Tyres wear out and have to be replaced but the choice of tyres for mountain bikes is overwhelming. In Formula 1 motor racing all drivers have the same choice of 5 types of tyre. Hard, medium, soft, intermediate and rain which are all made by Pirelli. You might imagine that the situation would be simpler for a bicycle than it is in one of the world’s most prestigious sports but this is not the case. Fortunately Pirelli also make mountain bike tyres but are no longer one of the big players. Looking at the supplier I bought my new tyre from I had 403 choices! Not all would have been available in the correct 27.5″ diameter but many also come with a choice of compounds, some oriented towards grip and others towards longer life.
I’ve been finding that my rear wheel has been losing grip before the front, quite often, whilst cornering and looking at the tyre I’ve found that most of the tread in the middle is worn down. The tread blocks along the edges still look OK but with autumn arriving early I thought something with deeper tread would improve matters. Without too much studying I decided on a Maxxis High Roller II because I’ve used them before. Development happens at such a pace in mountain biking that this tyre, which was introduced in 2011, may seem a little old school to some riders. At 2.3″ wide it has been superceded by wider tyres with more aggressive tread patterns but having used them before I felt confident it would offer me the right compromise between grip and drag. I only had the choice of compound left to decide and chose the harder 62/60A rather than the 3C. These numbers must mean something but who knows what?
Of course I still had to decide how much air to pump in when fitted and I found out later how important the pressure is. I inflated to 30psi, which is a middling sort of figure.
More tread blocks doesn’t mean more grip. It’s important to have space between the blocks to give them a chance to dig in to the dirt.
After a short distance on the road I got the chance to test the High Roller II for the first time. It’s a short steep step up with embedded stones which were wet so likely to be slippery. I experienced no slipping at all so started to think that this tyre might out perform my previous Continental Trail King. I rode to Birkacre to repeatedly ride a fabulous 3 corner section where I found that on corners, at least, there was virtually no difference between the 2 options. I was still sliding both wheels at times. The reason that the rear slides easily could be that I have the saddle mounted about as far forwards as it can go. I’ve done this because the bike is a size “large”. I used to be over an inch taller until 2015 when I compressed 2 vertebrae and this may be enough to mean that I would now be better off with a “medium”! I bought my Boardman FS Pro in November 2016 directly from the supplier so didn’t have a chance to try the different sizes.
Sliding the seat forwards has increased the weight on the front wheel which increases grip. This may seem counter intuitive but is an easy theory to prove. If you sit on the back of the saddle you’ll find that the rear tends to grip better and the front will slide first. This is something that inexperienced riders often do. They fear a front wheel slide so push themselves away from the danger. To find more grip up front you need to do the opposite, be brave and lean your weight down onto the handlebars. If you try this and fall off I’ll have to claim that someone has hacked my web page!
I also did a full lap of Birkacre with it’s many corners before riding to the mill at Coppull. Turning onto one of my new favourite short downhills I found that the trail had been vandalised. Pictured at the top of the page is the oak tree in question which has been cut with an axe to lay across the track. This is a public area. No one has the right to cut down part of a tree. I don’t know whether this has been done to stop mountain bikers or motorcycles or if some fool just wanted to know what it felt like to be a lumberjack. The bough has only been chopped on one side so is still held in place by the uncut part. There’s no way I could get it to lay flat, despite tugging at it. I went underneath a couple of times and rode the rest of the downhill but on my third lap I decided to look for a way around the obstacle. To the right were nettles which I could whack with a stick. I then broke a few small branches from 2 smaller trees which had been crushed by the oak and made a way through. So the trail has gained 2 new corners and with a bit of riding in it should be as good as ever, though it may take 10 seconds longer. I rode my diversion and picked up speed on the familiar route. On a small jump the front tyre slid. I survived but could feel the bike squirming as I turned with little pressure left. This confirmed the importance of tyre pressures. So I had a puncture, my second in a very short time having never flatted a tyre on the Boardman in almost 3 years of ownership. I doubt the Gods are on the side of a tree vandal so I’ll just put it down to bad luck. I pulled over, fixed the puncture and rode home.
My conclusion is that I now have more grip for powering through mud and over slippery obstacles but my cornering performance is much the same. I would recommend both the tyres I’ve mentioned in the post but think that the Maxxis High Roller II is a better bet for autumn and winter.
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Thanks for the technique tip! I find my front slides before the rear, even more now I’ve put a shorter stem on the bike. Got to work on my weight distribution.
Cheers, try to keep your head and body low with your elbows bent. That way you naturally put pressure on the front. Andrew.
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