Dirt Rag Magazine

First Ride: New Maxxis 27plus, 27.5 and 29 Inch Tires


Words and photos: Emily Walley and Justin Steiner

The mountain bike market is a flurry of activity right now as frame, wheel and tire manufacturers strive to sort out where the current evolution and specialization of mountain bikes will end up. On one end of the spectrum, we have enduro bikes with descending capabilities that aren’t too far behind those of downhill bikes. Some of those bikes are even flirting with 27plus tire sizes. On the other end of the spectrum, we have 29plus and fat bikes that are being used for everything from bikepacking to crushing rowdy trails on fully rigid singlespeeds. Within the last year, manufacturers have thrown a lot of ideas on the wall to see what sticks.

In early April, Maxxis invited us to Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Get-A-Way near Ellijay, Georgia, in order to check out the plethora of new tires it has launched within the last year to fill the broad spectrum of demand for new mountain bike tires.

Before we talk about specific tires, let’s touch on the development process. Manufacturing tires involves having a production mold cut from steel. This process is time consuming and extremely expensive, so it’s something Maxxis, and all tire manufacturers, strive to get right the first time.

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Short of having this mold, there’s no way to produce a tire. In order to facilitate the design process, Maxxis engineers produce 3D-printed prototypes of a tire design in order to visualize the final product. This 3D-printed prototype is then shared with test riders, sales staff and OEM partners for feedback. This prototype might go through 2 to 3 revisions before a design is finalized and the mold cutting begins.

Perhaps the biggest (pun intended) story at the summit was the expansion of plus and fat bike offerings from Maxxis. In addition to some of the lighter, faster tires on offer from Maxxis, the company has recently announced burlier options in both 27plus and 29plus sizes utilizing some of its iconic tread patterns.

Maxxis’ position on 29plus trends on the larger end of the spectrum with size-accurate 29 x 3.0-inch versions of the Minion DHF and Minion DHR. In person these tires looked burly and way grippy. We’re curious to get our hands on samples to see how they roll. All that grip will likely come with the penalty of increased rolling resistance and weight, but Maxxis wasn’t willing to divulge weights since these tires we saw were pre-production samples.

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27plus versions of the Minion DHF, Minion DHR, and High Roller II will be available in a 2.8 inch width. According to Maxxis, 2.8 inches is the sweet spot for tires that are designed to be ridden more aggressively, providing a good balance of air volume and casing stability. The tires also offer the benefit of fitting inside many existing 29 inch frames. Weights for all three of these tires will be 980 grams for 120 tpi versions and 1040 grams for 60 tpi models, which is impressive considering the 29 x 2.3 inch versions of these tires check in between 855 and 925 grams.

Fat bike riders looking for substantial rubber should rejoice in the new Minion fat bike offerings. The Minion FBF and Minion FBR are inspired by their narrower Minion siblings, promising to bring a bit more grip to the world of fat bikes. Weights range from 1225 grams to 1650 grams depending on size and technology featured.

In 2015, Maxxis also launched its DoubleDown casing construction to fill the gap between its tires with EXO sidewall protection and the dual-ply downhill tires. The tires target the hardcore enduro crowd where aggressive riders are looking for a tire that’s tougher than the EXO offerings but not as heavy as a dual-ply downhill tire.

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Maxxis’ trail tires utilize a single-ply 60 tpi casing, where the downhill tires use a dual-ply of the same 60 tpi casing. The DoubleDown casing utilizes dual layers of 120 tpi casing and a butyl insert above the bead to protect from pinch flats. Even though it is a true dual-ply casing, DoubleDown splits the difference, both in terms of protection and weight, between the trail and downhill offerings.

In addition to the go-to Minion DHF, two new Maxxis tread patterns will be offered with DoubleDown construction: Aggressor and Tomahawk. We didn’t have a chance to sample the Tomahawk, but did get to ride the Aggressor in single-ply form. See riding impressions below.

Also new for 2015 is the Forekaster, offered only in 29 x 2.35 inch size for now. Billed as an aggressive XC tire, it looks very well suited to loose and wet trail conditions. The Forekaster tips the scale to 735 grams.

First Impressions

We weren’t able to sample all of Maxxis’ new tires, but here are our brief ride impressions on those we were able to ride.

