traction
Beggars Would Ride

Better Than Christmas

Words Mike Ferrentino
Date May 30, 2022
Reading time

The smell has a unique footprint. Slightly acrid with a note of outgassing butyl, it should be a pungent and negative thing. Sitting somewhere on the olfactory spectrum of between motor oil and burning plastic, It’s not the kind of scent that any human nostril recognizes as natural or positive. This is not something we are genetically programmed to feel an affinity for, not like the smell of rain, or pine forest, or the sea with its galaxy of musky personalities. It’s not a smell we should like.

But the signature scent of fresh rubber is something that any of us who have been riding long enough can easily recognize. And, for me at least, there’s some rewiring of my nostrils that happened over the past few decades. Instead of reflexively backing away, trying not to inhale the chemical telltale, I breathe it in. This smell can mean only one thing.

New Tire Day.

Look, I know how absolutely inappropriate this clip is, and apologize in advance for any trauma posting this may cause, but whenever I catch a whiff of new tires, I am reminded of Robert Duvall's love affair with napalm. This is really not a good smell, but here I am, sucking it in and ignoring all the animal alarm bells my Lorax brain is setting off...

Rolled up, held together with a tiny rubber band, that new tire represents one thing. Potential.

A rolled up new tire isn’t a whole lot bigger than an apple fritter, or a couple donuts stacked on top of each other. Two tires, a facsimile pair of dense rubber donuts, is a promise of performance waiting to be unleashed. Dollar for dollar, there is nothing you can do to your bike that is as profoundly impactful as a new pair of tires. Nothing. I dare you to find some product, any product at all, that has such a big impact on how your bike performs, that can so dramatically change the character of your bike, change the way you ride. Dump all the money you want into multi-thousand dollar shocks. Argue pedantically about the merits of a 210mm dropper post when compared to a paltry 175mm post. Go ahead, buy those sexy titanium cranks. Nerd out to your heart’s content on stems and bars. Those are all very attractive money pits, but the gains from them are incremental. New tires? New tires are transformational.

stratmann-web-04920.original

Potential, just waiting to get realized...

This transformational awesomeness applies well beyond the narrow confines of mountain biking. A few summers ago, I managed to punch holes in two tires at the same time on my van while driving down a dirt road in Nevada that had apparently been built entirely from old axe heads. The Continental tires I had at the time were maybe 25,000 miles old, had been rotated regularly, still had about half their tread. I limped into Fallon on the spare and a questionably plugged damaged tire, found a tire place, was offered a killer deal on a set of four sorta similar looking Pirellis, and decided to live large for a day. A couple hours later, I was driving west and could have sworn that I had just purchased a brand new van. So quiet. So smooth. So… luxurious!

We get used to the degradation of our tires. Aside from those knob shredding or sidewall slicing moments of tire death, the performance drop-off happens slowly. We don’t always realize it is occurring, and recalibrate unconsciously to how our tires are behaving. And at some point we find ourselves riding around on ground down treads that have hardened to about the consistency of Tupperware, wondering where all the traction went. Or, in some cases, we start out on tires that just do not cut it for the terrain we are riding.

Case in point; that Rocky Mountain Element I’m testing. It’s got some decent “ride most places sorta well enough” rubber in the form of 2.4” Maxxis Rekons front and rear. After two weeks spent slithering the Element around greasy blue-groove hardpack topped with a light skin of kitty litter, standard fare for this sunblasted part of California, I lit out for some mountain and desert exploration in Oregon. There, I found myself continuing to overcook it into turns and push the front wide at every apex. Loamtastic black alpine soil that had just been released from the snow, drifty loose pumice that was already dusty ahead of summer; it didn’t matter. Commit to an entry, weight the front, push the tires to dig, blow the apex. Again and again and again. It felt like I had forgotten how to ride.

It could be argued with credibility that I never really knew how to ride in the first place, but that’s beside the point.

Element

Even standing still, the front is trying to drift to the outside...

