Archive for April, 2009

GEAX 2.3" Gato 29"er: Exclusive Euro Test- Out Of The Box

April 30, 2009

Editor’s Note: This exclusive pre-release test of GEAX’s upcoming “Gato 2.3″” 29″er tire is brought to us by “chris_geotec”, who resides in Germany. “chris” has received a set of the upcoming GEAX Gato 2.3 inch tires and is sharing his experiences with us here at Twenty Nine Inches.

Out of the box and mounting: by chris_geotec
The 29er Gato: This is a tire that was first introduced for ´08 in a 2.1 26er XC tire and
even before release was already celebrating its first race victory in XC in Schladming in late´08.
I have ridden this tire on my 26er and, (despite my personal resolution to never ride anything
smaller than 2.2″), I honestly did like it so I was really excited to hear it would be released in
a wider 29er version.

When receiving the tires in the TNT version I was once again stoked by the cool graphics
the new GEAX line has. They have the same cool looking grey sidewalls like the TNT
Saguaro. They show immaculate workmanship. The tread is the same as the 26er Gato´s
but enlarged proportionally in size – meaning the knobs as well as the gaps in between have
grown. The two tires I received had a weight of 780 grams and 805 grams in the TNT version, so
we are looking at something like 700 grams for the folding and ~ 900 grams for a UST tire. Remember
GEAX usually offers every tread in multiple versions – despite the growing popularity of the
TNTs.

1_gatophoto: c_geotec

The tread itself has more shapes and grooves to name,
giving it a very technical look. The many grooves &
recesses look like they could help the tire to comply better
to the ground – adding traction and smoothness. It will be
interesting to see whether this is purely cosmetic or for
real. The side knobs as well as the center line have a
reinforced base – good news for those suffering from
punctures and cuts or from ripping the side knobs off in
extreme maneuvers.
As with all tubeless ready tires mounting can be hard on
your levers (have a few spare plastic levers or best use
metal ones) but in exchange you get very easy inflation,
even with a floor pump, the first time. When mounted on my
standard XC rims (19 mm inside) the Gatos started out
with 56.2 and 55.9 mm width, but after only a few days
have stretched out to the true to size marking GEAX is known for – 58 mm!! Who ever was
expecting to find the next step to even wider tires – keep
hoping. But I feel that this size is already close to most frames
tire clearance.

2_profilePhoto: c_geotec

By the numbers and looks alone it becomes clear this tire
aims to please the “aggressive XC & All-Mountain” riders
amongst us.
When mounted the tire has a distinct cross section which
can best be described as “angular” or “sectored”: The
central knobs, aided by their reinforcing base are more
flattish with only a slight curve to them (hmm… makes me
think …”large footprint, much grip?!?”), then you have a
section without any knobs and laterally the strongly angled
side knobs, called “rails design” by GEAX.
Note that I never even tried mounting them with tubes –
why should I – these tires are made for tubeless
applications.
More to come….

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A Real Wagon Wheeler: Impressions On A 36″er- Part II

April 30, 2009

I’ve been logging some miles on the Pofahl built 36 inch wheeled bike and will now offer some first impressions to you on what it is like to ride this bicycle with the Conestoga sized wagon wheels.

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Wheels. That’s the first impression you get visually when looking at the 36″er. They are very large, and perhaps a bit goofy looking. However, what you don’t notice is how big the tires actually are on this thing. Their size is masked by the sheer enormity of the diameter of the rims. However; 29″er riders would drool over the measurements of this hunk of two ply. Check out the width, which is a generous 57.3mm. The height of the casing is even more impressive at 52.2mm, which is at least two millimeters taller than a WTB Prowler. Talk about volume! This hand cut tread 36 inch tire has it in spades.

Yes, I said hand cut tread. The tires are made for unicycle use on roads. So the two ply casing is smooth treaded for the most part. Their are grooves running parallel to the tire casing, but these are useless for gripping anything but tarmac. The designer of this rig, Ben Witt, wanted something that would be all terrain approved, so he bought a tire groover and spent about a half an hour per tire cutting in a front and rear specific design.

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So these tires are really big too, and heavy. The whole wheel is pretty heavy, so it acts like a huge flywheel. Getting the 36″er up to a speed takes some effort, but gearing helps overcome much of the initial inertia on flatter terrain. Once rolling, you can take a brief break from pedaling, return to spinning the cranks, and find that you haven’t lost any speed. Even rolling up inclines becomes effortless if you speed down the preceding down hill.

