Tires from the Tour Divide

Posted by: Jan Heine Category: Uncategorized

Tires from the Tour Divide

Last year’s Tour Divide was a true challenge, with snow, wind, rain and fires adding to the difficulties presented by the 2,666-mile trek along the spine of the Rocky Mountains—from Canada to the Mexican border. At a time when most sports are reduced to short made-for-TV formats, long bikepacking races are perhaps the ultimate adventures, where riders face terrain, elements and their own strengths and weaknesses—alone, without support, for weeks on end. (The current record for the Tour Divide stands at 13 days, 22 hours, 51 minutes.)

When surveyed the more than 120 riders who embarked on this challenging ride/race, 19.6% rode on Rene Herse tires. Considering how many brands of gravel and adventure tires there are, that’s a huge vote of confidence. But it makes sense—riding the Tour Divide is a huge commitment, and it doesn’t make sense to cut corners by riding on OEM tires that lack both speed and durability for this endeavor.

At the finish in Antelope Wells, Arizona, that ratio was even greater: Of the top-10 finishers, no fewer than 40% were on Rene Herse tires.

The winner, Sofiane Sehili, completed the course just hours off the record pace (albeit on a course that was re-routed due to the fires). That translates to more than 175 miles (280 km) every day for almost two weeks—most of it on gravel roads high in the mountains. (There’s also some pavement, where the New York Times reporter captured the photo above.)

We were able to get the tires of Sofiane and Abe Kaufman (4th place) to examine them after this arduous trek. (We offered them brand-new tires in exchange.) Seeing how our tires fare in this most difficult race is useful for our product development. What did we find?

The first thing that struck us was the good condition of these tires. They’ve been ridden 2,666 miles on some of the roughest roads in North America, yet they remain in great shape.

Let’s look at Sofiane’s tires first. There’s obviously some wear, especially on the rear (above), where the center knobs have worn considerably. Because of the rocky terrain, Sofiane ran a higher tire pressure than you would in a pure gravel race. That concentrated the wear in the center of the tread. Even so, about half the knob height remains. The front tire has less wear, obviously.

Even more impressive is the inside of Sofiane’s tires. Apart from some traces of tubeless sealant, they look as good as new. In fact, Sofiane reports that he had no punctures during the two-week race, and he didn’t need to inflate his tires, either. They held their pressure from start to finish. Not having to think about his tires meant Sofiane could focus on the race, and even enjoy the scenery.

Abe Kaufmann finished 4th, less than a day behind Sofiane. Both he and Sofiane rode 29″ x 2.2″ Fleecer Ridge Endurance tires.

Abe’s tires are more scuffed on the sidewalls than Sofiane’s—the logos have been abraded quite a bit. Why do Sofiane’s sidewalls look pristine by comparison? Individual riding styles vary, with some riders going faster in rough sections, while others make speed during the smoother portions of the route. And much of the abuse the tires endure depends on whether riders encounter the rocky parts of the trail in daytime or at night.

It’s nice to see that the Endurance sidewalls have survived those challenges unharmed. The tread wear on Abe’s tires is similar to Sofiane’s. (Above is Abe’s rear tire.)

On the inside, Abe’s tires look as good as Sofiane’s. There are no cuts, no fraying, no delamination of the casing. In fact, all four top-10 riders on Rene Herse tires reported no punctures at all. Combined, they rode more than 10,000 miles across the Rocky Mountains without a single puncture.

It’s interesting to compare the tires from the Tour Divide with those ridden in Unbound, the 200- and 350-mile gravel races across the Flint Hills of Kansas (above). With the shorter distance of Unbound, there is less wear on the tires, but the higher speeds—thus higher power outputs—and extremely sharp rocks put a few more nicks into the tire tread. On the inside, the Unbound tires look as good as those that have completed the Tour Divide. It’s good to know that Rene Herse tires can handle all conditions, whether a super-fast gravel race or a continent-spanning bikepacking event.

All these tires aren’t worn out yet. You could ride them for thousands more miles.

In fact, that’s what Sophie Potter did after coming 2nd in the Rhino Run in South Africa and Namibia on a set of our tires. She continued to ride north to the equator in Kenya (above). After returning home, she used the same set of tires to race the Bootleggers UltraCX across the cobbles and mud of northern France, finishing 2nd (again). We finally sent her some new tires, so she can retire the ones she’s ridden half-way around the world.

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