Rekon 27.5 x 2.8

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Ridden by Justin.

The Rekon is quickly establishing itself as a go-to plus tire for all-around trail use thanks to its balance of traction, weight, reasonable rolling resistance and resilience. On a brief ride aboard the Rekon, I was impressed by its traction during acceleration, braking and cornering. Only in wet turns did the Rekon begin to push the front and drift the rear, but always in a predictable fashion. At 780 to 825 grams, the Rekon is lighter or on par with many 2.3 inch wide tires in 27.5 and 29 inch diameters. The Pivot Mach 429 Trail felt faster, both uphill and down with these tires than the Aggressors in 29 x 2.3 inch.

Aggressor 29 x 2.3

Ridden by Justin.

The Aggressor is designed to be a heavy-duty tire for trail and enduro applications. Weights reflect that: 900 grams for the 29 inch EXO-reinforced single-ply and 1115 grams for the DoubleDown casing in the same size. On the trail, the Aggressor felt, well, aggressive. It bit hard in all situations, providing more than adequate traction. The only downside was that they felt heavier and slower than plus tires on the 429 Trail. The extra weight was noticeable both in climbing and when flicking the bike around during technical moves and in the air. Though I have no data to prove it, I felt faster and experienced a more comfortable ride aboard the plus tires on the 429 Trail.

Minion SS 27.5 x 2.3

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Ridden by Emily.

Tested on the Pivot Mach 6 with the Minion DHF on the front and the Minion SS on the rear. The SS is generally ridden as a rear tire. A center of short, cross-country-style knobs are nestled between chunky Minion side knobs, giving the tire a boxy look. My perception was that this tire would slide around on the rear, but that wasn’t the case. The large side knobs offered ample cornering traction and the square profile was fast rolling on Mulberry Gap’s, moderately technical, Bear Creek trail. The SS saved 95 grams over running a Minion DHF on the rear. The weight savings was worthwhile on this trail, where the extra traction of a DHF wasn’t essential. However, in more aggressive terrain I’d likely opt for the extra weight of a DHF or DHR.

High Roller II 27.5 x 2.8

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Ridden by Justin.

I’m a big fan of the High Roller II, so I was stoked to see and sample this tread pattern in 27plus, even in pre-production form. This chunky tire looks mean in the 2.8 inch width and feels incredibly competent on the trail. Pivot’s 429 Trail is a very capable bike, but the High Roller II felt almost like overkill for both the bike and then relatively smooth trails we traveled. Where the Rekon felt more use-appropriate on the 429 Trail, the plus-sized High Roller II begs for more travel, chunky technical terrain and a hard-charging rider. Despite the High Roller II’s hefty appearance, it felt more nimble and seemed to roll at least as well as, if not better than, the Aggressor on the 429 Trail. Not only that, but there’s only an 80 to 104 gram weight penalty compared to the lightest Aggressor. Aired up to 15-16 psi in the front and 18-19 psi in the rear, as recommended by Pivot President and CEO Chris Cocalis, I wasn’t able to discern any tire squirm or other strange handling characteristics during our brief ride. Though more testing is required, this tire setup shows a lot of promise for aggressive riding in rough terrain.

Ardent Race 29 x 2.2

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Ridden by Emily.

On the 100 mm travel Pivot Mach 429SL, this medium tread tire was about perfect on Georgia’s non-technical Pinhoti 2 and 3, which involved a fair bit of climbing before hitting a rewarding downhill. The Ardent Race tires were quick to climb and capable on the descents, offering a balance of fast rolling speed and plenty of grip on loose terrain. The Ardent Race tread falls between the lightweight Ikon and the more aggressive Ardent.

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RockShox drops new rear shocks and 29plus forks


Last week RockShox announced new sizing for rear shocks, which it dubbed Metric Sizing. This has create some confusion among consumers, but the idea is to consolidate shock sizes into fewer options, while improving performance and longevity. RockShox isn’t alone here, with many other OE manufacturers following suit.

The Deluxe and Super Deluxe are the first offerings to take advantage of the new shock sizing. New scraper seals promise less maintenance and improved durability. Increases bushing overlap reduces internal friction under load. Combined with a new Counter Measure coil spring working to counteract the pressure of the IFP, and the built-in Debonair air can, new levels of plushness are said to be achieved.