The entire time I’d been sniffing out new trails in Oregon, there had been a brace of tires in the back of the van waiting to be installed, along with a couple bottles of Orange Seal. But I kept on strugglefighting the stock rubber, feeling like I needed to perform my due diligence as a bike tester but also not wanting to sacrifice the easy pedaling, easy climbing virtues of those Rekons. Finally, after another full week of bungled apexes and drifting off the edge of the trail, I decided enough was enough. With a day of soft pumice and pine needles on the menu, I danced around in a gravel parking lot trying to stay moving fast enough to dodge the fresh hatched mosquitos, praying that I could get some fresh tires to bead up with a floor pump. With a little fluffing and massage, the new meats eventually made their happy pop-pop sounds and we were ready to go. 2.3” Specialized Butcher T9 front, 2.3” Butcher T7 rear. 100ml of Orange Seal per tire. 24psi rear, 23 psi front.

Sticking my fingernail into that blocky front tire, watching with satisfaction as the knob compressed and flexed softly back into shape, I felt a twinge of anticipatory glee. A couple quick cutties in the gravel, and I caught myself laughing reflexively.

To steal an old Mudhoney lyric; “Brothers and sisters, do you know what I’m talking about? I’m talking about a full on, motherfucking revolution.”

I mean, it may not be the kind of revolution that Mudhoney are talking about here. I can’t speak to the transformational qualities of a morphine suppository. But dear lord, those tires CHANGED things. Ripping down a fresh cut of trail, mostly loose pumice studded with hard rock, plucking the bike up over the big chunks and then weighting it down into the deep pillow of each turn, pushing the inside bar and outside pedal down hard and feeling it bite and hold. Praise be! Exiting the turn on my line, instead of flailing a foot or two outside of where I needed to be. Halellujah! Blitzing over sloped tree roots and using them for traction instead of wincing as they realign my trajectory. Can I get an Amen? I hadn’t forgotten how to ride after all (although it could be argued with credibility that… nevermind).

People like to complain about the price of bicycle tires, and I guess there is some merit to that complaint, given how little rubber there is compared to a “not much more expensive” car tire. Step outside of that comparative trap, though, and think for a minute about just how much of a change the right tires can make. I’ll say it again; dollar for dollar, nothing else comes close.

God I love new tire day.

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Comments

LoamtoHome
Jerry Willows
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+16 Perry Schebel Velocipedestrian Mark Dave Smith Mike Ferrentino Poz kcy4130 goose8 Todd Hellinga Pete Roggeman Andy Eunson Ryan Walters NealWood 4Runner1 ollyh OneShavedLeg

freshly split cedar ftw...

Reply

xy9ine
Perry Schebel
2 months, 2 weeks ago
0

oh damn yes

Reply

FlipFantasia
Todd Hellinga
2 months, 2 weeks ago
0

hard to argue with that

Reply

Timer
Timer
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+11 Kos Peter Appleton Mike Ferrentino Andy Eunson Pete Roggeman Poz kcy4130 goose8 Todd Hellinga ollyh OneShavedLeg

The only smell that can compete with fresh tyres is the smell of opening a new book for the first time. Pure potential.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+6 Timer Mike Ferrentino goose8 Todd Hellinga Gabriel Barbosa ollyh

And a fresh tin of tennis balls. I used to inhale so deeply people must have thought I was trying to get high from that fluro yellow felt.

Reply

fartymarty
fartymarty
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+7 Pete Roggeman Velocipedestrian goose8 4Runner1 Nologo Gabriel Barbosa ollyh

A fresh pack of coffee works for me.

Reply

Poz
Poz
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Pete Roggeman ollyh

Ha. Was never big in to tennis but I can totally get this. Something so satisfying about that “whoosh” sound and the immediate smell when opening one up.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
2 months, 2 weeks ago
0

There's the snap of the tin, too. It's a feast for the senses because the bright yellow balls also stand out.

Reply

rwalters
Ryan Walters
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+10 Mike Ferrentino Konrad Andy Eunson Pete Roggeman Mammal Timer goose8 Glenn Bergevin kcy4130 ollyh

New tire day is the best.

Even better is watching those beastly riders, who absolutely destroy the steepest, loosest, sketchiest terrain imaginable on bald Minions.

Reply

Coarsebass
Glenn Bergevin
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 kcy4130

Last year I had a local race, trained, rested, ate well... Fresh minions. Did pretty well.

Guy that beat me was on absolutely bald DHFs front and rear.

