Beggars Would Ride

Salad Daze

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This is the time of year where we talk about the places, people, and products that lodged in our psyches over the past 365 days. It’s annual recap season; that brief window of time where we give thanks and set intentions, or something like that. I think. Bear with me, since this is still all a bit new and foreign. And I’m a bit feral. It is difficult for me to separate the spiritual wheat from the material chaff at the best of times. But, that said, there is something I have thought about a whole lot this past year, and in this one area I am absolutely brimming with gratitude.

You know what I am really, really happy about these days?


Tires have been on my mind ever since I started writing for this site. When I started writing here, I would’ve been hard pressed to name an instance where I would have actually chosen to ride Maxxis MaxxGrip or Super Tacky rubber. MaxxTerra worked fine. Double Down casings? Why? I’m an old kook riding in a bone dry landscape. There’s just no need. As long as there was something stopping the rim from bottoming on the ground, and that something had some sort of knob shaped things on it, and it was 29” in diameter, and had a number larger than 2.4 stamped on the casing, all was well. Or so it seemed.

Basically, I had mostly given up thinking about tires – in any sense other than width and tread pattern ­– as part of the dynamic of riding. The reasons for this are twofold. One, my riding environment is generally not super demanding. Temperature and terrain are nowhere near as widely variable as what the Shore throws at you. Two, I’m also reeling headlong into the phase of life where I am way more worried about hip injuries and heart attacks than I am progressing my riding in high risk situations. That last bit is a bitter reality check, but it is what it is. I’m an aging trail rider who doesn’t get that rad. And just like the owner of a bone stock mid-1990s Totoya 4Runner, I’m probably not gonna ever really find a use for a set of 35” Super Swampers.


Look, it's not that my thinking has just eddied out in some early onset senility phase where the only shit I can talk about is how grim mountain biking used to be. I'm scarred. There are acts of indelible stupidity that I have subjected myself to, and it's not easy to bypass the burn marks those acts left in my neural pathways. Pretty sure I had no idea that the shore hardness scale even existed back when someone convinced me to pilot a tandem the weekend of a World Cup race at what used to be known as Squaw Valley, in, ummmm, 1996 (or maybe '97. But it coulda been '95, too. Pretty sure it had to be before '96 because the whole Retrotec/Cool Tool party kinda imploded after The Incident at Mammoth that year. But hell, maybe I am getting senile, because I really can't remember anymore).

Then there’s the hangover effect from the bad old days to consider. For so long, mountain bikers simply did not have much in the way of choice at all, and even though I got to sit in the catbird seat during the whole evolution of 29” wheels, and then 27.5+, and the rise and fall and rise of fatbikes, my thinking was colored by those bread and water decades where choice was “anything you want, so long as it’s 26 x 2.1 and tanwall.” As such, my whole mindset about tires was dimensional, and I managed to conveniently sidestep any real consideration of casings and compound until, well, the past year or so.

Looking at where we are now, as consumers, the proliferation of the tire market has been bonkers. Once upon a time, most tire manufacturers would hem and haw and say that it would just be too expensive to open up molds for a new wheel size, too risky, can’t go there until there’s a very real surge of demand, and we would get excited when a new tread pattern came along every couple years. Oooooh, look! That new Panaracer Smoke has to be the business! Velociraptor, SAY WHAT?! Look at the fangs on that thing! Mind. Blown.

Fast forward 28 years and look at the tires available to punters now. As Judy Garland once said; Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. Today, the sheer number of tire brands, sizes, tread patterns, casing options, and compounds available is absolutely mindbending.

I am down in Baja for the holidays, observing my annual pilgrimage to the land of thorns and sandy arroyos. And I am thinking of the specifics of tire use here in this rocky, thorny, sandy, messy, washboardy, off-cambery, not very rad landscape. I can plead a contextual indifference at home; it would be easy to say that the riding where I live fits in the fat 66% hump of that standard binomial distribution bell curve. It’s kinda like the average riding in most places that are hilly and not totally hardcore. Throw a dart at a map of the USA, and it’ll probably land somewhere like this. The riding in, say, Squamish, meanwhile, would be out at one of the asymptotes, where traction on wet rock and root at low temps, along with heavy sidewall compression at low pressures, dictates much more attention be paid to compound and casing. Where consequences are REAL and getting the right tire under you has tangible benefits.


