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After my long road test of last Tuesday, I was itchin’ the hit some singletrack. I talked to my friend and co-worker Justin, and he had never been to the mountain bike trail at the Cleveland Metroparks‘ Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation. I had been there twice before, but it’s been almost two years, so even though it’s a pretty short 2.5-mile loop, it’s not a long drive away, so I figured it was worth the trip. We headed up there last Thursday morning.
I arrived a little earlier than planned, so I did the 1/2-mile beginner loop on my own a couple of times to warm up until Justin arrived. The two of us hit the beginner loop, then moved on to the intermediate loop. We weren’t disappointed. The trail was in fantastic shape–smooth and dry; not a single patch of mud. The folks from the Metroparks and the Cleveland Area Mountain Bike Association are doing a great job of maintaining this trail.
Near the beginning of the intermediate loop is a climb that’s a bit more of a kicker than I remembered. The rest of the trail has a series of short, undulating ups and downs, a few hairpin turns, and a couple of rough rock and root gardens. What this course lacks in size it makes up for with challenges good enough for any local off-road riders to get their singletrack fix without having to head too far out of the city.
After a second lap on the intermediate loop, Justin suggested we head down to his home turf, to the mountain bike trails at Reagan Park in Medina. Although it felt against my “car less” sensibilities to do even more driving in order to do more pedaling, I had the whole day with no other obligations to worry about, so I figured what the heck, variety is the spice of life.
We hit a few brief rain showers during the drive down to Medina, but the sun was back out by the time we reached the parking area at the Huffman Park soccer fields. The trail was none the worse for wear; smooth and dry. There were a couple of very isolated mud patches, but nothing to worry about.
The Reagan Park trail system is made up of four major sections, with a couple of connector trails. For some reason, I always get confused trying to follow the suggested route to connect all of the trails. I finally realized this time around that the key is, “Don’t over-think it.” Just follow the signs, and trust that they’ll lead you the right way to hit all the trails. You’ll double-back a couple of times on trail that you’ve already hit, but it’s only for brief periods to get to the next section.
My Mongoose Teocali Super mountain bike came with Kenda ExCavator 26×2.1 tires. Some of my riding buddies have suggested that these tires have too aggressive of a tread for my needs, and I could use something lighter. At 640 grams each, they’re no pigs, and I’ve found that they performed adequately for me. However, before riding the bike for the first time this season, I decided to try some different tires, just for the sake of trying something different.
I’ve had a pair of Continental Slash ProTection 26×2.3 tires around for the past couple of years. It’s a discontinued model, so when they started being offered at blowout prices, I decided to pick up a pair just to have as a backup set if needed. Now seemed like a good excuse to give them a try. They’re pretty comparable to the Kendas at 660 grams each, but with an even more aggressive tread–a fairly square profile with tall side knobs. Continental tires tend to run a bit narrower than labeled, so to the naked eye they appeared about the same width as the Kenda ExCavators when mounted on my wheels.
I’ve never been really picky about tires. I recall reading tire reviews in the past, and often the authors complain that when tires have tall knobs, they can feel the tire squirming too much underneath them. I always read that with a bit of skepticism, thinking, “They can’t possibly really feel that.” But, as it turns out, I could. The steering of the bike felt kinda squirrely, and I felt like I was about to wash out in sharp curves more often than usual.
To be fair, this tire is billed as a rough and wet conditions tire, and I’m sure it would perform great in those conditions. I’ll put them away until I head to Pennsylvania or West Virginia, but for typical Ohio trails (when they’re in permissible-to-ride condition), they are, indeed, TOO aggressive.
Having another free day yesteday, with a good weather forecast, it was the perfect chance to head down to my favorite trail, the mountain bike loop at Mohican State Park. The night before, I pulled another spare set of tires out of the archives.
The trail, as usual, was in excellent shape. Huge thanks, as always, go out to the Mohican/Malabar Bike Club for creating and maintaining such a fantastic trail. I finished the 25-mile loop in what I believe is a personal best time–2 hours and 38 minutes, which does not include a very brief stop at the 15-mile rest area to down a pack of Gu.
Part of the credit for the good ride goes to those other new tires I mentioned. The tires are Slime SRT XC 26×2.00. I picked these tires up a few years ago when one local branch of a national big-box sporting goods chain was having a store closing clearance sale. At $5 each, it was a deal I couldn’t pass up.
The SRT stands for Standard Rim Tubeless. The tire is like a tubular tire, but with a bead that works on any standard hooked rim. Of course, it’s also pre-filled with Slime’s neon green sealant. The idea was that you could get the benefits of tubeless tire technology, without the hassles of needing tubeless-compatible rims, special rim strips and valves, bead seating problems, etc. This XC version of the tire has a semi-aggressive tread that hits the sweet spot between too smooth and too knobby–perfect for dry, fast trail conditions. It’s a similar tread to something like the Geax Saguaro or WTB ExiWolf. I think they also made a version with a more aggressive freeride/downhill tread, and maybe a slick version, too.
I had these tires on an older mountain bike that I used for just kicking around the neighborhood a couple years back, but this was my first real ride using them on singletrack.
That “just right” tread performed perfectly on the buff singletrack of Mohican. It didn’t hold me back on the smooth stuff, and had enough grip to hold the line on curves and whenever the trail turned a little rough or uphill. I ran them at 35psi. By the end of the ride, I thought maybe I could drop them by 2-3psi; not for lack of traction, but just to soften the ride up a tad. The tires weigh 860 grams each. Compared to the Kenda ExCavators and Conti Slashes, there’s a pretty much negligible weight difference (20-40 grams) if you add in the 180-gram weight of a typical 26-inch presta valve tube.