That said, nothing happens very quickly on a 36″er. It forces you to be calm and deliberate in your pedaling, your maneuvering, and in your whole attitude while riding. A calming experience? Perhaps, I don’t know that I would go that far with it, but it is fun. Very fun, and it makes you work at a much lower level, but constantly. In fact, for early season training, “long, slow distance” becomes a reality with the 36″er. There really isn’t another choice.

Not to say the bike is slow. It’s fast as any other bike on the tracks I have tried it on. In fact, I cut off some time on my work commute with it. It just feels ponderous, and your body works at a slower pace while riding it. Strange sensations, but pleasant ones, and quite different than smaller wheeled bicycles. At least in my humble opinion.

Now for some distance riding and maybe some mild single track, but only after the spring floods have cleared. Stay tuned!

Tarmac Tales: Where I Stand In The Road

April 29, 2009

As The Cyclist evolves, we will be tweaking the site, adding and subtracting, and making some necessary changes. We will experience growing pains, and we won’t be perfect. One of the first big steps we are going to undertake is the start of coverage on road bikes. You might take notice of the emphasis on “road bikes”. I did not write that we would be covering “road racing bikes” . I think it is a very important distinction, and there are some good reasons for this decision.

First off, there are already a plethora of sites and print media devoted to road racing, it’s machines, and riders. To add another site, or media outlet for such a well documented part of cycling seems to my mind to be a bit silly. I’m sure most reading this would agree with that assessment.

Secondly, road racing and its bikes are not a great solution for most folks cycling needs, in my opinion. I work in a bicycle shop, and I see the ramifications daily of what the outcome of buying in to today’s philosophy and definition of what a road bike is on customers. Ordinary recreational cyclists looking for a fast paced road cycling ride experience are not cut from the same cloth as your typical Pro cycling athletes. Why should they subject themselves to the same sort of fit and performance standards that most road bikes foist upon them?

I think there is a rising awareness of this situation amongst cyclist and manufacturers alike. The resulting bicycles are fast becoming top sellers in their brands lines. Seems obvious to me why, and this is the sort of road bicycle I want to write about and feature on The Cyclist.

My writing has mostly been focused on off road, 29 inch wheeled mountain bikes, and many of you familiar with my work may wonder what in the heck do I know about road bikes anyway. Okay. Fair question.

I would first point out that my bicycle mechanic experiences have taught me much, as I have alluded to already. Furthermore; I am actually a fairly accomplished road rider. I have done several fully loaded and self supported tours, and many road rides around my native Iowa countryside. (You can search for my “Touring Tuesdays  articles on my personal blog, Guitar Ted Productions.) I have ridden parts of many RAGBRAI rides, and did the whole enchilada in 1996. In fact, I wrenched on two RAGBRAI rides as a mechanic, so I have seen that ride from both ends.

So although I am not known for being a road biker, I’ve logged a fair number of rides on tarmac. But road bikes don’t just belong on paved surfaces, and the mixed terrain rides are becoming more and more popular. We’ll be looking in to that sort of thing too. In fact, this is really my cup of tea when it comes to road riding. Going exploring, taking the roads less traveled, and using the right tools for the job.

So come on over and check out The Cyclist if your road riding veers from the mold cast by road racing. Not that there is anything wrong with road racing, but that is just a small part of a much larger road cycling world out there, and that’s where I’ll be going.

Bike Packing: Going Long And taking It With You- The Series

April 29, 2009

Join Southern California’s own Grannygear as he explores what it takes to set yourself up for the latest in bicycle touring – “Bikepacking”, or otherwise known as lightweight, minimalistic backcountry bicycle touring. Granny will go over how to get bags and gear set up, and later on will share one of his bikepacking adventures with us.

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Check into this series by clicking on any of the links here:

Bike Packing: Going Long And Taking It With You- Part I

Bike Packing: Going Long And Taking It With You- Part II

Bike Packing: Going Long And Taking It With You- Part II

April 29, 2009

Bikepacking part 2: Measuring, ordering, and fitting the packs.I

In order to bikepack, first you need a bike. What kind of bike? Well, what is it that you ride normally? That bike will do, most likely. OK, maybe not an 8” travel DH bike or something very niche like that, but your basic mountain bike will be fine. Whether it needs have any kind of suspension or not depends on you. If you are used to riding full rigid or hardtail, then ride that. If you plan on riding a lot of rocky trails just like you do on your FS, take that. Most any 4-5” travel mountain bike will do fine. It makes sense to have low gears at the ready, but I have seen singlespeed rigid bikes all decked out for overnighters. So for the most part, you are likely already riding what you need, but if not, it does not take a ton of cash to get something suitable for bikepacking. XTR, Ti this or that, carbon bits, etc, do not really need to be part of the deal. Keep it simple, keep it basic, and keep it practical. Nuff said.

