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As the miles pile up on the odometer some of you may be noticing a flat area about two inches across the tire. Particularly the rear tire. Since most takeoffs and stops occur upright, that's the part of the tire that gets the most use. In essence what you've done is 'squared' the tire by using most of the middle. Instead of talking about grip, contact patch and transition. I'm going to get a orange and discuss this matter. Imagine the orange in front of you on the table. That's the rear tire touching the table top. Rolling slightly in either direction, left to right, and see how the area touching the table remains pretty much the same. From left to right there is no hop, no jump, no flat to curved jump. Ok.

Now go get a paring knife and take a quarter inch slice off the orange. Putting the flat spot on the table, that is the worn part of your squared off tire. Yup, you got it. The left to right motion takes on a different feel doesn't it? As you make your normal left or right turn, the total area touching the ground has gotten smaller. The 'edge' makes for a moment of very little tire touching the road as you begin your turn. At speed, traction is something you don't want changing.

Sure, the outer threads look good yet, and the centers not worn too badly. But the risk is that the handling characteristics are changing without you being aware of it. The moment will come when you expect a certain reaction during a turn and what you actually get will not be the same.
Before buying the same tire that came with the bike, shop around or ask what else is available. For economic reasons, the manufacture wont always put the best tires on a new bike. Not always, but usually.

By better, it's not just dollars I'm referring too either. There are many choices of different tire mixtures or compounds to choose from, depending on your bike and style of riding. Everything from stickier sportys to long distance, high mileage choices, and everything in between. One of the biggest ways to improve the handling of your ride starts with a good tire choice. As your skills develop, your choice of tire is even more important. Most riders never outgrow a bikes engine capabilities, but they will outgrow the tire and suspension setups. You don't need to go 100mph on a mountain road to find out either. Its a lot more subtle than that.

What you have developed, often without realizing it, is that you can actually 'feel' the road through your handlebars. You know what your bike is doing in a turn because your fingertips are telling what's going on. While your eyes are scanning ahead for the exit, you execute your turn using your hands. Again, tire choice is where to start.

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SPEEDSLUG is a frequent contributor to the Women Riders International (WRI) Forum.

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