Unfortunately, these tires are one of the best products that you can’t buy, unless you can find a shop or online dealer that has some way old stock still sitting around. I talked to the folks from Slime a few years ago at one of the bike trade shows. They said that they didn’t give up on the idea because it didn’t work well; the feedback they got from other users was as good as what I experienced yesterday.
The problem is that many mountain bikers are very particular about their tires. With the dozens of tire manufacturers providing literally hundreds of choices of sizes and tread patterns, there is plenty of supply out there to satisfied the varied tastes of all of those riders. Slime felt it would be impossible for them to come up with enough different variations of their tires to meet that demand.
I’m lucky and glad that I grabbed these tires when I had the chance. During whatever (hopefully long) life that I get out of them, they’ll be my go-to tires for riding my go-to trails.
I use an Xtracycle cargo for most of my bike commuting and errands. Last year, I experimented with using the Xtracycle attachment on an old hybrid bike frame that uses 700C wheels. The Xtracycle is designed for 26-inch wheels, but it can be made to work with 700C wheels. It won’t work with 29er tires. I ended up using a Schwalbe Marathon 700×32, and it worked well with just enough clearance within the Xtracycle frame. You can read more details about this setup in the post I did for it on my company’s blog.
Something about a cargo bike, though, just demands the confidence-inspiring look and feel of a nice, fat tire. Earlier this year, I decided to put the Xtracycle back on my old Diamondback Zetec Comp mountain bike frame, and I set about looking for a pair of worthy tires. My first thought was the Schwalbe Big Apple 26×2.35, but I came across the Michelin Pilot Sport 26×2.3, and decided to give them a try instead.
The Michelin Pilot Sport is a bit of an anomaly in the bike part world–a 26-inch, extra-wide tire with a smooth tread and a lightweight folding bead. The advertised weight is 725 grams each. The actual weight is always more than what is advertised for bike parts; I did weight one of them to see how the actual weight stacked up, but all I recall at this point is that it was close enough to have nothing to complain about. The tires mounted easily to my rims.
The tread is reinforced with Protek HD for durability and puncture-resistance, but I have to confess that I am “cheating” a bit by using thorn-resistant tubes, which probably negates the light weight benefit of the tires. I don’t tend to have a lot of problems with flats (knock wood), but I’ve had one flat on the rear tire of my Xtracycle in the past, and it’s a real pain to deal with, so I figured it’s worth the extra weight to minimize this possibility in the future.
The Michelin Pilot Sport tires didn’t disappoint me with the stout look and feel that I was hoping for. They’ll take up to 58psi, which doesn’t sound like a lot for a tire meant for pavement, but the smooth tread combined with the high air volume provides just the right balance of zippyness and cushion that you want in a utility bike. The tread is quiet and doesn’t feel like it’s dragging you down. The grip is excellent; even with a load of groceries, I feel like I can lean into corners with confidence. There is a reflective stripe on the sidewalls for a little extra safety.
I’ve been using the Michelin Pilot Sport 26×2.3 tires for about a month now in the wide range of conditions that Northeast Ohio weather has blessed us with–dry, rain, snow; mostly on pavement, but occasionally on gravel and dirt trails. I highly recommend them for anyone looking for a fat, comfortable, yet efficient tire. If you don’t have a cargo bike, they’d be excellent for converting an old mountain bike into a commuter bike, or as replacement tires on an old beach cruiser.
The suggested retail price of the Michelin Pilot Sport 26×2.3 tire is $49.99. It’s not an item you’re likely to find in stock at most bike shops, but ask if they can special-order them for you. If you’re looking for something similar at a more economical price, try the Serfas Drifter 26×2.0 tires for about $32 each–they are what I used on this bike previously, with great success.
Last Monday, after much deliberation, I ordered some Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded snow tires for my bike. I’ve always just used wide knobby mountain bike tires, and I figured if I was going to commute through the winter, I would need them. I was unsure if I did the right thing by ordering the tires, then on Tuesday I wiped out in the parking lot at work in front of my boss. I did the right thing! Fast forward one week, I was eagerly waiting for the tires to arrive. UPS came and went; no tires. Well, I ended up staying later because other scheduled plans later this week, and luckily I did; the tires arrived FedEx!
Of course, I immediately installed the tires. Let me start off by saying that I am a big fan of fat tires and these are not. They are 26″x1.75″, and most companies’ tires run narrow. I used a digital caliper to accurately measure them and much to my surprise, the came out to a whopping 1.77″.
After work I had to run some errands, so I was more than happy to try out the new tires. I had a 3 mile ride to my stop, 2 of which were uphill. The tires were pretty noisy, which I figured they would be, since there was a couple hundred steel studs hitting the ground, but they still rolled pretty smoothly. At this point, the roads were dry. Schwalbe recommends that on dry pavement you run maximum pressure, which is 70 psi, and when it’s icy, run minimum air pressure, which is 30 psi. They also suggest 20 to 40 miles of hardpack riding to set the studs firmly in the tire. After my errand, I headed home, and I had about 8 miles to go. A mile into the ride the wind started to blow and the rain started; after another couple miles the rain tuned to sleet, which felt like I was getting sandblasted. By the time I started to descend back into the valley, I was in a ful-on Ohio winter mess. Snow was accumulating on the road, the wind was blasting, and all this over ice. Got to love winter commuting in Ohio! The descent back home wasn’t even fun; I had to ride the brakes (thank you disc brakes), then I was worried that the cars around me were going to lose control and crush me. Finally, I arrived home in one piece, and you know what? The tires never lost traction. I made a wise choice!