I have two bikes I could use but only one has gears, that being the Lenzsport Leviathan 3.0. Easy choice. So now that we have a bike, we need packs. There are only a few makers of bikepacking bags at this point in time, but I am sure more will be popping up as this gains popularity. I chose to order from Carousel Design Works (CDW) , based out of Northern California. A pioneer in the bikepacking industry, Jeff Boatman, the owner of CDW and master sewer of seams, is highly regarded as a purveyor of high quality packs for some demanding clients. In fact, Jeff’s packs have seen harsh duty on the bikes of top flight ultra endurance racers from Canada to Mexico, Alaska to Arizona. I figured if it is good enough for that level of rider/adventurer, it is good enough for a hack like me. I spoke to Jeff quite a few times on the phone and he was very patient and informative. I knew I wanted a full suite of packs: saddle pack, frame pack, fuel tank, and bar bag. There are quite a few choices as far as materials, sizes, options like extra pockets, roll top closures, etc. It actually is quite daunting, so I left a fair amount of this up to Jeff. I trusted his judgment based on his experience and feedback from customers.

The saddle pack and the bar bag are not truly custom in the sense that they are not unique to the shape, fit, etc of my Leviathan. But, the frame pack and the fuel tank are built specifically for my bike based on measurements I provided Jeff. In order to do this, I followed his instructions on how to make a template of my bikes main triangle.

Take a sheet of poster board large enough to cover the area that the bag will occupy plus a bit more. Place it behind the frame as shown in the pics and trace out the details that matter, basically the inner dimensions of the main triangle, the location of any suspension components, water bottle brazeons, cable stops, etc. Also, the diameter of the downtube and toptube were noted. The tracing may be hard to make out in the photo, but it is a simple matter of tracing the shape of the inner space onto the paper. Be careful to keep the pencil parallel to the ID of the frame or you will enlarge or shrink the proportions out of scale, so keep the pencil or marker level as you trace.

    Making the template.

    Making the template.

    Template and notes

    Template and notes

    From there, I sent in a deposit to CDW, took my place in the queue, and waited. And waited. In many ways, this is like ordering a custom frame. The bags are made for you, one at a time with love and attention to detail. So this takes a while. How long will vary, so ask about the time line involved. It would be wise not to have an imminent deadline for a planned trip, race, etc.

    In good time, this arrived from Fed Ex:

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    .As you can see, I had, beginning at the bottom and going clockwise: A bar bag, saddle pack, frame pack, and fuel cell. One of the first tings I did was weigh the packs to see how they compared to my last set-up:

    Front and rear Blackburn racks with hardware and Jandd panniers : 3000 grams

    CDW packs: 1200 grams.

    That is a savings of 1800 grams or very nearly four pounds and we have not even started packing! Nice!

    So, let us take a minute to look at each pack.

    Beginning with the bar bag, it is a medium sized bag with roll top ends and nicely placed rubber patches where the bag would typically rub on the stem. Also, you can see a ladder of loops sewn into the bag to allow for fit adjustment to the head tube strap. I found it to be tricky to get the bag in place and work around all the cables and brakes hoses. This is to be expected, but I believe I came to a reasonable arrangement that prevented binding or any issues when steering the bike. I had no problem with brake lever interference, room for fingers, etc. I tried to fit a pretty good sized Big Agnes foam core pad and the rolled diameter of the pad was too much for the bag. It easily swallowed a ¾ length Thermarest pad, my one man tent poles rolled inside the pad, and still had room for more things. A sleeping bag would fit in here if it were a lightweight one and newer sleeping pads designed for ultralight backpacking would likely allow a full length pad to fit in the medium bar bag. It also has pockets sewn into the front of the bag, but I am not sure exactly what I would use them for. They curve to fit the stuffed bag and they are not all secure enclosures so we shall see.

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    The frame pack was the most custom piece of all and it fit very well indeed. Notice how the bottom downtube strap sits between the water bottle brazeons? That is part of the notes you make on the traced template, so details like that are important. The frame pack has outside mesh pockets on each side and two inner zipped pockets, one larger than the other. Very nifty. I can see keeping this on the bike for long rides to keep a smaller hydration pack in play as it could carry tools, extra tubes, food, etc.

