The most honest and in-depth reviews of outdoor sports equipment on the planet.

BLISTER Symposium: Tires

Welcome to the BLISTER Symposium, where we present a topic to several of our reviewers for debate, then see what the ratio of interesting-to-idiotic comments turns out to be.

We decided to start with tires. Mostly burlier trail and downhill tires. You know, the kind that are supposed to drift well, handle hard braking, lots of leaning, that sort of thing.

So take a look, see whether you agree or disagree with Marshal, Kevin, and Noah, and weigh in below.

Jonathan Ellsworth:

Morning, gentlemen, let’s talk about rubber.

I want to know:

1) Why are you guys always bitching about tires?

2) What do you wish companies were doing different?

3) If you could ask the head tire designer guy from any company out there any question, what would it be?

4) What’s your least favorite tire ever?

5) What’s your favorite tire ever, and why?

Noah Bodman:

Why are you guys always bitching about tires?

Because 95% of them suck. They change the ride characteristics of a bike more so than any other component, but crappy tires keep getting made, and they don’t get called out for their crappiness.

What do you wish companies were doing different?

Tire companies seem to like to start from scratch and make completely different designs. I’d rather they came up with a small handful of designs that work well and then gradually tweak those designs to make them better. More of an evolution, less trying to reinvent the wheel (pun intended) every time the marketing guys say “jump.” Some tire companies are doing a good job with this sort of idea (Maxxis), other companies still seem to be content to randomly throw bits of rubber at a tire casing and call it good.

If you could ask the head tire designer guy from any company out there any question, what would it be?

I’d want to ask, “What tire do you ride, and why do you like it?”

I’d also like to ask: “How does the current popularity of tubeless setups affect how you design your tires? Are you changing the tread patterns at all?”

And I’d also like to ask: “What kind of market limitations are there on tweaking tire designs? (My understanding is that it’s tricky / expensive to prototype a tire, which I think leads to tire designers having a more difficult time determining if their design is going to be good. If a tire is designed and a produced, but then after riding it, the designer decides that some of the knobs would be better if the knobs were shaped a little different, my understanding is that it’s a fairly expensive endeavor to make that tweak. High-end bike tires aren’t exactly a billion dollar market, so the market may not support tweaking a tire to the point of perfection.) Explain how the mock-up and testing of a tire takes place.”

What’s your least favorite tire ever?

Out of currently available tires, that’d probably go to the Schwalbe Big Betty. Those things hit that magical trifecta of (1) absurdly high price, (2) impressively poor wear characteristics, and (3) thoroughly mediocre traction.

What’s your favorite tire ever?

Maxxis DHF—no question. It stops well, it corners well, and more than anything, it’s super predictable. If I lean the bike X degrees, that tire will do the same thing, every time. It’s really drifty at moderate lean angles which allows you to scrub into corners, but if you lean it a little farther, it solidly locks into a corner. The casing isn’t anything special, but it works fine and isn’t overly flat-prone. It comes in a couple rubber compounds, each of which has merits for their intended purpose, and none of which are completely horrible. It works well in a pretty wide variety of conditions—I’ve never had a DHF on my bike and thought that it was totally out of place. I’m just as happy with it on my trail bike as on my DH bike (different casings, but same tread). It’s not the lightest tire (far from it), and it’s not the fastest rolling tire (even farther from it), but for drifty awesomeness, it’s my go-to tire. There’s a reason why lots of companies (try to) copy it.

Marshal OlsonBodman for president, 2016.

Jonathan: Bodman, 2016!!!   [Note: I’ve been on the Bodman ’16 campaign kick for quite a while now.]

Marshal: 99.5% of trail / DH tires suck. There are literally only a handful of treads that are not terrible, and most of them are ruined by dumb rubber compounds and wussy casings.

OK, to answer your four questions:

Q #1: Intermediate knobs. I mean, what the hell? They suck so bad if you get high lean angles and like a square-ish profile. So my assumption is that they are designed to be fit on large-volume tire volumes on very narrow (19mm or less) rims—meaning the tire is super round, so they are never actually using the cornering knobs. The rider is basically using the intermediate knobs as its corning knob, and the tire is in essence a total pinner width of useable tread, but lots of volume. (For what?)

Q #2: Intermediate knobs, part 2: Why design tires where the intermediate knob overlaps with the center and / or cornering knobs? If there is not a clear channel between the knobs, then how can the things bite? I mean, the wheel is spinning, right? Spin a wheel with overlapping blocks, and it just looks solid. That means it will not bite into soil very well.

Q #3: How does anyone get a tire that weighs less than 800g to work (at all, but most specifically) tubeless? A rear tire at the least needs a butyl strip at the bead or it will cut the casing very quickly if you ride through rocks(tm) with any rate of speed.

Q #4: Why the light tire fascination? Unless you are looking to run down the trail with a bike on your back, you need a little weight in your tire. 500g tires are the sketchiest things ever. Light rims, stiff spokes, heavy-ish tire, light hubs = go fast.

