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2nd Look: WTB Trail Boss Tire

Noah Bodman reviews the WTB Trail Boss Tire, Blister Gear Review

WTB Trail Boss Tire

WTB Trail Boss 2.25″ & 2.4″ Tires

Stated Dimensions: 29 x 2.25 & 29 x 2.4

Casing: TCS Light

Blister’s Measured Weight (2.25″ version): 800 grams

MSRP: $69.95

Mounted to: Canfield Yelli Screamy

Reviewer: 5’8”, 160 lbs

Test Duration: 20 rides

Test Locations: Park City, UT; Sun Valley, ID

Intro

I often find myself stuck choosing between (a) big, grippy tires that I love on downhills but hate on uphills (Maxxis Minion DHF, Maxxis High Roller II, etc.) and (b) light, fast-rolling tires that make going uphill easier, but aren’t as fun on downhills (Maxxis Ardent, Maxxis Ikon, etc.).

So for a while now, I’ve been on a search for a better in-between tire, and the latest contender is the WTB Trail Boss. Noah Bodman had good things to say about it, and I wanted to see how it would work for me.

I put a pair on my Canfield Yelli Screamy hoping for great, all-around performance. Were they as grippy as a Maxxis Minion DHF, with the rolling resistance of a Maxxis Ikon? No. Did they have their ups and downs? Yes. Might there be specific conditions for which I really liked them? Also Yes. Keep reading…

The WTB Trail Boss Line-up

In 29” diameter, the WTB Trail Boss tires come in the following configurations:

Tom Collier reviews the WTB Trail Boss Tire for Blister ReviewTom Collier reviews the WTB Trail Boss Tire for Blister Review

These configurations can be a little confusing, so here is a guide:

Level: WTB’s general tire classification.

Compound:

DNA: single 60A durometer rubber all the way through.

Dual DNA: dual compound with grippier rubber on the outside knobs and firmer rubber in the middle.

Casing: The Enduro casing: light two-ply casing, the Lightweight casing: a single ply casing, and the Durable casing: ‘substantial’ – according to WTB and inexpensive.

Bead: TCS is a tubeless-compatible folding bead, and the wire is a heavier wire bead.

TCS Light

I opted to go with the 2.25” TCS Light tire because I wanted something light and quick, and I don’t usually need dual-ply casings. 2.4” seemed a bit bigger than necessary, and 917 g is a touch heavy for such a tire. So I was dissuaded from going in that direction (wrongly, as it turns out–but I’ll get to that later).

Installation

I put the WTB Trail Boss onto an E13 TRSr rim. It mounted up tubeless easily with a floor pump, and it may have been the easiest tire/rim combination to seal that I’ve used. The design of both the tire and the rim were guided by UST standards, and I can only imagine that helped. Standards are often maligned these days, but they do sometimes come to the aid of riders.

While handling the tires to mount them, I noted that the casing on the Trail Boss seemed pretty thin, comparable to a non-EXO Maxxis casing on an Ikon or Ardent tire—both of which I’ve suffered flats with. That had me a bit worried, but only riding would tell if it would be a problem with this tire as well.

On the Trail

My first ride took the tires up a smooth climb and down a flowing, smooth jump trail, with just a bit of loose dirt over hardpack. I found the tread pattern to be predictable and roll reasonably well. Climbing wasn’t exceptionally quick, but certainly a lot faster than with a Minion DHF or similar tire. The comparison that came to mind was the Maxxis Ardent 2.25.

Shortly after that first ride I had the opportunity to swap bikes with a friend who was running 29×2.25” Maxxis Ardent tires to see how they stack up. I’ve been pretty ambivalent about the Ardent in the past, but I was still a bit surprised by how much more predictable the WTB Trail Boss felt after switching back and forth. It rolled about as quickly, but at the edge of its traction, it would release in a more controlled manner. This was on a hardpack trail, and I can only imagine the difference would be more significant in wet conditions.