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    The fuel cell was next. Now, I would have loved to have had this for the last endurance event I did. GU packs, snacks, glove liners, and whatever could be kept at arms reach without the need for reaching around to jersey pockets or removing a pack to get to them. I am not sure a camera or GPS would be a good idea unless you padded the more fragile items. Still it is a great piece of stand alone gear and worth having all by itself.

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    The saddle pack was last. It has well thought out rubber material in the area of the seatpost and saddle rails. Compression straps will allow for a tidy bundle. There is also a bit of shock cord sewn under the bag as a place to carry something that you don’t mind getting dirty and muddy from what ever the rear tire would kick up. Before I mounted it, I tried stuffing in my lightest sleeping bag, a down filled Blue Kazoo North Face bag. No go. It actually did fit, but I could barely roll the ends over to close the pack so it was just pushing the limits too far. Bummer. Actually, I kinda’ expected that and my options are to get a smaller bag, carry it somewhere else, or sleep in the open, wrapped in native grasses and shrubs. Pick one. Since the bag did not fit, I took my one man tent, a REI Chrysalis, and easily stuffed my main tent canvas and storm fly in the saddle pack. Nice!

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    To add to this, I purchased a moderate sized backpack at a good price on clearance. So now I have my Deuter pack, a Camelbak HAWG, or this pack to choose from depending on how much I need to carry.

    I rode the bike around a bit as best I could with a still healing left wrist from a recent crash. It all seemed very stable, but that remains to be tested more completely.

    The saddle bag did not seem to get in my way when I slid back to simulate where I would be for a steep downhill. That is good. I did forget it was there when I dismounted and my leg hit the bag as I swung it past the saddle. That is bad till I get used to it. I would not suggest a lot of weight in any saddle pack. It is pretty high and behind you and could feel like the tail wagging the dog.

    The next step is to sort out my gear and make some decisions on how I want to travel. I want to be able to scale up or down with gear needs based on the trip and the environment I will be passing through. Things I am looking into are tent-less options like tarp camping, bug bivvies, and or course lighter sleeping bags and pads. I have plans to make my own penny stove and all kinds of fun things. And, I plan on bringing you all along for the journey.

    That will take a while, so in the meantime, in the next article we will pause for a moment and spend time with Jeff from Carousel Design Works. We will hear what he has to say about this bikepacking thing, where his inspiration came from, what fuels his passion, and any advice he has for you to make your next trip a success.

    Stay tuned for more bikepacking related goodness coming your way.

Do 29"er Riders Really Need UST Tires?

April 28, 2009

As I have been talking a lot of tire talk here of late, it got me to thinking again about 29″er tubeless tires and specifically UST type 29″er tires. Admittedly, few exist and as of now, they are all from GEAX. However, I think we can draw some pertinent information from the tires that are out in terms of the big wheeled mountain bike rider.

First of all, UST is a standard for tires that when mated to a tubeless rim, will give you an airtight seal without a tube or sealant. Preferably the rim is also a UST piece, but given that Mavic’s Cr29max wheel is the only 29″er wheel with a UST certified rim, it makes things a bit difficult. That said, I’m not sure UST is all that necessary for 29″ers. Even if you can mount up a GEAX UST tire to some other rim.

Some would argue for UST for rigs like this Salsa Big Mama

Some would argue for UST for rigs like this Salsa Big Mama

Let’s take GEAX’s Saguaro tire as our example since it is the only tire currently available in UST, TNT, (a tubeless ready variant), and a folding bead version. I think this illustrates one of the main deficiencies of a 29 inch UST tire- namely weight. A GEAX Saguaro folding bead tire weighs about 660 grams on average. A TNT tubeless ready version tips the scale at 770 grams on average. Make that same tread design in the same width a UST tire and you are talking 930 grams on average. That’s a lot of extra rubber!

Now some would argue that a tire that beefy would have a tougher sidewall, and therefore be a worthy tire for sharp rocks or abusive riding. I say, why not invest in a tubeless ready design with technologically advanced sidewall treatments to gain a similar advantage without that big of a weight penalty. Most tubeless tire users run with sealant anyway to ward off punctures, so this shouldn’t be a concern.

Of course, a tire with this sort of technology will cost more, but I think more riders would settle for it rather than a heavy, and actually a much heavier, UST variant of any given tread design. I would go so far as to say that all 29″er tires should be a tubeless ready design, with the XC/Trail designs maybe offered in a folding bead for the weight conscious. Tubeless ready designs with reinforced sidewalls and upper end, technologically advanced rubber compounds would be the next logical step in 29″er tire designs. Not UST.

