WOULD WIDER TIRES MAKE YOU A BETTER RIDER?
What are wide-trail tires?
The bicycle industry has reinvented the wheel multiple times over the past couple years, looking to find the perfect tire and rim size for everyday trail riders. Plus-sized tires (2.8- to 3.25-inch wide tires) quickly grew in popularity due to the benefits of high air volume and increased traction and stability. On the other hand, we saw rim companies widening the internal width (inner channel) of their rims in order to give standard-sized tires a wider profile. These new wider rims, however, weren’t designed for tires of the past, thus another new tire size was born, known as “Wide Trail.”
Wide Trail, or WT for short, is a phrase coined by Maxxis to describe tires specially designed for wider rims. While Maxxis may have rights to the term Wide Trail, almost every other tire manufacturer and rim company has taken note of this new trend. We reached out to Pivot Cycle’s founder, Chris Cocalis, who works closely with Maxxis, along with our friends at RideFast Racing, Bontrager, DT Swiss and WTB, to see what the deal is with the new trend of “wider than standard yet not quite plus-sized” tires. Our mission was to find out if Wide Trail is the new golden tire size. Here’s what the experts had to say.
MBA : What is Wide Trail?
Pivot: In the simplest terms, Wide Trail tires are basically tires designed to work correctly with internal rim widths between 30mm and 35mm. Most tires on the market were designed for rims less than 30mm wide. In most cases, trail tires were really designed for rim widths around 23 to 25mm. As rim widths became wider, there was a bit of lag time in tire development. When a standard tire is used on a wide rim, the casing and tread pattern don’t allow for the tread to properly line up with the sidewalls of the rim. The tire can bottom on the side wall, allowing the tire to pinch flat more easily. It also means that the overall tire profile becomes flatter on wider rims and does not function as well as it could. Even a tire like a Maxxis High Roller II (27.5×2.4 inches) that is a nice, wide tire will have this issue. The Wide Trail designation means that the knobs and tire profile have been optimized for the wider rims. Tires in 2.4 inches and 2.5 inches with the WT designation are optimized this way, as well as 2.6-inch tires, even if they don’t carry the WT designation. Just by the nature of their size, they are also designed for internal rim widths between 30mm and 35mm. Wider tires—2.8 inches and up—are considered “plus” tires, as their casings are even larger and are designed for rim widths between 35mm and 40mm. We always want to match the proper tire to the rim width. This is why the Mach 6 with 35mm rims uses a 2.6-inch tire, whereas our Firebird with 30mm-wide rims uses a Minion DHF 2.5WT and Minion DHR 2.4WT combination. This way, we are able to match the tire and rim combination for maximum performance and durability.
MBA : What does the phrase “Wide Trail” mean?
Maxxis: Before we get into the “what,” let’s address the “why.” Over the past few years rims have gotten wider and wider. Wider rims let riders run lower tire pressures, improving ride quality and traction. Those are great benefits; however, there is such a thing as too wide, or at least a rim that is too wide for a particular tire. When you pair a traditional trail tire, say a 2.25-inch or 2.30-inch, with a rim in the 30–35mm range, the resulting profile can get overly square. If the tire profile is too square, your cornering knobs are no longer on the edge of the tire; they’re on top. That becomes very problematic when it’s time to corner. You lean over, but there’s nothing there to lean into. Wide Trail is what Maxxis did to address that problem. Wide Trail refers to specific tires within Maxxis’ mountain bike offerings. Maxxis tires that are denoted with a “WT” after the width measurement (e.g., 27.5×2.50WT) have been optimized for use on 35mm-wide rims (internal). Riders can choose to run down to a 30mm rim if they prefer a slightly rounder profile, but we don’t recommend going narrower than that. Our engineers optimized the tread layout by moving the blocks around to avoid the issue mentioned above.
MBA: Does Maxxis believe Wide Trail will replace plus-size?
Pivot: Not at all. The initial hype around plus tires has cooled a bit, but there are still tons of riders out there who love 2.80- to 3.25-inch-wide tires. The Maxxis Wide Trail tires are significantly narrower with a shorter profile than our 2.80-inch plus tires, so it’s best to think of them as a happy medium between traditional trail tires and our plus offerings.
MBA : What are the benefits of a Wide Trail tire over a standard or plus-size tire?
Maxxis: If you’re running rims in the 30mm- to 35mm-wide range, you should really have a tire that was designed to work properly with them. You’ll be able to run lower pressures. You’ll get better traction, have a more comfortable ride, and you’ll have better cornering control compared to a non-Wide Trail tire. Compared to plus, it more or less comes down to the ride quality. If you want a pillowy ride with a large margin for error, go with plus. On the other hand, if you want a sportier, more responsive ride, Wide Trail is your best bet.
MBA : Anything else you would like to add?