For all the ones and zeroes that I am about to burn talking about possible Baja tire options, I'm pretty sure there is nothing that will really make washboards go away. And there are times when those sections stretch to infinity, and even going downhill feels about as fun as trying to pass a kidney stone, but is still somehow preferable to carrying your bike through the acutely unpleasant off-piste devil's banquet of your choice between a thousand different species of plant that make you bleed or an old floodwash of soft sand and babyhead rocks. Yet somehow I choose to do this. And I am a total fucking dilletante compared to the special breed of masochists who choose to ride this entire peninsula in this shit. And no, there is no sweet stash of awesome flow and epic buff descending hidden anywhere. God I love this place.

Then there’d be Baja, all the way at the other end of the bell curve, with a very different set of demands, but where once again, certain aspects of tire performance become much, much more important. There are growing mountain bike communities with expanding trail networks in places like Los Barriles, La Ventana and Todos Santos. All the way down the peninsula, most sizable towns have enough people riding that there are snaking ribbons of singletrack out in the desert if you know where to look. In those places, the standard contemporary 29x2.3 or 2.4 reality will suffice, but most riders err on the wide side, with enough knob to bite through the sand, casings tough enough to at least try and ward off some percentage of spiky ingress, and a whole lot of sealant. The rest of the peninsula, where the people are very few in number, the trails are, ummm, more transitory in nature. Sometimes they aren’t really trails at all; following dry arroyos, dead reckoning by compass and topo map and trying to find the path least likely to induce bleeding. For reasons that I cannot rationally explain, this is the terrain that I gravitate toward.

There’s a fresh set of tires on the hardtail; 29x2.6”, Specialized Butcher T9 up front, T7 in back, Grid Trail casings at both ends. For the past couple years, I’ve run 29 x 2.6 Maxxis Rekons. They floated well, but would still have me pushing my bike through the sand, often, or would eventually lose the battle with the countless sharp plants. In the Vizcaino desert, it’s not a matter of IF you run over some cactus spines. You will. A lot. This is a promise that Baja delivers on without fail. So this year, I went heavier with the Butchers. They are definitely a step up in traction and durability, although the T9 sure does fling a whole lot more sand around than the T7. Buuuut… they aren’t that much of an improvement at floating in the jank. I have reached the conclusion that if I could fit them, I’d go up to 29x3.0 Surly Dirt Wizards, and I would not even flinch at the weight. In fact, for the back of nowhere exploration that seems to be what I inevitably end up doing down here, those ultra-meaty tires are still not enough. I am itching for a fatbike setup. Yep. There. I said it. Give me 26x5.0, or 27.5x4.5, and a bucket of Orange Seal.

Once upon a time, we had no real options when it came to equipment. The Fat Chance that Steve Garro rode offroad from Flagstaff, Arizona to Cabo San Lucas in 1992 was the same bike he was boosting air on in Moab on the cover of Bike magazine, and was the same bike he raced in the first Leadville 100. Expressive radness and grinding misery achieved on the same bike. If I recall he used Mr Tuffy liners in his tires on the Baja trip, though.


This is a super lo-res snag poached from the interwebs of the Bill Hatcher image of Steve Garro that appeared somewhere in Bike Magazine in Volume One. I thought it was the cover, but now it occurs to me that it might have been a different Hatcher/Garro image on the cover of issue 3 or 4. But I'm in Baja, and my stack of back issues is slowly being eaten by mice in NorteCalifornia. Emails have been sent, but it's deadline time, so this'll have to do. He sure did beat the living tar out of that Fat Chance.

This is the cool thing about mountain biking nowadays. Just as back in the bad old days, it can be a venue for such a broad range of experience. It can mean so many different things for so many different people. Mountain biking can encompass everything from high-G jump lines on sculpted man-made terrain and the shittiest, most primitive arroyobiking imaginable. Only now we don’t have to tough it all out on the same bike. Now, we are so absolutely awash in equipment choice that we can not only optimize our bike for each end of those bell-curve scenarios, but we can fine tune our rides at the most important contact point of all: where the rubber meets the ground. We may complain about the price of Maxxis tires, but really, where else can you spend a couple hundred bucks and radically change the way your bike behaves?

Wanna pin numbers on a skinsuit and rip legs off? There are scads of flyweight 500-gram tires with barely any tread and super-fast rolling silica compounds out there to optimize your red mist quest. Want to stick to the slabs and roots in the middle of winter and not die on those super high consequence lines? You’ve got piles of multi-ply aggressive tires with rubber the consistency of warm gummy bears to help lend peace of mind to that glistening fearscape. Want to push less, pedal more, and do not give a rat’s ass about KOMs on the way to the ruins at Calamajué? I see you, Fezzari Kings Peak. Hello, massive landscape of rubber options that I know nothing about other than those magic numbers: 27.5x4.5. I’m willing to be wrong about this, dog knows it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve barked up the wrong saguaro. But I sure do want to find out.

