As my medical staff have given me the go ahead to ride as much hilly terrain as I’d like, I decided that as our local weather is freakishly good right now, I’d do a ride up the Sea to Sky Highway today. Quite oddly, I awoke in the small hours last night think that I should bring two spare (tubular) tyres along today. As I almost never puncture it seemed weird, but I am one for following a feeling.
Well there I was, about seventeen miles (or about 2,750,000 cm) into the ride and that sinking feeling came upon me. Yes indeed, the almost bulletproof Tufo had let me done. Pulled out the spare from under the saddle (another Tufo..used) stuck it on the rim only to find that the valve had become frozen during its retirement and was not keen on allowing much passage of air. A few ’sumbitch’ type words later, out came an old example of what a lot of fossil and semi-fossil riders may recall as one of the greatest tyres of all time. Its the fabulous Clement Criterium Seta 220 gm matt tread, circa late Sixties to late Seventies.
I sometimes stick this lovely old 1972 rendition in my pocket for a back up as it folds so nicely. As you’ll note from the appearance of both the tyre and even the label, its seen a few Easters.
Its funny how something like a bicycle tyre can turn into something to covet. What’s wrong with people (like me for eg) that can get emotionally involved with a silk and rubber membrane thats main purpose is to merely keep you slightly elevated from the tarmac whilst propelling one’s self on a bicycle? There ain’t nuthin’ wrong with them (or me). Its everyone else: all those poor unfortunates that have never had the chance to ride the tyre God would have chosen.
As any lad getting into racing would do, I would survey that publications and see the superstars of the day riding Clement Criteriums and upper scale Seta (silk) versions. Some of the same magazines would have adverts from vendors that supplied these mystical items but at prices that were far out of my budget. I think by the time I got my first real job and acquired a pair of exact model of tyre, they were around $48.00 apiece. BIG dough for the day, when a complete Record equipped Cinelli Super Corsa was about $400.00
Clement made a wide range of silk tyres but this particular one was at the top on a lot of riders favourites list. The silk casing provided unparalleled smoothness and complance even at high (140+ psi) pressure. That same case gave fabulous road feel and response in climbing and sprint accelerations. The matt tread and roundish sectional shape gave great grip in tight corners too. If there was any drawback, it was riding in the rain as when the silk got soaked It could get kind of stretchy and the tyre would expand a bit, getting a bit squirmy and effectively losing pressure because of increased volume.
I used these lovely tubulars almost exclusively for several seasons and probably a couple of hundred races (there was a lot of racing in BC in those days) and I don’t recall ever flatting one. These tyres became your friends: although there was one day we certainly didn’t get along. The ‘76 National RR on the Montreal Mont Royal course. About a dozen and a half laps of that rigorous hillside we’re required. Well RC showed up on the line with his best Mavic Medaille d’Or 259 gram 28 spoke wheels respendent with the aforementioned Seta 220’s.
First thing that I was dumb about was the fact that there was a sssmokin’ fast decent on the course. For what ever reason, a spoke in the front wheel let go on the first lap. In those days, a rim that light was light because there was bugger-all to it. So with a spoke gone the rim was fairly out of whack but it did go through the released caliper OK. Well then two or three laps later the rain started. I didn’t think it rained in Montreal in the summer? Well the 220 twins didn’t like that much and were a bit slippy to be sure. Caution prevailed and steady riding kept me upright. The difficulty of the course had shredded the field and having not ridden many bigger time races and not knowing who was who, I was fairly uncertain as to my overall placing in the race. On the second to last time up the big hill the great Ronnie Hayman caught up to me and said “you’re doing great, let’s go”. Well when I went for the power application that damn Seta just spun on that wet road like a Fueler in the burnout box. “See yuz after the race Ron”. He eventually got third and I nabbed a ninth but hey, ” I coulda been a contenda huh?”
Sadly these tyres went out of production and the Clement factory eventually packed up although the name is still on some tyres from the Orient…which are supposed to be pretty good.
For those that think a Vittoria CX or Conti Tempo or Sprinter is as nice to ride or as fast…….fuggahbowdit. Stop thinkin’ like that or maybe Vito’s gotta come and see you. For those that think ANY clincher is close, seek counseling.
Even though I’d pulled of a pretty snappy 210 gm flat today, the ride home was faster than the way out even with only about 90 psi in the vintage Clement….didn’t have the heart to stress it too much.
Well gotta bolt. Change the tyre and put Grandad Clement back in pocket mode.