Geax Barro Mountain
My first encounter with the GEAX tires was kind of random, and in some ways, funny.
When I brought my first bike in Poland in 2006, the old red Specialized, it was featured with classic massive tires with deep sculptures, first price. As I already knew I would be using them for other purposes than commuting, I replaced them with slick tires and moved the large ones to the blue Specialized hardtail I borrowed from home after-while, and used during all the 2008 year.
Eventually, despite heavy, their grip gave me entire satisfaction during the summer rides, but as soon as the end of the season I noticed they had diagonal scratches all along their circumference, probably due to side impacts with rocks and so on. Soon few of them became so ripped that they formed holes. I managed to contain their formation some time thanks to Andy's tip #2 (toothpaste tubes) but soon their size became intolerable, and it became obvious I had to change them.
My first idea was to find another pair, not the cheapest, but not a super quality one as well. One of the goals was above all to avoid the premature end of the previous pair by choosing some tougher ones. Few others were to keep a grip as good as I had experienced with the old pair, but also to have them spaced enough to avoid the well known phenomenon of soil accumulation between too narrow teeth, that I had observed a couple of times on Polish mud too.
So I visited a few shops in the city, and had my first encounter with PM Rider, which I consider now as the best shop for quality service in Wroclaw when it comes about mountain bikes. For the story, it is here that I took the cracked Qbikes frame to analyze, and eventually serviced my fork. It is a quite costy shop for gear, but here we are, they provide services that no one else does in Wroclaw.
So I asked the guy for the tires I was looking for. "You couldn't come in a better moment", he said. Here I've got few GEAX Barro mountain in promotion for less than 100zl (25€), you'd better take them before they are gone. Super light weight, and Kevlar structure on the sides, which would definitely spare me with the ripping issue. I took however the time to read a bit the different GEAX products in the catalog, before I unsheathed the credit card: the GEAX Barro mountain seemed to match ideally my type of mountain-biking.
Once at home, I had a little disappointment: so far I believed naively that all tires were sold as pairs. I still wonder how I couldn't ask myself how two of them would fit in such a small box... I told this anecdote in the MBPost forum, which I had just joined, and some members, in particular Treetrimmer who had already advised me before my purchase, asserted me it was worth the investment, that I had to go immediately for the second one, and that I would not regret it in the long term. I still feel very grateful for his advice.
The classic pair
So I mounted the GEAX pair on the Blue Specialized as soon I got the second tire. They did two rides only on this bike, since I traveled the same year (2009) to France and swapped it with the Q-Bikes. Due to the terrain, it did not allow testing their full grip potential, however I felt immediately the difference of weight and the handling ease that results from it.
My two first rides with the Q-Bikes in France were still with the previous tires on it, and by a funny coincidence, it was my first encounter with tubeless, a Michelin pair close to their end of life... and my first flat with a tubeless, which provided me a good sample of all the hassle of fixing it ! The rear Michelin was definitely out of order and had to end its life cycle with a tube in it. Since there were some road works going on in Wroclaw at that time, making the commute with city tires kind of rough, they made a good temporary replacement on the red Specialized. Their final fate was kind of similar with initial pair, with diagonal side rips that tore when the winter came...
Coming back to the GEAX Barro mountain, the first excursions being mounted on the suspended QBikes gave me entire satisfaction: I could now fully appreciate their excellent grip, and I immediately felt comfortable with them. I enjoyed particularly their ability to stick on a lateral slope, as steep as 45° as long as the soil holds, as well as their infallible job when climbing a steep slope, in which all of my biking companions so far slipped backwards much earlier than the Geax would do.
Once on the Tomac, the whole bike became even better and lighter. However, I was starting to wonder it still made sense to use classic tires on tubeless rims....
I have to say their age suddenly increased kind of prematurely, during the 2010 summer holidays on Rügen when I brought along the baby trailer. I had taken along some slick tires for cyclotouring, knowing that riding the Geax on asphalt would wear them too quickly and unusefully, but since we did both kind of cycling daily, it was just too much hassle to swap twice a day a pair of tires... The rear one got worn to half of the teeth size, because of the traction of the baby trailer, but not so much the front one, so I swapped them.
Nowadays they are still in quite good state, and performed very well when I used them for the first time in race conditions in the Wroclaw Bike Marathon. From the moment I own the TNT, I decided they would go to the newly-repaired Q-bikes, each time I would lend it for some friends willing to ride the mountains with me. Or perhaps make a good use of their deep teeth for commuting in winter on the snow...
The TNT tubeless pair
Before having the TNT pair, my father asserted many times that few of his friends managed to mount classic tires on tubeless rims using a lot of sealing product. By curiosity (it was the moment I swapped the rear and front after the 2010 holidays), I went to the petrol station and made myself the experiment, with no sealing product but just a lot of soap; this would give me an idea of the airproofness. Unfortunately negative: the outer surface in contact with the rim is too raw to ensure a natural sealing and they went flat as quick as I blew them.
Then, during the 2011 spring, while rebuilding the QBikes, I had a sort of gear madness, and purchased all kind of stuff (too much ?) for the new season for each bike, in particular the QBikes who got the Schwalbe Big Apple pair.
While looking for these Schwalbe I peered into the Geax corner, to see how much some of these Barro Mountain in TNT version would cost... Not immediately of course, I told myself. But here we are, my anniversary came, and I had to make a wish... I had nothing else in mind, and the Schwalbe were already purchased... I hesitated also to try another model of GEAX fror XC, and particularly the Gato : better grip in sharp turns, less in traction. But I rarely dare the evil during lone rides, so why changing a winning formula ?
I waited for a proper moment with no serious rides to make the big step. My first attempts were pathetic, I could not find a way to fill them with air while preventing it to escape in the same time, even at the petrol station. But I found a good trick: an empty tube set along all its outer circumference keeps it stuck to the rim and it works, even with the classic pump.
I used at that moment only a Geax spray as sealing, but I had doubts about its efficiency. The rear tire held well, but not the front.
My father advised me to purchase a proper sealing product, and advised me as well those for agriculture machines: much cheaper ! I couldn't find them in Polish specialized agriculture stores, but found the standard GEAX 250ml bottle.
In the same time, peering in my toolbox, I popped into a tap-fitting grease, which I had purchased once for fixing the licking kitchen tap. I have no idea which one of the two between the sealing product an the grease fixed the most the airproofness issue, but I am sure of one thing: it works much better than washing liquid like many other people recommend.
Prior to biking, I made a measurement. Tt is said on many forums that the tubeless system weights more than the classic tires with a tube in it : TNT tires are just heavier, plus the liquid, and the difference exceeds the weight of an inner tube. Which disappointed me somehow: until now I had believed one of the advantages was the gain of weight and increased handling ease.
I don't know if this calculation takes also into account the weight difference between a classic rim and a tubeless rim, heavier. But the test with my Tomac cheered me up: instead of getting heavier it had lost 200 grams. Not much, but that can't be bad !
Saturday came, with sunny weather. The Cat hills were on my to-do-list. Not steep, not far from Wroclaw, they made a perfect terrain for a try... The ride went as fine as could be. I could feel the terrible grip of the GEAX Barro that my initial pair had during its early rides, and the bike seems lighter than ever. Of course I would need a flat (or knowing that I "would" have a flat while not having it) to give a proper feedback, but I hope I won't have that soon !
Upadte 27/10/2011: the first flat occur ed in August on Ślęża with Cesar; I was riding too low pressure which I do not recommend with tubeless on rocky terrain (that's my own opinion)
Next article: a review of the Schwalbe Big Apple. Amazing tires too :)