Technical FAQ: More on wiping tires

Lennard Zinn responds to the pounds of me he received after last week’s story of tire cleaning-gone wrong

Zinn’s regular column is devoted to addressing readers’ technical questions about bikes, their care and feeding and how we as riders can use them as comfortably and efficiently as possible. Readers can send brief technical questions directly to Zinn.

Dear Readers,
I got a lot of feedback about my column on wiping tires and using Tire Savers last week. Here is a sampling.
― Lennard

Dear Lennard,
My solution is to wear full-fingered gloves year-round. That way you can use your covered fingers to quickly clean your tires. I noticed I was the only one on the ride Sunday cleaning my tires. I get very few flats.

Hey, why are you doing it at all; I thought you were Mr. Tubeless?
— Alan

Dear Alan,
That is a very good question. Other than one sidewall cut and another time when I wore the tread completely off so the casing was exposed all of the way around (the tire doesn’t hold air then!), I have not had a flat in four years of riding road tubeless tires. Two of my road bikes generally have road tubeless tires on them and one generally has standard clinchers. I have gotten more punctures than I can count on two hands the past few years on the latter bike, and none on the former two.

I imagine I would still get no flats with road tubeless if I never wiped the tires off after riding through glass. But sometimes glass shards cut some casing cords, resulting in a tire bulge even if the sealant plugs the leak. And I often replace my tires once there are lots of little cuts in the tread, especially if there are lots of them that I can look into and see the casing. And I often dig little pieces of glass or quartz out of those little cuts. I think I have fewer of these little tread cuts and embedded glass chunks by wiping my tires, but I have no proof of that.
― Lennard

Dear Lennard,
Having just read your article about cleaning your tires while riding, all I can think is Mr. Zinn is a crazy man!  Putting my hand anywhere near my quickly rotating and possibly glass or metal-laden tires is very far from my list of priorities, even if I am wearing gloves.

How about using a water bottle?  I use the bottom of my water bottle every time I ride over questionable surfaces and suspect that I may have picked up something sharp.  The bottom of the bottle is thick, so it won’t wear through (unlike your hand).  Since it’s the bottom, you won’t notice any wear or discoloring (unlike losing large pieces of skin).  And if you do mess up your bottle, they are cheap to replace (again unlike your palm or your $160 Rapha gloves). Additionally, it is unlikely that your bottle will get caught between your rim and brake arch. And though dropping it into your rear wheel may result in locking up the rear wheel, it will be far less debilitating.

Dear Reid,
Perhaps you remember Lance Armstrong’s crash in the pre-Tour stage race when a water bottle got jammed between his rear tire and his seat tube? He was going fast on a descent and crashed hard even though it was his rear wheel that locked up. And I don’t know where the bottle lodged in the bottle-caused crashes this season of Mark Cavendish, Alejandro Valverde or Fabian Cancellara, but bottles are not completely benign in a group of fast-moving cyclists.
― Lennard

Dear Lennard,
Gory article!  Sorry for your mishappenstance.  I use the top of my right shoe to wipe my tires.  It’s a very easy maneuver, and I’ve never had an injury or incident.
― Tom

Dear Lennard,
I’ve been wiping my tires since I was a knee-high to a chainwheel (ok, since I was 17 and learned it from the vets in my cycling club, lo, 33 years ago)… I always used the gloved part of my hand, and always the pocket between thumb and forefinger and always on the back wheel I touch the frame first to set my position then ease off to brush the tire.

I rode with a guy once who saw me do this, commented appreciatively at my skill and daring, then related a story about doing the same maneuver while out riding with a girl and trying to impress said girl… and got his fingers tangled up in his spokes.

He stopped trying to impress girls that way.
— Katie

Dear Lennard,
I know a guy who was wiping his rear tire in the normal place—between the seatstays and the seat tube, and he got his hand caught between the seat tube and the tire. He crashed really hard and broke his clavicle and some ribs.

Dear Lennard,
I remember well using tire savers in the late seventies. One of the reasons their use diminished is [that] frames started using recessed brake bolts. That pretty much ended my use of them. There was a time when Campagnolo produced long and short brake bolt versions of their calipers, to accommodate the evolution.

Dear Lennard,
I use a piece of leather (1x2x.25-inch) that I keep tucked under my short leg cuff. It’s not as fast as using your glove but I can access it quick enough to wipe off my tire. I use it to scrape off any debris without cutting my gloves.

Dear Lennard,
I always wipe my tires after riding through debris, and I do it with palm and the “V” between the thumb and fingers.  I wouldn’t dream of using my fingers, for reasons which your article makes clear.  Using the palm means the glove wears out fast, so I routinely put patches on the worn spots. It’s actually easier if you wait until there is some wear, so the patch goes on exactly the right spot.  I use contact cement and Sunbrella, a canvas intended for awnings and boat covers, and it lasts forever.  I have yet to wear through it, even on my oldest gloves, and laundering doesn’t affect the contact cement.  The real downside to all this, which you don’t mention, is that I end every ride with a smudge of black under my nose from snot-wiping.  One could wipe the tires with one hand and the nose with the other, in the manner of the Arabs, but I don’t work that hard.

Dear Lennard,
I had a similar experience when reaching to turn on a blinky LED light at dusk. I had mounted it down near the dropout for a rainy century ride, and thought it looked swell.  I was also confident that I could reach way down there to turn it on while riding — not a good idea.  I hit a bump and my hand got sucked in between the chainstay, and the spokes shredded things pretty well. Thankfully those spokes were not bladed or it would have been much worse.

You might consider using that third image as a decal on the stays!