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Attempt at plus-sized tire swings and misses

 

By Reid Wright

 

 

It takes courage and ingenuity to venture into the new frontier of plus-sized mountain bike tires. A plus-sized tire is expected to have the lightweight zippyness of a regular mountain bike tire with the Velcro traction of a fat bike tire. Thus far, manufacturers have mainly gone with thin casings, and low-profile knobs for fast acceleration and low rolling resistance.

Options are especially limited for the 29-plus wheel size. I first went with the jack-of-all-trades Bontrager Chupacabra, which proved to be a solid overall performer. It is not invincible on the sharp rocks however, and I managed to put a half-inch puncture between treads as well as an inch-long tear in the sidewall. The Chupacabra is also a little pricey: retailing for around $120.

Enter the Wilderness Trail Bikes Ranger 29X3.0. This tire is significantly more affordable, retailing for about $70 each. It also has TCS casing and a promising grid tread pattern that performs well on most terrains. The ramped and center-concentrated knobs make it fast-rolling and the outer knobs hook up relatively well on corners.

However, this tire has one fatal flaw: it doesn’t hold air.

wtf

I bought this tire direct from WTB without reading the fine print on their website. Like many, I assume all modern mountain bike tires are tubeless ready. Because tubes suck right?

I set the tire up tubeless using Stan’s sealant – mounting it on my rear wheel. From the beginning, I had trouble getting it to hold air. I dismissed it as a leaky valve stem as I was so excited about having a tire that performed nearly as well as the Chupacabra for almost half the price.

After having to re-inflate the tire for every ride, I decided it was time to change the sealant, which had all but dissipated from inside the tire. I washed the tire and put in 3 ounces of sealant (my standard for 29-plus). After inflation, this is what I saw:

sweat-beads

Sealant and air were bubbling out the abrasions in the sidewall. I went to the WTB website seeking a replacement only to find in the warranty microprint:

“WTB tires are designed to be used with tubes, unless specified as UST compatible. Use of sealant/tubeless conversion kits will void all warranty.”

 

Well poop. Since then, I’ve been through tubes like toilet paper and flatting weekly in the sticker-infested Southwest. WTB advertises the Ranger as a bike-packing tire. But I wouldn’t take it far into the wilderness knowing that I’m a sticker and a pinch-flat away from being stranded.

Moral of the story: Don’t buy this tire unless you want to put a tube in it.

In addition, the treads on this tire wore down a bit faster than the Chupacabra, which I continue to run up front.

grid

With some thicker casing and a tubeless-specific design in future models, this tire could be great. But I will not be buying another one any time soon.

I will continue my quest to find an ideal tire for the 29X3.0 wheel size and keep you posted.

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By Reid Wright

Can a tire combination be fast rolling, but still inspire confidence in sketchy turns? This was the guiding question behind a test of the Specialized Butcher GRID 2Bliss Ready as a front tire and the Specialized Slaughter GRID 2Bliss Ready as a rear tire.

I paid $55 each for folding beads. I tested the 29 by 2.3 size for both, which when mounted on 25 mm rims, had a semi-squared profile of about 2.25 inches. The tires mounted tubeless with no trouble.

The first thing that struck me, is how quiet these tires are – a good indication of a low rolling resistance. Running this tire combination, I am able to get closer than ever to wildlife.

Indeed, these tires are predatory. In the dirt, the Slaughter purrs like a kitten on straightaways and claws like a lion when leaned into turns, while the Butcher loves to sink its teeth into sketchy corners. I found this combination to be ideal for ripping winding desert singletrack with loose edges and tight corners. Riders in looser terrain might try running The Butcher front and rear, while riders of hard terrain might try dual Slaughters.

The Butcher

IMG_20160327_160110

While sometimes billed as a downhill tire, the Butcher’s tread shows remarkable versatility. The large ramped acorn-shaped center knobs offer a large contact area that rolls smoothly and grips a wide range of hardpack, loose over hardpack and soft surfaces. The combination of center-gapped offset inner knobs and hooked outer knobs beg you to lean into the sketchiest of turns – which it devours ravenously.

Running my usual lower pressure up front, I found that the Butcher’s sidewall occasionally crumples unpredictably under the strain of high g-force turns and dips. Had to add more pressure than most tires before I was able to gain comfortable sidewall compliance. Future models could benefit from a stiffer sidewall.

The textured washboards between lugs on the sidewall are a nice touch and add added protection to an area that typically gets scraped on rocks. An interesting side effect of the Butcher’s center-gapped lugs, is they tend to pick up small rocks and fling them into your frame. A down-tube protector may be advisable if you are running carbon frame or value your bike’s finish.

