With so much of the industry trying out a direct-to-consumer model, it was only a matter of time before a tire brand gave it a shot. Versus Tires debuted in the spring of 2020 with the pandemic in full-force; the “perfect” time to launch any business. In actuality, with more people on bikes lately, and with a recession, it’s not a bad time at all to save a little bit of money on bike tires. The question remains though, are they worth saving money on? In short, they sure are, but more on that below.
Since Versus is brand new, as is the application of the D2C model for a tire company, I wanted to learn more about the brand and what it took for Scott Hultgren to start taking on the established mountain bike tire brands.
Interview: Versus founder Scott Hultgren
How did the idea come about for a direct-to-consumer tire company?
This is all still fairly fuzzy as I was pretty heavily medicated after surgery a few days earlier to fix a riding injury (exploded heel), but I was watching the Rampage where [Graham Aggasiz] got hurt and thought about how well the DTC companies were doing.
I was out of it, and bummed that I had just spent a ton of money on new tires, which I wasn’t going to be riding for a really, really long time. Thoughts went from how he [Aggy] would probably ride before me (he did, by a lot), to why nobody was doing a direct tire company, and then eventually I realized I should be the one doing a direct tire company.
Thankfully, I have an action/outdoor sports design background and am familiar with producing things, but had never done anything like this; either a tire or my own brand. I was able to draw from that experience, using a network of friends and past clients to make Versus a reality.
How much would it have inflated costs to sell through dealers?
A minimum of 40%.
How did the idea evolve?
It was a long time between my “it would be cool if” idea and what became Versus. I had ideas on what to do for a tire from riding, researching as much as I could and generally having a problem-solving designer mindset. I sent my tire design off to be sampled and applied to a prestigious business accelerator at home in San Diego, where I had to pitch my idea to a group of 60 sport and lifestyle business execs. It was wild, I fully expected them to say my plan was terrible… but they loved it and I was accepted! Fast forward a crazy amount of late nights and here we are.
What were the biggest challenges in starting the company?
Saying what wasn’t [a challenge] would be easier, it was all a huge challenge. I had experience with the problems that involved design, but virtually everything was new to me. As a father of a super rad now-toddler, spending a ton of money on an incredibly time-consuming project that wasn’t going to pay for years (or at all) was pretty gnarly. Most of all, though, really just believing in myself and the idea; thankfully, I have an amazingly supportive wife and an incredible network, all of whom want Versus to succeed.
What were your goals developing the tire?
Tire development was mainly done with tons of research, sketches and generally just thinking with an analytic, designer mindset. Mold fees are insane, so I had to get it pretty right from the start. The main goal was really to make something that was fun to ride and would work well in most terrain for me, my friends, and fellow riders.
Was it hard to create a unique tread pattern with so many options out there already?
In a word, yes. There’s only so much that can be done to knob shapes, sizes, etc., but the tread is really only a piece of the puzzle. Siping, compounds, and casing construction are all pieces, as well. The sum of all the parts is how the tire rides.
What kind of tires and product can we expect to see from Versus in the future?
Oh, man. More colors, sizes, tires, and way more stuff than I can talk about right now. This tire is just the beginning. We’re building a foundation for the brand before we really shake things up. Stuff that we hope will blow people’s minds and further set Versus apart.
About the Versus All Mountain Tires
Take a look through the Versus tire options and you’ll indeed notice a few things that are different. First, you can buy the tires in sets of two with Gravity casings for $130, or two of the All Mountains with Trail casings for $120. Buyers can also go for a single tire for $62.50. At $60-$65 tire, they are certainly competitive if you were to buy a comparable Maxxis Minion DHRII from a bike shop. If you’re buying from on online distributor, then maybe not.
The more tires you buy, the more you save. A set of six of the Trail casing tires goes for $325, breaking it down to about $54 per tire. As I’ve stated so far, there are two casing options on the one available All Mountain tire: a Gravity, and a Trail. They are made in one diameter and width currently (29×2.4), but they have 27.5″ and 26″ tires on the way, which should make a lot of riders happy. The last option is for a yellow paint splatter tread that will draw some eyes.
My Trail casing 29×2.4 weighed 989g on my scale at home. The claimed weight for the Gravity casing is a hefty 1,500g.
The tires are a 63/60 dual-compound durometer and a 60TPI casing with a Versa layer, which Versus says is an impregnated, tight woven layer made from “super-soft rubber” that runs from bead to bead. This should deter punctures and help the tire hold air. The All Mountain tires are also designed around a 30mm internal width rim.
Sure, the tire looks similar to others we’ve seen, but not exactly. All of the center knobs are siped and ramped for a combo of grip and rolling speed. The cornering knobs are also ramped and siped, but it’s the accordion design on the cornering knobs that stands out. These are meant to bend more easily laterally for added grip around twisting singletrack.
On the trail
I’ve been using these Versus tires for about two months now, and have to say I love them. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t perfect, but the All Mountain tire has treated me well. I didn’t run into any issues during setup, and the All Mountain tire has been holding air supremely. The Versa layer is said to hold air better and reduce pre-ride pump ups, and that seems to be true.
As Hultgren says above, “The sum of all the parts is how the tire rides,” and the Versus holds a unique feel compared to other tires I have spent time on. As I said above, I opted for the Trail casing, because all of my rides this summer have been leg-served and 1,500g is a lot of weight to push around.
The 989g Trail-casing tire isn’t the lightest, but it’s a reasonable weight for most riders who want something for aggressive trail riding. The tread is tacky enough for most conditions, without feeling like you’re pedaling a wad of gum around, and it feels like it maintains speed well on descents.
Even though the accordion-siping on the corner knobs might seem gimmicky, the tire’s cornering performance is what really grabbed my attention on my first ride with the Versus. It’s one of the most predictable feeling tires I have ridden in regards to cornering performance. The tire transitions to the side knobs easily, and they hook in with confidence. I’ve had the tire in everything from dry, dusty, and blown out, to buff and smooth, to wet and loamy. So far, there hasn’t been any surprises and it’s maintained composure on everything.
Obviously, the Versus isn’t the best choice for XC or light-duty trail riding, but it covers a lot of terrain really well.
Really, my only nag is the wear life. After about two months, the rear is showing its age. I have been rotating the bike I had the tires mounted on with another bike, giving the tires at least one to two rides a week. The performance hasn’t dropped noticeably yet, but I won’t be carrying the rear tire over to next season. They’re probably on par with some Schwalbes I’ve ridden before, but the Maxxis Aggressor or DHR II will probably keep longer.
While they aren’t the lightest, cheapest, or longest lasting option, the performance of the Versus All Mountain tire warrants a try. They hold up and perform in most conditions with a unique cornering feel, and it’s great to see a brand not only trying something new, but making it work.
Thanks to Versus for providing tires for testing.