Reply

andy-eunson
Andy Eunson
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+7 Mike Ferrentino Pete Roggeman Deniz Merdano goose8 Todd Hellinga roil ollyh

Tires. The only thing touching the ground. I explained the importance of good tires to a young woman staying with us last year. She had a bunch of used tires that were pretty worn. But the knobs were rounded off. "They re still good eh?" She said. "T" I said," scratch your chin. Go ahead scratch your chin."  She scratches her chin. "See how you used your nails, now do it without your nails. You just rubbed your chin. This is how new tires work better. They bite the soil. These used tires just rub."  She tossed them. Good new tires are expensive. But cheaper than a couple sessions at physiotherapy dealing with an injury caused by worn out tires. 

Smells really do bring back memories. The smell of jet fuel in downtown Vancouver from the float planes brings back memories of working in the far north with helicopters. The smell of diesel recalls working underground for me.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 Andy Eunson ollyh OneShavedLeg

I love that rub/scratch analogy.

Reply

kos
Kos
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+6 Mike Ferrentino HughJass BenHD kcy4130 MTBrent geno ____

As an ex-dirt bike racer, with more than a few years under my belt, this reminds me of the smell of Castrol and Belray premix in the morning. Great memories!

Reply

xy9ine
Perry Schebel
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 Mike Ferrentino Kos geno ____

i had a couple 2 stroke sport bikes; while it seems odd to "like" the smell of combusted fuel / oil mixture, said aromatics was somehow compelling?

Reply

mikesee
mikesee
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+5 Mike Ferrentino Kos 4Runner1 Gabriel Barbosa geno ____

2 stroke exhaust smells like youth.

In a good way.

Reply

MTBrent
MTBrent
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 geno ____

I raced snocross for years.

I have yet to find a scent or sensory experience better than combusted 110 premix floating through 15°F air at the crack of dawn.

Reply

Tbone
Trevor Hansen
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+5 Perry Schebel Pete Roggeman Ryan Walters Mike Ferrentino cheapondirt

New rubber if it's good is good. The other day we were sliding down a steep rock line and Cam was behind me barely hanging on saying it was Maxxterrafying with his brand new MaxxTerra Assegais.

Reply

xy9ine
Perry Schebel
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 momjijimike

agreed! a half bald maxxgrip is better than a fresh maxxterra in many (typical wet rocky / rooty surfaces) cases.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
2 months, 2 weeks ago
0

I had the same experience on Cypress a few weeks ago. Last week was new tire day for the Sentinel. Invincible(ish) now.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
Cam McRae
2 months, 2 weeks ago
0

TBF they weren't brand new and it was a particularly slithery day. Hopefully by mid August it will be time for summer tires!

Reply

4Runner1
4Runner1
2 months, 2 weeks ago
0

I’ve not tried Maxxgrip yet. But they must be phenomenal judging by most reviews and comments. I’ve been on MaxxTerra for years and seem to get by (on the Island). My terra Assegai is awesome!

Reply

SteveR
SteveR
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+4 Andy Eunson hairymountainbeast Pete Roggeman goose8

That new tire smell does it for me too. Right up there with waxing skis as winter approaches!

Reply

craw
Cr4w
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+4 Phil Szczepaniak silverbansheebike Pete Roggeman Andy Eunson

Back in the 90s my bike mentor person showed me two fresh tires: a Continental Baja 1.9 and a Ritchey Megabyte 2.1. The Baja smelled like wine, deep and floral, manufactured in Europe. The Ritchey smelled rich and little cold, made in Asia. It was a hell of a contrast. Do they even still make bike tires in Europe? Maybe the Contis weren't even made in Europe, I never checked. But I do smell my new tires, every time. I recently saw an ancient Conti Baja on a bike locked up in the city and had a little flashback and briefly missed the bad old days.

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Cr4w

Contis always did have a unique aroma, didn't they?

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Cr4w

Most if not all Contis are still made in Germany. Edit: here's a link: https://www.continental-tires.com/bicycle/technology/deutsche-technik

Reply

hbelly13
Raymond Epstein
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+4 Mike Ferrentino Konrad Pete Roggeman Émanuel Valex

Mudhoney's gnarly fuzztone is as pleasing to my aural faculties as the scent of new tires and gasoline are to my olfactory senses. Thanx for the reminder to change my thrashed tires before I head to Snowshoe next month.