This tire is ideal for:           

  • Unpredictable surfaces
  • Aggressive cornering
  • Hardpack
  • Rocky terrain

 

This tire is not ideal for:

  • Lower pressures
  • Anyone who uses a gram scale
  • Mud and slimy surfaces

 

The Slaughter

IMG_20160327_160243

 A tire of two personalities, the small and closely-spaced center knobs of the Slaughter reduce weight and provide fast-rolling tire, while the tall and hooked outer knobs dig into corners with confidence. What’s remarkable how smooth and predictable the transition is between the two as you lean into the turn. This is thanks to the graduated chevron pattern of the inner knobs. The trick is not to hit the brakes and lock up your wheel while cornering (which is easy to do with a small-knobbed tire). Instead, go easy on the brakes, keep the tire rolling and let the Slaughter transition smoothly and dig into the turn.

This tire is not without its tradeoffs, as it tends to slip while braking and climbing on loose surfaces. This can be assuaged by running a wider width, lower pressure and shifting your weight back further onto the rear wheel.

This tire is ideal for:           

  • Hardpacked singletrack with loose edges and corners
  • Slickrock
  • Gravel and packed-dirt roads
  • Speed

 

This tire is not ideal for:

  • Sharp braking
  • Steep climbs on loose surfaces
  • Mud and slimy surfaces

 

           

By Reid Wright

 

First, let me be clear: I’ve ridden the hell out of this bike. About 2,500 miles now since purchasing it in the fall of 2014. So this review isn’t just based on a day-long demo or ride around the block.

As advertised, the Crave is an affordable (retails for about $1,600) option for someone getting into cross-country racing who doesn’t want to pay $7,000+ for a carbon-fiber race bike. What’s surprising is all the other things this bike can do. Like ripping tight corners on single track, long-distance gravel grinders, dancing through rock gardens and bike packing the entirety of the Colorado Trail.

IMG_0639

My first impression of riding the Specialized Crave was that it makes me feel like a ninja. For a large-wheeled bike, it is remarkably agile and maneuverable. Without getting into the geometry lesson, the design of this frame is dialed and honed to perfection from decades of mountain bike evolution. Sure, you have to ride it more like a ballerina and less like a bull – but that goes for most hard tails. Dancing over the rocks on this bike has honed my technical skills, and I feel like I’ve grown as a rider because of it. I now clear technical climbs that I never could before.

The Crave provides the pedaling efficiency, mountain goat climbing, and stand-and-deliver acceleration you love from a hard tail, but still rolls remarkably well over large rocks and steps. I was recently tickled when some riders on six-inch travel enduro bikes did a double take at me as I was keeping pace with them on the rocky downhills of Sedona’s Highline trail. But this bike really shines on smoother single-track and dirt roads.

The Shimano disc brakes, SRAM X5/Shimano SLX 2X10 drive train, stock seat post and handle bars are all solid performers on this bike. I even kept the Specialized Body Geometry saddle and now prefer it.

Recommended upgrades, if you can find a good deal on parts (no use sinking a ton of money into a bike that isn’t worth much) would be to the tires, wheels and fork lockout. The stock remote lockout on the Rockshox Recon fork was nice while it lasted, but stopped working after about thousand miles. My mechanics were unable to repair it, so I just took it off and pumped up the fork firm for increased pedaling efficiency.

I’m afraid the Specialized Stout wheels and hubs don’t quite live up to the name. They are a nice compromise between lightweight, affordability and strength – but they are not bomb proof. Early on, I came around a corner and had to ride over a sharp rock because a guy was resting with his legs outstretched into the middle of the trail. It pinch flatted and put a nice dent in the rim. My mechanic was able to bend it back into tubeless functionality, but after bike packing the Colorado Trail, the rear hub came loose internally and started rattling. Specialized was kind enough to send me a new wheel assembly under warranty complete with hub, tire, tube, rotor and cassette (hurray for spare parts!), but the replacement wheel had a 9-speed cassette for a 10-speed bike and was bored for a Schrader valve (boo).

Despite the wheel setbacks, my Crave is currently set up for tubeless and is rolling as fast as ever. I’m currently experimenting with a 2.3 inch Specialized Slaughter tire in the back, and a 2.3 Specialized Butcher in the front (review to come) – in the hopes that a wider tire will better protect the rim. I’m also on the lookout for a set of used or take-off 29 inch race wheels. Lastly, I’m looking into upgrading to a 1×11 drivetrain.

I have also had to replace the chain, cassette, cables and brake pads, but I would definitely attribute that to normal wear and tear. Also had an issue where the headset started coming loose, and a mechanic had to install another spacer (worked fine ever since). The right crank occasionally has to be re-tightened. I like to think it just can’t handle the raw power of my pedal stroke.

I’ve ridden this bike hard, and used it in ways that were probably never intended by the designer. But like a scrappy underdog, it keeps fighting the trail and never letting me down. I’d recommend it for anyone on a tight budget that rides smoother terrain and wants to up their cross-country riding game to the next level.

For more information, go to https://www.specialized.com