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Not A Bike Review

Terrain Targeted Tires

Photos Mike Ferrentino
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What’s In A Name?

I wanted to start this out with some play on words, mixing up XTC’s debut album “Drums and Wires” with the words “valves and tires” because that is still such a damn good album 45 years later, and because it sorta almost works as a rhyme, and because this is a review of some valves and some tires, but I just couldn’t connect it in a way that would have made any sense to a search engine. Still, damn that was a good album.

Aaaanyway, what we have here are a couple new tires from Trek. For the longest time, Trek’s Bontrager branded tires have used an alphanumeric naming convention that did the job of differentiating each tire from the next in the chain, but was not very evocative in that descriptive way that marketeers like. So, this year the Bontrager mountain tires are undergoing not just a design change but a naming overhaul. This applies to the XC and trail tires, primarily. So, out go the old XR1, XR2, SE3 and SE4, and in come the new Vallnord and Sainte-Anne XC tires, and the new Montrose and Gunnison trail meats. The names of the tires are intended, presumably, to denote appropriate use-case terrain for each of the new designations. Living as I do now in the same soil type and relative geographic proximity to the Colorado towns of Gunnison and Montrose, it seemed like an opportune time to see how the new Gunnison and Montrose stack up.

wordsalad

Out with the old, in with the new...

Word Salad

Before we get into the individual tires, let’s dig around in the change in naming convention. Aside from the tire model descriptor going from robotic to romantic, there have been some changes with the casing and compound descriptors as well. The outgoing tire models existed in a three-tier Comp/Expert/Team “good/better/best” structure. That has now expanded to four tiers – Comp, Elite, Pro and RSL. Three prior constructions – XR (trail), SE (enduro), G (downhill) – have also been amended to four: XR (XC), XT (trail), SE (enduro), and G (downhill). XR casings are the lightest, featuring some sidewall protection. XT get 120tpi construction butyl apex pinch flat strips and bead to bead protection, SE uses a 60tpi construction, bead to bead protection and extra sidewall armor, and G is a full-on double casing DH carcass.

casing

Old vs new, part deux

Bontrager sent out a pair each of the Gunnison and Montrose, both 29x2.4 and in the same RSL XT designation. These being their top flight offering in each model utilize a triple compound with a hard base (67a), medium center-top (60a) for climbing and braking grip/longevity, and soft (45a) outer shoulders for corner read and more traction. Both of these top of the pyramid tires retail for a reasonable $70US. Dropping down a level to the Pro XR model loses the butyl-apex pinch flat protection and goes from triple to a medium/soft dual compound, and also costs $20US less.

compounds

High desert/alpine Shore scale variations

Both the Gunnison and Montrose were tested back to back alongside a couple sets of control tires – 29x2.4 Specialized Purgatory T7s, and a Maxxis Aggressor rear 2.3/Dissector front 2.4 combo – all at 25 psi.

Gunnison

This, in Bontrager’s words, is “an all-round trail tire that provides grip and speed in mixed conditions from rocky desert to high alpine.” Weighing in at 1024 grams for the 29x2.4 size, it sits squarely in the same size/weight/intended use landscape as the aforementioned control tires. The Gunnison is not designed to be a shore-centric tire, and as such I cannot comment as to how it might work anywhere wet or slippery, but the terrain I have been riding it in is exactly where it was designed to be ridden, so here goes.

gunnyside

Tanwalls ain't dead!

Visually, the Gunnison profile is very similar to the Dissector and Purgatory and the side knobs look on par, albeit with slightly less sidewall height and overall volume, but the ride feel is rounder, for lack of a better descriptor. It took me a few rides to begin to trust the front when dropping into turns. There was just a tiny moment of vagueness when tipping in, especially on loose ground. But the thing is, it didn’t let go, and once I got used to it, I was able to push it into the ground and it would stay tracking just fine. When it did let go, it usually telegraphed what was happening well enough to react and correct. Comparing it to the taller, more aggressive Dissector up front is tough. That is to say, the Dissector was designed for/by an Australian DH pinner and is a really good cornering tire on dry, hard, skatey ground. What is it they say about comparison being the thief of joy?

gunnyface

New name, but still bearing a striking outward resemblance to the old SE4.