New Bike Brand “feepish bikes” Is Announced.

April 28, 2009

I have been promoting this crazy little gravel road race in Iowa for awhile now and through this event I have met several cool individuals. One of these folks is Rusty Kay. Rusty was a guy that made a big impression on me by riding a full on road bike in Trans Iowa while everyone else was riding mountain bikes or cross bikes. (You can catch a glimpse of Rusty on his road bike in this Trans Iowa V2 clip here.) Even more impressive was that he was doing this in conditions that were miserable and unfit for such a rig.

Well, Rusty has decided to start his own road bike brand called “feepish bikes” and will be trotting out some fine Lynskey Performance Design built titanium rigs in the near future.

"feepish bikes" sponsored Trans Iowa V5 with these excellent t-shirts

 

 

Stay tuned for updates on “feepish bikes” as we learn more

Sea Otter 2009: Impressions Of Specialized’s 29″ers

April 28, 2009

Editor’s Note: The Cyclist’s Grannygear was also at Sea Otter and logs his quick impressins of the Specialized 29 inch wheeled introductions…………

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First impressions of the Stumpjumper S Works carbon 29er.

Just before Sea Otter I was sent an email from a buddy that has friends in low places in the bike biz. It was a sneak peek at the soon to be released Carbon Stumpy S Works hardtail and the Epic 29er. Then, I was informed that the bikes would be on display at the Specialized trailer at Sea Otter with an invite to take a ride. I am on my way.

At Sea Otter, Nic from Specialized took me through the details. The custom Reba fork with the carbon crown/steerer, the Roval wheels, it all was pretty smooth. It is a very good looking bike, sharing in the arched top tube form of the road bikes from the big S. It looks fast. Is it? Am I?

With a weight of just past 20 lbs, this is a light bike. The first few pedal strokes tell you that. It rolls out easily and feels rock steady. I was riding a 19” frame and the stem was set low and forward from my normal position. The stretched out result complimented the overall feel of the bike. Race bike, ya know.

Climbing up a paved road toward the singletracks of Sea Otter, I clicked up two gears, stood, and hammered a bit as only I can do. Not impressive. Not the bike…it is impressive, I on the other hand? I am less than impressive but this bike felt more like a good road bike than any mountain bike I have ever ridden. Fast bike.

It was shod with the Fasttrak tires in the 2.0 size and the wheels were very light as well, so that was a nice package. Diving onto the singletrack, I was impressed with how well the bike steered. I was concerned it would be a bit scary handling, but it was not at all that way. It did respond to, and actually nearly demanded, an aggressive posture. It also showed another trait in that the stiffness in the pedaling response of the frame carried over into the ride of the bike. It is not plush. I have not ridden a Fisher carbon 29er, but they have a reputation for riding very smoothly. I think this frame may be tuned more to the aggressive side of things.

Turning to climb back up the singletrack, the bike was just as agile and steady as on the way down. It does what a 20lb, full carbon hardtail with light wheels does…it goes up as fast as you can pedal it. And if you are the kind of rider that can do that well, then you will love this bike.

Specialized Epic 29"er

Epic:

Coming off of the Stumpy hardtail, I was looking forward to a bit of bump relief with the full suspension Epic. Now as much as I love driving…I mean riding…Ferrari bikes like the S Works, the aluminum framed Epic 29er had my interest. I like long rides and endurance events, but I am a bit old for hardtails and the punishment involved. The Epic will be the natural contender for the podium that is now shared by the Niner JET-9 and the Racer X 29er.

Interesting linkage and BRAIN plumbing.

Interesting linkage and BRAIN plumbing.

I found the Epic to feel slow and heavy after jumping off of the Stumpy, but that initial impression faded and was a natural response after pedaling such a light bike. The Epic and the Brain response brought back memories of the time I rode the Stumpjumper 29er FSR. The platform shock does a great job of keeping things tight and tied down till you hit a bump, then it goes to work. This Epic is tuned more to the aggressive side as far as Brain settings compared to an FSR. Once on the trail, the Epic felt very good, pedaled well, and steered a bit slower than I remember on the JET-9. I really need to spend an extended time on the Epic to get a good feel for it. By this time, my injured wrist had had enough and I called it a day.

Editor’s Note: Thanks to Grannygear for that report. We are working on possibly getting an Epic in for review, so stay tuned.

