Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Soma Steel Core Tire levers

A good tire lever can make the difference between a good ride and a miserable one.

"That's a bold statement, Matt"; you say? Well, stay with me for a moment here. Ever been stuck on the side of the road or trail with a flat tire that is difficult to remove from the rim or re-install? How about being stuck with a flat tire because you broke your last or only tire lever and now you can't remove the tire at all? In the rain. And cold. Oh yeah, and it's getting dark too.

Yeah, neither have I - but I'm more about prevention than cure anyhow. That said; I've broken my fair share of tire levers and uttered my fair share of foul words and phrases - of which I'm not proud - at those difficult tires. A small price for prevention certainly goes a long way toward a better experience. And, not much can sour a ride faster than a bad experience changing a flat tire, right? See what I did there? :)

Enter the Soma Steelcore Tire Lever. This had solution written all over it when I first saw it - figuratively, of course.
I knew in short time that I'd be buying a bunch of these and replacing my old standby levers (Park TL-2 if you must know) on all of my bikes for every ride and potentially for the rest of my cycling life. Yeah; I'm probably a little bit of a "tire lever geek"; but it was a big deal.

The difference between these (and a few reasonable facsimiles that have sprung up lately) and a conventional tire lever is in the name: steel core. There is a shank of steel running nearly the entire length of the lever to add strength and stiffness to it's plastic body.

So, why bother with coating the steel in plastic and why not just make the whole thing out of steel? Wouldn't that be great too - a full-length steel tire lever? Well, there are a few of them still around - Park Tool makes the more commonly seen ones that you may still see hanging on the pegboard at the local bike shop. In the days of steel rims; they were o.k. In fact some of you may remember learning to change flat tires as a kid using your dad's old slot-head screwdrivers on your steel rims and having to be careful not to cut the new inner tube when fitting the tire back onto the rim. At least I hope I'm not alone there...  The difference now is in our lightweight aluminum alloy rims. These are a significant improvement over the old steel hoops which were not as easy to true; didn't seem to stay straight as long; did not provide as effective of a braking surface and rusted. The only advantage that seemed to come with the heft of the steel rims was that if you bent your rim you might be able to fix it by hitting it on a curb in just the right spot just so - not that I know from experience or anything...

However, with all the improvement that the aluminum rim has brought; it is also a softer material and can be damaged more easily. And, since necessity is the mother of invention - along came the plastic tire lever; soft enough to not scar your new light rims and stiff enough to still pry the bead of the tire out of the hook of the hoop. Sort of...

As many of you know from experience there are certain rim and tire combinations that are just difficult. Seasoned bike shop mechanics can spot them from 30 yards and may be mentally preparing themselves for the battle at hand before you even set foot before the service counter with your wheel in hand. Some of you will also have a tally of broken tire lever brands and models like myself. I have to believe that these two phenomenon in tandem were at the epicenter of the idea behind this tool from the clever folks at Soma.

The steel at the core of the lever adds all the strength and stiffness needed for some of the toughest tire and rim combinations I have encountered. The plastic coating is smooth and slides around the rim nicely when removing the bead from the circumference of the rim - a quality that I think may get overlooked from time to time.

And since you will spend a little more for these than your run-of-the-mill plastic lever; durability is also a concern. I have never once felt like I was about to break one of these levers. Although I have only used them on my personal bikes and not in the bike shop service center environment where I became acutely aware of how a Park TL-2 feels just before it's going to snap.

The down side is that there is no provision for nesting them together like so many of the plastic ones do so that you can nest them with each other before sliding them into your seat bag. I suppose if you are the type who detests loose levers rattling around in your seat bag you could wrap these with a rubber band or length of old road bike inner tube (one of my favorite tricks) but my road bike pack is so tightly packed that nothing rattles around so it's not that sort of concern for me. I just like to pop them together so that I pull both of them out at once rather than having to root around in the bag for the second one.

Of course, you could view the previously mentioned added cost as a bit of a detraction too, however when you consider the durability and added performance I think the price is reasonable at about twice that of your usual set of 3 Park TL-2's for a comparable set of three Soma levers.

So my verdict is this: if you have tight tires that are tough to remove or are tired of continually replacing all-plastic tire levers; seek some of these out. Chances are that if your local bike shop does not carry them; they carry an equivalent (Park appears to be introducing some) or can order the Soma levers from them and they might thank you for helping them discover these little gems.

So, what's your flat tire or tire lever horror story? I've shared mine - now share yours...


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