Specialized's tire lineup has been undergoing an overhaul over the last couple of seasons, with new tread patterns, rubber compounds, and a naming scheme that's actually not overly complicated, something of a rarity in the mountain bike tire world.
This year, it was the XC-oriented tires that received updates, including the Ground Control model reviewed here. The Ground Control is the most aggressive XC-oriented option in Specialized's lineup – it's designed to be fast rolling while still delivering a decent amount of traction in loose conditions. It wouldn't be a stretch to call it a downcountry tire, assuming that term doesn't make you cringe, of course.
Ground Control Details
• Sizes: 27.5 x 2.35 or 2.6" and 29 x 2.2 or 2.35" widths
• T5, T5 / T7, or T7 rubber compound
S-Works, Control, and Grid casings
• Weight: 880 grams (actual, 29 x 2.35", Grid T7)
• Tan wall Soil Searching model available
The Ground Control's new tread pattern uses what Specialized calls a 'block-in-block' design, where a slightly taller inner block is supported on two or three sides by a larger block. The idea is that those larger blocks help keep the tire from feeling too squirmy, while the smaller inner blocks can conform to the ground for extra traction, especially during braking. For a cross-country tire the tread pattern is fairly aggressive, despite the shorter tread height. CASING & COMPOUND OPTIONS
There are three different casing / compound options for the Ground Control. The lightest option is the S-Works version, which uses a T5 / T7 rubber compound (the higher the number the grippier the rubber), a 120 TPI casing, and a narrow, 2.1” width to keep the weight down to a claimed 595 grams.
Next up is the Ground Control Control T5. Remember when I said Specialized's naming scheming wasn't overly complicated? I might need to take part of that back – having a tire casing that shares a name with the tread pattern seems a little silly. In any case, the Control T5 has a 60 TPI casing and a little more sidewall protection than the S-Works version.
The third option is the Ground Control Grid T7 that I've been testing for the last couple months. The Grid casing provides even more sidewall protection, and the T7 compound is the grippiest available for Specialized's XC tires – their scale goes up to T9, which is used on the more aggressive enduro and DH tire models. The typical sidewall color is black, but there's also the tan-walled Soil Searching version shown here, with the proceeds from the sales of this tire going to benefit Specialized's program that supports trail builders around the world.
The Ground Control Grid T7 retails for $60, and is available in 27.5 x 2.35, 2.6" and 29 x 2.2, 2.35” versions. The 29 x 2.35” Soil Searching version weighed in at 880 grams. SETUP
A Transition Spur served as the test bike, and the Ground Control tires were installed on a pair of Roval Control wheels, which have a 29mm inner rim width. Getting them set up tubeless didn't pose any issues, and once inflated they measured true to their stated 2.35” width. I've been running 21-22 psi in the front and 22-24 psi in the rear, pressures that have worked well, even in the harder packed and dusty conditions that have prevailed over the last couple of months.PERFORMANCE
The first ride on a set of tires with an unfamiliar tread pattern is always an interesting experience. It's a true trial by fire, since the only way to determine how a tire will handle steep, loose terrain, or dusty, blown out corners is to dive right in and see how it goes. Thankfully, the Ground Control tires met and exceeded my expectations in nearly every aspect of their performance.
The overall level of grip was impressive, especially considering the lower tread height. Sure, they're not going to dig in like a meaty enduro tire, but they still managed to find traction in moon-dust filled chutes, and when pushing into flat turns where the ground was covered with a layer of dried evergreen needles. Those intermediate knobs help create a very predictable tire, one that's free of any vagueness or dead spots.
I only got in a couple of wet rides before summer arrived with a vengeance, so I can't definitively comment on the tires' performance in the slop, although they held their own during those few soggy sessions. The fact that the knobs aren't super tall helps keep them from getting hung up on roots, which means there are fewer surprises on wet roots or rocks.
The Ground Control's rolling speed is very reasonable, and it'll feel extra-fast to anyone coming from something with more tread. There's also a good level of climbing traction, which helps make it possible to make it up techy climbs without the rear wheel spinning out. XC racers will likely want something even quicker rolling, though; running Specialized's Fast Trak in the rear would likely do the trick. On the flip side, for riders that want more traction, running a Specialized Butcher up front is a very fun combo.DURABILITY
Regarding durability, I haven't had any flats despite running fairly low pressures, and there have certainly been plenty of opportunities. The knob wear is even, and there's no cracking or tearing to be seen. I wouldn't mind seeing a Grid Trail casing option added to the mix, although Specialized's Eliminator tire is a worthy substitute for riders looking for a tough, faster rolling rear tire.HOW DO THEY COMPARE? SPECIALIZED GROUND CONTROL VS WICKED WILLWeight:
The weight of the Ground Control Grid tire is quite close to that of Schwalbe's new Wicked Will tire in the Super Ground casing, at 880 grams vs. 892 grams respectively – 12 grams isn't enough to choose one over the other.Price & Availability:
The Ground Control tires are priced at $60 and are available now. The Wicked Will is $94.99, and won’t be available aftermarket until next year, although they are currently being spec’d on some new bikes, like the Scott Spark. Point: Specialized.Performance:
The Wicked Will feels like it rolls a little faster than the Ground Control, but it's not quite as surefooted, especially in loose over hardpack conditions. After a few sketchy moments, including one un-planned dismount, I've decided I'm not the biggest fan of running the Wicked Will as a front tire. It works fine in the rear, but those sudden front tire washouts rattled my nerves. Granted, it's been extra loose and dusty lately - when conditions were a little softer and tackier the Wicked Will's performance level increased.
With the Ground Control, unexpected slideouts were few and far between – I was constantly impressed by how well the tires could maintain traction. There was also more sidewall support on the Specialized tires, despite the fact that they weigh almost the same as the Schwalbes. I had to run a couple more pounds of pressure in the Wicked Will to avoid rim strikes, something I didn't need to do with the Ground Control tires.
Great traction for this style of tire+
Less expensive than comparable options+
Very predictable handling
Rolling speed is quick, but not XC-racer quick-
No extra-tough casing options