Should you go plus or opt for a 29er with high volume tires? New bikes like the Santa Cruz Hightower let you experiment with both options.
Last year, the big trend in the mountain biking world was plus-sized tires. Just in case you're getting back in the sport after a long hiatus, the basic idea is you wrap a 27.5" wheel in a 2.8" to 3.0" tire. The end result has roughly the same diameter as a standard 29" setup, but because you have more volume, you can run crazy low tire pressures. Think fat bike lite.
The downside for aggressive riders is that the tire technology hasn't quite caught up. While plus-sized tires allow you to monster truck through technical terrain, you can blow half your day patching flats. And that's before we start talking about the squirmy feeling in corners and the weird rebound issues at speed. If a manufacturer adds a more robust casing and beefy knobs, the weight can easily surpass 1200 grams.
Despite the minor problems, the basic premise behind plus is solid. Which is why we're seeing a new trend emerge - the 2.6" tire. Now before you start rioting, let's discuss this rationally. This "trend" isn't a new standard per say. It has nothing to do with axle width or rim diameter, it's just a new tire size that slots between the standard 2.3"-2.4" category and the 2.8"-3.2" plus market.
Actually, that's not fair either, 2.6" isn't really a new tire size. It's a naming convention. The current crop of 2.5" tires were developed five to ten years ago for gravity riders when rims were still pretty narrow. This new generation of 2.6" tires are designed for modern 35-40mm wide (internal width) rims. The tread patterns also run the gamut from lighter more trail oriented versions to EWS gnar. Whatever your preference, the end result is a tire that shares the positive attributes of plus size, without the squirmyness or rampant flats.
A number of brands are already producing 2.6" tires and a number of others are slated to be launched this year. What does this mean for consumers? We reached out to several frame, wheel, and tire manufacturers to learn more.
Tires that have been on the market for a number of years were originally designed around narrower rims. As tire volume has increased, rim manufacturers have had to increase the inner width of their offerings.
Mtbr: Why 2.6"? We already have 2.5" tires?
ENVE: The key here is that these tires are designed for wider rim standards. Most 2.5s are older tread pattern more likely optimized around 25mm or even smaller rims (outside of the Maxxis Wide Trail stuff). So some of the casings are not really much bigger than 2.5, it's more of a reset and refinement of that largest size MTB treads
Maxxis: A lot of riders want the largest tire they can fit into their frame and fork. While only a couple millimeters wider, the 2.6" platform offers a nice increase in volume compared to smaller tires offering similar benefits to a plus tire along with the precision found with smaller tires.
Specialized: Historically, we have tended to focus on 2.3" tires for trail and all-mtn. The only 2.5" tire Specialized offers is the Butcher in a DH casing. We're now offering 2.6" tires as another option. A lot of riders are getting excited about more volume, but some don't want to go as big as 3.0"; sometimes due to their riding style, where more aggressive riders may not like the somewhat squishy feel. 2.6" tires give more support than 3.0" and still offer more traction than 2.3". Others like 2.6" for better traction in the mud over 3.0", and for the lighter weight.
Ibis: Most of the 2.5" tires have heavy sidewalls and more downhill style treads. The 2.6" tires are much lighter trail tires which generally differentiates them from the 2.5" tires we've seen.
Vittoria: Valid question. The current 2.5 tires are mostly designed for DH use, or aggressive trail. While some of the new 2.6 tires also cater to this market, this segment is more broad, and also features larger sized XC treads and technologies.
Mtbr: What advantages do 2.6" tires offer over existing or plus sized tires?
ENVE: The idea would be a ton of traction and grip, without some of the squirm and rebound issues. Most riders love the easy/lazy corning feel of big treads on flat and/or loose corners and the straight line speed - but when things get going fast and rough they want a little more accuracy and response and a little more hold in the corners compared to the really big casings on plus tires.
Ibis: They have nice ride qualities because they're designed for wide rims and have high volume. On the other hand, they don't have any of the undamped spring weirdness of the larger plus tires.
Maxxis: The small measured difference between a 2.6 and a 2.8 changes the feel of the tire under turn-in and hard cornering conditions. At Maxxis, we are designing all of our 2.6" tires around our Wide Trail (WT) concept, optimizing the tires around modern 30-35mm inner rims to match the same tire profile a 2.3" tire would have on an older, narrower, rim.
Specialized: See answer to question 1.
Vittoria: It's like the story of the 3 bears… the 2.6 is becoming the new sweet spot that is "just right" for a large number of riders. There is a movement to embrace the larger volume and footprint of the fat/plus segment, but then reduce weight and increase lateral stability like traditional tires offer. The 2.6 offers a bit of both, so as the 3 bears said, the porridge is just right.
