Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Equipment - Rolling Tubulars

A couple Sundays ago, watching the Cat 4 race at New Britain, I offered a friend's wife to take their camera and capture some of the racing. With a bike (to get around on) and some basic knowledge of what makes a cool looking picture cool, I set out to try and get some decent shots of the race.

Ends up that I took about 40 or 50 before I headed back to the start/finish line for the final sprint. I use two criteria when selecting a spot for me to watch or take pictures:
1. Crashes
2. Cool shots/visuals/sensations

I'll explain the first criteria second which means I'm explaining the second criteria first. Got that?

Cool shots, cool visuals, and cool sensations - these are the good parts of the sport. It's watching a field of racers fly down a straight, then, as if there was a guide floating above their head, dive into the turn, one by one, leaning impossible angles, too close to tell one rider from another.

The visuals can be anything. A quick left-right can't lose, with riders leaning both ways within about 50 or 100 meters of road. Hairpin turns work too, with some guys leaned way over while others are still upright and braking, and the leaders are sprinting out of the turn.

The sensations - the wind after the field passes, the sound of the bikes, those are sensations that only a bike race can create.

Good reasons, all, to sit at particular spots.

Sometimes I'll pick out the crash spots. Those are the spots that I think, based on the course, the tactics, and the conditions, that someone will fall. In Vegas, at the USA Crit series, I couldn't get near the finish line so I chose a spot where I figured there'd be a crash.

Yeppers. I told my (also a racer) friend that if anyone crashed they'd slide to my feet.
I even shuffled back and forth a bit to fine tune my aim.

Because we weren't in Vegas where the last 200 meters are all VIP tents (so we didn't have access to the finish), and because my friend's wife really doesn't want pictures of him (or those near him) crashing, I decided to skip the crash sites and focus on the good part of the sport, the finish line.

Of course, before the field got to the line, we could all hear the huge pile up a couple hundred meters down the road.

Massive pile up.

And by the looks of the field trickling over the line, it was a doozy of a crash.

My friend was AWOL so I jumped on my bike and headed over.

At some point I heard someone say, "Oh, they're just Cat 4s."

Yeah, well, they may be "just" Cat 4s, but that doesn't mean they just tumble onto the pavement arbitrarily.

I headed over there, with camera, to see what happened. I'm not medically trained so I kept back from the medical folks, but I couldn't resist when the first guy to hit the deck asked for water. I had a bottle of ice and water and gave it to him. He thanked me, sprayed everything on his various wounds, and gave me the bottle back.

With nothing else to offer I stepped back. And took some pictures.

I saw a lot of skid marks on the pavement, both the tire kind and the white marks that come from scratching metal on pavement. There were some other stuff, including an orange stripe (I looked for a burnt orange saddle, kit, or frame, but still don't know where that bright orange came from).

Look carefully - lots of skid marks.
The race comes from the top right, going through what would be a left turn.
The crashers were to the left, to the outside of the turn.

The picture didn't come out well but I'll let you check it out, just in case you can spot stuff I can't see (tip: click on any picture in the blog to get a larger version of it).

I looked around for the bike. When I spotted it, leaning against the EMT cart, I could tell what happened immediately.

Rolled tire.

The symptoms of a rolled tire:
1. Tire is not on the rim completely (duh).
2. Base tape of tire, i.e. the bit that sits on the rim, is pretty clean compared to rest of tire.
3. Tire looks like it has air in it, usually not full, but a little.

We have a flopper.

The first symptom is the key. A tubular tire should never come off of a rim, never, except when someone removes it on purpose.

Therefore if you see a tire flopping on or next to a rim, it's a bad, bad sign.

(Note: You're excused if you do something like win Nationals while on a rolled tire. Roy Knickman, in the 1983 National Crit Championships, got in a 2 man break on a course with a 50 mph downhill going into a hard left turn. In the sprint, at the end of the race, he rolled his rear tire. He just lost to the guy that won, but the "winner" had used illegal-for-Junior gearing, so Knickman won. The fact that he could blast through that 50 mph downhill turn lap after lap meant that the tire was glued pretty well, but the fact that he rolled it in the sprint... well, I'm not going to say that he has Godzilla like quads but I've never heard of anyone else who got to the end of a hard technical crit only to roll the tire in the sprint. What's amazing is that the tire flopped around next to the rim all the way to the finish and Knickman still got second, sprinting on a bare rim with a tire flopping around next to it.)
Last year I was lucky enough to be in a place where I could watch parts of the 2010 Tour on TV. Lance Armstrong was one of the favorites, but he ended up finishing a bit back. One setback was when he had a massive crash at high speed. He went down just before a big climb, and although he caught back on with the help of his teammates, he lost time that day.