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Also quietly released are 29plus suspension forks at both the Pike and Yari level. These are Boost only forks, with all the same performance and features as the the previous models. We are happily surprised to see this, as the 27plus juggernaut was looking like it might steamroll the 29plus wheelsize into niche status. We’re guessing a 29plus full-suspension trail bike is in the works from a major manufacturer, as it is rare to see a new fork like this get made without a serous OE commitment. Sea Otter will probably tell us if our hunch is true.

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Get your fill of info at sram.com.

 

Below is the text of RockShox press release about the new shocks for those who want to dig deeper, because this stuff gets real deep, real fast:

ROCKSHOX DELUXE | SUPER DELUXE
EMBARGO: APR 07, 2016

AVAILABILITY: OEM SPEC – SUMMER 2016

A NEW APPROACH IN REAR SHOCK DESIGN
INITIAL QUESTIONS
How did we get to the current stroke and eye to eye offerings?
As frame manufacturers pushed the limits of frame design new rear shock sizes were created without broad consultation within the industry, resulting in a complicated offering with many overlaps and performance compromises.
How did we get to the current hardware and mounting options?
Same process described previously. There are currently almost 90 varieties of rear shock hardware being used in the industry.

How are frame designers interfacing with rear shocks?

Bushings, bearings, proprietary mounting systems.
How much performance are we leaving on the table as a result of these compromises that have accumulated over the years?
A lot. This is why we adopted a new approach to rear shock design.

GOALS
Starting from a blank slate allowed us to establish ambitious goals:
Performance

How do we build the best possible rear shock?
Integration

How do we improve the integration of rear shocks into frame designs?
PERFORMANCE
PERFORMANCE ACHIEVEMENT 1:

BUSHING OVERLAP
Starting with a blank slate allowed us to extend bushing overlap between the moving elements of the shock. This greatly reduces system friction under load. Riders benefit from this with:
BETTER TRACTION
RESPONSIVENESS
INCREASED DURABILITY
AIR CAN BUSHINGS – 33% more overlap
PISTON/SEALHEAD BUSHINGS – 90% more overlap

PERFORMANCE ACHIEVEMENT 2:

IMPROVED SCRAPER
Seal consistency is critical for rear shock performance and longevity. The increase in eye-to-eye per stroke created through Metric Sizing allows Deluxe and Super Deluxe to feature an improved scraper seal resulting in the following benefits:
LESS MAINTENANCE
INCREASED LONG TERM DURABILITY
BETTER PERFORMANCE IN COLD TEMPERATURES

PERFORMANCE ACHIEVEMENT 3:

COUNTER MEASURE
Introduced in 2013 on Vivid and Vivid Air and highly acclaimed for its effects on shock performance at top-out, the Counter Measure spring works to oppose the effect of the IFP pressure, effectively lowering the initial breakaway force.

PERFORMANCE ACHIEVEMENT 4:

DEDICATED DEBONAIR CHASSIS AND BETTER TUNING SYSTEM
Introduced in 2014, the DebonAir air can option for Monarch and Monarch Plus was a stepping stone in improving the performance and feel of air shocks on all kinds of bikes. Deluxe and Super Deluxe take this to the next level by incorporating DebonAir in the air can design without any added weight or complexity.

The air volume tuning system on Deluxe and Super Deluxe capitalizes on RockShox’s Bottomless Tokens technology, adapting it to its rear shock platform in a clean and easy to use format.
INTEGRATION
INTEGRATION ACHIEVEMENT 1:

MOUNTING SYSTEM
“TYPICAL” VERTICAL MOUNT
Higher rotation at shaft eyelet (70-120 degrees)
Recommend use of Trunnion mount or shaft end bearing mount
Shaft end bearing mount is recommended to reduce overall suspension friction
Trunnion mount can reduce overall length by 25mm to allow for lower top tube height
“TYPICAL” HORIZONTAL MOUNT
Higher rotation at body eyelet (70-120 degrees)
Recommended use of body end bearing mount to reduce overall suspension friction
The Trunnion mount allows for a shorter eye to eye length while maintaining a specific stroke size (25mm overall length reduction over standard or bearing mount). Benefits are significant for smaller frame sizes, women specific models and bikes that are designed for low standover height.
Designed to be used in conjunction with frame mounted bearings at the mounting bolts.
Bearings eliminate friction caused by pivot rotation.
Smoother shock action resulting in better traction and responsiveness.
Available at both body and shaft ends.