Salad days, meet salad daze: Where the good times collide with so many potential options that paralysis ensues. What an incredible time to be a mountain biker. Happy new year!


Speaking of massive underinflated objects... feliz navidad from Loreto, amigos!

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+6 BarryW Geof Harries Pete Roggeman dhr999 Mike Ferrentino Lynx .

Join us 😁

Not always the fastest option, but almost always the funnest.  And magical on the overgrown sand dunes Michigan calls a "bike park".


+1 Lynx .

Here in the Yukon a full half of the year is spent riding on snow. I have 26x4.8 for winter and in summer it's my second bike with 29x3.0 tires on it. equal mileage to my on dirt trail bike. 


+5 cheapondirt Mike Ferrentino trumpstinyhands Andy Eunson HughJass

I'm going to be a negative nancy and harp on the paralysis part - it's driven by absolutely asinine marketing. I've been running Pirellis on my gravel bike all year with great results, which has me eyeing their MTB line. A few tread patterns, casings, compounds, a couple widths for most, and I'm just looking for 29ers. The marketing speak is impenetrable and useless.

Conti just got product of the year. On another website... So I go check them out, because as much as I've been a Maxxis guy for a decade plus, it's fun to try new things. A few treads, compounds, casings, widths AND some legacy product with entirely different language/nomenclature thrown in and a functionally useless 'periodic table's of tires... All marketing garbage.

Maxxis isn't much better, but I'm at least used to it, and I do think their literature is published at a higher standard of telling you what a 3CMG EXO+ tire actually is, and they have a PDF of their full offering you can peruse and make relatively easy comparisons between their massive, massive tire offering.

Consumers, shops, are confused, needlessly. It's unsustainable and stupid.


+1 Andy Eunson

I've spent way too much of my life deciphering the jargon (by my own choice, to be fair). It seems like Conti put genuine effort into communicating the intended purpose of each tire in the new lineup, but the medicinal-sounding names are where I get lost. I can't keep them straight.

It was me who commented on that article asking for light+sticky versions: my personal idea of the perfect (front) tire. The upvotes suggested there's a healthy appetite for more such options, but supporting Mr. Ferrentino's point, there are already great ones from Specialized, Schwalbe, and Maxxis. A tire with massive grip and only moderate sidewall support is a niche, climate-specific product, yet I can choose between several today. It is a golden era. Just not for tire marketing!



Those spiderwebby multi-axis graphs that Conti uses to denote tire performance are pretty cool, but boy howdy, I hear you on so much of the marketspiel. Tires should be pretty easy to describe, but not everyone got on board with reducing hyperbole it seems...


+2 mnihiser cheapondirt

Tire marketing types certainly deserves a lot of blame for this but maybe they don't deserve all of it. We all deserve some blame too. Even if we take locality out of the equation one riders version of what "trail" or "enduro" riding is can be vastly different from someone else's. I know it's an old stereotype and sorta dying now, but to a dher any bike with a single crown is a trail bike. How's a tire manufacture supposed to say this is the right tire for trail riding when the right tire for one person's version of trail is an xc tire and the right tire for another persons version of trail is dd and max grip? I do think tire companies could do a lot better tho.


+1 BadNudes

I can think of only two tire brands who do things right in terms of nomenclature. With different approaches, mind.

There is WTB with high grip/fast rolling, light/tough which tells you exactly what you are getting in terms of technical properties.

And there is Michelin where you buy tires called "Enduro Front" and "Enduro Rear" which tells you nothing about their specs but which do exactly what it says on the label.



I love WTB for keeping it as simple as it should be. Teravail also simply offer supple or durable casings but no options for compound, not discussed much here because they're probably better suited for the middle hump of the bell curve rather than the north shore asymptote.


+4 kcy4130 Pete Roggeman Mike Ferrentino Lynx .

The opposite of that was when I started riding off road in 1983. IIRC we had a choice of the Stumpjumper knobby or a Fisher fattrax and later the IRC tire. That’s it. They all came with a hockey puck compound and pretty close to the same tread pattern. The choice we have now is phenomenal but as you say the marketing drivel makes it hard to tell what’s what. Imagine if our pressure gauges had descriptive words instead of numbers. Stupid soft, more, what the fuck and death.


+1 Perry Schebel

I gave up trying to decipher that conti chart and went and bought more Maxxis. Tires are too expensive and too performance-specific in Vancouver to be worth risking an experiment.