Race Tire Round Up: Three Middleweight Contenders

April 26, 2009

There has been a rash of racing tires introduced for 29″ers lately that don’t necessarily hold to the less tread/lighter weight theory. For lack of a better term, I call these “middleweight” race tires. Let’s take a look at three of the latest introductions and get a brief comparison of each.

Note: The tires were all ridden on different wheel sets and one set was tubed. The other two were tubeless. All three were used on the same test loop on the same bike, (a Salsa El Mariachi), and on the same day. Trails consisted of loam, hard pack, grass, sand, and rooty down hills and climbs.

The Contenders: The three tires in the test were the The GEAX Barro Race, the new Bontrager 29-3 tire, and the Continental Race King 2.2.

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These tires all share similar traits in that they all can be run tubeless, (albeit the Conti isn’t blatantly marketed this way, it can be run tubeless.) They all have actual tread, (the GEAX model having the least tall tread), and all are nominally two inches in width, (with the rear 29-3 being the narrow one in the bunch). These tires are all relatively new introductions, and may be hard to find right now, but should all be available widely very soon. All are marketed as racing tires. Let’s take a look at each with comments following for performance.

GEAX Barro Race: We’ve been testing these tires for a bit now, but only on “real” single track just recently. The GEAX Barro Race is a “low tread” version of the Barro Mud tire. The width is good, although slightly less than the claimed two inches out of the box. The claimed width was attained after a few rides though. The TNT concept is excellent, although it adds weight. The Barro Race weighs about 630 grams each. A small price to pay for sidewall durability. Weight weenies could opt for the 425 gram folder version of the Barro Race, but would have a definite thin side wall.

Performance: The Barro Race is a strange tire in that the minimal tread in the center vibrates the saddle and the bars more than you might think. Out on rough single track, this sensation soon disappears. The Barro feels good on climbs, downhills are done without much drama, and braking traction is average. Where the Barro Race shined was on off cambers and in cornering performance. The outer tread knobs are the reason why. They grip quite well, and this tire likes a toss and lean style of turning. I found the tire would rail on corners if I trusted it to grip when I launched the El Mariachi over on its side. This style isn’t everyone’s cup of tea; however, so be advised if you do not prefer that sort of turning style. The Barro Race may be a bit vague at lean angles just off center, since it hasn’t much for knobs in the center section. I found the Barro race to be okay in the sand, worked a treat over roots, and was generally a good tire overall. Lower pressures worked better. I ran 24psi rear and 21 psi front, which worked great for me. Overall, the Barro Race comes out feeling more like a trail tire than a race tire.

Bontrager 29-3: Here we have a front/rear specific tire set. I know folks will match front/front and rear/rear sets for their intended purposes, but I am going to be talking only about the set as they were designed to be run. The 29-3 uses Bontrager’s new 29″er specific design philosophy. These tread designs were designed from the ground up with big wheelers in mind. The set features a front that is voluminous, is a claimed 2.25 inches, (but is actually a 2.1), and has a rather “Prowler-like” look to it. The rear is a smaller tire in every dimension with a “Hutchinson Python-like” appearance, although it is smaller than that tire. The set looks odd, but looks are not everything. The excellent Tubeless Ready System beads were built into this tire, making them a no-brainer to set up. The production weights of the rear tire should be in the upper 500 gram range and the front will weigh about a 100 grams more in production trim.

Performance: Again, as odd as these tires may seem, looks can be deceiving. The 29-3 rear does more than you might think in terms of climbing traction, which is surprising given that it is a 1.85 inch tire, (Claimed 2.00). The front tire is very trail tire like, and mimics a Prowler’s performance very well. The front tire has huge volume, and I would recommend it to rigid fork users. In corners, the rear felt as if it was at its limits at times, but the front never got there. High lean angles, just off center lean angles, it didn’t matter to the Bontrager tires. Braking traction wasn’t good for the rear, but excellent up front. The front shed the tacky earth sections well, but the rear showed a propensity for packing up. It isn’t going to be a wet weather tire. Sand wasn’t great either, as the narrow rear cut in and lacked the propelling tread necessary to get out. Tire pressures worked best low in front, and at least 30 psi rear, due to the rear tires lack of volume. Overall a “Jekyll and Hyde” type of tire set that was a bit of a conundrum as a race tire set up.

