Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.
My job requires that I test and review the newest bikes hitting the market. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.
During this testing, one unfortunate trend I’ve observed that is somehow still hanging on in the mountain bike industry, is the use of cheap, flimsy, narrow tires as a stock tire spec on bikes all across the mountain bike spectrum. When I then hop on one of these bikes with horrific stock tires, whether it’s a test ride at a demo, a long term review bike, or—the worst of all—a rental bike, I then proceed to shred the tires to bits. If these horrible tires have tubes in them, forgetaboutit—pinch flat follows puncture in quick succession. In one 3-day trip in Park City while riding such tires I wracked up 5 flats.
Even if I encounter a narrow tire that’s set up tubeless, it’s still no guarantee of a good time. I’ve sliced numerous sidewalls on thin-walled tires, and pinch flatted entire tubeless tires multiple times. While some effort was made to ensure a good time on the bike, these tires were still simply too low-volume for respectable trail riding.
Flat tires are a part of mountain biking, but when I’m spending hours of my time in foreign countries fixing flats on the side of the trail when I could be riding or enjoying the local culture, considered my anger piqued. Because these flats are, for the most part, preventable by simply spec’ing a decent, durable trail tire, such as the Maxxis High Roller II. Tires like the High Roller II provides excellent sidewall durability, incredible traction, decent volume, and yet still roll pretty fast.
It seems to me that the selection of these lightweight XC tires as a stock spec is a hold over from a time long past in which these tires were found on every bike, and wide, durable trail tires at a decent weight simply didn’t exist.
In my opinion, every single stock bike should come with durable tires of decent width (2.35” or more) that can be used in a variety of conditions.
My reasoning is this: no matter what type of bike is being sold, the brand selling the bike doesn’t actually know how it’s going to be ridden—no matter the intended application of that mountain bike. Take, for example, an budget-friendly hardtail 29er with an SLX spec, or similar. These are some of the most affordable yet capable mountain bikes on the market, and are sold all around the world, and the mountain biker who buys such a bike may end up riding it absolutely everywhere. Heck, I’ve seen people riding chairlifts at the bike park with hardtail 29ers bikes before.
Despite the fact that the brand doesn’t know how the bike will be used, there seems to be this widespread opinion that wide, aggressive trail tires with durable sidewalls are specialized equipment that must be purchased aftermarket, and that narrow XC tires are the standard. However, in reality, low profile, lightweight XC tires are actually the most specialized of equipment. And here’s why.
While XC tires may be lighter and thus easier to pedal, the reality is that they can only be ridden well in a very narrow selection of terrain—namely, smooth, fast trails with minimal obstacles. Now, of course under a skilled pilot, a flimsy tire can be ridden through technical terrain without flatting but again, the brand can’t know what the skill of the rider will be. And if we take the example of the affordable hardtail 29er mentioned above, we can be pretty confident that the prospective customer isn’t the most adept bike handler.
On the other hand, if you choose to spec a burly trail tire on your bike as a stock option, that tire can safely be ridden through that same smooth, flowing terrain, with just a minor weight penalty. But in addition, it can also safely be ridden in technical terrain filled with jagged rocks, boulders, roots, steep singletrack, loose scree—you name it.
The XC tire can only be ridden well in a very small percentage of the terrain out there. The durable, aggressive trail tire, on the other hand, can be ridden everywhere.
Consequently, I think that aggressive trail tires should be the stock spec on all bikes. No matter the intended use of a mountain bike, the brand selling it can’t know where the rider will choose to ride it. If the rider chooses to ride their mountain bike, oh, down a mountain, it should be as prepared to handle that terrain as possible, out of the box. Durable trail tires can safely be ridden everywhere, whereas light duty XC tires cannot.
Cut the BS
This seems like a no brainer to me: spec the most broadly-applicable product possible on your mountain bike. But bike manufacturers aren’t stupid–they know the points I’ve made above, or at least should know them. Rather, the choice to spec a useless tire is usually a conscious one. Oftentimes, such a tire is selected as a stock choice for two main reasons: to save money, and to save weight.
Speccing a lightweight, flimsy tire allows the brand to claim that their bike only weighs XX number of pounds: “see, look how lightweight our latest bike is!” Or, it allows them to undercut the cost of a brand that chooses to spec a quality tire: “see, look how affordable our latest bike is!” But when you get that bike out on the trail and realize that it’s barely rideable with some of the components that the brand chose, as a consumer and a reviewer I feel cheated and deceived.
While the numbers may look good online, the consumers aren’t dumb either, and they’ll be able to tell when a stock component doesn’t perform like it ought to. It’s time to cut the BS: brands, you need to stop speccing useless tires.