(Edit: I wrote this on the night of July 31... coincidentally Velonews ran an article Aug 1 stating the tire rolled because of the crash. Without more conclusive evidence, i.e. better video, it's impossible to verify if the tire rolled due to the crash or if the tire rolling caused the crash. The last rolled tubular I saw, from a few feet away, seemed like a pedal strike. On closer inspection the rolled tire caused the pedal strike, not the other way around.)

Although it's impossible for us laymen to know if he'd have been better without the crash (he went on to lose more time in other stages), it's certainly not an advantageous thing to hit the deck at 40-odd mph in the middle of the race.

For me the most electrifying part of that bit of coverage was after the actual crash. Lance was on a new bike, his team dragging him back to the field, and the camera moto behind the team car. They specifically shot some footage of Lance's crashed bike, and there it was:

Flopping tire.

Lance had rolled a tire.

Later, in a Velonews article, the mechanic (Nick) verifies that this was the case, although it was more a case of the tire delaminating rather than a glue job failing:

"We at the hotel in St. Moritz heard that Armstrong had rolled a tire and went down. We collectively started to sweat. When we saw the wheel in person, we realized that our glue job was better than Hutchinson’s. The base tape was still attached to the rim bed. The tire casing had delaminated from its own base tape. It’s important to point out that this was NOT a failure on the part of Hutchinson or the mechanics that glued it on." (quoted from here)

Curiously enough the only tire I've ever seen delaminated like that (by my friend Mike K) was also a Hutchinson. Regardless of who races what brands, I'll stick with my Vittoria (Evo CX), Bontrager (the two handmade ones), and sometimes Conti (generally don't like them but I bought a few to support a local shop) tires, thank you.

Anyway, back to the Cat 4 race. Since the owner of the bike was a bit distracted by all his injuries, I took the liberty of checking out his rear wheel.

Closer look

Note that there's some clear tape coming off the rim. I suspect this is tubular tire mounting tape (I hope it's not normal double sided tape). Whatever it is, it didn't work properly, whether due to poor installation or what I don't know.

I ran my finger along the rim. It was as smooth as a freshly-clayed-and-waxed car, so slick that it felt slicker than a bare carbon rim. I have no idea what happened there but it wasn't good. I suspect that a standard glue job, although potentially a bit messier, would have worked fine. The tape thing failed.

Whatever the outcome of that particular corner, I suspect the tire mounting job would have failed the "try and roll the tire with your hands" test.

What is that?

Let me explain.

It used to be that you'd line up at a crit and some gorilla pretending to be an official would walk up and down the row of racers, viciously pushing tires off of rims. If you had even a 95% glue job, your tire would pop off under this guy's horrifically strong thumbs.

Heck, I remember him rolling clinchers right off the rim at the start line of Harlem. The hapless racer would protest that he had clinchers and the official (rightfully) pointed out that he'd probably have rolled it anyway.

After that guy checked your wheels (and your tire didn't look like it suddenly had a spinal defect), you knew you could dive into whatever turn just as hard as you want, and the tire just would not let go.

The fact that you'd see ten or so guys get pulled out of every, and I mean every race at the start line because of poorly glued tires, well, that's pretty bad. We all knew that they'd be checking, yet guys would show up with tires so freshly glued that there'd be stringy glue stuff all over the gorilla's hands.

(This all stopped when someone pointed out that by inspecting equipment the Federation was taking responsibility for saying the equipment was safe. This meant that if you had an equipment failure you could theoretically sue the Federation. Now the racers roll tires in races, crash themselves and others, hurt themselves and others, but no one can sue the Federation.)

Remember, if you race tubulars you need to take responsibility for racing tubulars. This is a case where you're not the only one affected. If you roll a tire and you crash, so be it, that's the way it's supposed to work. But if you roll a tire and someone else crashes, that's not so good.

Therefore, if you use tubulars, you should check your tires inflated and not, trying to remove them with just your fingers and hands. If you cannot remove any part of the tire you're good, because, frankly, you need a screwdriver or knife or something to dismount a well glued tubular.

In case you don't know, here are two primers.

How to glue a tubular.

How to remove a properly glued tubular.

Here's to some good, fast, and safe racing.


Il Bruce said...

That looks like a Schwalbe rim strip.

In the old days Charlie Smith used to go around yanking on our wheels. I don't remember any coming off on the start line but I do remember my teammate rolling tires repeatedly around 1984. I think he was suspended a few times for it.

Il Bruce said...

Scratch the Schwalbe comment. Look at this stuff: