There are few things that suck on a bike tour more than having a flat tire on a highway in a cold rain. Okay, having a flat tire on a muddy trail when it’s sleeting is one, but you get the point.
My first truly long distance bike tour was from Indiana to DC. Prior to the trip, I realized that the back tire on my Tour Easy, the tire that would carry 75 percent of the weight, was old. So I bought a new tire. It fit my wheel and was inexpensive. Great.
I never made it to DC. In the middle of nowhere my new tire had not just a flat but a sidewall blowout. No bueno.
I was on the unpaved GAP Trail between nowhere and no place. It was after 5 on a Sunday. I had no cell signal. It was raining. I was stuck. Oh, and I was sick.
Not having brought a spare tire, I used duct tape and all my spare tubes to limp into Rockwood, PA where some kindly B&B operators took pity on me. I quit the tour the next day.
I decided from then on to get some serious rubber for my wheels. I put Schwalbe Marathon tires on my Tour Easy recumbent. They worked great. Despite the fact that they had a special belt under the tread to prevent punctures, I did get the occasional flat. Then I discovered something better: Schwable Marathon Plus tires.
These bad boys weight about 50 percent more than regular Marathons because, in addition to a belt under the tread, they have an extra hunk of rubber on top of that. The extra weight means you experience more rolling resistance. When touring this is pretty much no big deal because your plodding along at a slow speed anyway. (For non-touring purposes I use lighter Schwalbe Mondials. Not as puncture proof but they roll a lot easier.)
I have used Marathon Pluses on five tours. On road and off. For a total of about 9,500 miles. Not one flat. I still can’t believe it. They also last forever. I have put over 6,000 miles on one pair and they still have plenty of tread on them. I buy a new pair for each tour; the old ones go on my Cross Check and my Tour Easy. As it is, I have four or five old ones, lying around the house. They have plenty of life left in them.
Last year while riding around town I managed to get a few flats on old Marathon Pluses. One occurred when I rolled over a strangely shaped chunk of metal. Another happened when I ran over a long, exceptionally sharp screw. The tire went into the trash bin after that.
If you read touring journals, you’ll find that Marathon Pluses, despite being somewhat pricey, are very popular with the bike touring crowd. This year I bought Marathon Plus Tours, because the regular Pluses were sold out. Plus Tours have a slightly different tread for unpaved trails. What a coincidence. The first 300 miles of my tour will be on the unpaved Katy Trail in Missouri.
If you are going on a long tour, don’t screw around with inexpensive or old tires. You won’t regret spending the money on Marathon Pluses.