INTEGRATION ACHIEVEMENT 2:

METRIC SIZING
SO…IS THIS A NEW REAR SHOCK STANDARD?
No. It’s a new set of sizes for rear shocks, developed and agreed upon by suspension and frame manufacturers, starting from a blank slate and with the sole purpose of allowing suspension manufacturers to create better rear shocks and frame designers to build better bikes.

SUPER DELUXE
CHANGING EVERYTHING
The directive was simple. Engineer a shock that does for rear-suspension performance what Pike did for forks. Simple? Don’t bet on it. A gamble? Absolutely. It required a complete change in the way we approach shock design. It meant focusing on performance first and leaving old constraints behind. And it gave us a clear path to develop the world’s lowest-friction shock — Super Deluxe. Metric sizing gives Super Deluxe significantly increased bushing overlap, which, together with a sophisticated new bushing profile, virtually eliminates friction in the shock. A new damper holds the shock high in its stroke and offers unparalleled traction. Unshackled from the old obstacles of shock design, Super Deluxe is free to tackle new ones — on the trail. This changes everything.

THINGS TO REMEMBER
Metric sizing and a sophisticated new bushing design allows this to be the lowest-friction rear shock we have ever made.
Super Deluxe has three independently tunable compression settings.
Increased bushing overlap allows for better sealing and decreased friction.
Mounting options: Trunnion mount, bearing mount, Standard DU.

FEATURES AND BENEFITS
Features increased bushing overlap and new bushing design which decreases friction, also increasing on-trail performance and overall durability.
New scraper seal technology increases durability, improves performance in colder temperatures and lengthens the intervals between required maintenance.

TECHNOLOGIES
Solo Air™

Rapid Recovery™ System

Sag Gradients™

METRIC SIZING™

DELUXE
REDEFINING A KING
How do you improve on the success of a rear shock that has received critical acclaim for its stellar performance and supple feel? It’s Simple. You rewrite the rules, throw existing design constraints out the window and focus solely on the best possible performance solution. We took the proven damping performance of our popular Monarch series and introduced it to our new metric-sized chassis. The result is truly Deluxe. With the incredible feel of DebonAir as its standard-bearer and three new mounting options, our new Deluxe is ready to redefine your ride.

THINGS TO REMEMBER
Metric sizing.
Incorporates proven damping performance of Monarch.
Mounting options: Trunnion mount, bearing mount, Standard DU.

FEATURES AND BENEFITS
Increased bushing overlap and sophisticated new bushing design decreases friction, which increases performance and durability.
New scraper seal technology increases durability, improves performance in colder temperatures and lengthens the intervals between required maintenance.

TECHNOLOGIES
Solo Air™

Rapid Recovery™ System

Sag Gradients™

METRIC SIZING™

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Underground Bike Works, a new John Parker joint


It was with some excitement that we read this press release. John Parker? Missy Giove? Frank the Welder? 27plus and 29plus bikes? Yes to all those things.

John Parker and the 29 plus proto

John Parker’s new bike company will debut at Sea Otter 2016. Here’s the press release that got us all excited:

John Parker, founder of Yeti Cycles, announced his return to the mountain bike industry by launching Underground Bike Works, his new mountain bike company. The new firm will launch at Sea Otter next month and will simultaneously launch a Kickstarter Campaign for the company.

“After selling Yeti I went underground. Now I’m back with a vengeance and will be using new technologies and distribution models. If you liked what I did at Yeti you’re going to love what I have up my sleeve at Underground Bike Works. If that don’t light your fire then your wood is wet,” said Parker when asked about his new bicycle company.

Underground Bike Works is launching the Kickstarter Campaign on April 14, 2016. The bikes that will be sold on the Kickstarter campaign are a 27.5 hardtail plus bike and a 29 hardtail plus bike. Limited production bicycles will be available, fabricated by Frank The Welder, one of John’s long­time partners and one of the best in the business. Additionally, Missy Giove will re­join John Parker and Underground Bike Works at Sea Otter this year and take part in the dual slalom race on one of Parker’s new bikes.