Favorite tire ever:

Minion DHF— it was literally the only tire on the entire planet, for like 10 years, that didn’t suck completely. It is slow and low volume, and has no need for those sipes because they prematurely wear the tire out, but it at least actually WORKS. It’s not incredible or anything, but it’s great because it’s not terrible.

Least favorite tire ever:

Oh, man. Where to start? I am going to go with all the Ritchey tires. ZED, ZMAX, etc. They were basically incompatible with using either your pedals or brakes. They literally just skidded everywhere with the slightest hint of force in any direction.

Jonathan: So it sounds like one of three things is happening:

1) Tire engineers are idiots and suck at their job.

2) Tire engineers aren’t idiots, but their ideas are getting blocked by marketing people who only care about talking points? So … marketing people are idiots. And also tyrants, that squelch the good designs of the non-idiot engineers.

3) Engineers aren’t idiots, and the marketing people aren’t idiots … bikers themselves are idiots. And they refuse to spend money on designs that actually work, either because (1) they like shiny new objects, or (2) they like familiar old objects. But either way, they won’t budge, and they keep buying crappy tires because they can’t tell that they’re crappy?

Which is it?

Marshal: #3 is my vote.

I was told Kenda is discontinuing the BBG and Happy Medium, which might be the best dry condition trail bike tires ever made, because they cannot give them away, because people don’t buy them because they look weird.

Imagine if you could only buy skis with wooden edges, because nobody wanted to learn how to carve the things. I mean, carving a turn IS harder than skidding around…

Kevin Bazar:

1) Tire engineers are idiots and suck at their job.

Maybe not the guys doing the casings, but certainly the ones doing the tread designs. I think Noah’s “95%-is-crap” is a little low.

2) Tire engineers aren’t idiots, but their ideas are getting blocked by marketing people who only care about talking points? So … marketing people are idiots. And also tyrants, who squelch the good ideas of the non-idiot engineers.

No, most of them are definitely idiots. I can think of one pretty prominent pro-brah who has his name on a few incarnations of a tire who has flat-out said that his designs get all screwed up by the time they reach production because someone wanted them to “look” different.

3) Engineers aren’t idiots, and the marketing people aren’t idiots … bikers themselves are idiots. And they refuse to spend money on designs that actually work, either because (1) they like shiny new objects, or (2) they like familiar old objects. But either way, they won’t budge, and they keep buying crappy tires because they can’t tell that they’re crappy.

The consumer definitely needs to share the blame. Specialized has made a TON of bad-ass designs over the years that only stuck around for a season or two because people didn’t know what they were looking at, and just went and bought whatever Sam Hill was running. And truth be told, a lot of riders out there either don’t ride that well, don’t live somewhere where tires really matter that much (good dirt, regular precip), and couldn’t tell you why their tires work or don’t work. See the recent popularity of certain tires that use the same designs they’ve had for years, but were never taken seriously until companies started paying fast guys to put them on their bikes…

What do you wish companies were doing different?

Hiring people who know what they’re doing. One company comes out with a really good design (Minion DHF), and rather than duplicate the principles and improve upon them, Bontrager makes a look-alike, but then turns the sideknobs around the wrong way just to be “unique.” The sideknobs worked they way they were set up on the Minion. What Bontrager did was just show a severe lack of understanding in how they functioned.

Specialized made another look-alike, but changed the one extremely unique thing about the Minion (the early engagement of the sideknobs) and made it just like a bunch of other models that don’t engage until you’re at like 45 degrees of lean.

Rather than jump around every two seasons with completely new completely crappy tread designs, why aren’t people putting more time and effort into lighter stronger casings? Anyone who rides on fast trails will put holes in single ply tires. The only option is to buy heavy ones. That’s weight added at literally the absolutely worst spot, the outside of the wheel radius. This will be compounded even more by all this big-wheel BS. So much time and money goes into making bad tread designs when it’s the tire construction itself that is the biggest dinosaur.

If you could ask the head tire designer guy from any company out there any question, what would it be?

Which brain damage ward at which hospital do you guys recruit from? Do you have a preference in TYPE of brain damage? Firearms? Car accident? Drug overdose?

What’s your least favorite tire ever?

Any trail / DH tire ever made by Continental. The tread designs suck, but at least they don’t stay in one piece very long so you can go buy a different brand pretty quickly.

Kenda is discontinuing the BBG while making Nevegals? Seriously. Brain damage.

 

38 Comments

  1. Fraser May 16, 2013 Reply

    Lot’s of talk about riding the down, but what about the up? or the across? or the across and over? Does your BBG hook up on wet roots on a 2 hour climb when you can barely get your ass off the seat? Are you riding up loose rocky climbs or sandstone? Try draggin around some 1 kg tire up and over every 10″ root and rocky step for a week long stage race!

    ok, so I’m riding the Maxxis ignitor UST, what I consider a decent compromise between rolling resistance, weight and performance. 2.1s (700g) for racing and 2.35 (835 g) for fun. Really a great all around performer.

