Thursday, August 22, 2013

Reviewed: Rivendell Roll-y Poly 28 mm Tire

I wanted fatter tires on my road bike.

Not fat -- just fatter. Something that might provide a little cush over the nasty New England pavement. Something that wouldn't blush and giggle every time I pointed them on to gravel side roads for a little exploratory jaunt.

On my Salsa Vaya, I'm running the 40 millimeter Clement X'plor MSO, so I'm well-covered for those long unpaved rides that require some paved connections. Now, I wanted my Jamis Quest to be just as flexible, but in reverse: perfect for long, comfortable road rides, yet more than ready when a dusty byway catches my peripheral vision.

After more research than I needed (mes oui!) I decided to sample tires from the company that has long been championing puffier tires for all. The 700 x 28 mm Roll-y Pol-y is made by the venerable Panaracer (the last bike tire company actually manufacturing in Japan) but conceived and marketed by Grant Petersen and his merry band of geeky bike elves over at Rivendell Bicycle Works.

After a couple hundred miles, I have some reliable first impressions. (I'll update this review in a few months with a more in-depth perspective.)

These are lovely tires, in various ways. The checkerboard tread is quirky and appealing (and probably completely useless). The old school-look of the tan sidewalls is always going to win points with me, a hopeless romantic. Above all, though, the feel of these tires grabbed me within two minutes of riding. Quality tires give a response that's very hard to describe. People mention "road feel" all the time, but misunderstand its essence: It doesn't mean that you can detect every pebble on the road, because that would translate into too much chatter for comfort. It means that the rider can sense the rubber interacting with the surface of the road in a subtle, refined way. This sensation makes me ride my bike differently—or at least with more pleasure.

In addition to lower air pressure, the extra width and beautifully rounded profile add up to very confident cornering and a sense of calm when entering marbly gravel patches on an unplanned detour. I even dropped pressure way down on these and took them to a local gravel/dirt trail to test them out: They took me almost everywhere my deeper-treaded off-road 700c tires do—from nicely-packed gravel trails... chunky, soft turf (though a lot of power is needed in this stuff)...

...and even over sharp, oversized "gravel" (with some pinging and tire deflection):

So, I now have two very different bikes I can ride almost anywhere. Joy!

On the road, the Roll-ys feel much more sprightly than expected. Some reviews state that they're the lightest 28 mm tire out there, but I don't care enough to check. They spin up quick enough for this road-turtle when he feels a bit more hare-like, and they simply "feel quick." This probably has something to do with thread count or rubber compound; all I know is that I now have tires that feel better, provide more comfort, grip better—and don't hold me back. I'm pretty sure my long-term update on this review is going to be very positive.

Curse you, Petersen! You told me I wouldn't turn back once I'd tried quality wider tires—and you were right!

Hmmm... Wonder if the Rivendell Jack Browns (stated width of "33.333333 mm") will fit between the chainstays of my increasingly multipurpose "road" bike...

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