+2 Cr4w HughJass

this is me. my standard maxxis spec works *really* good for my needs, and can't be bothered to expend the $$ and/or energy to explore alternatives for questionable benefit.



When tires cost $130 each and we have very particular needs I am not experimenting beyond tires I know work exactly as required.



choices are a bitch.  but better to have lots.   makes your brain work.

i'll just waste away more hours of my life over bike parts.  because, why not.


+5 Todd Hellinga Mike Ferrentino Cr4w dhr999 Tremeer023

I used to buy/try/sell tires on the hunt for perfection. Not sure if I just stopped caring or I ended up with a few sets of great options, but I'm over the experimentation phase. I basically replace worn out rubber with the same stuff knowing it'll work well for me. I figure if some truly amazing comes along I'll hear about it enough that I won't miss out.

Happy New Year Mike. Good luck with the property sale and all the best for whatever your plans are for the next phase of you adventure.


+3 Andrew Major fartymarty BadNudes

I think WTB does a great job of describing what their tires are about.



Agree.  WTB are well labelled sensibly built tyres.


+1 Alec Barron

Also agree.  Naming was good and they wore well. I ran a Verdict/Judge combo for over a year on my full sus rig and really liked them.  Replacement cost this past year was too much for my taste, so I acquiesced to my son’s advice (and wallet’s sensibility) and went with Specialized Butchers front and rear for $40-45 USD each.  Both T9 with light casing up front and trail casing in the rear with a Rimpact Pro insert.  The transition from center to cornering knobs was initially so smooth with the switch, I felt uncomfortable on my bike.  The WTB Verdict had such an “on-off” switch feel when leaning the bike that I had grown used to, I guess.  I now much prefer the feel and bite of the Butchers.  

Used to ride some natural rubber Panaracer Smoke and Dart on my ‘95 GT Tequesta back in the day.  Similar look to the fat bike above.


+3 Mike Ferrentino Andy Eunson Pete Roggeman

Quite an arc of progress. The Panaracer Fire @ 2.1 used to be my paragon of performance. They broke predictably in flat corners and wired my brain for just the right twitch of countersteer. My now year old Big Dumb Bike, however, has gummy things which to my eye looked like downhill tires. Love 'em. Here's to this Golden Age of Traction.


+1 Pete Roggeman

I found one today walking the dog today in Fernie. Totally brittle full of ice hanging from a tree on a trail called Purple Monkey Dishwasher. Blue wall.


+2 Mike Ferrentino Pete Roggeman

Garro cover shot is May 1994 Volume 1 Number 3. I knew I had take a pic of mention of it to share with Steve, not the actual cover but mention of it in a later issue. Garro still the most bad ass guy in bikes, and builds beautiful bikes.


+2 Blofeld Mike Ferrentino

#thumbsup for Garro and Hatcher.

In 27.5 x 4.5" (say "B Fat") check out the Bontrager Gnarwhal for grip + float up front.  Bontrager Barbegazi for float + efficiency front and rear.  Maxxis Colossus for rear float + sidewall durability when riding in poky places.

45N D5's are a good jack of all trades for float/grip/durability, but somehow they've just never blown up my skirt on dirt. Or snow for that matter.



I'll be knocking on your e-door for some more advice on my way down this wormhole. Thanks for the primer!


+1 Derek Baker

The facial expressions on that tandem photo are incredible. 

Front of tandem: Filled with DETERMINATION

Back of tandem: misery



still running my green Wildgrippers



I’d love to get access to all those past issues of Bike magazine. I love that Powder has been rolling out the classic past issues. Looking back at where we came from van inspire new adventures and appreciation.  Also, I’d love to find a better way to tap into local knowledge on tires specific to regions like what was shared in this piece.



I have been fooled all these years.  I thought you were a dirtbag bike rider all this time.





Bit late to the party here, holidays just had me not on the interwebs too much.

I guess I'd have to agree with you Mike, even if I only started MTBing in 2004, selection back then wasn't anything fantastic, but way better than in the 90s for sure. There's a load of selection to choose from these days if you're the "avg" MTBer, just as all have eluded to, if you can get through the marketing BS or have used a brand for long enough to understand their stuff. Sadly I'm not the "avg" MTBer and the tyres I want seem to be falling to the wayside, 29x.2.8-3.0", not much of a selection these days sadly. Currently on 29x2.6" on the rigid, they work OK, but definitely leave me feeling more "beat up" after a ride than the 29x3.0"s used to, looking for something 29x2.8" as a middle ground of not to heavy and yet have enough cush to make the ride les harsh.

Oh and Happy New Year to you Mike and the rest of NSMB readers and contributors.


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