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WTB Trail Boss Tire

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

WTB Trail Boss Tire

WTB Trail Boss Tire

Stated Width: 29” x 2.25”

Actual width on WTB Frequency Team i25 rims: 2.2” (56mm)

Versions Tested: (a) TCS Tough and (b) TCS Light

Blister’s Measured Weight:

  • TCS Tough: 1038 grams
  • TCS Light: 780 grams

Mounted to: WTB Frequency Team i25 rims on a Canfield Yelli Screamy

Intended For: Fast rolling + Traction

Duration of Test: About 2.5 months

Locations: Primarily in and around Whitefish, MT

Reviewer: 5’9” 155 lbs

MSRP: $39.95 – $79.95 ($69.95 and $79.95 as tested)

WTB has been rolling out a few new tire options in the past year or so, including the Vigilante (in a couple of different casings) that I reviewed last spring.

The Trail Boss bears some similarities to the Vigilante, in that it has a bunch of more or less square knobs with some siping. This is something of a departure from the tires we’ve seen from WTB in the last few years, which tend to be busier and have lots of buttressed, non-square knobs.

In my humble opinion, this departure is a good thing; I got along pretty well with the Vigilante, and for a lot of the riding I do on my Yelli Screamy, I like the Trail Boss even more.

Sizes and Options

The Trail Boss is offered in two widths: 2.25”, and WTB has now added a 2.4” option. My 2.25” version measured 2.2” on a 25mm (internal) rim.

Both widths of the Trail Boss come in two wheel sizes, 27.5” and 29”. Unfortunately, there is no 26” option.

But more interestingly, it comes in three different versions: TCS Tough, TCS Light, and Comp.  And within each version, there are a couple different casings and tread compounds.

TCS Tough

In the Tough iteration, the Trail Boss comes in two different rubber compounds, High Grip and Fast Rolling. The High Grip option features WTB’s “Gravity DNA” compound, which is a 45a durometer tread with a 60a durometer base. The Fast Rolling option has WTB’s “Dual DNA” compound, which has a 60a durometer center tread and a softer 50a durometer side knobs.

The Tough uses WTB’s Enduro casing, which has two layers of bead-to-bead 60 tpi casings. Holding this tire in my hand, the Enduro casing is essentially a full-blown DH tire (although it still has a folding bead). The casing is thick, stiff, and feels like it’d take a substantial amount of abuse.

TCS ‘Light’ and ‘Comp’ Casing

The Light version of the Trail Boss has, unsurprisingly, a lightweight 60 tpi casing. This casing doesn’t have any additional reinforcement in the sidewalls, and is similar to most other “normal” folding bead tires.

I didn’t get an opportunity to play with the Comp version, but it comes with a wire bead and isn’t intended to be run tubeless. The upside is that, at $39.95, it’s fairly affordable.

TCS System

Both the Tough and Light versions of the Trail Boss come with WTB’s TCS system, (which is redundant since TCS stands for Tubeless Compatible System).

TCS means that the bead profile on both TCS-compatible rims and TCS tires are UST compliant. These are not UST compliant in the sense that you don’t need sealant (you do), but they also don’t come with the significant weight penalty associated with full UST tires.

Really, what “TCS” means is that the tire bead dimensions are designed and manufactured to match closely with the rim dimensions, and the bead locks into the rim pretty tightly.

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

Noah Bodman on the WTB Trail Boss, Whitefish, Montana.

This is a good thing; tubeless setup is basically the same as with any other tire using tape and sealant, but it means that its relatively easy to get the bead to seat (I did it without a compressor, no problem), and it means that it’s quite a bit harder to get the tire to “burp” in hard corners and on sketchy landings.

While TCS tires will work fine on non-UST certified rims, and WTB’s TCS rims will work fine with tires that don’t have UST bead dimensions, running TCS or UST tires on TCS or UST rims just means that you’re getting the most out of the design.

While I only ran the Trail Bosses on WTB rims, I spent some time on the WTB Vigilante mounted on a Stan’s Flow EX, and noticed that it was easier to get the tire to burp on the Stan’s than when I had the same tire mounted on the WTB rim.

The Tire Design

The Trail Boss has a relatively tightly spaced alternating set of knobs in the middle, and pairs of square knobs that are placed at a mild angle along the sides of the tire. Every single knob on the tire has a single sipe down the middle, with the center knobs siped laterally and the side knobs siped longitudinally.

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

Tread Pattern on the WTB Trail Boss

I talked a bit about transition knobs in my Vigilante review, and the executive summary is that knobs that fall in between the center knobs and the side knobs can help cornering at moderate lean angles, but they often prevent the side knobs from digging in properly when the tire is really leaned over.

While the Trail Boss’s center tread blocks are fairly wide, there aren’t really any knobs that I’d describe as transitional. There isn’t a broad channel between the center knobs and the side knobs, as there are on the 45 North Nicotine, but there’s still a pretty clearly defined separation between the knobs down the middle and knobs along the sides.

I should also note that, while I haven’t (yet) ridden the 2.4” version of the Trail Boss, the channel between the center knobs and the side knobs grows significantly wider. Basically, the knobs more or less stay the same size on the 2.4” version as on the 2.25”, which means the gap between the center and side knobs grows by around .15”, which, just looking at the tire, is a very noticeable amount).

The knobs on the Trail Boss are a bit lower than on a meatier tire like the Vigilante. In theory, this helps the tire roll a little faster, and it also keeps the knobs from feeling squirmy (i.e., like the knobs are folding over) in the corners. The downside is that it means they won’t dig in quite as much when the going gets soft. All of the knobs are the same height; the side knobs don’t stick up above the center tread.