Reply

DaveSmith
Dave Smith
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+4 Perry Schebel Pete Roggeman Mike Ferrentino Cam McRae Mammal Nologo

Smell the glove, Pops. 

also:

Reply

earleb
earle.b
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+4 Bikeryder85 goose8 Cam McRae Mike Ferrentino

I am reminded of an old Grimy Handshake article, you trying to race a full season a single pair of Umma Gumma Ground Control's. 

Maybe we can get some A-B testing vintage Ground Control's vs current offerings.

Reply

andy-eunson
Andy Eunson
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 pedalhound

I would NOT volunteer for that.

Reply

denomerdano
Deniz Merdano
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 Mike Ferrentino Andy Eunson Cr4w

Nothing like a little scent to wake a tsunami of emotions. I always loved a glug of 20w-50 in the gas tanks of my Leyland MGs...

Reply

SpencerN
Spencer Nelson
2 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Call me new-fashioned, but what's that about? Helping piston ring sealing? I've only heard of adding/premixing oil for rotary engines.

Reply

cheapondirt
cheapondirt
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 Mike Ferrentino Andy Eunson Cam McRae

If you've ever driven with 4 new summer tires in the backseat of a sporty car.... Ahhhh.

Tires take up more of my bike budget than any of my riding buddies'. But they absolutely make the biggest difference and there are so many to try!

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
Cam McRae
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andy Eunson cheapondirt

I want to hear more about driving from the backseat! 

Reminds me of a Rodney Dangerfield joke: "My wife, she told me she wanted to make love in the back seat of the car. 'You drive' she said."

Reply

cheapondirt
cheapondirt
2 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Haven't tried it but my front seat position is all the way back in most vehicles I've driven. Seems feasible in something like an original Mini. Its tires would still probably fit inside, too!

Reply

velocipedestrian
Velocipedestrian
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 Mike Ferrentino Pete Roggeman Metacomet

Not so much a product, but spring rate can make or break the ride. After farting around through 5 different coils (one progressive) the bike just woke up like magic once I got the right spring on there.

Sag is just the starting point. Damping will not save the wrong rate. Get that shit dialled.

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 Velocipedestrian Pete Roggeman Cam McRae

I had a "friend" help me break in a new-to-me Husqvarna 501 on some of the super narrow high-country jank above Downieville last winter. These trails used to be my daily diet when I lived up there, and I could almost ride them blindfolded, pedal or throttle. So it was kind of a bummer to spend a whole day just flailing miserably. I could not get the front wheel to go where I pointed it, up or down, and the only way I could get it to turn was if I basically perched my taint on the gas cap and super aggressively squared off every apex, which is really hard to do and also kinda sketchy in these 120-degree dip and squirt turns with super high exposure.

Got home, finally decided to check the rear sag. Turns out I was running about 20mm more than recommended (stock seated sag for these things is around 105mm, and I was squatting somewhere around 125-130mm), on a spring that was probably good for someone about two-thirds my weight. Ordered new spring, installed, ripped a few flat-track slides in the driveway, and felt like maybe I hadn't forgotten how to ride after all. Night and day difference! So, yeah, correct springs are up there for sure. Although, it could be argued that while damping will not save the wrong spring rate, the correct spring won't necessarily gloss over shitty damping either. But at least the bike won't resemble a plow.

Reply

vantanclub
vantanclub
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Konrad Cam McRae

When tires are double the price in Canada over Europe, I think we’re allowed to complain about the price Considering the price differential, we honestly probably don’t complain enough about it.

Why does a Maxxis tire cost $145 (including tax) in Canada and the same tire in Germany is $85 CAD (including vat)?

I agree with everything else, new tires are amazing.

Reply

papa44
papa44
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Velocipedestrian gmacbike@gmail.com

I’m going to have to say that I rate brake pads over tyres. Granted it’s harder to get wrong and they work to the last rather than run down but my god, get some crap or contaminated brake pads off and freshies on and you’ll find god or whatever you believe in. Can I get an amen?

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 gmacbike@gmail.com papa44 goose8

Fresh pads are good but no match for fresh rubber.