Continental Race King 2.2: The Race King is Continental’s third 29″er tire and its first racing tire set for 29″ers. Consisting of lots of smallish, triangular knobs on a very tall, rounded profile casing, these tires were not transmitting a lot of confidence in traction to me by their looks. But again, just as with the Bontrager tires, looks can be misleading. The Race Kings should weigh about 640 grams on average and were 2.02 inches when mounted, (2.2 inch claimed) Note: The tires are still stretching, but most likely won’t quite get to 2.2 inch status. The Race Kings were the only tires in this test set up with tubes, but I will set them up tubeless soon. I noticed that the Race Kings set up taller than most 29″er tires this width, giving them lots of available cush.

Performance: The Race Kings are a surprise in that they have a great grip for climbing and cornering. This is even more surprising given the odd triangular shaped knobs which seem too close together to work as well as they do. Not only that, but they roll quite well, with little to no buzz on hard surfaces. The tallish casing allows you to slam roots that might otherwise pinch tires against rims. I ran pressures at 22psi front and 27psi rear which worked really well. The Continentals worked well at all lean angles in corners and in sand they tracked straight and were an above average performer there. I wouldn’t suspect a Race King would make a good mud tire, but it didn’t pack up any tacky earth like the rear 29-3 did, which again was somewhat of a surprise given the closely set knob pattern. Overall the Race King is a bit disappointing width-wise, but over achieves performance-wise to make up for it.

Conclusions: The racing tires with the best performance are usually the ones that allow a level of comfort and confidence to the rider. A tire that does the job just about everywhere and doesn’t let you down is ideal. Do any of the “middleweight contenders” qualify? I would stick the Continental Race King up there as “that tire”. It doesn’t favor any one type of cornering style, climbing style, and just plain works all over the trail. The Barro Race is an excellent tire, but it works best in corners with a hard leaning type of riding style, which isn’t going to work for everyone. The 29-3 is a confusing set up as is. A straight up rear/rear tire set up might prove to be a racier way to go here, but the underwhelming volume and width wouldn’t be very good for bigger, more aggressive riders. The front/front combo would be a great all around trail tire set up, but I wouldn’t call it a racing set up. My vote for middleweight race tire champ goes to the Continental Race King. It scores well in all categories and will roll along with the best racing treads with little to no penalty.

Look for further opinions and reviews on all three of these tires in the future.

Middle Weight Race Tire Round-up

April 26, 2009

There has been a rash of racing tires introduced for 29″ers lately that don’t necessarily hold to the less tread/lighter weight theory. For lack of a better term, I call these “middleweight” race tires. Let’s take a look at three of the latest introductions and get a brief comparison of each.

 Note: The tires were all ridden on different wheel sets and one set was tubed. The other two were tubeless. All three were used on the same test loop on the same bike, (a Salsa El Mariachi), and on the same day. Trails consisted of loam, hard pack, grass, sand, and rooty down hills and climbs.

The Contenders: The three tires in the test were the The GEAX Barro Race, the new Bontrager 29-3 tire, and the Continental Race King 2.2.

Geax Barro Race 2.0 inch tires

Geax Barro Race 2.0 inch tires

Bontrager 29-3 tires

Bontrager 29-3 tires

Continental Race King 2.2 inch tires

Continental Race King 2.2 inch tires

 These tires all share similar traits in that they all can be run tubeless, (albeit the Conti isn’t blatantly marketed this way, it can be run tubeless.) They all have actual tread, (the GEAX model having the least tall tread), and all are nominally two inches in width, (with the rear 29-3 being the narrow one in the bunch). These tires are all relatively new introductions, and may be hard to find right now, but should all be available widely very soon. All are marketed as racing tires. Let’s take a look at each with comments following for performance.

GEAX Barro Race: We’ve been testing these tires for a bit now, but only on “real” single track just recently. The GEAX Barro Race is a “low tread” version of the Barro Mud tire. The width is good, although slightly less than the claimed two inches out of the box. The claimed width was attained after a few rides though. The TNT concept is excellent, although it adds weight. The Barro Race weighs about 630 grams each. A small price to pay for sidewall durability. Weight weenies could opt for the 425 gram folder version of the Barro Race, but would have a definite thin side wall.

Performance: The Barro Race is a strange tire in that the minimal tread in the center vibrates the saddle and the bars more than you might think. Out on rough single track, this sensation soon disappears. The Barro feels good on climbs, downhills are done without much drama, and braking traction is average. Where the Barro Race shined was on off cambers and in cornering performance. The outer tread knobs are the reason why. They grip quite well, and this tire likes a toss and lean style of turning. I found the tire would rail on corners if I trusted it to grip when I launched the El Mariachi over on its side. This style isn’t everyone’s cup of tea; however, so be advised if you do not prefer that sort of turning style. The Barro Race may be a bit vague at lean angles just off center, since it hasn’t much for knobs in the center section. I found the Barro race to be okay in the sand, worked a treat over roots, and was generally a good tire overall. Lower pressures worked better. I ran 24psi rear and 21 psi front, which worked great for me. Overall, the Barro Race comes out feeling more like a trail tire than a race tire.

