The Frugal Mountain Biker: Part 9 – Tire Upgrades

Tire upgrades are by far one of the biggest upgrade improvements that anyone can do for very little money. Unfortunately, all of the different tire specs can be daunting and confusing. So, how do I pick tires for my mountain bike?

So what does everything on the side of this tire mean? …and what should I choose?

First of all, I would say that my type of riding would be defined best as “Trail” that is more towards the XC end and further from the DH side. Based on that information, here is a quick rundown on the terminology, and what my choices were for the type of riding that I do.

TPI (Threads Per Inch): This is the cloth reinforcing mesh skeleton encased inside the rubber carcass. 120 TPI has many small strands that make the carcass soft and very pliable. 60 TPI has a bit more stiffness on the carcass because it has bigger strands. 27 TPI has even less strands per inch because they are even bigger still making the carcass very stiff (typically used for DH). – I chose 60 TPI

Here is an example of an excellent enduro DH tire

Tubeless: TCS (Tubeless Compatible System), or non-tubeless – I chose non-tubeless. I use good quality Presta MTB tubes. They are specifically designed for higher volume 2.1 – 2.5 wide tires, made of 100% pure butyl rubber, light weight, offer some puncture resistance, and are inexpensive at $4 each.

Bead: Wire bead (used mostly on tubeless and DH), or Kevlar bead – I like the light weight Kevlar even though it is a bit more expensive. They can sometimes be much more difficult to mount, but I am OK with that small compromise.

Size: 2.1”, 2.3”, or 2.4” – I like 2.3” wide for larger volume but not too big because of weight. I can also run lower pressure for better grip on the larger volume tire. The 2.1” tires have slightly lower rolling resistance but are not as good in loose conditions and bumpy terrain.

Thread pattern: Low Rolling Resistance (mostly for XC), All Rounder (trail & AM), Maximum Grip (for wet & loose conditions, also good for lots of climbing and some DH) – I like the All Rounder pattern, but I chose one with a bit tighter packed center pattern and ramped blocks for a bit lower rolling resistance without sacrificing the medium All Rounder grip.

Tire compound: Durometer rubber Soft or Firm – I like soft grippy tires and I do not mind replacing them more often because they wear out a bit faster. I do not like dual compound tires that have harder rubber on the center for more durability, so I do not pay extra for it.

My final decision was the Race version of WTB Bronson 26×2.3. This is how they are described on the WTB website… “Designed to be run with inner tubes, Race tires feature a lightweight, 60 tpi casing, a folding aramid bead to save weight over a wire bead, and a single durometer rubber compound.”

…and the winner is? The WTB Bronson Race version 2.3″ wide

My bike originally had 26” Kenda Kinetic tires that were 2.1” wide. When I upgraded to the 2.3” wide Bronson racing tires, the difference was VERY dramatic. I was able to lower the tire pressures down from around 32 psi to 25 – 28 psi. This made my ride much smoother, much more composed over rougher terrain, and gave me more traction. The softer compound gave me even more traction and additional grip in the turns. These larger volume racing tires were even lighter that the narrower 2.1” tires I had before. The Kenda kinetics were 705 grams each. The WTB Bronson Race are 650 grams each. This lower rolling weight gave me much better acceleration and made it seem like I was a much better rider. The lower rolling resistance made it much easier to maintain speed. At the end of the ride, I simply just was not as tired.

It was a huge win all around. At $40 each tire (even though these are not the least expensive tires) this was by far one of the biggest and noticeable upgrade improvements for very little money compared to most of my other upgrades. Stay tuned for the next write-up in this series of “The Frugal Mountain Biker”.

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