Is it the bike? Is it the rider? Or is it the tire?

I’m not a huge race nerd. I’ll just put that out there immediately. It’s cool and all, and going fast is really fun, but I’d much rather be out riding myself than sitting home watching others have all the fun, and I just can’t bring myself to do the things—  train, practice, analyze my wattage, not eat donuts, or want to be better at something than my friends— that make people really good at racing. There’s something to be gained, though, by looking at what makes people win that goes beyond natural ability. I follow Rachel Atherton and Lindsey Voreis on Instagram for both spiritual motivation and helpful tips, and any time I’ve had the opportunity to ride with Georgia Gould or Rebecca Rusch I’ve jumped at it because just being in their presence makes one a better person rider.

Bike brands, of course, will say that the right bike is what will send an ambitious rider over the top. And it’s true: riding a Bronson on the Colorado Trail probably literally saved my life. The Crust I’m testing out now is stout and fun, helping me master flat pedal bunny hops and tight uphill cornering with its compact geometry and 26″ wheels.

But what about tires? If the clothes make the man (or whatever), maybe the tires make the bike? Or do the tires make the racer? A lot of people swear by one brand or another, or one brand for one type of riding and another for a different. I have Maxxis on one bike, WTBs on another, and Bontragers on yet another.

When I rode a track bike, I swore by Vittorias for their plush feel and smooth role. Even though I was warned they weren’t good for riding off the track and that they would wear out too quickly, I rode them on my work bike and commuted through the city all winter on the same pair. But I never really perked my ears up about their mountain bike tires.

Apparently, though, Vittoria’s mountain bike tires are on a lot of bikes that were under a lot of riders when they won big mountain bike races. Lars Forster won 1st place European XC championships running a Mezcal front and 2019 Terrano prototype rear, Greggor Raggl won 1st place Austrian National XC championships running Mezcals with liners, Elisabeth Brandau won 1st place XC Nationals in Germany on Barzo front and Peyote Rear, and the list goes on.

It’s just one more thing to think about, and since I am unwilling to not eat donuts or start practicing and training, then it’s probably all for naught anyway. I do love a good tire that can keep me from sliding all over the place whether I’m riding in loose kitty litter-like sand or slick mud and mossy logs. Will these help me win a race I’m not signed up for? Absolutely not. Will they help you? Is there something else that you swear makes all the difference when it comes to being your best rider?

Maybe the donuts do help after all.