Bontrager 29-3: Here we have a front/rear specific tire set. I know folks will match front/front and rear/rear sets for their intended purposes, but I am going to be talking only about the set as they were designed to be run. The 29-3 uses Bontrager’s new 29″er specific design philosophy. These tread designs were designed from the ground up with big wheelers in mind. The set features a front that is voluminous, is a claimed 2.25 inches, (but is actually a 2.1), and has a rather “Prowler-like” look to it. The rear is a smaller tire in every dimension with a “Hutchinson Python-like” appearance, although it is smaller than that tire. The set looks odd, but looks are not everything. The excellent Tubeless Ready System beads were built into this tire, making them a no-brainer to set up. The production weights of the rear tire should be in the upper 500 gram range and the front will weigh about a 100 grams more in production trim.

Performance: Again, as odd as these tires may seem, looks can be deceiving. The 29-3 rear does more than you might think in terms of climbing traction, which is surprising given that it is a 1.85 inch tire, (Claimed 2.00). The front tire is very trail tire like, and mimics a Prowler’s performance very well. The front tire has huge volume, and I would recommend it to rigid fork users. In corners, the rear felt as if it was at its limits at times, but the front never got there. High lean angles, just off center lean angles, it didn’t matter to the Bontrager tires. Braking traction wasn’t good for the rear, but excellent up front. The front shed the tacky earth sections well, but the rear showed a propensity for packing up. It isn’t going to be a wet weather tire. Sand wasn’t great either, as the narrow rear cut in and lacked the propelling tread necessary to get out.  Tire pressures worked best low in front, and at least 30 psi rear, due to the rear tires lack of volume. Overall a “Jekyll and Hyde” type of tire set that was a bit of a conundrum as a race tire set up.

Continental Race King 2.2: The Race King is Continental’s third 29″er tire and its first racing tire set for 29″ers. Consisting of lots of smallish, triangular knobs on a very tall, rounded profile casing, these tires were not transmitting a lot of confidence in traction to me by their looks. But again, just as with the Bontrager tires, looks can be misleading. The Race Kings should weigh about 640 grams on average and were 2.02 inches when mounted, (2.2 inch claimed) Note: The tires are still stretching, but most likely won’t quite get to 2.2 inch status. The Race Kings were the only tires in this test set up with tubes, but I will set them up tubeless soon. I noticed that the Race Kings set up taller than most 29″er tires this width, giving them lots of available cush.

Performance: The Race Kings are a surprise in that they have a great grip for climbing and cornering. This is even more surprising given the odd triangular shaped knobs which seem too close together to work as well as they do. Not only that, but they roll quite well, with little to no buzz on hard surfaces. The tallish casing allows you to slam roots that might otherwise pinch tires against rims. I ran pressures at 22psi front and 27psi rear which worked really well. The Continentals worked well at all lean angles in corners and in sand they tracked straight and were an above average performer there. I wouldn’t suspect a Race King would make a good mud tire, but it didn’t pack up any tacky earth like the rear 29-3 did, which again was somewhat of a surprise given the closely set knob pattern. Overall the Race King is a bit disappointing width-wise, but over achieves performance-wise to make up for it.

Conclusions: The racing tires with the best performance are usually the ones that allow a level of comfort and confidence to the rider. A tire that does the job just about everywhere and doesn’t let you down is ideal. Do any of the “middleweight contenders” qualify? I would stick the Continental Race King up there as “that tire”. It doesn’t favor any one type of cornering style, climbing style, and just plain works all over the trail. The Barro Race is an excellent tire, but it works best in corners with a hard leaning type of riding style, which isn’t going to work for everyone. The 29-3 is a confusing set up as is. A straight up rear/rear tire set up might prove to be a racier way to go here, but the underwhelming volume and width wouldn’t be very good for bigger, more aggressive riders. The front/front combo would be a great all around trail tire set up, but I wouldn’t call it a racing set up. My vote for middleweight race tire champ goes to the Continental Race King. It scores well in all categories and will roll along with the best racing treads with little to no penalty.

Look for further opinions and reviews on all three of these tires in the future.