Monday, May 12, 2008

Gotta Know When To Fold 'Em

When KHE introduced their folding freestyle tires, I thought they were stupid.

Yes, folding tires with Kevlar beads have been made for road and mountain bikes for years. (As usual, BMX is only a decade or so behind the times.) All sorts of pros run them with minimal problems.

Yes, it's an easy and relatively cheap way to save a fairly substantial amount of weight—rotating weight, even!

But, as stated here on several occasions, I'm not particularly enamored with KHE and their BMX "innovations." (Remember the proprietary Coke-can headtube internal detanglers?) The idea of buying a lighter—and more expensive—tire that would no doubt wear down faster just to save a couple of ounces wasn't really appealing. Not to mention the whole folding thing was entirely inconsequential unless one was embarking on a long road trip or planning on mailing them to people. Who carries extra tires on a regular riding day? There was no way this whole expensive folding tire thing was going to catch on in BMX.

As usual, I was wrong. Laughably so.

They sold like crazy to the gram-conscious (and bike-check obsessed) crowd, and now there are no shortage of companies making (read: putting their logo and tread pattern on) folding tires—Fit, Fly, Animal, We The People, even Revenge Industries. (I envision Sean McKinney unravelling stolen bulletproof vests to harvest the Kevlar for them.) The Kevlar beads alone, according to the late, great Sheldon Brown, save roughly 50 grams—two ounces—per tire. Of course he was talking about road and mountain tires, which are larger in diameter. So lets say it's more like three ounces per pair. That's not too shabby. For example, it's more than you'll save by going from a steel to ti rear axle (according to the Profile website, their solid chromoly 14mm rear axle weighs 8.1 ounces, while a ti one weighs 5.3 ounces).

But according to the ever-reliable Dan's Comp website, the weight savings are actually more substantial than that. A regular old 2.1 Animal GLH tire weighs in at 26.9 ounces, while the identical size GLH Type R is 21.2 ounces. That's 5.7 ounces per tire, almost 3/4 pound for the pair. A 20x2.15 KHE "Park" tire saves you even more weight—it's only 13.4 ounces, four ounces lighter than their "Street" tire. A pair of the big "Park" tires weighs less than a single 20x2.1 GLH. Absurd.

So there's obviously more to this than just Kevlar beads. Thinner sidewalls, lighter casing, different rubber compounds, less rubber overall, crystal meth. BMX tires went straight Star Jones. What's not to like?

Well, how about flats? I hate 'em. Used to hate 'em so much that I would run an old tire with the bead cut off inside another tire. The upside was that you could run over Kerry King and not get a flat. The downside was that my wheels weighed about as much as the ones on a Harley-Davidson. Not that anyone was overly concerned with that sort of thing. Obviously priorities have changed. And while many of the folding tires also offer sturdier lightweight casing to reduce flats, that's not going to help much if you run over an industrial staple. Or, for that matter, if you let your PSI get too low. Folding tires aren't like Primo Walls, which you could safely run down to approximately eight psi. If you're going to go the folding route, invest in a decent floor pump. You'll need to keep that pressure up.

(By the way, if you couldn't tell, I absolutely love the pillbug product shots that accompany all the folding tire announcements and advertisements. "Our tires roll up 4.6 percent tighter than the competitors!" "Our tires can be shot out of a cannon!")

Price is still a bit of a deterrent as well. Sure, folding tires are only $15 or so more per tire than their conventional brethren. But if you go through tires in a hurry, that adds up quick. The cost per ounce saved will only go up over time. It's up to you to decide whether it's really worth it. If you primarily ride smooth indoor parks, folding tires make perfect sense. If you primarily ride glass-strewn city streets, maybe they're not such a great idea.

As of now, at least you still have a choice. Folding tires haven't totally supplanted "normal" tires. If you want a $35 lightweight tire that can be sent to you in an envelope, you can get those. If you want a $17 unfoldable tire with steel beads and enough tread to endure a summer's worth of skids, you can get those, too. (And you can also get a $22 tire that falls somewhere in the middle—non-folding, but lighter than a "conventional" tire.) If you want to pick your tire by weight, you can do that (if so, I recommend you also pick up one of these). If you want to go by price, that's fine, too. Which means the tire market is healthier than the frame market—imagine if you could still choose between, say, a Tierra and an Angel of Death. Choice, in this case, appears to be a good thing.

