One of the best things about Saturday’s Three Speed Ride was it was the first time I had ridden my Raleigh Wayfarer in weeks. Yes! I know! The Presidente not riding a three speed for so long. And astute readers of this blog (all three of you) may be feeling a sense of deja vu, as I just posted a month ago about my lack of Raleigh riding and promises to ride it more.
Well, shortly after that last post, I got a flat again, this time on the front wheel. I knew that the Schwalbe Delta Cruisers were getting long in the tooth and I had plans of getting new tires. But I was hoping to wait until the secret “Wayfarer 2.0” project was to begin. It now became clear that the Delta Cruisers were past the point of no return, and if I was going to ride this bike, I needed the tires now, or I’d be fixing flats continually.
But what tires to get? The Delta Cruisers looked nice (especially in creme) and served me well for three years.* But they are heavy. While lending itself to good puncture protection, the ride quality suffered a bit. So now was a good chance to try something different.
The one big issue with the Wayfarer’s 26″ x 1 3/8″/650A/ISO 590 size is its relative obscurity. There are tires readily available, but they tend to be cheap Kendas. There’s only a handful of better options. I could try the Schwalbe Marathon, or the Continental City Ride, or even the Michelin World Tour. But the Panaracer Col De La Vie tire has intrigued me. Saint Sheldon himself said it’s “arguably the finest tire ever made to fit this rim size.”
However, the next big issue was availability. While its sister Col De La Vie in 650B was widely available and I could get through my local sources, the 650A version was tricky to track down. I finally found an online source for a reasonable price, ordered, and waited about two weeks to receive it.
Now the hard part: installation. The front fork of a Raleigh three speed has 90 mm spacing, but modern hubs and forks use 100 mm spacing. In order to get the Novatech dynamo hub into the fork when I had the bike built up in 2011 required some jury rigging and brute force. And thankfully in the three years since I never had to remove the front wheel, until now. I enlisted the help of my room mate, and we managed to get the wheel out and then back in after the new tire had been mounted. (He also filed out the dropouts a bit, too.)
So now that they are mounted, how are they? So far, so good. The Col De La Vies definitely feel more responsive and cushiony than the Delta Cruisers. That’s because they are more “supple” than the Schwalbes.** And they’re a bit wider, too: while most 26″ x 1 3/8″ tires are about 35 mm wide (1 3/8″ = 35 mm)*** the Col De La Vies come out to be about 38.5 mm, the widest tire available for this rim size. (Unlike 700C and 26″/ISO 559, most of these other tire sizes came in only one width when they were originally made, hence the lack of width options.) The one drawback, if you want to call it that, is these tires are pretty low pressure. The maximum rating is just 45 psi. Hopefully that won’t cause too many issues.
And how about aesthetics? While I dug the creme color of the Delta Cruisers (well, except until they got dirty from brake dust), I like gumwall tires too. And these tires are lookers, especially the blocky tread. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to the traditional tread on old three speeds. I don’t know why they don’t make more tires with that tread pattern again. The only drawback is the lack of reflective sidewall stripe, as I like ’em.
So far, so good. We’ll see how the Panaracer Col De La Vies hold up after a few months of riding. And man, it’s nice being on the three speed again. I forget how fun it is to ride it, until I ride it again. And hopefully nothing silly happens to it anytime soon.
*I’ve had the same front tire in that three years, but replaced the rear once.
**Every time you hear supple in reference to bicycle tires, it’s law that you have to imagine Jan Heine saying it.
***Or more accurately 34.925 mm.