    When you’re talking tubless are you talking Stan’s or UST? or both? and when you’re talking about tearing the casing is it the sidewall or somewhere else?

    • KB May 16, 2013 Reply

      The reason there’s so little talk about the “up” is because making a tire TREAD a good climbing one is blindingly easy. There are tons that do it well. Assuming you’re not in a gummy soil type, yes, BBGs will ascend wet roots better than most. Roots tend to be round and no amount of notched center knobs is going to beat what the BBG has going for it (certainly not an Ignitor): multiple climbing edges per inch vs. one or two on a more ‘conventional’ design. Bigger knobs don’t bite into round roots. Surface contact and compound are as important as knobs on that surface. That does go out the window in stickier dirt because that center tread does gum up. And no one anywhere has ever said the BBG is a good mud tire. But as far as engineering and thought behind a design goes, for dry conditions that’s an engineering masterpiece. Probably the best that Kenda has ever come up with. Loose rocks and sandstone? Like freakin velcro. Again because there are more little climbing edges in that little Lopes cornrow than almost any other tire. It’s the edge surface and multiple facets that outnumber one or two knobs/inch found on most other tires. And the most obvious thing about that design is the ample sideknobs with nothing silly in their way.

      Don’t think no one in this discussion has ever ridden a 1000kg tire on long multiple hour climbs multiple days in a row. We live in the mountains too. In a stage race format? Maybe not. But I ride 2-4k climbs every time I grab my trailbike, more days than not during any given week. And a stage race is getting into specific applications where everything in this discussion is more general in nature. There’s a lot of focus on downhill performance because bikes traveling at 20-40mph that need to redirect present the most difficult design problems. Climbing at less than 10rpm is the easy stuff from a tread design perspective. But good designs and light weight aren’t mutually exclusive. That’s one of Marshall’s biggest points to take out of this. You have have a solid design AND a light tire. Too often companies set out to make a light tire and then just phone in the tread design. It’s like they literally just don’t even try and write off a tire as ‘well it’s supposed to be light, not actually work worth a damn.’ Out of curiosity one year, I cut off all the center knobs of a pretty stout tread design and weighed them. It was less than 20 grams.

      Tearing casings when running tubeless setups occur mostly in two ways. A straight up hole in the center tread or the tubeless equivalent of a pinch flat. The pinches usually happen right along the bead and are pretty much impossible to patch/fix since that’s such a structural area. That’s mostly what we’re talking about. And it’s entirely what we’re sick of and why we end up running tires that are heavier than we’d like.

      • Noah Bodman May 16, 2013 Reply

        KB pretty well covered it, but I’ll certainly say that although the DHF is my favorite tire ever, it’s clearly not an xc race tire. If I were going to actually race uphill, I’d go with something quite different that emphasized low rolling resistance. The BBG might be a contender, depending on the conditions. The Ignitor would not be a contender since, in my humble opinion, that thing is pretty much a case study in crappy tire design. There’s not a single knob on that thing that is ideally shaped to make it effective for climbing, stopping, or cornering (or rolling quickly, for that matter). It might more or less do all of those things, but each one of those attributes could be improved by reshaping and moving the knobs.

        But yeah – I do 2 hours climbs on DHF’s fairly frequently. I’d rather haul those things uphill and have an awesome ride down than deal with a crappy tire. If there’s no clock running on the climb, I’m less concerned about how much they weigh or how fast they roll.

    • marshal May 17, 2013 Reply

      hey fraser, thanks for the comment.

      i don’t know where you live, or what trails you ride, but i would put the ignitor tread pattern into the intermediate to soft condition tire. its goal is to penetrate into softer soil/loam/etc without pulling so much force that you tear the soil (i.e. spin your tire).

      i would say that the BBG will grip exceptionally on a root or angled slab of granite. as well or better than anything out there… kevin put that very eloquently. however, the problem is if the trail is soft and sticky, the BBG will pack up almost immediately, so you might not make it to the root!

      i also think that you probably agree with us in general terms, on casings, as you are on a 700g xc race tires and an 830g trail bike tire. i see a lot of folks racing 500g tires and trail riding 600g trail bike tires….

      • Fraser May 17, 2013 Reply

        Moslty riding in the Alberta Rockies, so very much not the dessert. Our trails are “desert dry” for a few days a year maybe not at all. As far as the weight goes I use UST because they are stronger and more reliable for me, but you do take a weight penalty. For me reliability is worth it.

        Having lost skin to numerous crashes in dry, powdery conditions when my front wheel washes out I realize that the ignitor isn’t always great, but as an all rounder in our alpine forests I’ve enjoyed it. Had it in Sedona a couple of weeks ago and it seemed to hook up pretty good, but I guess on sndstone everything does.

        If blowing out sidewalls is a big issue then wouldn’t UST technology be part of that solution?

  2. Lee Lau May 16, 2013 Reply

    U guys are morons. The Conti X-King is much much much worse than the Conti Race King.’

    But i agree – no Minion, no talk

  3. Mr. P May 16, 2013 Reply

    With tires, the starting point for any conversation is:
    What is your terrain?
    And what is your riding style?