Maxxis: Wide Trail tires are really in their own category. They shouldn’t be used on rims narrower than 30mm wide, but they also shouldn’t be used on a dedicated plus bike in place of true plus tires. The reason is that the shorter profile will lower a bike’s bottom bracket, which can lead to increased pedal strikes. Maxxis Wide Trail tires are for trail riders using the wider rims that have become so popular recently.
MBA : It seems like 2.6-inch tires have become the new happy medium. Do you believe Wide Trail tires will replace plus- and standard-size tires?
Ridefast: I do think that 2.6-inch tires will decrease the number of true plus-width tires manufactured and sold, because they offer many of the same benefits that plus-bike riders are seeking, such as improved traction and forgiveness, at a lower, more performance-oriented weight and with less uncontrolled air volume, which leads to more predictable handling across more conditions. The new 2.6-inch tires may also convert some current 2.35- to 2.5-inch tire riders (also for the improved traction and forgiveness), but I don’t think they will entirely replace standard-width trail tires simply because many people ride in conditions where standard trail tires offer plenty of traction and cornering capability but at lower, more pedal- or climb-friendly weights.
MBA : The SE4 Team Issue tire from Bontrager is available in all three popular tire widths—2.4, 2.6 and 2.8 inches. How can a rider determine which tire size is best for him?
Bontrager: A 2.4 tire will generally have a more precise feel. They require more pressure, but, when tuned to the right psi for a given rider, will have a little more lateral support for a more consistent feel under hard cornering. A 2.8 tire will absorb the trail a little more and give a rider some added traction and confidence but have less sidewall stiffness, so hard cornering in berms can feel a little wallowy for really aggressive riders.
MBA : Does Bontrager believe 2.6-inchwide tires are the new happy medium? If so, do 2.4- and 2.8-inch-wide tires still have a place in the market?
Bontrager: In many ways, yeah, with 2.6 you get a lot of the benefits of bigger tread—traction, cornering, lower tire pressures and compliance—all without a lot of the drawbacks of added weight and less sidewall stability in hard corners. That said, all of the options are here to stay. An intermediate rider will see an immediate increase in confidence with a 2.8 tire, while a very aggressive rider could overpower it and may be best suited to the precise feel of a 2.4 tire. So long as they both tune their tire pressures for how and where they ride, they should be fine.
MBA : WTB was an early pioneer of high-air-volume tires. How has that changed over the years with advancements in rim technology?
WTB: WTB introduced the first 27.5-plus-inch tire and tubeless Road Plus tire about three years apart. We love the benefits of high-volume tires and look to increase performance in any and every way possible. Rims are a big part of the final equation. Put a wide tire on a narrow rim and you’ll experience folding. Pump them up to a pressure where you don’t experience folding on a narrow rim and you’ll be left with a tire that’s harder than a rock. Wide rims have totally changed how high-volume tires perform. The wider inner-rim width provides a more supportive base for the tire casing to sit on. It’s like giving somebody a push when his legs are braced in a triangle compared to with their feet together. The support is increased, but, more important, the support isn’t lost when running lower pressures. Elite-level enduro athletes are running pressures in the teens where they would have had to run over 30 psi to run tubeless. Another example is dirt bike wheels. Take a look at the ratio between the width of the rim and the casing of the tire. We’re finally getting to the ratio that decades of motorcycle engineering has determined is best.
MBA : How does rim width affect the overall shape and size of a tire? Is there such a thing as a perfect rim/tire combination?
WTB: There are many factors that determine the overall shape and size of a tire. Using a wider rim width will always create a wider casing profile. Tires designed with a 54mm casing can easily jump up to a measured 64mm casing width on a wider rim. One of the biggest factors is what inner rim width the tire was designed around. Until a few years ago, all trail tires were designed around inner rim widths around 20mm. Some were designed around even narrower widths. Riders were still using those tires when wide rims came out, and it increased the volume greatly. The farther you get away from the designed inner rim width, the more bulbous the casing will get. Also worth pointing out—tires that are mounted to a wider rim than they’re designed for will gain a flatter profile. The benefit of this is having more of the tread pattern contacting the trail at one time. This was another benefit of the initial wide-rim craze, but it left sidewalls exposed. With tires now being designed around wider rims, you’re able to dial in the ideal tire profile, increase tire volume and ensure the sidewalls are still protected via proper tread overhang.
MBA : Larger rims and tires can add rotational mass to your bike. Do the added benefits of comfort and traction from a wide 2.5-inch tire make up for the disadvantages of the additional weight?
WTB: There are many varying opinions when it comes to this, and it all comes down to personal belief and what is most important to you. For some people, it’s all about lightweight rims and tires with lightweight casings. High-volume tires may not be for those people. Others seek traction above all else. Those folks will love a wide 2.5-inch tire. My personal opinion is to run bigger, burlier tires. If they hurt on the climb, then they’re making you stronger. I promise you they’ll be more fun and durable on the descent. Also, know that a lot of times added effort comes from loss of traction. Stay hooked up on the climbs and you’ll conserve energy while minimizing overall body fatigue. Stay hooked up on the descent and each one of your pedal strokes will go farther.
