The right tool for the job; horses for courses; a nail for every hammer. I don’t even know what I’m talking about! The conclusion I want you all to take away from this blathering: you gotta experiment with rubber and learn what works best based on trail conditions. It can get expensive, but I encourage you to beg, borrow, or steal so you can try the widest range of available tires for your rig and know what works and when.
These ladies could teach us all a thing or two about bike tires.
Schwalbe, Maxxis, Continental, Bontrager, Panaracer, Pacenti, Kenda, Vee, WTB, Hutchinson, Geax, Intense, Nokian, Specialized, Tioga, Michelin and many more manufacturers are in the tire game. Tread pattern, rubber compound, casing material, threads per inch, folding or not, tubeless or tubed, ERD, rim width, 26″, 29″, 650B? Wow – there are lots and lots of choices out there for the dirt lovers among us. Where to start, what to try, and who can tell you what is best?
Not me! I cannot tell you the best tire for your bike, your trails, your conditions, your riding style, your skill level. Nor can the gnarliest bro in your bro pack. BUT collectively you all can discover some verrrrrry interesting facts about the things that are responsible for keeping your bike (and by association, you) in contact with the trail surface in the most effective manner possible. The key here is to try as many different combinations of brands, tread patterns and tire pressures as possible to ‘dial in’ your tire selection and understand what works in varying conditions.
As I mentioned in my post about my local trails, familiar dirt is the best place to fine tune your gear selection and setup. Hit the same trail loop 4x in a row during the same ride, but start at the highest tire pressure you would ride and dial down each circuit. Better yet, if you’ve got a friend with the same gearing and wheel size, swap wheels with them and see what works best for you. Tires are not cheap, but collectively you and your crew can rotate rubber in an effort to match each riders’ rig, skill level, and riding style. Experiment as often as you can in a semi-controlled environment and I guarantee you’ll learn something about your bike, your components, and your riding. You might even get faster!
Photo straight up stolen from Continental’s website
Got a race coming up and predict sloppy conditions? Wouldn’t it be nice to know which tire gives you the most grip in the loose? Taking your bike to some new trails and don’t know what to expect? You should most definitely have a ‘go-to’ tire that can handle most conditions while still rolling quickly and gripping when it needs to. Are your local trails springtime-perfect? That cush, grippy-but-firm, oh-so-fast Dirt of Valhalla? You should have in your quiver the balls-to-the-wall, go-fast singletrack destroyer. I’d go so far as to say you could shave considerable time off of your best trail lap once you’re dialed in (if you’re the type to need empirical evidence for everything). I just like to feel fast.
So here’s my advice to you: no matter how you do it I recommend you try as many different tires as will fit your bike and are appropriate for your preferred riding conditions. It’s much easier with a group of riders that are willing to buy, swap, and repeat the process until every shredder has identified their favorite tire for every condition. Or if you’re loaded just go out, buy a sampler and go to town. Either way, experiment with your setup and understand that these rubber donuts can make the difference between operating at a fraction of your potential and bringing you right to the edge of your abilities, possibly even upping your game. Get out there and shred, young padawan…