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:
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,