7 to 7.5 bar for
front and rear, so a little less than 100 to 110 max on the
bikes.” So what’s the deal?

Geoff Brown mechanic Tour de France cycling
Brown, head mechanic of EF Education First–Drapac p/b

McMahon/Business Insider

“There seems to be a lot more real science behind cycling now,”
Brown explained. “A lower tire pressure with more surface contact
translates to lower rolling resistance, which is one of the main
factors. And the bikes are much stiffer these days, with the
carbon-fiber frames, especially the
aero frames
, and the aero rims — like when you’re running
like a 50mm-section rim, which is quite deep — all that stuff is
stiff, so the lower pressure helps provide more comfort for the

Vittoria Corsa Control tubular tires 30
Phinney’s tires for the Roubaix stage of the 2018 Tour ran a
whopping 30mm wide — especially plump for the cobbled farm roads
of northern France.

McMahon/Business Insider

For what it’s worth, we didn’t see any 23mm tires at the Tour
this year — we did look at a lot of tires — though of
course we may have just missed them. By far the most common
widths were 25mm and 26mm. And while it’s difficult to compare
Tour speeds based on tire width and pressure, the growing
research and the massive push across teams to wider
tires and lower pressure speak volumes.

Could we see road tires at the Tour as wide as 27mm or 28mm
anytime soon?

“Things are moving along quite quickly here in our sport,” Brown
said. “The
disc-brake thing has gained real momentum
, so on those frames
you can certainly run wider tires because there’s the clearance
for it. I could see it evolving to 26mm or 27 mm as the standard
road-racing tire, sure. Why not.”

Even bigger riders — like the 6-foot-5, 187-pound Taylor
— run tire pressure as low as the lighter, more
compact climbers, such as
Rigoberto Urán

“As far as pressure goes, they all stay the same because it’s
still a team sport, and if Phinney is riding alongside Rigo and
he gets a flat, he’ll need a new wheel quickly,” Brown said.
“Everything is sort of centered around what the leader uses, so
if the leader has 7 in his wheels, everyone has to have 7 in
their wheels.”

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