However, just after I’d started to get a feel for the tread performance, it became apparent that the casing was just too weak for me. I pinched the sidewall of the front tire on my second ride while running 27 psi (and I still don’t know what I could have hit—the trail seemed pretty smooth). The hole was too big for my Stan’s sealant to fill. As a result, I then stepped up to 29 psi in both tires along with a tube in the front. Four weeks later, I punctured the tread on the rear tire while running 29 psi. Stoke levels were low. I hadn’t flatted all year until these tires.

Based on that experience, I’ve concluded that these have to be run with 30+ psi in order to avoid pinch flats. Unfortunately their sweet spot for grip and rolling resistance seems to be

Additionally, I’m a bit surprised by how worn the rear tire was after 4 weeks. At a bit of a discount over a Maxxis Ikon or similar tire these would seem to be a decent deal, but I’m close to ready to retire mine due to wear and flats, and I can easily get twice the life out of an Ikon, and the Trail Boss is not half as expensive as an Ikon.

I’d hoped for a tougher, more durable tire at this weight. I was ready to give up on these tires when I went for a ride with Marshal Olson who was running the 2.4” version. He is a much bigger rider than I am, and reported that he hadn’t had any flats. That was enough to convince me that I ought to at least try the 2.4” version of the Trail Boss.

I could have tried the heavier TCS Tough casing 2.25” Trail Boss tire, but it is even heavier than the 2.4” TCS Light casing tire. I figured the higher volume 2.4” tire would offer enough additional flat resistance and give the added benefit of a cushier ride. I’m on a hardtail, so my choice was simple.

WTB Trail Boss 2.4”

I’m glad I gave the WTB 2.4 Trail Boss a chance.

In almost every way, the 2.4 Trail Boss feels very similar to the 2.25 Trail Boss. Despite being heavier, it doesn’t feel like it rolls significantly slower, but it does offer slightly better grip. More importantly, over the course of a couple months I found that it offered significantly increased pinch-flat protection due to its increased volume.

With the 2.4” tire I could finally safely run 27 psi in the front and get the grip I wanted without flatting. The TCS Light still isn’t a particularly stout casing, so I did get a bit of tire roll at that pressure. But it wasn’t enough to convince me to increase the pressure.

After riding both tires, there is no question that I would buy the 2.4” WTB Trail Boss over the 2.25” version, regardless of the conditions I were riding in.

Specific Conditions

I’ll switch to discussing the 2.4” WTB Trail Boss here and describe its performance in specific conditions because I would recommend it over the 2.25” version for any terrain that is more aggressive than perfectly smooth singletrack.

Climbing Traction: The Trail Boss provides good climbing traction, I like it as a rear tire, it offers better grip than a Maxxis Ardent, but not quite as much as a burlier Maxxis DHR or HR II.

Cornering Grip: The Trail Boss has reasonably good cornering grip—slightly better than a Maxxis Ardent 2.25. But more importantly, it is more predictable in terms of when it breaks free and how controllable it is in a drift.

Braking Performance: The braking performance on the WTB Trail boss is solid and quite predictable in all but loose or muddy conditions where there isn’t enough tread height.

Wet / Muddy Conditions: The Trail Boss is not great in wet/muddy conditions, but not particularly awful, either. I’d take a Maxxis High Roller II for really wet weather, but for simply wet trails, the WTB is good enough. I never had the opportunity to try it in deep mud.

Dry / Loose Conditions: In dry conditions the Trail Boss was really strong. It lost a little performance in loose conditions—get hard on the brakes and it could jump—but overall, it was still reasonably predictable.

Good Dirt: I couldn’t lay the WTB over like a downhill-inspired tread, but I could definitely rail corners better than with a tire like the Maxxis Ikon 2.35″ or Ardent 2.25″.

Rolling Resistance: The Trail Boss is slightly slower rolling than a Schwalbe Nobby Nic or Maxxis Ikon. I’d put it on par with a Maxxis Ardent for rolling resistance on firm dirt.