MBA : DT Swiss offers wheelsets with multiple inner widths. How can a rider best choose the right wheelset for his or her riding style and location?
DT Swiss: Choosing the right wheel for the job is often a daunting task with a variety of options in the DT Swiss wheel lineup. The right choice comes down to the rider’s style, preferred tire width, and local terrain and trails. Narrower rim widths (25mm or less) are generally suited better for riders looking for the fastest times and greatest weight savings. The midrange of rim widths (25–35mm) suit most trail riders, proving a great balance of performance, traction and ride comfort. Wider rims support the tire better and allow for lower tire pressures. As rim and tire widths increase, rolling resistance (and wheel weight) consequently increases, but we’ve found 30mm-wide rims provide a nice compromise for most riders. The extra air volume in wider rims and tires provides help to absorb more of the sharp hits found on chunky trails. Wider rims and tires also improve cornering and climbing traction. For riders who prefer the impressive traction and cushion of plus tires, 35–40mm rims fit the bill. There is some overlap in rim width and intended use, and that is where our specific rim extrusions come into play. DT Swiss Cross Country, All Mountain, Enduro and Freeride wheels, built with application-specific rims, offer a solution for every riding need. Cross Country rims provide the ultimate in weight savings. All Mountain rims offer improved strength and durability while still offering good weight savings. Built with ultimate strength in mind at the cost of a few extra grams, Enduro and Freeride rims provide unmatched trail-shredding performance. Our recommendation is to choose a rim or wheel series that matches your durability requirements.
MBA : What are some of the specific differences between cross-country, trail and enduro wheels?
DT Swiss: DT Swiss Cross Country wheels come in 22.5mm and 25mm rim widths. Designed for riders searching for every gram of weight savings in their quest for the best Strava times, DT Swiss XRC, XR and X wheels are solid performers. DT Swiss Cross Country wheels offer precise handling, stiffness and uncompromising performance. The 2.25–2.35-inch tires are optimal for these wheelsets. The XMC-, XM- and M-series All Mountain wheels come in the widest range of widths in DT Swiss’ wheel lineup. Width options range from 25mm to 40mm, depending on the specific wheel model. All Mountain wheels are for riders who enjoy lively climbs but who do not wish to sacrifice confidence-inspiring performance on the descents. The 25–30mm-width rims are perfect for tire widths ranging from 2.35–2.6 inches. The 35–40mm rim widths are better suited for 2.8–3.0-inch plus-width tires, . DT Swiss Enduro wheels are perfect for riders who attack the trails with abandon and are looking to hit that next berm a little harder. Oriented towards heavier or more aggressive riders, our Enduro wheels are offered in 25mm and 30mm rim widths. We recommend paring our EX- and E-series wheels with 2.35–2.6-inch tire widths. Chosen by top riders such as Aaron Gwin, Jared Graves and Richie Rude, DT Swiss Enduro wheels offer world-class performance. Built for riders who push the absolute limits of their equipment, DT Swiss Freeride wheels provide unmatched strength and durability. Designed with input from champions such as Danny Hart and Brendan Fairclough, the FR1950 Classic wheelset features a 27.5mm rim width. Swissengineered for the highest level of professional competition, DT Swiss Freeride wheels provide extreme downhill and freeride performance.
MBA : How does a rim’s internal width affect a bike’s handling?
DT Swiss: Rim width has a marked effect on a bike’s handling and riding characteristics. Narrow rim widths can give a bike a more precise steering feel and greater feedback from the trail. Narrower rims and tires provide faster rolling performance but often sacrifice the smoother ride of wider rims and tires. As rim and tire widths increase, the bike may feel more confidence-inspiring. Wider rims and lower tire pressures help absorb trail chatter, improve climbing traction and increase cornering grip. At the plus end of the spectrum, the smoothness of the bike’s ride noticeably improves, along with improved traction potential. However, rolling resistance increases as well, and the bike may feel a bit slower or “sluggish.” Another factor to consider—if your bike has the frame clearance to switch between plus and 29er wheelsets—is the bottom bracket height can change when switching wheelsets. I’ve often found moving from plus wheels to a 29er setup gives a bit more pedal clearance, preventing annoying pedal strikes. That said, most riders who try plus tire sizes love the riding experience and often choose plus bikes as a primary or secondary ride.
MBA : Is there a rule of thumb for finding the best combination of tire size and inner rim width?
DT Swiss: A good rule of thumb we’ve used over the years is to multiply inner rim width by two and take the resulting figure as a good starting place for tire width. For example, 30mm x 2 = 60mm, which equates to a 2.35-inch tire. Of course, this is just a rough guide, but it does give a good starting place when choosing a tire for acceptable performance under most conditions. Most riders will find that going with a bit wider tire will give great results. In our example with the 30mm rim, 2.5- or 2.6-inch tire widths are a great choice.