    Tires are designed for a multitude of terrain and a multitude of styles and a multitude of abilities.

    95% of tires suck FOR YOU.

    And this is true for most.

    But what is good for you, is likey not good for another.

    A beginner or intermediate on an open channel design? (Minion) Are you trying to push people away from the sport? Turns for them will leave them in the drifty open channel, because those riders steer with their handlebar, not through a lean or tipping in.

    The problem with a discussion like this is that we have finally found our particular favorites for our particular terrain, and our particular riding style… but they don’t match most riders terrain and riding style. Perhaps instead, break the discussion down not by bitching, but by tire components: grip (hard/loose), rolling, durability, braking, turning, sidewall strength, etc. Then riders can decide which mix best applies to them.

    I’m more of the mind that most tires are good… for specific conditions.

    P

    A couple of things to clear up;

    Re; the “tire is spinning comment” regarding intermediate knobs. According to the ground, the tire is not spinning, the tire makes static contact, weights, then releases. Spin your tires all you want. That is what you see. Not what the ground experiences.

    “butyl strip at the bead or it will cut the casing” is a WTB marketing fantasy. The strips (by all manufacturers) are wrapped around the bead and only a quarter inch above the bead (very little into the sidewall). That is next to the rim only. I have rarely seen a cut in that area that never touches rocks (but have experienced many sidewall cuts). The strips were designed for casing support and some help with pinch flatting pre TLR. WTB already were using it in their FR tires when they hopped on the TLR trend and proclaimed it “Inner Peace”, a sidewall protectant. I’ve lots of buds who cut their WTB tires based on that misinformation. You can see it here: http://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0202/9884/files/tire_tech.jpg?679
    On the other hand, I’ve had good full sidewall protection tech and have stupidly landed drops on axe blade rocks with a loud ping of the rim… only to ride away unscathed. And still have sidewall protection for all the other knives jabbing at the sides of my tires.

    In loose soil the negative space of the knobs is important as the captured ground is what provides the traction, while loose over hard to hard pack the top of the knob is what provides the gription (that sipe you dislike on the Minion comes into play here and make it a more “all-rounder”) The point is, different knob design for different terrains. There is no one.

    • Noah Bodman May 16, 2013 Reply

      I’d agree with you that Minions aren’t a great beginner tire, but that doesn’t mean that the majority of other tread designs out there are somehow good. If some tire designer goes with the “knob vomit” approach (e.g. Continental Race King), those knobs aren’t doing anyone any favors, regardless of their skill level. Something with more intermediate knobs will retain traction through moderate lean angles, but won’t get the tenacious grip of the DHF. For a beginner, that sort of tire might be a good option. But beyond that, those sorts of tires just encourage crappy riding technique. Intermediate knobs are just a crutch that ensures that the rider will never learn how to really corner a bike.

      • Mr. P May 17, 2013 Reply

        @Noah Bodman

        I don’t think you can force advanced level tires on beginners or intermediates, just as you can’t strap advanced level skis to a beginner or intermediate. They need positive experiences to want to make it to the next level.

        I’m on a lot of hardpack and loose over hard. Open channel cannot scoop enough earth to remain reliable on heavily tipped in fast turns. On hard, there is no knob penetration = drift. There are trails I ride where a Small Block 8 is like velcro, while a Minion will put you on your ass at speed. Those many knobs of the SB8 can capture much more of the sugar sand over hard not deform to much for consistent contact.

        But I’m screwed as the valley trails are hard with a skatey layer of dust on top, while the Sierra is soft, loose and loamy… between all the rocks. Covering all these conditions is a mind bender. That and the people I ride with pin it to the top, pin it across, and pin it to the bottom.

        P

        • Noah May 17, 2013 Reply

          Yeah – I’m with you. I realize I’m waving the DHF flag pretty hard, but I don’t mean to imply that they’re the be-all end-all of tire designs. Different riders in different conditions will like different tires. I haven’t spent any real time on a small block 8 because I know they’re not going to be a great tire around here (I ride a lot of loam). To a somewhat lesser extent, the same goes for the BBG – they’d pack up full of mud in no time on a lot of the trails around here (at least until things dry out).

    • marshal May 17, 2013 Reply

      thanks for the comment MrP.

      i do think we agree – i outlined basically having dry/hard, dry/rocky, intermediate, soft/mud specific treads. then have a 2ply dh, 1.5ply trail and 1 ply xc casing. so indeed, those very much would get to your point about condition and setting. these are the most important things of tires – right tool for the right job.

      with respect to the tire spinning, this really refers to descending not climbing, but it is also more specific to rocks and hardpack rather than softer trail conditions. if you 2 wheel drift into a corner and blast a roost, then for sure your tire is spinning relative to the ground, and you benefit from a defined channel to get grip from.

      so of course a beginner is not 2-wheel drifting into a berm at 20mph. of course. but my point is that if an intermediate rider does not ever ride tires that allow you to do such things, then they will never learn how. and that is a travesty, since its a running fun and rewarding thing.

