I’ve been on the lookout for a new rear tire for my single speed for a while now. For the last 2+ years I’ve been running Kenda’s Small Block 8s (aka SB8) on both my older, full suspension 26″ bike and my newer, rigid SS 29er. I love that tire, but I had worn the knobs almost down to nothing and I wanted to try something different this time around. I was looking for a little more volume since the Kenda is labeled 2.1″ wide but the casing is actually only 1.9″. I also wanted something with more grip in the wet, leafy conditions that besiege the southeast in the fall and winter. Lastly, I needed a tire that would work well with my tubeless set-up, something the Kenda wasn’t stellar at.
Enter the Specialized “The Captain” Control 2Bliss 29er tire. One of Specialized’s most popular tires, it’s marketed as an all around XC/trail tire and I opted for the Control version instead of the lighter, more fragile, S-Works version. Here’s a quick look at the stats for the version I chose:
Size: 29×2.0 (also available in 29×2.2 and 26×2.0/2.2 sizes)
Bead: Folding, Aramid
Casing: 2Bliss, 60tpi
Weight: 670g (1.48lbs)
Compared to my old Kendas, these are wider with a true 2.0″ casing and 90g heavier. The Captain Controls also have a lower thread count casing (the SB8 is 120tpi).
All of Specialized’s high end mountain bike tires are available in what they call 2Bliss Ready. These tires have a bead designed to be tight fitting and strong enough for tubeless use, but do not feature an air tight casing like UST Tubeless tires, so they do require sealant. The big advantage of 2Bliss Ready tires over UST is weight – they are much lighter. The 26″ Captain Control 2Bliss Ready tires are 160g lighter than their same-sized UST counterparts. All 2Bliss ready tires can be used with a tube as well.
Mounting this tire was just crazy easy. This was my first experience using a tubeless ready tire, and I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a ‘normal’ tire again. It was a tight fit, but not too tight: I was able to get it on the rim (Stan’s Arch) without needing tire levers. It took two pumps with the floor pump to get the tire’s bead seated and holding air. Two pumps, that’s it. With the Kenda I had to pump like crazy for a few minutes before it finally seated and started holding air, and I had to lubricate it with soapy water for that to even work. The Captain took two pumps, no soapy water. Easy-peasy.
After riding these tires for a while I can certainly see why this The Captain Control is so popular. It has a really good combination of grip and rolling resistance at a reasonable weight, though it is noticeably heavier than my old Kendas. As a result, the Captain just doesn’t spin up to speed as quickly and it doesn’t roll quite as fast either. Out on paved or gravel road connectors I could feel the additional rolling resistance, especially on the pavement. Off road however, I couldn’t tell much difference in rolling resistance (though that may change once the leaf litter disappears). The Captain certainly doesn’t roll horribly, but it isn’t as fast as the SB8 (to be fair, few tires can compare!).
Where The Captain shines over my old SB8s is in the grip department – pretty much in every direction I need it. Traction, cornering, and braking, the Captain is far better than the SB8s, especially on loose or leaf covered trails. Even when climbing over wet, leaf covered roots, The Captain hasn’t spun out yet – it just pushes me forward into battle. Cornering is amazing and even loose, off-camber corners are no problem – the tire just grips and goes. Braking is better too; it’s much harder to lock the tire up than with the SB8s.
I couldn’t tell any difference in riding comfort, and that’s not a bad thing. With the lower thread count casing I expected the Captain to be a bit harsher than my old tire, but that just wasn’t the case.
For a lot of people this could very well be the perfect everyday, all-around mountain bike tire. It would even be a good choice for XC/endurance races if the course is loose or wet. The Captain has good grip, rolls surprisingly well for such a grippy tire, and it’s not terribly heavy. And the 2Bliss Ready casing works really well: it’s super easy to install, and doesn’t lose air nearly as quickly as a standard tire.
For me personally, I do miss the lower weight and rolling resistance of my old SB8s but this time of year The Captain is simply fantastic. The extra grip in the leaves far outweighs the sluggishness, though once summer rolls around and I’m back to riding almost exclusively on hardpack trails, I’ll probably end up switching to something faster and lighter. But don’t worry – The Captain will be waiting on the wall in my garage for the fall when I’ll put it back into service again!