Hutchinson Pro Tour tubular and the benefits of aging

Caley Fretz takes a look at Hutchinson's Pro Tour tires — just like Lance used —  and examines the benefits of aging tires.

Hutchinson Pro Tour tires
Only 50 Hutchinson ProTour tires will be available in the U.S. to consumers, with about 500 available world wide and another 2,000-3,000 for Hutchinson-sponsored pro teams.

Even with the revolution in consumer-available pro team gear that has occurred over the past decade, there are still some things Joe Racer just can’t get his hands on. Until now, the tubulars Hutchinson makes specifically for its pro teams have been one of those sought after items. The tires, which are only referred to as the Pro Tour, are exactly the same as those ridden by Lance and Co. to his Tour victories. For the first time this year they’ll be available to consumers everywhere.

How much would you expect such a marvelous product to go for? $1,000? Nope, guess again. $750? Even lower!

For a limited time, a pair these Hutchinson Pro Tour tires can be yours for one ultra-low payment of $500! But wait — that’s not all. Hutchinson will also throw in two tubes of tubular glue, free of charge! That’s a $10 value! Financing options not available.

Alright, enough kidding around. There is plenty of justification for charging $250 for a single tire when it has this sort of heritage, and will be this rare. Mostly, people will still buy them. Only 50 tires will be available to consumers in the U.S., with about 500 worldwide. Another 2,000-3,000 Pro Tour tires will be going to Hutchinson-sponsored pro teams, including Europcar, Français de Jeux, and Spidertech. Hutchinson’s U.S. marketing manager Levi Olsen is pretty sure that the sample he had at Frostbike is the only un-glued tire in the States; there are likely some left on Lance or Levi’s bikes from last year (this year RadioShack is riding Challenge tires). If VeloNews paid writers in more than bananas and protein powder, I’d pick up a set.

Also unique is that Hutchinson recommends aging the Pro Tour tire for six months, if possible. Olsen says they’ll be perfectly fine even if you don’t, but to get that real pro ride, stick them in a cellar for six months or more.

Better with age

As Nick has written about a few times recently, Armstrong’s mechanic Julien Devriese aged these very Hutchinson Pro Tours for at least five years before they ever graced the Boss’s race bike. So, I’ll use this opportunity to talk a little bit about aging tubulars.

Hutchinson Pro Tour tubular

MSRP: $500/pair, glue included
Pros: ridden by lots of them
Cons: costly
The Scoop: ride the exact same tires on which Lance won seven Tours
Hutchinson Pro Tour tires
Hutchinson's Pro Tour tubular will be available in very limited quantities. This is the only un-glued one in the U.S. at the moment.

Tubulars have a romantic element to them, as much art as science. Aging them is like shaving legs, a tradition of questionable value that won’t be disappearing any time soon. And like leg shaving, aging’s viability and effectiveness vary greatly on the object at hand. Shaving isn’t going to turn your blindingly white cankles into visual replicas of Fabian’s Twin Pistons of Thunder. Likewise, aging a low-cost vulcanized tubular will not only be bereft of benefit, it may actually harm the tire. In fact, the merits of aging ANY tire are debatable.

Aging works, in theory, by hardening (but not over hardening) the glues, casing and rubber in high-quality, non-vulcanized tubulars. These tires are more likely to use a high-grade natural rubber tread, which hardens as it dries out. This hardening increases cut and puncture resistance and durability without harming rolling resistance or feel in any significant way.

Further, since non-vulcanized tires have tread physically glued onto a (usually cotton/poly) casing, the glue attaching the tread itself and the latex in the casing dries out a bit as well. The Hutchinson Pro Tours use such a cotton/poly casing, with a cotton breaker under the tread. As this breaker dries out, cut resistance goes up dramatically while sidewalls actually become more supple. With the Pro Tour tires in particular, since they use a cotton breaker under the tread, this hardening is supposed to really help puncture resistance. This latter process takes less time than aging the rubber — only a few months.

That’s the theory anyway.

Vulcanized tires use heat to essentially melt tire tread into the casing. That means the rubber used must be able to handle high temperatures — it can’t cure, or gas off. This type of rubber doesn’t benefit in the slightest from aging, and since there is no glue holding the tread, on that isn’t helped either. The only result of aging vulcanized rubber is degradation — lower puncture resistance, quicker wear, and less overall durability.

Again, this is an amalgamation of art, science, a bit of romanticism, and a lot of tradition. And I’m no scientist, so it’s mostly the other three.

Long story short: if you have expensive, classically-built tubulars with a cotton, silk, or poly combination casing, glued treads, and natural rubber, aging them for even a few months might make them more supple as well as more puncture and cut resistant. If your tubulars are vulcanized and/or use crappy rubber, don’t bother. And go buy some better tubbies.

How to age a tubular? Simple, find a climate akin to a wine cellar — dark and temperature controlled. Inflate them regularly to 40-60psi, and don’t fold them up. Sprinkle regularly with the dirt of an old-world cycling nation (France works best), and for ‘cross tubulars spritz regularly with a good Lambic. You don’t want them getting homesick.