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Las Vegas, USA, September 26-30, 2005
Part 23 - Tires, tires, and more tires
Tire development continues on its tireless crusade for the ultimate combination of performance and durability. For 2006, more companies are combining multiple rubber compounds on both road and mountain tires. Tires clearly perform different functions when you've got them leaned way over than when they're upright, and tire manufacturers are using function-specific rubber compounds to match. In addition, I think we can just about kiss true semi-slick tires goodbye. Sure, there are still some out there, but for the most part, companies seem to have figured out how to make short-knob tires that grip much better than semi-slicks yet offer nearly comparable rolling speed.
On the road side, the big news from Maxxis is their new top-level Courchevel clincher with Triple Compound Technology. As far as I am aware, this tire marks the first use of three different rubber compounds in a road tread. As you'd expect, the hardest compound is located right down the middle of the tread for good durability and low rolling resistance, and the tread shoulders transition to progressively softer compounds for cornering grip. Maxxis even found room for a Kevlar under the tread for puncture protection.
Maxxis concentrated on UST tubeless technology for their '06 off-road line with a new casing dubbed LUST, for Lightweight Ultimate Sidewall Technology. By incorporating a thin, rubber-covered fabric layer into the sidewall, the new LUST casing is reportedly 15% lighter than Maxxis' previous UST tires while simultaneously offering improved air retention and increased sidewall protection. This casing is incorporated into all of Maxxis' UST tires across the board, including the new CrossMark which was co-developed with input from World Champ Cristoph Sauser.
Maxxis also did some work on the two extremes of the mountain bike realm. For the XC racing set, they introduced the Maxxlite 310, a barely-there (in terms of, well, just about everything) race-only tire weighing, you guessed it, 310g for a 26 x 1.95" size. At the other end is a prototype DH tire that still doesn't even have a name yet. This 26 x 2.5" beast also uses a triple compound tread, but in a completely different manner relative to the Courchevel. In this application, Maxxis uses a firm base tread for good knob support, and then covers the center knobs in a super tacky compound for good braking. Outer knobs are covered in their "Slow Reezay" slow-rebounding rubber for more consistent cornering grip.
Not a whole lot is new from Bib and Co., and most of what has changed is in name only. The Pro Race, for example, is now the Pro2 Race. Okay, not so exciting. What is interesting, however, is their Pro2 Grip clincher. It's not a new tire, but it does incorporate an ultra-tacky tread compound that was originally developed for Michelin's Moto GP and Formula One programs. They allegedly offer a whopping 60% greater adhesion than their Pro2 Race tires, but they also won't make it to 2000km on the odometer before they're cooked.
Michelin has, however, developed a brand-new off-road tire called the XCR Dry2. The new design uses similar dual-compound rubber as previous tires, but in tread design optimized for low rolling resistance and good grip in dry conditions.
Schwalbe is still a relative unknown in the US market, but they're certainly trying to change that image with a slew of new tires for '06.
The new Stelvio Light road clincher retained whatever the Schwalbe folks liked about last year's Stelvio and ditched everything else, leaving just 185g of race tire in a 700 x 23c casing. The slick tread is made up of their low rolling resistance Qualifier compound. Last year's Stelvio Evolution dual-compound front and rear-specific clinchers are now also available in a 25c casing width.
For mountain bikes, multiple tread compounds are again the theme, but this time it's in the form of Schwalbe's new Nobby Nic. A super elastic base tread promises low rolling resistance while a harder compound center tread and softer outer tread offers better straight-line durability with good cornering grip. If your interest is more akin to flying than riding, you may want to take a look at the new Table Top. This is the first offering in the new Timo Pritzel series and delivers a versatile tread for street and dirt in an unusually light (for its class) package for quick acceleration.
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Images by James Huang/Cyclingnews