Continue to page 2 for more Q&A on the new tire size »
Mtbr: What type of rider will benefit most from this tire size?
ENVE: Plus tires show their strengths in flatter and slower terrain. People are riding very fast on plus, so I wouldn't say exactly that 2.6 is for faster riders, but on steeper terrain and hard packed corners, you really need more knob traction than casing traction.
Ibis: Someone who is looking for an extremely versatile tire across a lot of different riding situations. We've found that the 2.6" is suited for most types of trail riding. And now that we have a lot of rim choices in varying and most importantly wider widths, 2.6 tires on 35mm rims deliver what we think is an ideal combination.
Maxxis: Higher volume tires work much better in softer or bumpier conditions. The added volume can offer both a flotation effect on soft loamy conditions as well as a slight damping effect to absorb trail chatter before the suspension can react.
Specialized: I don't really think there's just "one type" of rider who necessarily benefits from a 2.6", just like there is no "one type" of rider that benefits from 2.3" or 3.0", or 29" wheels. Take a look around on the trail and you'll see a wide variety of tire and wheel sizes, all riding the same trail. I think a lot of different riders see a lot of different benefits. People have different things they want out of a tire: rolling resistance, flat protection, traction in dry, traction in wet, confidence in rough terrain, the old "flickability" argument, etc. No other industry makes such a fuss over the alleged correlation between the diameter and width of tires, and the ability to have an enjoyable experience. Sports cars, for example, have myriad wheel and tire sizing options yet they all feel relatively similar to each other and are a blast to drive.
Vittoria: I think anyone who is an enthusiast, and not looking to race XC, will have fun on this size. The same is true of Plus bikes in general, but the 2.6 will offer just a bit more of a traditional feel.
Mtbr: Where do you see the 2.6" tire fitting into the landscape? Will they become the new normal on short travel trail bikes, heavy hitting enduro bikes, etc…
ENVE: Tires are about terrain, anyone looking for a winner or a one tire/wheel size to rule them all has been reading too many quiver killer reviews. Landscape is the key word, what works awesome on one trail may be handicapped on another. 29ers brought traction, and Fat bikes introduced flotation to mountain bikes. Now riders have the chance to refine the elements to match their personal needs and style. BS aside, trail riders - in particular aggressive trail riders (who may or may not participate in competitions classified as 'enduro') will love them.
Ibis: They'll be the new normal on trail bikes. They'll only make it into enduro if we also get reinforced casings (like we see on the 2.5" tires). Weight could be a buzz kill with the bigger tires though.
Maxxis: Tire size isn't very indicative of a particular style of riding or type of bike these days. As seen with the full range of plus bikes from short-travel hardtails to long-travel enduro bikes, 2.6" will eventually encompass a similarly wide range of riding styles. We initially launched our WT design using the most aggressive tires in our lineup but will be working down the line to our trail and cross country tires soon.
Specialized: Well, for starters, they fit nicely between 2.3" and 2.8". I think 3.0" tires opened a lot of people's eyes as to how much confidence can be had with a high-volume tire. As people get to try different sizes and see the differences, our guess is that things may swing back towards the middle a bit. But take all of this with a grain of salt, of course because even though I see no questions here about 26" tires, we still sell plenty of them in the aftermarket.
Vittoria: I honestly think it's a way for frame designers to increase the useful range of any bike. The lemonade I make out of all these new standards is that even simple hardtails are now much more versatile in terms of terrain types that they can tackle.
Mtbr: Is 2.6 an indication that the "plus" movement may have taken things too far?
ENVE: It's more of an indication that mountain bikes are still the best choice for most riders. Our opinion is that plus bikes are more terrain and speed sensitive than some of the sales hungry "next best thing" advertising might suggest.
Ibis: Yes, this is the rebound. We still think there's a place for 2.8 tires, but a lot of people are going to opt for 2.6" It could become the most popular tire next year.
Maxxis: Not at all. The plus platform offers the versatility of a rider to choose between 2.8-3.2" tires without going outside the design considerations of their bike. The same versatility is offered with standard bikes working well with 2.2-2.6" tires.
Specialized: Not at all! If anything, it's an indication that more volume can often equate to a better riding experience. 3.0" was better than 2.5" and now 2.6" is better than 2.3". And we have 2.8" for those looking for yet another volume option. The spectrum has just shifted towards more volume across the board.
Vittoria: Having ridden the 3.0 tires extensively, I don't think so. I think the 2.6 is a nice transition into "Plus", but I think both serve a purpose. I may argue that the Plus movement is a correction on the Fat segment for riders on normal terrain, but I can see 2.6-3.2 as one category.
Continue to page 3 for more Q&A on the new tire size »
Mtbr: How much wider will a 2.6" tire be when mounted on a 35-40mm rim versus a 2.5" tire on the same wheelset?
