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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Long Term Review: Continental Gatorskin Tires

For the longest time, I ran only Avocet Fasgrip tires. They're grippy, and they were cheap, especially after a dealer online blew them out for $13/pop. About 2 years ago, however, my supply of them finally ran out, which meant I had to switch to a new tire brand.

For several years, I'd steered clear of Continental Tires. Between 2003-2007 in the Western Wheelers Bicycle Club, I personally witnessed more Continental tire blowouts than blowouts of any other tire brand. Granted, Continental tires were very popular but so were Michelin tires, as well as Specialized. While these blowouts were not common, I saw them about once a year, and they usually resulted in hospitalization/air evacuation.

I'd run Michelin tires for many years, especially when they were $12/pop for the excellent Michelin Hi-Lite Comps. Unfortunately, Michelin realized that after market tires were market in which selling tires at a higher price would result in a perception of increased tire quality, so the Michelin Pro tires ran for about $50 each. On top of that, Michelin abandoned the use of carbon black in its tires in order to provide colorful tires so that the urban hipsters could match their tires to their frame color. While this is not of general concern in California, I do tour in rainy places and wanted a tire that provided maximum wet traction.

The advent of the Continental Gatorskin line led many to conclude that Continental's sidewall problems are gone. Bill McCready of Santana even endorsed the 28mm tires for tandem use! I decided to give them a try. The good news is that these tires definitely wear longer than the Avocets I was using. I put them on last year in August after returning from the 2011 Tour of the Alps. (I ran Continental Gatorskin 28mm tires for that tour, but 25mm for this long term review) They recently wore through to the cords in several places. Also, the wear was more even than on the Avocets: rather than wear a penny-sized hole in one place, they wore in slices all over the tire. The tires grip fine, and I never had an issue with wet or dry traction. Furthermore, they don't flat frequently: I don't recall getting more than one flat tire or so in my entire year of riding them. (Somewhere around 3500 miles) The subjective ride quality isn't so hot: I think the Avocets I used to run feel a bit cushier, probably because the sidewall is of a different material.

The bad news? As I was removing the old tire, I noticed that the sidewall looked a little cracked, and I had threads coming off them. Examining the rear hub, I noticed a black thread from the sidewall completely wrapped around my hub axle! The sidewalls did not look like they would last another season. Now this is for just 3500 miles of use under ideal conditions --- unlike in the past, I did not go out of my way to take these tires off road this time. It was also an unusually low mileage year for me.

Last year, I found an international supplier of Michelin Pro 3 tires at a reasonable $30/tire. I stocked up and will switch to those for the foreseeable future, even if the prices for the tires go up. In the mean time, I am sad to be unable to recommend the Continental Gatorskin tires for those who ride aggressively and don't stop riding their bikes when the pavement ends. There's just too much risk of hospitalization when the sidewalls blow. Now for a short tour of 3 weeks or so I'd be willing to run the 28s, but only if you inspect the sidewalls frequently and regularly.

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