Reply

papa44
papa44
2 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Infidel! Although I have ridden Chamonix on cantis which probably explains my awe of how good modern brakes are. I will try some of these modern tyres you talk of and see what I think. I currently have high roller 2s on one hardtail and ardents on the other but I can’t tell the difference or work out what I should be running. Any suggestions greatly appreciated

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 cheapondirt pedalhound

You'd be surprised by how many of us oldies in here have been riding since canti days ;)

Good brakes are maybe second to good rubber so it's not like we're in violent disagreement. However your brakes only matter when you're braking whereas your tires are important 100% of the time. Tires also contribute hugely to braking. 

First reco: Get rid of your Ardents immediately. After that, where do you ride? HR II is still a great wet weather tire but slow running and wears quickly. If you've never run an Assegai up front DHR II rear combo in chunky, aggressive terrain, it'll be an eye opener.

Reply

papa44
papa44
2 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Ahahha I’ve been told to ditch the ardents for Assegai / DHR before so I’ll probably stop being obstinate and invest in what seems to be the One True Tyre Combo. What about compounds though I never really understood the cryptic descriptions?

Reply

syncro
Mark
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 papa44 Pete Roggeman Slinger maxc

New tires these days are too good. They are the equivalent of having your mommy hold on to the waistband of your pants when you're going down the slide in order to make sure you get to the bottom without a hint of calamity. Isn't a  certain amount of out-of-control somewhat necessary for a good ride anymore? That used to be the highlight of the ride back in the day; having your front wheel unexpectedly change direction over a greasy root or your rear wheel begging for traction as it steps sideways in an effort to pass the front while descending a slab of granite.

Reply

just6979
Justin White
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Alex Hoinville

It's better when the out of control moments come by choice though. Drive a little harder than usual into that corner, find the limit, pass it on purpose with a little body weight shift, let the front slide just enough for fun and learning. Contrast with taking the corner as usual and blow it wide because the already weak side knobs worn halfway through make up their own mind if they're gonna hold traction this time.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 cheapondirt

You are describing an Octoflugeron and I agree that it is the best thing in mtb (maybe in life):

https://nsmb.com/articles/the-key-to-the-best-ride-ever/

Reply

velocipedestrian
Velocipedestrian
2 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Conan, what is best in life?

Reply

lamar454
Peter Appleton
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Cam McRae

tires are and will always be the single greatest upgrade to any bike dollar for dollar. raced many a Pro/Elite DH race weekend going between 3 or 4 tire combos, HUGE differences. great write up

Reply

silverbansheebike
silverbansheebike
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

One of the few smells that tops it for me is manual transmission fluid, reminds me of the sickly toxic smell of old plastic toys you would get as a kid...

I've often wondered if OEM spec tires are not made the same as off the shelf tires... I fought with a set of Nobby Nics that came on a past ride, and while they NEVER wore out, they also never really gripped anything, but then I've heard many folks who like them too.

My truck came with a free set of winters from the dealer, and I spent the last 7 years sliding around on them, but only just replaced for some all terrains with the snowflake, and a world of a difference it makes!

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 silverbansheebike

I admit to enjoying the smell of premix, 104 octane, and any of those super zesty brake or carb cleaners, but I just can't go there with hypoid gear oil. It feels like I can never wash that smell out, no matter how much I try...

Reply

Timer
Timer
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 silverbansheebike

AFAIK there are no secret OEM tyres. Sometimes I see OEM casing/compound combinations which are not available aftermarket. The Maxxis Maxxgrip/EXO tyres started as OEM only and eventually made their way to the general public.

Reply

just6979
Justin White
2 months, 2 weeks ago
0

OEM spec varies, but I could see them choosing a relatively hard compound just for that longevity image out of the box. Without knowing the compound can't say for sure, but based on the lack of wear, sounds like those were a hard compound and it makes sense they weren't grippy, since Schwalbe's softer rubbers are quite soft and def don't last "long" .

Reply

Rowdy
Rowdy
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Todd Hellinga

Where were you riding in Oregon?

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
2 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Rowdy

I started in Tahoe on my way north, then snuck in a couple rides (with some degree of snow hiking) just west of Baker city and La Grande, then a little bit of Post Canyon, then a sampling of Phil's complex in Bend, before banging south again and experiencing new tire day back in the Lost Sierra on some new trail being built out of Portola.

Reply

mmayo
mmayo
2 months, 2 weeks ago
0

This sounds pretty great!

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