Reviewed: WTB Trail Boss and Riddler
WTB isn’t the first company that comes to mind when I think mountain bike tires. I’ve always associated WTB with high quality saddles, and WTB has been my choice in saddles for last couple years. It seems as though WTB is making a bigger push into the tire market lately, and if their tires approach the quality of their saddles, they’re probably worth checking out.
Since I’m reviewing two tires here I’ll first cover off the common characteristics. Both tires feel well made, with a tight fitting folding bead, tread that lines up evenly, and a fairly stiff robust feeling casing. Installing the tires on my rims, Stan Flow EX, was on the tighter side, and they inflated easily with a floor pump on a tubeless setup (YAY!). The casings feel stiffer than a Maxxis EXO, but softer than a Schwalbe Super Gravity, and I inflated the tires as such. In B.C. I’ve seen these priced at CDN$ 95.
Next the specifics of the WTB Riddler. The Riddler is intended as a fast rolling rear tire, but with more aggressive side knobs to complement use with a more aggressive front tire. I tested the 2.4 inch width 650b / 27.5 inch version with the Tough Casing and Fast Rolling rubber. I measured the casing width to be 57.6 mm and the width across the outer knobs to be 58.6 mm. I measured the compound as brand new to be 61 Shore A down the center and 43 Shore A on the shoulders. The side knobs on the Riddler feel soft and supple with a slow rebound characteristic. The center knobs are noticeably firmer. Side knobs are shorter in height, and as a result they feel well supported with my calibrated finger test. The siping direction on the side knobs makes sense and will give an additional edge for improved cornering traction. The center knobs offer many edges for braking and have a short profile. The tire profile is overall nicely rounded, but the center knobs are fairly flat.
The first thing you’ll notice when riding the Riddler is how fast and quiet the tire is. This isn’t much of a surprise considering the short and numerous center knobs, but it’s faster than I expected. Unsurprisingly there are compromises and that fast rolling characteristic comes at the expense of braking traction on any surface that is remotely loose. I spun out easily in loose conditions when climbing, and the firmer rubber down the center provided weak traction on wet rocks and roots. The upside however is the Riddler maintains gargantuan speed on anything where you can let the brakes go. The braking traction may be sub-par, but the cornering traction was surprisingly good. With most semi slicks I’ve ridden you need to be off the brakes before even thinking of cornering or else your business goes sideways in a hurry. Unusually the Riddler allowed quite a lot of braking / cornering overlap that made the Riddler easier to ride at the limit.
Talking of limits, overstepping the limit of traction on the side knobs resulted in a progressive and predictable loss in traction. These qualities summed up to me feeling comfortable riding the Riddler aggressively, knowing that exceeding the limit wasn’t going to result in a sudden and dramatic loss in grip. I’ve ridden the Riddler as a rear tire in Whistler and on the Shore, both renowned for chunky trails, and no issues with punctures or casing damage.
Now on to the Trail Boss specifics. The Trail Boss is a neat tire, it appears to be aimed as something right between a semi-slick and an aggressive tire like the Schwalbe Magic Mary or WTB’s Vigilante. I tested the 2.4 inch width, 650b / 27.5 inch diameter, Tough Casing, High Grip rubber variant. Weight came in at 1100 grams. I inflated and ran this tire at roughly 26 psi front, and 28 psi on the rear. I measured the casing width to be 54.4 mm and 56.2 mm across the outer knobs. I measured the rubber durometer as 49 Shore A down the center and 44 Shore A on the shoulders. I found it slightly odd that the more aggressive Trail Boss in the same casing width as the Riddler measured up narrower on the same rim.
Both the side knobs and center knobs feel soft and sticky. Similar to the Riddler, the side knobs on the Trail Boss feel well supported and the siping direction on all the knobs makes sense. Overall the Trail Boss has a nicely rounded tread pattern without much gap between the center knobs and the side knobs. This profile results in no loss of grip when transitioning from the center knob to the side knob. There are numerous center knobs on the Trail Boss which aids its fast rolling nature, but the compromise to that is it doesn’t have as much shear braking bite as a more aggressive, slower tire. The side knobs work well, and felt confident through both loose and slippy conditions.
I ran the Trail Boss both as a front and rear tire, and in the right application I thought the Trail Boss was great at both. This is a versatile tire that is a jack of all trades, master of none. If your trails are predominantly hard pack, and less steep the Trail Boss offered up good braking and cornering characteristics as front tire. Paired with a Riddler on the rear the bike accelerated quickly, and maintained great speed. I can see some folks running the Trail Boss front and rear; with the High Grip version up front and the Fast Rolling variant out back. For more aggressive trails, like around these parts, I preferred running the Trail Boss as a rear tire with an aggressive front tire like the Magic Mary or WTB Vigilante. The Trail Boss rolls well, offers adequate braking traction, transitions easily from braking to cornering, comes in good compounds, has a sturdy casing and seems to lose grip in a graceful manner. All reasons that add up to the Trail Boss possibly being my new favourite rear tire on the trail bike.
Overall I’m impressed with both tires. I think that WTBs range of the Vigilante, Trail Boss and Riddler offers a good mix of intended uses and can be paired up in different ways to best suit your local trails. I give credit to WTB for coming up with an easy to understand convention to identify different casing and compound variations. The tires aren’t cheap, but they’re well made, offer good grip and seem to hold up better than most competitor’s tires. WTB tires aren’t too different to their line of saddles then, and I think that’s a strong compliment.
The Trail Boss (US$39.95-$76.95 comes in 2.25 and 2.4 in 27.5″ and 29″ in four different casings.
The Riddler (US$67.95) named after our friend Nathan Riddle) comes in 27.5″ x 2.4 only with two casings.
Tried these? Want to?