ENVE: About 0.1"
Ibis: Between 0.0" and .05" wider. The numbers printed on sidewall don't mean much.
Maxxis: Our 2.60WT tires measure on average of 2mm wider and 2mm taller than our 2.50WT tires, both mounted on 35mm inner width rims. This makes for a small but noticeable 7% increase in tire volume.
Specialized: That depends on the tire manufacturer and model. Anyone who has purchased a few 2.3" tires from various manufacturers knows that there can be big variances between them. It depends on what width rim the manufacturer designed the tire around.
Vittoria: Depends on the manufacturer. Vittoria uses a true-to-size approach, but few others do. Our 2.5 is actually larger than most 2.6 tires from the competitors. Apples to apples, it should be a few mm wider, but in terms of air volume, the difference will be notable.
Mtbr: How much lighter will the new 2.6" tires be versus a comparable 2.8"? On that same note, how much heavier will they be when compared against a more traditional 2.3"?
ENVE: Those numbers are available online. We have seen that most 2.8 stuff has been underbuilt in order to provide the benefits or traction and flotation without a bunch of extra weight. But thin sidewall tires have been on decline for trail riding because riders have seen how beefier tires match up better with today's stiff frames and wheels. You are riding faster, with more confidence and getting a lot less flat tires. No one really seems to care about winning the climb if they can't rip the descent. 2.8 comes at a cost, for some it's worth it. That said, and following some of the points above, other riders are gaining confidence on plus - at the end of the day that's what it's all about.
Ibis: 2.6 tires will be between 0 and 100g heavier than plus tires. It seems some weight is being put back into the casing so they're not so fragile. We just grabbed a random 2.3 of the same tread pattern and it was 80g heavier than our 2.6 sample. So who knows?
Maxxis: Our 27.5x2.80 Rekon+ only weighs 50g more than the 27.5x2.60 Rekon (730g). Our 27.5x2.60 Forekaster comes in at 785g, 95g more than a comparable 27.5x2.35 model.
Specialized: Weight between a 2.6" and a 2.8" will be about 50 grams. 2.6" compared against a 2.3" would be about 150 grams - assuming same tread pattern and casing style.
Vittoira: Again, depends on tire construction. But comparing apples to apples (the same tire and casing) the difference should be roughly 100g or so.
Maxxis is very enthusiastic about the new tire size. They launched two 2.6" tires last year and have more in development.
Mtbr: Will you be creating any tires in this size or specing any bikes with this tire size?
ENVE: We don't make tires or spec bikes, but, as riders, we tend to respect other riders and give them what they want.
Ibis: We never liked the bigger plus tires and drew the line at 2.8 on the Mojo3 and HD3. Consequently those frames work great with 2.6's and they will be an option next year.
Maxxis: We are very enthusiastic about the 2.6" size, launching the 2.6" Forekaster and Rekon tires at Interbike with several more patterns in development.
Specialized: We already do - all 2017 Enduro 650b models sold in the US come with 2.6" Butcher and Slaughter tires.
Vittoria: Magic 8-ball says chances are good.
Mtbr: What do you think the breakdown will be in sales three years from now?
ENVE: Check with us in 4 years.
Ibis: We would still like to see some 2.3-2.4 tires designed for 35mm inside width rims. When that happens, whether trail riders choose 27.5 or 29, most will then pick 2.4's or 2.6's depending on conditions and riding style.
Maxxis: "The breakdown is going to vary. There are your customers who always want to be on the cutting edge that will try something new but along with that you have people who are not able to fit 2.8 tires in their frame but want to get as large volume as possible." - Andrew Bartek, Sales Manager
Specialized: We feel that 2.3" will continue to bear the brunt of sales. Cross country/Trail tires and sizes will continue to lead, globally, at least for SBC. Depending on MTB pedal assist sales, 2.6" will follow, then possibly 2.8". USA seems to be the major supporter of wider tires, at this time but the dust is still settling globally so we will have a much clearer view in another year or so.
Vittoria: I think frames will be made to accept a wider range of sizes, and then riders will choose what suits their needs best.
Mtbr: And finally, what marketing buzzword will you be using for this new tire width - mid plus, plus-light, mid mid fat?
ENVE: Love handles?
Ibis: Hopefully none, people are just starting to get boost vs plus straight. We're thinking maybe we should call them 2.6".
Maxxis: Wide Trail is what we are calling our high volume 2.4-2.6" tires, designed around modern 30-35mm wide rims for today's trail bikes and riders.
Specialized: We haven't discussed this yet, and likely won't. As mentioned above, we have tires in this size in the market already, without any special name.
Vittoria: I credit Cait Dooley (from GT) with the term "Baby Fat".