Years ago I was on the phone with someone from Continental Tires and he asked me a question. “Do you know why you get more flats in the rain?”
Was this a trick question? I started to answer. Then I thought again. No, he was asking a straight question. No trick. I probably didn’t know the answer, I decided. Nervous, I said, “No, I’m not sure I do.”
“What do you mean?” I didn’t get it.
“What we found is that water acts as a lubricant, allowing debris to pierce the tread and casing more easily.”
Oh. It seems obvious enough when you say it, but still, I didn’t formulate that. I didn’t leap to that conclusion. It’s not as obvious as it seems. But it’s this cornerstone of truth that leads the majority of tire makers to create all-condition tires that have a casing like the Berlin Wall and a tread with the suppleness of that steel belt that encircled wagon wheels. Those compounds usually have nearly as much grip as that steel band, too.
You end up with a tire that allows you to not just ride over shards of glass, but to mow down beer bottles in your way as if you were a cabby aiming at a bike messenger. I’ve always felt that the singleminded devotion to flat protection at the expense of traction was too much of a good thing. Even a great chocolate chip cookie has more than just chocolate.
On a personal note, I haven’t ridden in the rain this much since the Bay of Pigs. Okay, that was before I was born, but you get the idea. Literally, I have never ridden in the rain this much in my life. When I ran across the Ritchey WCS Tom Slick ($42.95), I was intrigued. It’s Ritchey’s go-to for gravel riding, a 27mm slick with side sipes for water clearing. It uses a 120 TPI casing with a layer of Ritchey’s Stronghold Flat Protection Belt, which extends from bead to bead. Those details are all great for riding in gravel and rain, but there’s one detail that may surprise you.
The rubber compound on the Tom Slick is sticky as a frog’s tongue. It’s a 50A durometer, softer than skateboard wheels. Practically speaking, this means that every time I stood up and pedaled away from a light during pouring rain, my rear tire never slipped. Not once. There came a point when I was surprised. The one time a tire did slip was on one of those bumpy, yellow things they put in sidewalk ramps. The front tire slipped an inch or so, then caught. I was surprised enough that I almost went back to try it again. Any other tire and I’d have been on my shoulder.
I’ve been riding this tire for weeks. I’ve done hundreds of miles in the rain. And over gravel. I didn’t deliberately try to get a flat, but I’ve done nothing to avoid what should have been inevitable. I’ve yet to have a single flat. That wouldn’t be so surprising if I was riding a 60 TPI casing tire with an 85A durometer tread. It would have the all the sensitivity and grip of a cinder block. But I’ve been riding this tire at 80 psi front and 85 rear. And honestly, with all the rain, I don’t worry if I haven’t pumped the tires up in two days. It’s not like I’m trying to win anything; a little extra rolling resistance is a fine price to pay in exchange for more grip.
That any tire should feel this good, have this much grip and resist flats this well ought to be a violation of the laws of nature. Like a dolphin that can do math, talk about it and make a good martini. I’m incredulous. I’ve got other tires to review and honestly, I want to keep rolling these for as long as the rain persists. That’s the highest praise I can deliver.
Final thought: Not many tires can make you forget it’s raining.