      WRT butyl, all i can say is based on my experience. maxis EXO have reinforced sidewalls, continental apex casing tires have a reinforced sidewall, wtb does, etc. the point is these reinforced sidewalls are very much more durable than the straight “tubeless ready” tires single ply tires such as schwalbe or kenda xc casings.

      kevin went thru the “tearing” well, but i do agree, i cut the sidewall right at the bead easily (200lbs, former dh cat 1 racer) unless there is a butyl reinforcement. i also cut the sidewall mid-way between the tread and the bead easily on DH tires when run tubeless, and easily on tires with casings lighter than about 800g if i am riding thru jagged rocky trails. if you have a tube in there, these cuts don’t matter, and still happen. its just that they cause you to loose all your air tubeless. finally, i puncture holes straight thru the top of the casing both in DH tires when in jagged rocks, and in light xc style casings on the trail bike.

  4. Tua May 17, 2013 Reply

    Regarding Mr. P’s refute to the “tire is spinning” comment I think your argument only applies to low speed applications. Keep in mind the context of the original comment was for high speed applications. I would think that tightly spaced nobs traveling at a high rate of speed over loose soil will have less bite because they will cause a “hydroplaning” effect. The faster the tire is moving and the looser the soil then the more pronounced this effect will be. At least that’s the way it makes sense to me.

    • Mr. P May 17, 2013 Reply

      The tire does not spin in the earth, it might drift a bit, but that is it.

      But I am with you in that the more knobs, the harder it is for the tire to penetrate. In soft/loose, the negative space around the knobs is what provides the room for the soft ground to go when the knob displaces it. But also intermediate knobs may not mean more knob surface area on the ground.

      Tires have so many factors it gets a bit crazy. But tires have a huge impact on the quality of the ride so gotta get nerdy! lol.

      P

    • Noah May 17, 2013 Reply

      Agreed. The side knobs are where you get your cornering grip. Intermediate knobs just keep the side knobs from fully engaging. I want maximum pressure on those side knobs to get them to really dig in, and intermediate knobs spread out that pressure, effectively making the tire skip across the top of the dirt instead of sinking in and grabbing (like you said, they’re essentially hydroplaning).

  5. Mr. P May 17, 2013 Reply

    Hey sorry I got too nerdy and serious above…

    I do have question tho.

    There were some ideas about evolving out tires rather than coming up with completely new designs.

    You guys are Minion junkies, aren’t there about 3-4 versions of Minions made by different companies, with different casings, compounds and some mods on the Minion tread pattern? There are even more High Roller paddle designs currently out there (the HR is a copy of an older Michelin).

    Aren’t we seeing evolution? Do you have a desire to try the other “Minions” or other “High Rollers”?

    P

    • Noah May 17, 2013 Reply

      Definitely – you’re spot on that we’re seeing some evolution of these sort of tires. I have a Specialized Butcher on the front of my trail bike that’s definitely similar to a Minion and I like it a lot. That’s the sort of evolution I’m excited to see.

      My point is more that there are plenty of other tire designs that aren’t seeing that evolution. An example of this would be the BBG – clearly there’s some love for that tire and there’s no doubt in my mind that there are additional tweaks that could be made to make it better. But instead, Kenda is discontinuing it.

    • marshal May 17, 2013 Reply

      great question here.

      if you look at motocross tires, the treads for each are all pretty much the same. you are building build quality, rubber compound and casing design.

      the fundamentals in bike tire design are the same as moto, and the fundamentals ARE applied pretty similarly.

      specialized storm xc mud tires, schwalbe dirt dan DH tires, maxis medusa, maxis wet scream, etc. they all basically look the same. they are all soft condition tires.

      maxxis aspen, schwalbe racing ralph, ye olde michelin jet s, xc race tires are all pretty much the same fundamentals as dry/hardpack tires. now look at a kenda happy medium, high roller SS, intense zero, new bontrager DH test tires, etc. same concepts. semi-slick with cornering knobs on all of them.

      minion DHF / DHR2, michelin DH32, intense 909/invader, specialized eskar, hutchinson toro, bontrager G4/G5, continental mountain kingII, conti baron, etc. they all generally share the same design concepts as dry/rocky tires (though the MKII does some nutty things that make no sense). emphasis on blown out dirt, jagged rocks, etc

      michelin DH16, high roller/II, intense edge, conti kaiser, etc. all the same basic idea as an intermediate tire. equal emphasis on penetrating into soil as rolling on hardpack.

      from there, looking at the fundamentals, you can see hybrid tires (maxis cross mark) that blend traits from the semi-slick/hardpack tires and the dry/rocky corning knobs, and guess what? it works really well!

      so anyhow, my point is that there really only needs to be a few fundamental tires, understand what the strengths and weakness of each are, and then build hybrids for a purpose, rather than building them with no clear set plan.

      • marshal May 17, 2013 Reply

        when i say motocross tire tread are all pretty much the same, i mean the design concepts for given conditions and uses are pretty much the same, not that all moto tires are the same across all conditions and disciplines!