But I can also still think that folding tires in BMX—at least in their current incarnation—are more trouble than they're worth for the average rider. Like too many things these days, folding tires are great if you're a sponsored pro who gets them by the case. Not so much if you have to dip into the rent money every time you need a new one.


Jerry From Poland said...

It's astonishing how redundant these are ... yet again the industry is fixing a non existant problem with something that's a) more expensive b) less usefull c) utterly redundant.
Btw I'm running a Holly Roller Up front and a V-monster in the back. Paid about as much as for one KHE.

Stephen said...

Maybe I am old (I am old) but I have never even considered for a moment that a folding tire was something that I wanted to purchase. Reminds me of the keyboard that you can roll up. I don't want one of those, either.

Idle hands, I guess.

Anonymous said...

getting all pc here, huh? what happened to pure, unjustified hate?

Anonymous said...

if they weren't such a skank i'd buy them

johnny rotten said...

michelin done kevlar beaded bmx race tyres in the 80's. i had a set.

Jesse Neil said...

I bought folding Ruben tires because I had some extra money, and I wanted to see what they were all about. It takes me a long time to go through a tire anyway.

After they went on the bike, I couldn't tell the difference between them and normal Rubens. At all. Lesson learned. Next time I'll just get the wire bead. No problems with them, I just don't think they are worth the extra money.

Those KHE's scare me. They have to have some pretty thin sidewalls to be that light.

Jesse Neil said...

I guess they are probably easier for a place like Empire to ship, though. Wheel sized boxes are expensive to ship. I know because I mailed you a heinous white Primo Wall to you. It's a bitch trying to cram one of those in a normalish sized box.

I kinda like the idea of being able to keep one in my travel toolbox, along with back halves of stems, dremel tool, and spare cranks. I'm a mess.

Russ said...

I actually think Kevlar beads/casings are a decent idea, I just think they're stripping off too much rubber to make them even lighter.

Anonymous said...

it would be pretty cool idea if youll post a pic of your bike, dont you think?

Anonymous said...

I bought two KHE tires cause I was flush with cash. I am old, ride one time a week if I'm lucky and do curb hops mostly..

I seem to get a flat tire EVERYTIME I ride. but since I had back surgery a year ago, I welcome the lighter bike. I just have to pump up the tires each time I have to ride. the lighter bike makes it nicer to carry my bike up the stairs..

Pjoubert (yes, the Pjoubert your thinkig of..;))

snakebite said...

My local bike shop hooked me up with a f.a.f front tire for 25$ which i was psyched on since the price was right for a foldable. I'd never pay full price for one of those things. I did notice the better grip. I went to xgames skatepark in Philly, which is notorious for being slippery, and I had very little problems.
foldable are nice..if they arent as thin as the KHE and they are sub 30 dollars. The grip is worth more to me then the weight. I couldn't notice it

Drew K said...

Ive been running a Fly 2.25 Ruben foldable in the front since November, havnt gotten one flat or puncture, ive ridden over glass, and I ride on it ALOT. Im not sure how the back will do because I like to skid into puddles and splash people, and I love to skid for no reason just because Im the only person in my whole scene with brakes(hell yess! more fun for me!). I think you should do some posts about brakeless riding, its pointless in a wrold where a good U brake weighs 7 ounces(which apparently you can just buy a KHE tire for the back to make up for that gained weight) to not take advantage of brake tricks, and possibly stopping without ruining your shoes. And the current trend in BMX shoes, it seems, is slim fitting Vans/Converse stuff that wears out quickly. And im fucking sick and tired of my friends running into me hahaha. Just my opinion. And sometimes bakeless DOSE look cool but its an ovious trend that I think id be cool if you talked about it, and prabably dissagree with me about it hahaha.-Drew K

DanJohn said...

personally im scared of folding tires. like maybe landing a little sideways on a three and BAM! no more tire on your rim.

but my friends say they work well on the front. i think they need to be thicker, but then it wouldn't be about saving those ounces.

Anonymous said...

i run a 1.95 FAF foldable on the back of my bike. It's great. my only gripe is that there is next to no tread. They need to find a happy medium. Foldable, but with regular tread depth. Do they make one?