Monday, April 4, 2011

VAR Tire Levers: Cool Gear

VAR Tire Lever: the Park Tool TL-1 Bike Tire Levers (or tyre levers, as our friends in the UK call them) and the Kool Stop Bicycle Tire Levers are the most common of all bike tools in existence, ubiquitous, in practically everyone's kits. They probably are also the most hated: "I'm sick and tired of having these things break just when I need them. With modern stiff wall tires, [...] they just snap off the tip when you try to lever the tire off the rim. And yes, I know what I am doing having worked in a bike shop through college and changed about 7,485,433 tires. I'm upgrading to something metal or indestructible for good."

Haven't we all had this experience once (or many) times in our life, to see the head of our plastic tire levers snap under pressure when we are 15 miles away from home? This must be the #1 source of frustration when getting a tube changed or patched out on the road... The second source of frustration, right after this one, has got to be trying to put back a stiff tire on top of an intolerant aluminum wheel without pinching the tube, and seeing it pop at the last second, after 15 minutes of hard work, when you have no strength left on your thumbs: "Trying to get [my stiff tires] on my [...] wheels[...]  produces an absolute meltdown on my part - complete with screaming, crying, pleading, darn-near throwing the wheel across the room, and an absolute refusal to ride the bike on the road without DH nearby, in case I get a flat tire and have to actually change the blasted thing."

Is there a portable tool out there that can help us put our tires back on quickly and efficiently, when the right M.O just does not seem to be working for us? This question is a perennial theme on bike forums such as CyclingForums or BikeForums, as shown by this typical example:  Best tire lever? [Archive] - Bike Forums. Well, we found one - and only one - result to this query so far: the VAR Bicycle Tire Lever, or VAR tyre lever (VAR tools are French, but this tool is popular in the UK and often carries British spelling in on-line comments).

The VAR Tire lever looks like an aluminum wishbone, although it is made of plastic. Once you have most of your tire in position, You use it by putting one side of the wishbone inside the tire rim, between the rim and the tire:

... then by grabbing the opposite side of the tire with the hook, and leveraging the tire in by pulling sideways on the wishbone:

The VAR tire tool weighs about 60 grams. The tool is made of plastic, although, because of its mode of sue, it is not as prone to breakage as standard plastic tire levers. It is just small and light enough to be carried in a small bike pack. and includes an extra lever, independent from the wishbone, that is fitted inside it. How do the VARs users like their tool?

Able to easily mount stiff tires
Users of the VAR tire lever see it as successful in enabling them to easily mount tough tires: "I've been very happy with my VAR tyre lever. It's reduced the time spent messing about mounting a [Conti Gatorskin] from 2 hours to under 15 minutes. Well worth the dollars", "success!!! I tried it out on my very difficult Hutchinson Equinox tire on my Axiom's front wheel. I took the tire off completely AND was able to put it back on...with no screaming, cursing, crying, or hurling objects across the room! A little bit of leverage is a good thing", "I've NEVER had a problems > > mounting any clincher tire on a rim with this tool", "I have used the VAR lever for over 20+ years and tried most other levers on the market. The VAR lever is truly the best for tight kevlar bead tires", "It's hard to be patient when there are 20 hungry cyclists looking forward to their next tea stop waiting for you to finish mending the puncture. I'll stick to my VAR lever", "allows you to refit tyres without pinching that inner tube even when the tyre is a nice tight fit on the rim, "great for putting on tight fitting tires, particularly on road rims", "I'll second the suggestion of the VAR lever","they make a super-tight fitting clincher a breeze to mount","allows you to refit tyres without pinching that inner tube even when the tyre is a nice tight fit on the rim","It works for me on the toughest of rims and tires", "I'll second the VAR Super Tyre Tool. They make a super-tight fitting clincher a breeze to mount", " the best lever for putting on stubborn tires such as Specialized Armadillos whose sidewalls are extremely stiff and thus difficult to put the last 2 or 3 inches of the tire on by hand or by regular tire irons", "Makes putting on a tough tire sooo easy", "the way the lever works makes it impossible to pinch a tube, or damage a tire or rim."

Just small enough for a kit bag
The VAR's users use it on the road: " [...]  The VAR lever can fit into your tube/patch kit bag", "The VAR levers will be for my saddle bag", "so good I have one in each of my tool kits","it takes up a lot of room in a seat bag but is great to have as a shop tool and on tours", "small enough that it fits into a standard seat bag"

High build quality
Users consider the tool a quality tool with good fit and finish: "There are better tools like this out there [than the Kool-Stop Tire Bead Jack], I'd recommended paying a few dollars more and getting one [...]  like the VAR Tyre tool."

Difficult to find
The VAR tire tool  is hard to find in the US: " Quite hard to come by in the USA though", "Can't find a place to buy them at anymore", "amazing that such a good and simple product is so hard to get hold of", "greatest [weakness] is the difficulty of finding a place that sells them anymore."

Brittle in cold weather
While the VA tool is seen by its users as strong and robust, some warn that manhandling it in very cold weather has to be done carefully, as it may get more brittle in cold weather: "I generally break a VAR > every 3-4 years."

We found 29 reviews of the VAR tire levers, with a 99% approval rating, for a low 4% margin of error with 95% certainty. These are outstanding numbers that we have only rarely encountered.

Where to buy
Very few places carry the VAR tire levers. Thanks to RandonneurExtra, from whom the very helpful pictures illustrating the present article were obtained (he also has a great post on the VAR: Making life easier: VAR tire lever), we also found sources for the hard-to-find tool:

The VAR tire lever would be the absolute perfect tire tool if it were made of aluminum. As it is, we still recommend it, as its mode of operation does not promote breakage similarly to a regular tire lever. In the words of its users: "$30 AUD delivered to the land of Oz. That sounds like a lot for a tyre lever, and it is. But I'd rather spend the dollars and not have to waste another two hours of my life", "bottom line: if you have tight rims and/or tires, this is the lever to carry."

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