“Hell, fifty’s dangerous, but seventy-five is crazy. They’ll explode!”
My favourite writer by some distance is the American outlaw journalist Hunter S Thompson. Eagle-eyed readers who know Thompson’s work will have seen one or two phrases originating from him in some of my earlier posts, but now I have a chance to properly pay homage.
Though not my personal favourite of his books (that honour belongs to Fear and Loathing: on the Campaign Trail ’72) Thompson’s most celebrated work is of course Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. A neatly-packaged catalogue of drug-fuelled bad behaviour that also manages to provide biting socio-political commentary on the state of the USA after the Flower Power tide turned back towards the forces of conservatism, Vegas is a must-read for anyone intrigued by that extraordinary nation just across the pond. Or who just wants to have a good laugh.
But what has all this got to do with cycling in Sussex, you ask? Good question. The answer is tyre pressures.
One of the many amusing interludes in Vegas sees Thompson and his attorney Dr Gonzo (in real life Mexican-American lawyer and ‘Brown Power’ activist Oscar Acosta) forced to swap their racy red Chevy for a whale-like Cadillac convertible. Anyone who has driven an older-generation American car will tell you that even the sportier models are so softly-sprung that they pitch and yaw as if they’re on the Ocean Wave. Thompson finds this ‘here we go’ sensation every time he takes a corner in the Cadillac rather unsettling, so decides to inflate the tyres to ludicrously high pressures in order to counteract the suspension’s softness.
The quote at the top comes from a nervous petrol station attendant after Thompson tells him he intends to fill the Caddy’s tyres to 75 psi, almost triple the pressure they’re designed for. Thompson counters:
“I told you, Sandoz Laboratories designed these tires (sic). They’re special. I could load them up to a hundred.”
“God Almighty,” groans the attendant. “Don’t do that here.”
However, the ‘experiment’ has the desired effect:
The Whale behaved very nicely with the altered tire pressures. The ride was a trifle rough; I could feel every pebble on the highway, like being on roller skates in a gravel pit… but the thing began cornering in a very stylish manner, very much like driving a motorcycle at top speed in a hard rain: one slip and ZANG, over the high side, cartwheeling across the landscape with your head in your hands.
For a different reason, pressure has become the name of the game for me since fitting my new Conti Gatorskins and suffering the indignity of multiple pinch punctures. This catalogue of embarrassment culminated in a farcical simultaneous front/rear explosion that saw me stranded in the middle of the road and having to take the ensuing right turn on foot while pushing the stricken bike.
Given that the tyres and tubes had been fitted correctly the sagely advice from all concerned was that I simply hadn’t pumped the buggers hard enough to counter 85 kilos of rider plus 8 kilos of bike tumbling into one of the many potholes that have turned the Sussex lanes into cycling minefields.
I was working on the advice I’d been given after my old tyres suffered several punctures due to nicks and cuts. This dictated that for Sussex riding it was best not to over-inflate the tyres, so they have a bit of give when running over a sharp object. But the Gators don’t have to worry about nicks and cuts. Their problem is the wired sidewall locking the inner tube with a Vulcan death-grip if subjected to a hard vertical impact; a problem that can only be countered by giving the tube the necessary pressure to resist the tyre’s assault…
So, hooray and up she rises I thought as I gave the track pump full power and squashed 120psi into the back, with just a tad less in the front. Like Thompson I gave the tyres a tap and found they had the consistency of teak wood. Promising, if a little unnerving. And so, off I set.
As with Thompson’s Caddy, it certainly changed the ride quality. For the first few miles I had to keep looking down to make sure I hadn’t flatted yet again, so bone-jarring was the feedback from the road to my hands and backside. My Colnago CLX is renowned for its supple, sportive-friendly ride but today it felt more like a 19th Century ‘bone-shaker’.
However, I soon got used to it and one thing that super-inflated Gators can boast of is a pretty rapid rolling speed – possibly due to there being little more than the excess burr of rubber from the moulding actually in contact with the road…
This extra performance boost was handy, since the swirling wind made my final solo training ride before Goodwood a real test of strength and stamina.
The 40 mile loop featured a variety of the usual Sussex lanes perils, such as potholes, fallen tree debris and many, many small sharp stones, but the good news is that this time the tyres came through unscathed. I didn’t deliberately ride into a pothole to give them a final test – even I am not that stupid – but fingers crossed I might have solved the problem.
However, all this is completely academic with regard to the upcoming 4th Cat race at Goodwood, as I’ll be back on my Ribble after managing to sort the busted STI lever just in time.
This means my next blog entry – thank heaven, I hear you say – will be about racing and racing only. Wish me luck!