Monday, February 9, 2009

Tire Lever Comparo

Tire levers are among those products that people might question the sanity of comparing. I mean, who cares, right? They all change tires. I stopped saying that once I found myself stranded after breaking two generic tire levers.

And mister "I don't need no stinking tire levers" ironthumbs, don't even start.

If you are a roadie, you've probably heard of the "2007 Campy Eurus plus Michelin Tire" issue that got me stuck. I can't even imagine the hand wringing horror of flatting a heavy-duty mountain bike tire and having to get the thing off with my fingers.

So, what've we got here? A whole selection of tire levers. 

AVENIR STANDARD TIRE LEVERS -- these are basic, plastic tire levers. They do what you'd expect, they're affordable.
AVENIR HEAVY DUTY TIRE LEVERS -- the same, only thicker and tougher stuff.
AVENIR STEEL CORE TIRE LEVERS -- Ever since alloy rims became the standard, steel tire levers went out. You don't want to nick or ding an alloy rim with harder steel. The steel core tire lever has, like its name implies, a metal bar contained within a sheath of plastic. It's heavier, but essentially unbreakable.

PEDRO'S TIRE LEVERS -- these have become something of my gold standard tire lever. They're thinner and wider than the standard box-section lever. I think it makes them slide under the bead easier, and I haven't broken one yet.
SKS TIRE LEVERS -- These are weird, and I can't figure out if they have a model name. They clip together in a pair. They're really thin. They're orange. Will they break?
Park TL-1 TIRE LEVERS -- Because park feels the need to give everything an alphanumeric description, and make everything blue, we have these. Other than that, since Park is pretty much the Snap-On of the bike tools industry, I'm going to declare these the "archetypical tire lever" and go from there.

So, let's get it done.

The Avenir Standard Tire levers should fill many seat bags around the world. They're nylon, and you won't have them forever, but for the average comfort rider, it's the right choice. I did manage to break one, though I had to try a little bit, on a 700x25 Vittoria Zaffiro road tire on the stock wheel on a Raleigh Clubman. They come in a card of three, and in all the tires I've changed, I've never managed to figure out what one's meant to do with the third lever, so I figure it's a spare anyhow.

The Heavy Duty levers are much the same, but tougher. If you're taking a bike out on a trek a little farther from a potential rescue, I'd take these. I didn't sit there hammering on them, but I didn't break them, either.

With the SKS orange tire levers, as soon as I detached them, I thought, "are these really going to work?" With my Vittoria Open Course on a road tire, they did, as their thin size allows them to slide fairly easily under the bead of the tire. Then again, I can change Open Courses with just my thumbs if I need to, so that's not much of an endorsement.

Next, I tried the SKS levers on a 700x38, steel-beaded Vittoria Randonneur tire. I didn't actually SNAP the lever, but the lever bent, rather than the bead of the tire! That doesn't help. I think that these might be a good thing for the super-minimalist flat repair kit that roadies carry on their group rides. You know, the one in the jersey pocket consisting of an ultralight tube, an Innovations Air Chuck, and a microtool? This goes right along. After all, someone in the group will have real repair stuff if you break these, right?

I don't think I could describe the difference between the basic Park TL-1 tire levers and the Avenir ones, though I think their thickness falls somewhere between the standard and the heavy duty. If you break one, you have broken blue plastic instead of broken black plastic. How about that?

Avenir's Steel Core levers are a new product, similar to another major manufacturer's, and a great deal. The idea is to mix the toughness of a steel tire lever with a plastic sheath as mentioned above. It took me a moment to make good use of these on road tires, as they are a little thicker than a standard lever. The hardest part is working the thin chamfered edge under the tire's bead and feeding the main body through.

At first, I tried to just slide the tip of the lever underneath the bead and pull, but the bead just snapped back over the lever. I realized that I was automatically resisting levering from the center portion of the tire lever, since this is where you're likely to break an all-nylon piece. Once upon a time, I snapped a basic plastic tire lever doing an operation like this, and a bit of plastic flew back and bounced off of my glasses, which I was glad I was still wearing!

With the steel core lever, I just wiggled the whole deal between the tire and tube and went for it. On the 700x38 Sojourn tires, this worked like a charm. On skinnier rims and 700 x 25 tires, it was harder to get the lever under the bead – there just wasn’t enough room. What I don’t have is a heavy-duty downhill bike and the notoriously difficult to remove tires, but I’d wager this thing would make a difference there.

Also, of course, the steel-core levers are much heavier than nylon ones. You think? But, really, they’re overkill on a basic road bike. I think I’d only bring these with me on a hardcore mountain bike ride, which your humble narrator has done little of, but they’re a great asset to have in your toolkit. Your thumbs will thank you.

Available anywhere Avenir parts and accessories are sold. You can buy “carded” sets of levers, but if your shop is in the know, they’ll buy a display box of 50 (steel core) or 100 (standard) levers and let you grab and go.

Tested and written by Tyler Stetson, Raleigh employee & daily bike commuter.
(click images to enlarge)

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