While tire shape depends quite a bit on the rim they’re mounted to, I wouldn’t say the Trail Boss has a particularly square profile, despite the 25mm internal width of the WTB i25 rim I was running.

On the spectrum of round to square tire profiles, I’d put the Trail Boss somewhere right in the middle—not super round, but not particularly square, either.

7 Comments

  1. Scott October 31, 2014 Reply

    Noah,

    I am running Geax AKA 2.2’s on my Airborne 29 hardtail. The AKA’s roll well, and for the occasional street riding I do I like them. I find I spin them easily on steep climbs in the NE woods. I am considering replacing them with a Maxxis Ardent, but the Trail Boss sounds better. I am a big guy, 250lbs and wonder it I should get the heavier tough casing?? Also wonder if this is aggressive enough to improve climbing without being too knobby for occasional street riding.

  2. Noah October 31, 2014 Reply

    Hey Scott –

    For your question regarding casing, I’d just look to what you’ve been riding in the past. If you’ve been running regular single ply tires without problem, and if you’re satisfied with their performance, you’ll probably be fine with the “Light” version. But if you’ve had problems with slicing sidewalls, or if you just find that you have to run really high pressure to keep the tire from folding in corners, the “Tough” version with the Enduro casing will help both of those issues.

    As for you question about steep climbing traction vs. rolling resistance / street riding, to some extent those two areas are kind of on the opposite ends of the spectrum. For climbing something steep, I’m usually looking for something that has wide, somewhat tall, spaced out knobs in the middle – basically big paddles that can dig into the dirt. For fast rolling, I usually look for something that has low knobs that are relatively tightly spaced. For pavement in particular, I’ll usually look for something that has an almost continuous strip of knobs on the centerline of the tire (which is pretty much the exact opposite of what I want for climbing steep pitches).

    The Trail Boss isn’t the tire I’d pick if I was only concerned about going up steep climbs, nor is it the tire I’d pick if I was mostly riding on pavement, but for a tire that needs to cover both of those situations (and others), I think it does quite well. I haven’t ridden the Geax AKA, so I can’t offer any direct comparisons, but I’d speculate that the Geax might roll slightly faster on pavement, but I’d bet the Trail Boss climbs marginally better and corners significantly better.

  3. martin February 4, 2015 Reply

    Did you run the Trail Boss front and back?

  4. Sam September 19, 2015 Reply

    Any comment on the preferred direction to run these? The recommended direction looks backwards to me (sideknobs facing out). Seems like it’d make more sense to run it as shown in the second image (knobs “arrowing” towards front of bike). Thoughts?

  5. Bob McBob October 5, 2015 Reply

    I punctured the sidewall casing on the 2.4×29 version fast/light version on about my 4 or 5 ride. Compared to reinforced casings like Maxxis EXO or Schwalbe Snakeskin, the light casing is too flimsy and doesn’t offer much protection from rocks.

    Too bad because I like the tire overall for a rear, but I won’t be picking up another. The tough casing I would expect to do better, but then its over 1,000 grams.

  6. snoboat1 November 18, 2015 Reply

    I am moving to the wider spectrum of wheels for my 2015 Stumpy Comp Evo. I am 69, 5-9 and 180, but still pretty aggressive and can climb most of the trails in the North Lake Tahoe Area where I live.
    I like technical single track, with steeper descents and drops which the 29er has given me more confidence in riding than I could ever imagine.
    I am not areal fast climber but hold my own with the faster end of the pack on tech downhill singletracks. Weight, traction and better cornering are my goals.
    I have been using a carbon wheel with 26mm interior sizing with Spec Butcher fronts and Spec Slaughter rear both 2.3
    I ride stuff now that I would have walked in the past without even hesitating.
    The trails here are mostly rough and hard with loose rocky sections and lots of drops etc.
    The WTB Asym i35 is one of the wheels I am considering along with the Ibis 941. There is about $700 difference in cost between the two with a DT350 build.
    The trail boss was one of my considerations along with the Minion DHF, On One Chunky Monkey and the Smorgasboard.
    The Hans Daumpf is another I have read about.
    All of these in a 2.4 front probably 2.3 rear.
    Any suggestions on rim choice and tires.

    • Noah November 18, 2015 Reply

      The knobs on the Trail Bosses are a bit smaller and tighter spaced, so they’ll roll a bit faster than something like a Minion DHF or a Hans Dampf, but they definitely don’t provide quite as much traction. A Minion DHF will ride very similarly to the Specialized Butcher you’ve been using. The Trail Boss provides a bit more traction than the Slaughter, but not as much as a fully knobbed tire. It’s also worth noting that the Trail Boss with a tough casing is a pretty heavy tire, which is good if you’ve had issues with sidewall tears, but bad if you’re looking to keep things pretty light.

      For rims, at 26mm, you’re already running a moderately wide rim. Bumping up to something super wide like an i35 or an Ibis 941 will make for a much more squared off tire profile. For more comments on that, check out the review of the WTB i35 on here, but briefly stated, they will roll slower, bit with the right tire choice, they’ll corner really well. I haven’t tried a Trail Boss on a really wide rim, but I suspect that the 2.4″ version would work alright. Between the i35 and the Ibis 941, I think that primarily comes down to price vs. weight. The i35 isn’t a light rim (particularly in the 29″ size), but it’s also pretty affordable. If you wanted to try out wider rims without breaking the bank, you could always start with the i35’s and then, if you like the width, get the wheel rebuilt with some carbon hoops.

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