Genre-box them if you must, these updated mountain bike tires from Specialized will likely break the typical borders we place around lighter-weight rubber. In June the California-based brand released updated tread compounds and casings for their popular Renegade, Fast Trak and Ground Control tread patterns. We have since been testing the latter two in size 29 x 2.3″ with the T7 tread compound and the rock-ready Grid casings.
While I have been pedaling local trails on this pair, their real test was a massive two-day trip in the Alps with over twenty hours total saddle-time split on either side of sleep. Bearing this trip in mind, I asked Specialized to for the heaviest casings with the grippiest compound. We needed to climb 2,434 meters on the first day, and 1,400 the second, and I opted for the extra weight to keep the corresponding descents fun and flat-free.
The Grid casings did their duty, preventing punctures despite the best efforts of rocks that were significantly taller than the tires’ profile. Inflated with a few extra PSI to keep things rolling easy uphill I enjoyed a good death grip down some of the roughest military roads I’ve ridden without suffering a single sidewall tear or snake bite. These bedrock roads are janky enough that you need a leggy 4×4 to drive up them, and the folks we passed who had 47mm “gravel” tires were walking. At the rifugio later I overheard the riders complaining about flats and how badly their hands hurt. Fat tires for the win!
Fortunately, the 29 x 2.35″ size was good for more than puncture protection, as the thicker casing also provided just enough small-bump munching to quiet the wrist and arm pain. With different, heftier tires mounted, I like to ride this hardtail on the same trails as my 160mm squishy bike, trying all the while to get close to those big-bike descent times. That kind of fun requires running minimal sag in the fork to manage the larger impacts. On the trails and roads throughout our Via del Sale bikepacking route the fork wasn’t far from rigid, and I was impressed by how well these tires manage to smooth things out, even at higher pressures. On my home traks they offer ample support in the turns, given the amount of grip that the tread provides.
I mounted the Fast Trak tread out back to make use of its lower lug profile on the climbs, and the somewhat more square Ground Control felt good under the bars, requiring a little less lean to reach the shoulder lugs. The combo worked out swimmingly, and I was impressed with how much climbing and braking traction the Fast Trak creates from its shallow tread. To do it all over again, I would put on a pair of Ground Control tires front and rear for more balanced cornering grip. The Fast Trak also has staggered central tread that isn’t ideal for braking control, and the paired lugs on the Ground Control would help with this element. That stated, I have no doubt that the rounder profile and racy tread on the Fast Trak let me burn fewer calories up those long climbs.
While it felt counterintuitive to mount a heavier tire up front, I did it anyway, and I wasn’t bummed. The Ground Control grabs the earth with surprising tenacity given that its knobs are only slightly taller than the Fast Trak. The pattern alone accounts for a lot of that grip, and this design felt decidedly familiar. It breaks traction predictably, which allows you to push it around and drift without having to wonder when the slide might start. I’ve grown accustomed to tires with far taller and softer lugs, and these fast-rollers are loads of fun as long as you’re comfortable with losing traction. To compare the Ground Control to a tire that you might know, I find them a little less grippy than a Maxxis Ardent and more so than a Schwalbe Racing Ralph.
The T7 rubber holds up better than I expected, with little wear after sticking to all of those rocks and lunch-lap tracks. At $60 (both are available at JensonUSA and other online retailers) for the stickiest and most puncture-proof model of either of these tires, they should do well to stretch those pennies out like Play-Dough across the summer calendar. The shallower tread isn’t the best in wet conditions, despite the tad-softer T7 compound, and I would definitely call both of these fair-weather tires.
The only challenge I encountered with these tires was the tubeless setup. My rear rims have some half-straightened dents in them, but other tires have sealed up with a floor pump in the usual amount of time on these same wheels. This tire set took a little extra finessing, more soapy water, and definitely required that the valve cores be removed. Maybe they just don’t like being mounted on crappy, dented rims?
This pair isn’t the lightest option for bikepacking, or mass-start racing, but if you like traction and hate punctures these tires are pretty sweet. They roll fast enough, and stick to most dry surfaces while providing cornering support that matches their intentions. There are a few lighter weight options available for folks who prefer a more supple ride.
- Impressive grip given the low rolling resistance
- T7 rubber is more durable than expected
- Solid puncture protection
- Grip is limited on steep trails
- Tubeless setup could be better
*Pros and cons of the Specialized Fast Trak and Ground Control tires.