Imagine my surprise when when a local bike shop employee sent me an e-mail informing me their Specialized sales rep had left a pair of new Specialized 29er tires for me to review. Sweet! I went to pick them up and was stoked to see the newly redesigned Fast Trak and the new Ground Control, both in the Control version and 2Bliss Ready.
Specialized got into the bike business with tires, and recently they felt like they had fallen behind some of their competitors. To up their game they went back to the drawing board on some of the tires and started using Finite Element Analysis (FEA) as part of the design process. FEA allows the tire to be modeled on a computer and run through virtual tests, which is much faster and cheaper than producing tires to test, and it means the first prototypes that are manufactured are further along in the design process already. The new Fast Trak and Ground Control are the first two mountain bike tires that use FEA in the design process. The Ground Control was produced a long time ago, but the new tire shares nothing with the old other than the name.
FEA allows engineers to get a good idea of how a tread block will react under load before any prototypes are produced. Photo: Specialized
-Size: 29×2.0 (also available in 29×2.2, 26×1.8, 26×2.0, and 26×2.2)
-Casing: 2Bliss Ready
-Claimed Weight: 630g
-Actual Weight: 560g – No, that’s not a typo, my tire came in considerably lighter than the claimed weight.
Specialized says the redesigned Fast Trak has more grip and less rolling resistance than the old version. The tread pattern has been completely redone, and the tread blocks are now sipped – meaning they have a small groove on the surface. I had the old version on both ends of my geared bike, so I’m pretty familiar with it. I can say without a doubt that this new tire is worlds better than the old – and I liked the old version already! The casing is much more supple and smoother rolling. It eats up little bumps and irregularities a lot better, leading to more stable cornering and higher cornering speeds. I actually had to increase my air pressure a few psi because the casing is so supple – it felt a little too squishy at the same pressure I used the old version at. Still, even with a few more pounds it rolled smoother and faster.
Generally when a tire loses rolling resistance it loses grip as well, but this isn’t the case with the Fast Trak. It grips better in the corners, under power, and while braking. In true hardpack conditions it’s a fantastic tire, and in loose conditions it’s much better than you would expect with such small knobs. The sipping on the tread blocks (something the old version didn’t have) is certainly part of the reason for the increased grip. I didn’t think it could really make much difference, but it does. The sipping basically gives you two biting edges on one knob. To feel it yourself you can press a finger on one of the knobs and try to slide it off – you can feel the sipped edge roll up and dig into your finger. Cool stuff.
The Fast Trak now rolls almost as fast as the Renegade, but has much more grip. Because of this I would say the Fast Trak is a much better tire for most riders than is the Renegade. But if you want the ultimate in low rolling resistance, but still want semi-sure-footed cornering, put a new Fast Trak on the front and the Renegade on the back. I’ll be trying this set up eventually, but with all the leaf litter on our trails this time of year I need something more aggressive on the front. But as a rear tire it works great, even with all the leaves down.
-Size: 29×2.1 (also available in 29×1.9, 26×1.9, 26×2.1, and 26×2.3)
-Casing: 2Bliss Ready
-Claimed Weight: 670g
-Actual Weight: 630g – Again, not a typo – both of these tires came in lower than the claimed weight. And yes, the scale is accurate.
The Ground Control is a different animal than the Fast Trak. While Specialized classifies the Fast Trak as a “Competitive XC” tire, the Ground Control is classified as an “XC Trail” tire. The Ground Control has larger squarish knobs with plenty of spacing between them. Like the Fast Trak the tread blocks are siped for improved grip. Specialized claims the Ground Control has more grip than a Captain and has about 20% less rolling resistance thanks to the more advanced casing and tread design.
Once again, it looks like all the money Specialized put into the R&D for this tire paid off. Just by appearance I could tell these tires would grip pretty well – and they do. The Ground Controls grip even better than I expected and seem to at least match the Captains for cornering grip in most conditions. The Captain does grip a little better in really loose conditions however.
What surprised me was just how fast the Ground Control rolls, because it doesn’t look like a fast rolling tire. I put the Ground Control on the front of my single speed, which has the very fast rolling Renegade on the back, and was blown away by the rolling speed. Topping a climb it felt like the bike was getting pulled down the next hill faster than normal, and motoring across the flats I felt like the tire wanted to just keep rolling forever.
Specialized hit the mark with both of these tires. The redesigned Fast Trak is better than the previous version in every way and the Ground Control has a ton of grip for as little rolling resistance as it has. I do wish Specialized would make a wider version, either a 2.3 or 2.4 would be great. It’s strange that the XC racing-oriented Fast Trak comes in a wider width than the Trail oriented Ground Control, for 29ers at least. I used both tires tubeless with Stans sealant and no issues at all. So who are these tires for?
If you value grip over speed, but don’t want something that rolls like a square, and don’t need a big tire – try the Ground Control.
If you value speed over grip, but want more grip than a near semi-slick like the Renegade – try the new Fast Trak.