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How to maintain and clean vintage mtb tires – this is what you should know

In this article I’m going to discuss several points on how you could maintain and clean vintage mtb tires. My latest purchase was upgraded to a Deore XT groupset from 2009, whereas the bike itself came from 1998. The deal also included all of the stripped parts, which included the original Mavic XC 111 rims with IRC Mythos XC tires.

I’d bought the exact same rims (only a newer version) with the exact same tires (only with red walls) for my Cannondale Super V mountain bike restoration. So I was pretty excited to get a new pair I could mount on the Cannondale Killer V when going on the trails.

So I decided to clean them up a bit and here’s what I learned.

Video Tutorial

What happens when bicycle tires get old

Ok, there are old bicycle tires and there are old bicycle tires. These tires are at least 22 years old. And there are 2 things that can happen to rubber when it ages.

The two main forms of rubber degradation are: hardening (or embrittlement) and softening. From a molecular perspective, these chemical processes are known as “chain hardening” and “chain scission” respectively. The chemical makeup of the polymer will determine which type of deterioration will ultimately occur.

Martin’s Rubber Company

A lot of you probably are familiar with the softening that can happen in bike grips. To the point where to become so mushy that whole chunks start sticking to your hands. Tires don’t soften, they go the opposite route and harden, becoming more brittle as age sets in.

surfaced threading

That’s why tires don’t melt but tear as the inner lining breaks through the surface, especially in the side wall area. So here’s the lesson I learned.

Don’t clean vintage mtb tires

If you feel your tires have reached a certain age but you want to keep them for their retro feel, don’t use anything else but water.

cleaning vintage mtb tire

And don’t use a brush as you see me doing here. As the rubber starts to harden, the brush will damage the surface of the tire, speeding up the deteriorating process.

After I cleaned the tire in soapy water I could simply rub of the rubber on the side of the tire, not good! Using only water on the second tire didn’t seem to have this effect.

damaged knob

I also held a knob in my hand afterwards. It’s seems logical that as the rubber deteriorates and hardens you can actually brake off the knobs since they don’t flex anymore.

I now have multiple tires that just didn’t stand the test of time. And as decades, not years, pass, rubber tires simply don’t hold up as well as their metal counterparts. And the thing with rubber is that you can’t repair what the deterioration process has done. Although their seems to be a rubber conditioner I’ve yet to see something for vintage bicycle tires.

The thing you can do is be very careful when you clean vintage mtb tires, that’s for sure.

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