‘I’m excited about joining forces with Parker again. We have some really cool things planned for the future,” said Missy.

While attending Sea Otter please come by and join John and Missy, who will sign autographs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 10:00 AM and again at 2:00 PM at booth 919.


It looks like Parker is getting the band back together.

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Inside Line: First ride on new 2016 Salsa models


Ponyrustler

Spotted as a prototype at Sea Otter, the new 27plus full suspension bike from Salsa made its official debut today with two carbon fiber models and an aluminum model built around the excellent Split Pivot suspension.

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If you’re ridden the Horsethief 29er and enjoyed it, you’re likely to feel right at home on the Ponyrustler, as they share geometry figures. In fact, the 2016 Horsetheif is the exact same frame and each model can swap wheels thanks to the Boost hub spacing front and rear. Salsa will continue to offer them as two distinct models though, and the ride experience is quite different.

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A quick demo ride largely confirmed that the ride experience somewhat splits the difference between a normal 29er and a full suspension fat bike. Compared to the Bucksaw full suspension fat bike the Ponyrustler feels much faster and more like a “normal” bike while still offering the extra traction and compliance of the larger tires.

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The frame offers 120 mm of travel the complete bikes ship with 130 mm forks, all with 110 mm Boost spacing. The Carbon XO1 model ships with the Pike and SRAM XO1, of course, for $5,499. The Carbon GX1 model has the Fox fork and a 1×11 GX build for $4,499. Finally, the aluminum Ponyrustler has a Fox fork and 2×10 GX build for $3,499. All three models ship with SRAM hubs laced to WTB Scraper rims with WTB’s new Bridger 27.5×3.0 tires. The carbon frame will also be available on its own for $2,499.

 

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Are 27plus bikes going to be the new normal in a few years time? Don’t be surprised if they are.

Deadwood

Somewhat surprising is this 29plus touring bike that Salsa says will be produced in somewhat limited numbers. More evolutionary than revolutionary, it’s kind of like what you’d expect to get if a Fargo and a Mukluk enjoyed a little too much bourbon around the campfire before snuggling into a sleeping bag together.

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It’s built with Salsa’s more heavy duty Cobra Kai steel tubing also found on the Powderkeg tandem and Marrakesh touring bike. Here you’ll find all the features and mounts from a Fargo but with the Boost 148 spacing on the Alternator rear end to accommodate the 29×3 Surly Knard tires on WTB Scraper rims. The fork is identical to the standard Fargo model though.

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The deep copper paint is lovely in person, and subtle touches like the special logo treatment and subdued graphics are really eye-catching.

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I had a chance to take it for a quick spin and I think it could really be the perfect vehicle for riders who want to tackle touring/bikepacking routes at a more casual pace and are willing to trade some speed for comfort. The huge tires soak up the bumps without creating excess rolling resistance. My guess is it’s the kind of bike that will leave customers either salivating or scratching their heads.

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The Deadwood will retail for $2,599 or $1,099 for a frame/fork.

Cutthroat

Salsa says the Tour Divide race was the inspiration for the Fargo model, but in the ensuing years the bar for speed has been raised (or lowered?) and top gravel racers are looking for something even lighter and more aggressive. The full carbon fiber Cutthroat is the result.

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An even more streamlined vision of what the perfect Tour Divide race bike could be, the Cutthroat does away with some of the practicality found on the Fargo such as the Alternator dropouts and rack and fender mounts. The triple cage mounts on the fork are still there though, as it shares the Firestarter carbon fork with the high-end Fargo model.

In the back is the new “Class 5 Vibration Reduction System” that made its debut on the Warbird gravel bike. In an effort to absorb impacts and vibrations the seatstays bow outward considerably to flex. When you’re racing 2,800 miles in two weeks on unpaved roads and trails, any bit helps.

The Cutthroat with a SRAM Rival 1×11 build is $3,999 and the SRAM Apex/X7 2×10 build is $2,999. The frame/fork can also be had for $1,999.

 

Marrakesh

While the Vaya has been carrying the “light touring” torch in the Salsa lineup for a few years, the brand admits it can be a bit overwhelmed when carting heavy loads. The Marrakesh was built from from Salsa’s Cobra Kai steel tubing to carry you and ALL your gear to its namesake exotic lands.