  6. Brant May 17, 2013 Reply

    Great stuff overall in this article. Would you guys consider putting together a list of recommended tires? Maybe break it down by DH/Trail/XC and riding conditions (as Marshal said in the article).

  7. Mr. P May 17, 2013 Reply

    I sense one of Blister’s awesome 101 articles for tires.

    Your other 101 articles helped me make selections based on my own personal cirteria. I can see MTB tires fitting that format very well.

    P

  8. Maciej May 19, 2013 Reply

    I’m a former Cat 2 and Expert racer, and I’ve found the Race King 2.2 UST’s to be a great tire. If you’re on a 6-8″ travel bike, rolling over every square-edged obstacle and straightlining downhills at every chance then yes, you need a fat tire like a Hans Dampf or a Der Kaiser. On the other hand, if you’re a smooth XC rider who doesn’t huck off every drop and picks smooth lines, short knob tires work great.

    Race Kings have a supple casing, allowing the whole tire to deform over the terrain, with just enough bite to provide grip. While the breakaway on a Race King will be notably sooner than on a fat FR tire, they release predictably into a controllable drift. A brush of the brake levers brings them right back into line.

    I’m not making this argument to sing high and unqualified praises for a short-knob tire, but to make a point. A wide, burly tire is the best choice for an aggressive rider on a long-travel bike with a slack front end but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Putting a heavy, slow rolling tire that’s lifeless below 30 mph on an xc bike works as well as a Race King would work on an ASR-7, for example.

    Yes, lots of tires SUCK-big time. I’d call out Ritchey and WTB for making notably fragile and underwhelming tires. However, different tread designs are appropriate for different riders and terrain. A good mud tire should be narrow with aggressive but widely spaced knobs. A good FR tire should be wide with reasonable rolling resistance, predictable lean characteristics, and a high speed limit. A good xc tire can have short knobs and still work well for its intended purpose.

    Yes, there are a lot of outright junk tires on the market, but there are plenty of decent ones. The key is to get the right tire for the bike, rider, and terrain. This means that there is no one “magic” tire that’ll work well for everyone. Before you criticize a tire design, try it where it belongs. If you get on a short travel or hardtail bike and still don’t like Race Kings or Small Block Eights, fair enough.

    I like your reviews and your willingness to stand by your convictions, but if all you’re riding is big-travel FR bikes, keep your focus on products that fit that category of bike/rider.

    • Marshal May 19, 2013 Reply

      hi there maciej,

      i don’t think anyone in the thread has anything against short knobs. the maxxis aspen or crossmark, the kenda happy medium, the high roller semi-slick, and a few other tires work well in dry, hard XC conditions.

      kevins point about the race king is that there are a bunch of angles that grab dirt and push the tire in exactly the opposite direction as you want. not to mention that there are no cornering knobs with enough shoulder to actually allow the tire to bite. it will work till it doesn’t and they you will slam your teeth into the dirt. the small block 8 at least has the direction of the angles generally correct, but its super round and no cornering knobs, so once it starts sliding it does not have anything to grab. its gone.

      hope that clarifies.

    • Rob P June 6, 2013 Reply

      Also- To follow up on Marshal-
      Something like the Happy Medium would be an ultimate race tire especially on a 29er in dry-hard conditions (which they do not make). The lack of center tread means it rolls incredibly fast, yet the real-true-honest to goodness side knobs mean that when you lay it over the tire will bite. Its true that a beginner may not be comfortable enough to lean the tire enough and will find it drifty, but once you learn a tire like this, its secure and very fast.

      The continental is designed like tubular cross tires. The traction comes from casing suppleness and has little to do with the tread pattern. You could have vomited anything on the supple casing and get traction at low to moderate speeds.

  9. Ashy Larry May 24, 2013 Reply

    You guys are like geniuses, a circle of guys who call each other “genius,” that’s what I mean.

    “there are a bunch of angles that grab dirt and push the tire in exactly the opposite direction as you want.”

    Uh, the tire isn’t grabbing or pushing anything. It’s rolling along, trying to mind its business, and here comes the Circle of Geniuses to give some sort of 10th tier “smackdown.”

    How come so many really fast dudes can whip all 3 of you Geniuses’ asses on tires with dorky looking tread patterns and single ply casings?

    And how come when you Geniuses try to be funny, you just come off as arrogant with little to support the highly inflated sense of self?

    • Lee Lau May 24, 2013 Reply

      Larry I smell lots and lots of butthurt. Why Larry why?

    • KB May 24, 2013 Reply

      Well when you’re as awesome as this crew assembled here, it’s pretty hard to keep it a secret. Glad you noticed.

      Part of the great thing about comments is that we get to delve deeper into the readership here at Blistergearreview.com and based on your admission that your tires just roll along never pushing dirt in any direction whatsoever, I can tell that at least one of our readers rolls down trails in a straight line, never turning, never pedaling, and never using the brakes. I have to admit, that certainly catches us a bit off guard as I can confidently say, that this is without a doubt, a style of riding we’ve never tried. It sounds fascinating and I’d love to hear more about it.

