As refined as modern enduro race bikes have become, the difference between winning and losing can still come down to the most basic of components – the tire. Finding the balance between a tire that's light enough to use for a long day of pedaling and
able to withstand the punishments delivered by courses that aren't far off from full-blown downhill tracks has proven to be challenging, and every race weekend we see racers' chances for victory dashed by punctures or pinch flats.
Jared Graves has had his share of tire troubles in the past, but this weekend he will be aboard a new version of the Specialized Butcher for round six of the Enduro World Series in Whistler. While the tread design is slightly different than before, more notable is the fact that the tires measure 27.5" x 2.6” wide. That width is approaching the territory currently held by 27.5+ bikes, but according to Graves, “2.6” tires are trying to find the balance of a high volume tire on the rough stuff and still ride like a little tire, where you can really get that edge and get aggressive with it in corners.”
The claimed weight of the 2.6" tires (there's also a 2.6" version of the Slaughter semi-slick) is just under 1000 grams. Part of that weight comes from Specialized's Grid Casing, which adds another cap ply in order to increase sidewall stiffness, and hopefully reduce the likelihood of a flat. Graves also had a new version of the Hillbilly tire on hand, a cut mud spike that could prove useful in muddy or extremely loose conditions, although that tread pattern hasn't officially been announced just yet. What About 27.5+?
When 27.5+ bikes first arrived on the scene there were rumblings that enduro racers would soon be using them, but so far that hasn't ended up being the case. The extra weight, reduced puncture resistance, and the on-trail-feel of the bigger tires at high speeds have kept them from being adopted by the sport's fastest riders, at least on the race course. Specialized racers Jared Graves and Curtis Keene have tried 27.5+ bikes (where tires measure between 2.8” - 3.0”), but in Graves' words, “For the right type of riding and the right type of person they're fun, but I personally wouldn't want to race on one.”
Rim width is also an important factor to consider when it comes to tires - installing a 2.6" tire on a narrow rim won't yield the same results as using something with a 27mm or greater internal width. Graves is currently running Specialized Roval rims with a 30mm internal and 35mm external width and has been happy with the results, although he also said he'd was hesitant to change up anything else in the middle of a race season. As it is, his bike setup for this weekend is already a good deal different than what he was aboard at round five in Aspen.
If 3.0” tires are too wide, and 2.3” tires aren't wide enough, will 2.6” tires may end up being the happy medium for enduro racers and more aggressive riders? Only time will tell, but if the rumors are true a number of other options will be hitting the market over the course of the next six months. Of course, not all bike or forks have enough room to accommodate that wide of a tire – there's not a whole lot of room between the tire and the arch on a 15x110mm 27.5" RockShox Lyrik. Still, with the improved tire clearance that 12x148mm rear spacing can provide, it's very possible that we'll start to see more bikes coming with wider tires front and rear. In any case, it's going to be an exciting showdown when racing commences this Sunday in Whistler.