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RBA Q&A: Rain Tire and Base Layers

January 19, 2012
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Rainy conditions don’t mean that you don’t ride, just that you’ll need to consider your tire options. The wider, the better, and don’t forget to lower your pressure.


Dear RBA,
What’s the best tire advice for riding in the rain? Are there special rain tires?

Bryan Holwell of Maxxis tires responds:
Absolutely there are rain/wet specific road tires, although they are relatively new to the market. Models are available from Vittoria (Corsa Evo Tech), Schwalbe (Ultremo Aqua), and Maxxis (Radiale-23C). The advantage to running wet-specific tires is the increased level of grip these tires provide in wet conditions. This added traction is largely the result of a special rubber compound used in the tread. Such compounds generally have a lower hardness (durometer). The tradeoff is usually an increase in rolling resistance, and increased tread wear. The Maxxis Radiale-23C, however, utilizes three different compounds within the tread. The compounds on the shoulders are progressively softer, and the harder center retains a good wear rate and rolling resistance.
The shoulder or entire tread of a rain-specific tire is also usually textured or siped. Contrary to popular belief, this feature is not designed to channel water out from under the tire. At normal speeds, it is impossible for a bicycle to hydroplane. Rather, the siping allows the tread to flex slightly during heavy cornering. This helps to increase the amount of traction by keeping the tread element in static contact with the road surface for the brief moment the two are touching. Because the static coefficient of friction of a rubber compound is always higher than the kinetic coefficient of friction, the ultimate goal is to keep the tire from sliding. So it is desirable to have the tread move slightly to maintain contact with the ground. This feature also gives the rider some warning before the tire breaks free and loses traction completely.
And if you don’t have a wet specific tire? My advice: ?Go wide, go low.’ Lowering the pressure of your tires will increase the contact patch, and will help to provide more traction in slippery conditions. This will also increase the chance of pinch flats, so it will help to have a wider tire like a 25C. Also, make sure the tread of your tire is free from any mold release or waxes that have bloomed to the surface before your wet ride. The waxes that bloom to the surface of rubber compounds over time are designed to protect the rubber from ultraviolet light and ozone, but they will reduce the level of grip of the tire.
Dear RBA,
I have a limited amount of time to ride each week and wondered which would be better to make me stronger: Shorter rides with lots of climbing, or longer rides with little climbing?
If possible, try to incorporate one longer ride each week, as well as two shorter, higher intensity rides. Specifically, I recommend doing one ride of three-plus hours at a steady pace between 75-85% of threshold heart rate (threshold heart rate is the heart rate you can maintain for a 30-minute maximum effort). Riding at this heart rate and duration will help build your endurance, as well as utilize stored fat as a fuel source.
Also, add in intensity two days a week. These rides could be as short as an hour and can be done on the trainer if necessary. I recommend doing 5-minute intervals at 100-105% of threshold heart rate with equal recovery. Start with two or three of these intervals, and increase the number as your fitness grows and you are able to recover from each one. Be sure to get in a 20-minute warm up and a short cool down as well.

Neil’s best tip for race day: keep calm and collected, and don’t let others see you suffering.


Dear Neil,
What’s the best tactic you can share for racing or training rides?
Never look like you’re suffering! Even if you’re dying out there, fake it. You can completely psyche out the guys around you. One thing I always liked to do in racing or on group rides when the pace was hard was to keep my mouth closed for as long as possible and breathe through my nose while the other guys would have their tongues hanging out. When the guys weren’t looking, I would take some bigger breaths or breathe out the side of my mouth where they couldn’t see. A lot of the times a race can come down to who is mentally strongest, so if you can deal your competition a psychological blow, you’ve given yourself a good chance to finish them off.
Neil, what was the average number of hours you spent on the bike each week through your professional season?
From November to January, I would train 25-32 hours a week. The winter months had a higher overall training volume than the rest of the season to build a solid base of aerobic fitness. February and March would be 22-26 hours a week with increased high intensity workouts to prepare for the upcoming races. April to September were between 17-22 hour depending on how much racing I was doing. I raced close to 70 days between March and September last year. With that many race days, training takes a backseat to the most important part of the program: recovery.

Base layers, like the Craft Superlight, is an ideal garment for hot weather.

I can see why cyclocross riders would wear undershirts in the winter, but why do so many pro riders use undershirts in the summer? Wouldn’t the extra layer just make you hotter?
Eric Schenker, general manager of Craft Sportswear of Sweden responds:
Wearing a base layer/undershirt in hot conditions actually can help keep you cooler. The technical fabrics in these functional base layers often provide more efficient moisture transportation and increased airflow than most jerseys. Ultimately, a good base layer in the hot summer days helps in speeding up evaporation and cooling you down. Specifically, the polyester fibers expel heat, move moisture and help create a better microclimate. The structure of the fabrics and stitching techniques interact to efficiently transport moisture away from the skin and distribute it on the outside, where it evaporates.’
Take for instance Craft’s Superlight, the top summer base layer on the ProTour. This lightweight mesh base layer uses a proprietary 6-channel fiber to exponentially increase airflow, keeping you cooler and drier than wearing just a normal cycling jersey or nothing at all, even on the hottest summer days and longest climbs.
For best results, when looking for a summer base layer, choose one that is soft, low in Lycra and with mediumsized holes. Although it sounds counterintuitive, the larger the hole, the more water it can collect. Also, look for ergonomic construction that will provide a chafe-free ride. Finally, do your friends a favor and get one that is antimicrobial as well. With 17 base layers available in the Craft line (in seven different models), it should be easy to find one you like.

Neil Shirley is a former professional cyclist, current Road Bike Action assistant editor, and a coach of both amateur and elite-level cyclists. Got a question for Neil? Send it to RBA Q&A.


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