      Admittedly most of us waste time turning left, turning right, countersteering a drift, leaning over the front tire for bite while letting the rear do what it will in tight corner. But all that just seems so superfluous now with this new knowledge of how bicycles can work.

      You sound like a perfect candidate for what continental calls their ‘classic range.’ You can find it here:
      http://www.conti-online.com/www/bicycle_de_en/themes/mtb/classic/

      You have to dig a little bit because they’re conti’s super awesome little secret that the world isn’t ready for yet. It has nothing to do with the fact that tires never push dirt and these were made for exactly that. Because if they did, boy these things would suck. But luckily they don’t so we can both recognize the large sweeping praise that has been cast upon the ‘vapor’. Or the long standing respect amongst all circles in the MTB community for what may be the most highly regarded tire ever, the ‘vertical.’

      And truth be told, I think literally everyone can whip our asses in this style of riding you’ve laid out for us here. As stated, we’ve been wasting our time going around all these turns. Slowing down sometimes, speeding up sometimes. And always not pushing dirt around in those corners because that’s impossible. I have no doubt that riding in a perfectly straight line, never turning and never braking, we’d be left in the dust. But since tires don’t ever move dirt, that dust is of course just the airflow and nothing else.

    • marshal May 27, 2013 Reply

      hi larry,

      the point about “grabbing dirt” would be with respect to using brakes in anything but a straight line on trails that are loose over hardpack, intermediate soils, or rocky.

      cheers!

    • Noah Bodman May 27, 2013 Reply

      Really fast guys are really fast, regardless of what kind of tires they have. But even if they’re paid to endorse a certain product, really fast guys still know what works and what doesn’t. Some may recall the Athertons racing on Maxxis tires even though they were sponsored by Continental.

      For the record, this comment isn’t intended to be funny or smart. It’s just an observation. Please restrain your wrath accordingly.

  10. Mike May 25, 2013 Reply

    Hey, going back a few comments, would you guys recommend a tire or style of tire that’s still fairly friendly to the intermediate rider without preventing a progression to, or enjoyment of, “2-wheel drifting into a berm at 20mph?” Or is that a contradiction?

    • marshal May 27, 2013 Reply

      hi mike,

      selecting / recommending the right tire really depends on conditions and application, and then factor in personal preference (drift/slide vs. engaged).

      a wet condition tire (rainy season) vs. an intermediate tire (hi alpine or regular rain) vs. dry hardback (blue groove desert riding) vs. dry blown out (rocky, sandy, loose).

      from there you would select if the application is straight XC (emphasis on climbing as fast as possible), “trail biking” (equal emphasis on climbing as descending fast), or DH’ing (emphasis on descending as fast as possible).

      all that said, if you don’t want the tire to slide as much, then generally wide rims to square the profile of the tire help the cornering knobs engage sooner and bite harder.

      my assumption is that you are after something more in the trail bike category? if so, here are some recommendations…

      REAR tires that will give predictable transition from centerline to cornering knobs are going to have several defined rows of knobs that keep the transition from straight to cornering intuitive and grippy. the maxxis crossmark 2.25 or specialized the captain are pretty similar if you after dry/rocky/loose trail conditions, with the crossmark being a little more on the “fast / hardpack” side and the captain putting a little more emphasis on “grip / bite”. you can also get lower knob height / fast rolling tires in the rear, that still bite and shred wetter soils with the maxxis ikon 2.2 and the geax saguaro.

      the weighting changing on your bike when you transition from climbing to descending. you are driving the front tire a bit more, and generally need a touch more aggressive tread – so instead of a couple rows of knobs, you are more interested in broad center knobs that reach almost, but do not overlap with the cornering knobs. if the trail is more in the hardback or intermediate classification, then the specialized eskar or maxxis minion dhr2 would be a nice fit. i would look at something like the specialized clutch control or for rocky/ loose / blown out the trails.

      for an “intermediate rider” that is more in the straight XC class, i would consider pairing the front with the rear tire you select for your conditions and needs, but realistically, unless you are riding with a heart rate monitor and worrying about watts, then you are a trail rider, not an XC’er. just my opinion!

  11. DM May 27, 2013 Reply

    Hey guys, I’m just trying running tubeless for the first time. I was wondering if there was a general rule of thumb for tire pressure tubeless in comparison to running the same tires with tubes. There’s lots of conflicting info out there, namely that tubeless allows for lower pressures without pinching, but a higher pressure is needed for avoiding tire roll in corners compared to having tubes. I’d imagine I need to play around with this, but if I’m running my Specialized Butcher Control 2.3s with tubes at 25/30 psi, what’s a good starting point tubeless?