Comparisons

The comparisons here are between the 2.4″ Trail Boss and the tires listed below.

Vs. Maxxis Ardent 2.25 EXO/TR: The 2.4″ Trail Boss is grippier and more predictable in all areas: cornering, climbing, braking. The downsides are that it has thinner, has weaker sidewalls, and weighs a bit more.

Vs. Maxxis Ikon 2.35 3C/EXO/TR: The 2.4″ Trail Boss is noticeably slower, but it offers more grip. I find that in dry conditions where I want to put in serious miles, I always take the Ikon because it keeps my legs fresher. For most other conditions, though, the Trail Boss is more versatile and fun.

Vs. Maxxis Minion DHF 2.3 3C/EXO/TR: The Trail Boss is much faster rolling than the Minion, but decidedly less grippy. For technical trails and higher speeds, I’ll take the Minion every time, but it isn’t as good for covering lots of ground.

Vs. Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.35: The Schwalbe is more durable and grippier than the 2.25″ Trail Boss, and offered similar rolling resistance. But it provides less grip than the 2.4″ Trail Boss in all conditions except for loose dirt.

Who’s It For?

If you’re looking for a tire to be used mostly in firmer dirt and maybe some sandy conditions and you want an even balance between traction and rolling resistance, I think you will love the 2.4″ WTB Trail Boss.

Bottom Line

While I wouldn’t bother with the WTB Trail Boss 2.25”, the 2.4” version is a solid tire that I will continue to use (a) as a rear tire paired with an aggressive front tire or (b) as a pair on a bike intended for mellower terrain. I’ve never ridden a tire that strikes a better performance balance of traction and rolling resistance.

9 Comments

  1. THE SIDE KNOBS ARE BACKWARDS.

  2. Sam March 27, 2016 Reply

    ^^^ But seriously, are you guys running this tire in the opposite direction from recommended? Seems like side knobs are oriented such that that’d be the optimal direction for cornering….

    • Tom Collier March 27, 2016 Reply

      Sam, I’ve been running it in the recommended direction.

  3. McLane May 12, 2016 Reply

    No clearance issues on the Canfield? I have a nimble 9 with 2.35 Hans dampfs and looking at the 2.4 Trail Boss as a replacement. Thanks.

    • Tom Collier May 12, 2016 Reply

      It fit in the back of my Yelli just fine. Not certain how the clearance on that bike compares to that on the Nimble 9.

  4. bob mcbob September 17, 2016 Reply

    My 2.4 TB lasted only a few rides before a large sidewall tear, couldn’t be sealed tubeless.

    I would not ride this tire anywhere with sharp rocks, stick to buffed out trails and you might be ok.

    Overall, I was disappointed with the casing. It lacked support on my Honzo rear at the kind of pressure needed to get good traction and cushion on a HT.

    WTB needs to step their game up and come out with a reinforced casing that falls somewhere between their light and heavy casings, closer to an EXO Maxxis.

    • Andrew April 20, 2017 Reply

      I run dual WTB Trail Boss 2.4″ TCS Tough variant, tubeless at 20-24 psi, rider weight 158lbs. Here in Arkansas sidewall cuts from sharp rocks are incredibly common and these have been holding up fantastic– better than the Geax/Vittoria Sturdy tires I was running prior. I’ve been running them on Oozy 29″ rims that are actually only i21.5mm.

  5. Owen Cunningham March 15, 2017 Reply

    just tried to mount the 2.4 Trail Boss on my Industry Nine Enduro 305 and absolutely could not get them to bed. Tried soapy water, tried compressed air, valve core off. Wondering what wheel combo you were using to get them to bead so easily with a hand pump

    • Tom Collier March 15, 2017 Reply

      Wheel was an E13 TRSr. Sorry you’re having such a hard time with it. Any chance the tire bead is wonky or the rim strip has a leak?

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