Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland, riding for Saxo Bank, won the prestigious 259 km Paris-Roubaix one-day classic bicycle race in France on April 11, 2010, capturing the event for a second time.
Cancellara’s victory was due in part because he didn’t flat on a course notorious for it’s hellish road surface known to destroy tires. This could be because he chose to ride on hand-made tires.
Many people these days aren’t aware that up until the not-so-distant past, performance bicycle tires were made of latex-coated cotton or silk and called “sew-ups”.
I have fond memories of riding on, and repairing, sew-ups. But my best memory is the ease and speed in which I could change a sew-up by the side of the road. After flatting, I could change a tire and be back in the saddle within a few minutes. I switched to clinchers a few years ago after it became harder to find decent sew-ups at affordable prices.
Between my appreciation for textiles, all things handcrafted, and bicycle racing I was interested to learn about the French tire maker FMB that makes the world’s finest bicycle tires – by hand.
FMB stands for Francois Marie Boyaux. Loosely translated Boyaux means “tubular” – for tubular tires. (“sew-ups”). A one-man operation, Francois Marie’s the renaissance craftsman behind these ultra-dependable tires.
Only limited quantities are made, so the best teams in the peloton including Saxo Bank, Quick Step and Team Sky order their allocation of FMB’s months in advance.
FMB makes the fabric for each tire casing using silk or long fiber Egyptian cotton depending on the type of tire being produced. The chosen fabric is wound onto a drum at a 45-degree angle and then coated with liquid latex and left to dry. Three layers of latex-coated bias-cut fabric are used for each tire.
A stickler for quality, FMB also builds their own latex inner tubes ensuring that their tires meet the highest standards. Once the casings and inner tubes are finished, the tubes are inserted into the casings and then the casings are hand stitched closed. Rim tape is glued over the stitching. The tread is then applied.
If you appreciate and respect that handmade means just that, coupled with the fact that FMB’s can withstand grueling one day classics like Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders without flatting you’ll understand the $165 price tag for each tire. It’s a small price to pay for confidence in your equipment and to go down in history winning Paris-Roubaix.
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