    • marshal May 27, 2013 Reply

      i would suggest starting at the same pressure to start and go up/down from there.

      with tubeless, generally, you can run the same or higher pressure as you would with a tube, but the tire deforms to the trail a little better and grips better because of it, so the folks i know that run “lower pressure” than with tubes are mostly the people that had to run 40psi to prevent pinch flats on narrow rims and pinner tires with thin sidewalls and bad suspension designs.

      i don’t know what to make of the ~18psi crowd, other than to say it does not work for or anyone i know.

    • Noah Bodman May 27, 2013 Reply

      I’d echo what Marshal said – with those tires, 25/30 is probably an ok starting point. Realistically, the pressure you end up at is ultimately going to depend on your riding style, your weight, and a bunch of other factors that are tough to quantify. My personal experience is that, while I wouldn’t call it a rule of thumb, I usually end up running a couple psi higher pressure than I would with tubes because otherwise I “burp” air fairly frequently (especially in the rear tire).

    • KB May 27, 2013 Reply

      Generally I’m about 5-10 psi higher when going tubeless. Without the additional structural component of a tube, you’ll still usually get more tire deformation even with that much more pressure.

      All the proclamations about running ridiculously low pressures just because it’s tubeless was pretty much discovered buy guys at MTBaction who did more staring at their tires than paying attention to how the bike was working. I’m convinced. Like Marshall, I don’t know a single person that this approach works for.

  12. Marc July 3, 2013 Reply

    Hi guys,

    After reading your article, I went out and bought a pair of 2.35 BBG’s and put them on my bike. They replaced a set of 2yr old Conti Mountain Kings (which I never liked – found them to be slow, hard to pedal, and did not inspire confidence at all in corners) Had my first ride with them on the bike tonight on a familiar loop near my home. I am super impressed, these tires are amazing! Super fast, amazing in corners. Climbing and flat riding was much easier and I rolled much faster with the same or less effort than I have grown accustomed to with the previous tires. Going downhill, I can carry a LOT more speed in corners than with the other tires.

    Can’t believe they are discontinuing it. It is by far the best tire I’ve ridden for my conditions, and the best tire in their line-up. Why not re-brand it instead? I suggest renaming the tire “Mr.T” cause you can’t deny the resemblance to Mr.T’s hair…

    All this to say thanks for the review and the recommendation, am I have these tires on and will enjoy them while they last.

    Best,
    Marc

  13. Michael August 29, 2013 Reply

    I’m still mulling over what I should realistically take from this conversation and apply to my own riding.
    I ride in North Carolina, but not in the mountains. Down here, as in much of the Southeast and East, trails wander around in tight, hilly, rooty, muddy woods. Some of our trails cover 6-20 miles in a sparse few acres and while they are a ton of fun, they tend to limit average speeds to 6-8mph. These are basically a world apart from the fast, wide open trails that Marshal, Noah and Kevin are riding on. The few times I think about laying my bike over in a turn and “carving”, I realize i’m going about 12mph and probably not really digging in my side knobs. Perhaps you could write off my riding style as that of a beginner, but I tend to support that this discussion has much more to do with your terrain and riding style.
    To this same end, I’ve had a hard time with the thought of buying 3-4 different pairs of tires every year just to find out what tread design will work for me. Not only does this start to approach the financial level of buying a new frame, but it is also a pain in the ass to swap tires all the time.
    I’ll admit, I’m looking for and “all around” tire, in that I want to mount them up and ride them every day regardless of what the weather is doing. Call me lazy, call me a beginner, but my friends who have a couple sets of tires/rims always seem to show up on the wrong tire and spin away on wet roots and leaf strewn hills. Maybe in the winter I’ll load up something like a Hans Dampf or Nobby Nic, but that’s a seasonal decision and not a daily one.
    For what it’s worth, I recently got a pair of Panaracer CG XC for my 29er HT based soley on Marshalls review in here. For what I’m doing, they’re just about ideal. Nobody else is talking about them, but I’m totally sold. They’re awesome everywhere. Medium weight. Hold up well tubeless at 21psi for my 170 geared up ass with 2-5 rim taps per ride from smashing roots or landing 3-4 airs wheel first.

    • Noah August 30, 2013 Reply

      Hey Michael,

      Having grown up on the east coast, I know exactly what you mean when you talk about rides where you never really get going very fast. I used to spend a lot of time at Vietnam in Massachusetts, which is a lot like what you’re describing – lots of trail packed into a relatively small area.

      Honestly, I don’t really ride different tires in those situations – I’m still a fan of the Maxxis DHF as an all arounder, even in chunky, slow speed east coast awesomeness.

      But you’re right – no tire is going to be the perfect choice all the time, and unless you’ve got a pit crew and a healthy budget at your disposal, you’re not going to be able to swap tires frequently. More than anything, my suggestion is to find something you like and try to determine why you like it. Is it particularly good because it rolls fast, or brakes well, or climbs well, or corners well? Once you’ve figured out what type of tire works well for you, then (when it comes time to replace it) you can look for something that meets your needs and does what you want it to. There’s lots of options out there, and some of them are actually decent.

  14. Joe May 9, 2014 Reply

    You said the Mountain King II does some nutty things that make no sense – what do you mean?

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