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A touring bike in the classic sense, it has a 3×9 drivetrain and bar-end shifters on the drop-bar model. The flat-bar model is an entirely different frame geometry to achieve proper fit, but is otherwise identical. Each version is available in two colors with a Shimano Deore kit, SRAM BB7 disc brakes, a rear rack and a Brooks saddle. The Alternator dropouts allow you to rig a singlespeed setup if you destroy a derailleur or to built one with an internal-gear hub.

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The Marrakesh will retail for $1,599 or $650 for the frame/fork.

 

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Other changes in the Salsa line

Aside from spec and color changes, some notable tweaks:

  • The carbon Beargrease gets one of the coolest fade paint jobs ever. (Pictured above)
  • All of Salsa’s fat bikes now come with 150 mm spacing on the forks so they can be swapped with a RockShox Bluto if desired. Each of the hardtail fat bikes (Mukluk, Beargrease and Blackbarrow) is also available with one stock.
  • The Mukluk frame geometry changes to match that of the Blackbarrow.
  • The Spearfish is now available in carbon only, with two spec levels or a frame option.
  • The Fargo Ti rides off into the sunset, mostly supplanted by the Cutthroat.
  • The new carbon and aluminum Warbirds were unveiled earlier this year.
  • The Vaya Ti remains in the lineup as a complete bike or frameset.
  • The smallest Vaya models now use 700c wheels instead of 26-inch, and there are only six total sizes instead of eight.
  • The Colossal Ti rolls away, and the single steel model is offered with SRAM Apex or as a frameset.

 

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Trail Tested: 29plus Tires from Vee and Bontrager


By Eric McKeegan

Since the original introduction of the 29plus platform with Surly’s Krampus, riders in love with the plus-size concept have been wishing for/hoping for/ demanding a more aggressive tire than the all-purpose Knard found on that machine. While there are more plus-size tires in the pipeline, these two tires are the first we’ve ridden enough to get a proper review together.

Vee Tire Trax Fatty (left) and Bontrager Chupacabra

Vee Tire Trax Fatty (left) and Bontrager Chupacabra

Vee Tire Trax Fatty $120

Vee Tire’s Trax Fatty was the first non-Knard 29plus tire available to the public. While marked 29×3.0, it is noticeably smaller than the Chupacabra and Knard, although at 880 grams it’s substantially lighter as well. This reduced width and height may allow it to fit into more forks and frames than the “full size” plus-size tires. Tubeless setup was painless and the tires held air well.

The casing width exceeds the knob width on both 35 mm and 45 mm rims, which makes for an odd-looking tire shape. The center knobs are ramped, and on hard surfaces these tires are fast. The transition and cornering knobs are small and feel a bit squirmy on pavement. On dry dirt cornering is acceptable, but as things get slick the transition knobs let go easily. Leaning farther over onto the cornering knobs doesn’t always catch the slide started from the transition knobs, leading to some interesting moments.

The tires I tested are 120 tpi folding bead with a silica compound. There is also a 72 tpi version with a less-expensive rubber compound in wire bead for $100 or folding for $110. Those riders placing an emphasis on light and fast over absolute traction will find what they are looking for with the Trax Fatty.

Bontrager Chupacabra $120

This tire came as a surprise, since Bontrager’s parent company, Trek, did not offer a 29plus bike at the time it was released. This has changed with the recent availability of the 2016 Stache.

In the meantime, the Chupacabra should help quiet some of the clamor for a more aggressive tire. While the small square tread and less- than-beefy cornering knobs certainly don’t look much more aggressive than the Knard, the Chupacabra is more confidence inspiring in every condition I tried. I set them up tubeless and they snapped into place on both Syntace W35 and Velocity Dually wheels; they seemed to work best between 8 and 12 psi. I was happy with 12 rear and 10 up front in everything but snow, where dropping things a few psi helped immensely with traction but led to a lot of rim strikes and some burping on the Syntace rim.

The 120 tpi casing is supple and the sidewalls are a great middle ground between weight and sturdiness; their 940-gram weight is very surprising for a tire this size. The Chupacabra rolls quickly and corners with confidence and predictability in both the dry and the wet. This tire comes highly recommended.

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