Another Thing You can Buy and Instantly Have More Bike Control!

Last month we talked about the control you get from a short stem and wide bar combination and hopefully you have experimented with that set up.  Now for another great bike handling increase, tires! Get ye some wide tires (2.2-2.5) and run lower pressure (20-32 pounds of pressure depending on body weight and tire type.  For instance on my xc bike I run 30 pounds of pressure and weigh 188 pounds.  On my downhill bike with downhill tires (which are much thicker, stronger and heavier) I run as little as 22 pounds depending on the track.

What is the right pressure for you?  Experiment!  Find the lowest pressure you can run without pinch flatting (if you run tubes) rolling the tire or dinging your rims (if you run tubeless).  For lighter riders this will be somewhere between 18-24 pounds and for bigger riders some where between 25-38 pounds.

Why a bigger tire and less pressure?  More traction and shock absorption.  Instead of deflecting off small rocks and roots your tire will simply compress and roll over the rock or root.

There is a big misconception in mountain biking that the more tire pressure you run and the narrower your tire the faster you will roll.  Well, that simply isn’t true and here is a link to a study that proves this:

http://www.bernhansen.com/Tester/Dekktrykk,%20bredde%20og%20knastens%20innvirkning%20-%20schwalbe.pdf

Reading this study shows that wider tires (given the same tread pattern) roll faster/easier than narrow tires and less pressure also rolls faster/easier offroad! So much less rolling resistance it makes up for the added weight of wider tires.

Now for tread design.  What tread is best for me? First figure out your goal.  Is traction and control my number one goal? or is it rolling resistance because I have a technically easy but long ride (like the Leadville 100).  If control is my goal I want to use a more aggressive tread pattern (larger knobs) if low rolling resistance is my goal I want to use a semi-slick or short, tightly space knobs.

Then think about the typical conditions you ride in, in Colorado we tend to have hard packed trails that when dry get a layer of dust on them.  On the East coast and Pacific NW they have softer soil and mud is more common. On hard conditions big blockly knobs of medium height that don’t flex a lot work best.  In loamy to muddy conditions slightly taller knobs with more space between each knob dig into the earth and shed mud better.  Most tire manufacturers will explain on there website what each tread pattern is designed to do so do a little research.

Tires also come with different rubber hardness.  In general the softer the tire the better traction at a cost off wearing out faster and rolling slower. The harder the rubber the faster it will roll, the longer it will last but the less control you will have.  Each tire manufacturer has different names for their tire compounds so do a little research to find the ones best for you.

Your tires are your contact with the ground so spend some time choosing the best tire for you. Lastly be weary of internet reviews as often the reviewer is not qualified to review the tire.  Example: “I hate this tire, it slides out in the corners too much”, well, does the reviewer know how to corner correctly? Does he have the right tire pressure?

Create your best ride yet,

Gene

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10 replies
  1. Jet says:

    Hi Gene,

    took your recommendation for longer bar and shorter stem. I feel more in control of the bike now. Easier steer also.

    I’m 145 pounds. What pressure would u recommend for some moderate climbs and descents? A bit muddy trail as raining quite a lot nowadays. Terrain w some roots and rocks once in a while.

    Also any specific model of tyres to recommend? So that I don’t need to go through trial and error. Like u said, don’t 100% trust those reviewers!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hey Jet,

      Glad to hear the wider bars and shorter stem are paying off for you!

      It is hard to give you an exact tire pressure because some tires and tire/rim combinations will easier than others. At 145 you should be able to run in the mid 20’s (pounds of pressure) but you should experiment as 2 pounds of pressure is a 10% difference. My all time favorite tire is the Maxxis High Roller but Schwalbe is making some great tires now too, check out their website for recommendations for your conditions.

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  2. dylan says:

    Hey Gene,

    Looking at changing my tyres after reading ur article.

    I’m now running on stock alexrims(1″) and kenda nevegal 26X2.10 tyres on my GT3.

    Can I change my front tyre only to 2.35-2.4 or do I have to change both to same size?
    ALso do I need to change wheelset in this particular instance? tks

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hey Dylan,

      You can change your front tire only. You might not have the clearance for the bigger tire in the rear so this might end being a good set up. You shouldn’t have to change rims.

      Reply
  3. Jeff says:

    Gene,
    Another point, If someone is looking to upgrade their wheelset a wider rim will give the same tire a wider profile and increased volume allowing lower pressures.

    Reply
  4. Stan says:

    Gene,

    “Find the lowest pressure you can run without pinch flatting (if you run tubes) rolling the tire or dinging your rims (if you run tubeless).”

    don’t under estimate the impact of terrain i.e. if it is rocky etc then the risk is increased; so if you know the terrain take this into account as well.
    For example we have some dedicated trails near me that are built on old quarries, some parts are covered in rock of which not all are loose.

    Good advice though , thanks.

    Reply
  5. Paul says:

    Gene,

    I recently changed my tires from racing ralphs to maxxis (tubeless) I ride in Texas generally hard packed dust and some loose gravel. Mostly single track and some tech areas. The tread on the maxxis seemed really low and not aggressive. From reading above it seems I should probably stick with the racing ralphs?? Do you have recommendations for a tubless tire since the ralphs won’t seat?

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Paul,

      I am not a tire expect as there are so many brands and their tire line ups are constantly changing. Which Maxxis tires do you have? On hard pack you want short knob that are big in diameter. The Maxxis High Roller is a great tire on those conditions. If you are racing though you need to balance out good traction vs. rolling resistance and the Racing Ralphs might roll faster (I realize they are not tubeless).

      I hope this has helped.

      Gene

      Reply
  6. Tom says:

    Gene,

    I’ve tried wider bars but they don’t work well down here in South Florida. Down here we are forced to cram 7-8 miles of trail onto a 5/6 acre lot. This makes for an extremely technical and difficult trail. Most of our trailes are labaled Black or double diamond. Wide bars, as those that come standard on new XC bikes, have to be cut down to 25 inches (that’s about 2.5 inches off the OEM length) otherwise the bike doesn’t fit through dense tree sections and handles like a Mack Truck when tree widths aren’t an issue.

    I do run a 50mm stem though with a carbon Merek riser bar and that seems to work well. I just finished the 12 Hours of Tsali race 2 weeks ago and the bike handled well and was comforable enough for these type of endurance races.

    I’m 6’1″ with wide shoulders and, although a wider bar is more comfortable and better for open terrain, they just don’t work down here.

    Tom

    Reply

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