Zaffiro is Italian for “sapphire.” It is a blue gem, or the color of the sky or ocean, or the name of the feisty and aggressive spousal antagonist of George “Kingfish” Stevens, the fast-talking schemer on the old Amos ‘n’ Andy radio and TV series.
But in its Italian mode the word is also the name of a series of bike tires manufactured by the Italian Vittoria firm (in Taiwan, of course). I got a pair of these beauties, Zaffiro Pros to be exact, to replace the Forte Pro+ tires I had been using on my Trek.
The Fortes were very nice in some ways, true racing tires with just a hint of tread along the interface between the wall of the tire and the part that comes in contact with the road. The contact side, the “top” of the tire (these are road tires, with a total width of 23 mm or about 9/10 of an inch), was ”slick,” or treadless. This design minimizes friction because the part of the tire usually in contact with the road, about the size of a dime but oval shaped, is smooth. At the same time, the shallow tread along the upper edge provides a bit of traction on turns, on wet road surfaces, and in sudden stops, times when the tires tend to slide sideways. These tires also had dense casings, with fabric that had 120 threads per inch (tpi). Fabric that dense can, but in my experience does not always, protect better against punctures, and it definitely is fairly stiff, meaning that the tire doesn’t flex too much as it rolls. That can be a good or bad thing; it provides a less smoothed-out ride so that the rider feels all the bumps, pebbles, and edges the bike rolls over. But there is less drift because the tire is more stable in turns.
Furthermore, the Pro+ tires had blue sidewalls, which went really well with the paint job on my 2009 Trek 2.1, created back when they were making bikes in beautiful arrays of colors, not mostly matte black.
But as the Fortes got wear, and the rounded top of the tire flattened somewhat, they seemed to get very susceptible to picking up small, sharp stones. None ever penetrated the casing, but the flattened tops were getting quite pitted by tiny pebbles and also larger road debris, mostly as harmless as big pebbles and sticks, that took little chunks out of the surface of the tire as they skittered away. The “grippiness” of these slicks was earned at the expense of durability.
Enter the new Zaffiros, with their Aramid compound, designed for durability. They have more pronounced tread on the edges, and just a narrow band of treadless tire right down the middle of the top. Not only are they made for “trainer” riders like me, but they also look cool on the bike because of their big, Italianate, red, white and green logo. As Italian as their national flag, or as a plate of caprese salad. And since they came with decals, I couldn’t help putting one on my seat tube. Now my bike sports the Vittoria logo. I know, I know. It’s a great marketing tool for them, because when I need another set of tires I am going to think “if my bike says I use Vittoria tires, I guess I better be consistent and get another pair.” But it’s still fun to have it on there.
On my first ride with them yesterday, they seemed to provide a discernibly smoother ride than the out-and-out racing tires, and coincidentally or not, my speed was even up a bit, though they are not built principally for speed. Smooth rolling, anyhow. I almost felt like greeting my wife with “ciao, bella mia” when I got back from my ride, and putting on some Verdi. I did in fact make eggplant parmesan for supper. But I am going to rein in the Breaking Away syndrome just a bit, despite the excellent new tires on my bike. For now I’ll just say arrivederci.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2014.