At Interbike Syd and I spoke with a number of mountain bike tire companies and while we didn’t see any shocking changes, we did take note of some interesting trends affecting the 2012 product lines.
If you’ve ridden tubeless tires on your mountain bike (or even just chatted with dgaddis for a few minutes) you know there are many advantages to rolling without tubes. Aside from generally lower weights and fewer flats, most riders also report an improved ride feel and lower rolling resistance. With those advantages in mind, tire companies are adding tubeless, tubeless ready, and UST tires to their line-ups and in some cases re-engineering classic tread patterns to run sans tube. Among the companies we spoke with, WTB, Geax, and Schwalbe are all adding more tubeless tires to the line-up, particularly among 29er tires where tubeless tires had been scarce. Case in point: 6 out of 8 of the 29er tires Schwalbe showed at Interbike were marked “tubeless ready.”
29er tires are getting more aggressive
Over the years mountain bike tires have been getting wider and beefier but that trend sorta tapped out a year or two ago once most tires maxed out at around 2.5 inches (Surly tires not withstanding). This year it seems that trend is getting new legs in the 29er segment as tire manufacturers start to target the new class of 29er Trail bikes. WTB has the 2.5 inch Weirwolf LT 29er tire while Schwalbe has a new 2.35 inch 29er tire called the Hans Dampf. In addition to increased widths, expect to see deeper and knobbier 29er tread patterns to emerge over the next couple of years.
Admittedly I’m a bit puzzled by some of the new 29er tires targeting the other end of the spectrum: 2.0 width and lower. Almost every tire company we met with offered at least one 2.0 or narrower tire for racing. The best explanation we heard was that the Europeans are finally catching onto 29ers for XC riding/racing and they want skinny tires.
More and more complex mountain bike tire tread patterns are being designed using multiple rubber compounds these days and some companies are even using different colors of rubber to visually distinguish the compounds. The advantage: different grip and wear patterns for each knob zone (primary, transition, and corner). While the idea of using different compounds for each tread zone isn’t new, it’s certainly becoming more common.
Special-purpose tires are multiplying
It’s hard to quantify but it seems like there are more and more special-purpose mountain bike tires popping up these days. Surly has their enormous balloon-like tires and this year they added a 4.7-inch monster, the Big Fat Larry, to the line-up. Schwalbe offers a new 29er studded tire called the Ice Spiker which not only includes 402 spikes but it’s also tubeless ready (don’t ask me how that’s possible). There are also plenty of “race only” tires that use especially sticky, grippy compounds that work great on race day but wear down too quickly for everyday riding.
As you can see there’s a lot to keep up with in the mountain bike world and tires are no exception. While there weren’t a lot of completely new tire patterns on display – most companies stuck with their tried-and-true designs – there are certainly a number of exciting new applications in the space, especially for those of us who rider big wheels.