Anyway, the Gunnison rolls on par with the Maxxis/Specialized competition, but the construction feels a little more cushioned/damped for a given pressure. This was a very pleasant surprise. While it might not be the most confidence inspiring at first in loose corners, it is super supple and calm when tracking through chunder and pulling traction on ledgy climbs, and it lends a feeling of control that enhanced the overall ride of my bike. The comfort level is welcome when riding in a landscape of chattery junk, and running Gunnisons front and rear made me feel like my suspension had gained a touch more small bump responsiveness. The trade-off to this supple smoothness is that the rear does squirm and flex a little bit when reefing up the face of slabs. The same could be said for most of the other super tacky high-grip compound tires in similar situations. No knobs tore off in five rides, though, so that’s a good sign.

Montrose

Pulling the words from the marketing horse’s mouth again, the Montrose is “a fast rolling trail tire with the trifecta of grip, speed, and durability for versatile performance in generally hardpacked dirt.”

montroseside

Blackwalls ain't dead!

Well damn howdy, they got the speed part right! Compared to the Gunnisons, as well as the control tires, these things feel like rockets. Okay, so at 985 grams the Montrose weighs about 40-50 grams less than the Gunny, or the Dissector, but it rolls out like it weighs a couple hundred grams less than that. Repeatedly, on a mile long stretch of slightly climbing dirt road, for a given heart rate I found myself riding a cog or two smaller, and between 1-2mph faster. It was noticeable wherever the ground pointed up and anywhere that quick acceleration was needed. The Montrose gets after it.

With smaller knobs overall, and less shoulder in particular, I was concerned that traction would suffer, and would totally negate all that awesome pedaling speed. To a small degree, this was the case in loose ground, whether sandy or kitty litter. On slabs and hardpack however, I came away impressed with not just the traction, but the readability of the Montrose. Smaller knobs meant less squirm and a more direct, more immediate communication between me and the ground. It also hung on admirably when smearing laterally across angled slabs. Smooth turns were similar – sharp handling, lots of read and surprising levels of grip. As the going gets looser and rougher, the limitations begin to show up. Even though it has the same casing and volume as the Gunnison, the Montrose feels smaller, harder, and less forgiving in rough terrain. It’s not designed as a high volume rock smasher, so expecting that is maybe going beyond the design intent, but I was very impressed with how well it behaved all the way up until that threshold.

montroseface

There used to be an SE3 in the Bontrager range. It was nothing like this. Thankfully. The Montrose is a fast rolling sleeper.

TL/DR:

For high alpine singletrack that leans more toward smooth than gnarly, I’d pick the Montrose over the Gunnison all day long, and would rate it as very worthy of consideration when looking for a versatile, capable summer tire that pedals well but can handle a lot more terrain than the limited XC-oriented treads. If the diet is going to be primarily chunk and gnarl, then the Gunnison would be a better call than the Montrose. But that said, when it comes to chunk and gnarl, there are a lot of really good tires out there, and the decisions get tough. I’d say the Gunnison would be somewhat outgunned by the Minions and Dissectors and Butchers of the world, but it rolls better than them. And for the most part, it costs less too. Choose accordingly.

trio

Some days I really suck at photos. Left - Dissector, middle - Montrose, right, Gunnison. They are all 2.4 tires, and all measure about 60mm from edge to edge, but the Dissector is a solid 5mm taller from rim to center knob, 10mm larger overall diameter. The Gunnison and Montrose share exactly the same casings and measure out about the same (ignore the camera fisheye effect), but the Gunny carries a little more heft thanks to the larger knobs.

High Flow Valve Adaptor

Finally, check this little puppy out. It’s a high flow adaptor that screws onto the top of your existing Presta valve, replacing the core with a fitting that flows more air and is less prone to getting gunked up with sealant. According to Trek, it flows three times as much air as a standard Presta valve. The cap even comes with a Presta core remover built into it.

hiflo

Make Presta Valves Fancy Again!

At $25US a pair, this represents a midpoint between the $1-2 a pop cost of a regular old fashioned Presta core and the $50US cost of a pair of Fillmore valves. Compared to $2, it’s expensive. Compared to $50, such a bargain! You don’t necessarily benefit from the extra design that goes into the bottom end of a dedicated high-flow valve, but you do get rid of the traditional finicky Presta choke point AND blow a lot more air through the hole than before. So far, these are working as advertised, but I can’t verify the 300% airflow bit. The only concern I have about them is that if you end up threading one onto an already tall valve stem, this will make it taller. Aesthetics aside, I’ve had two instances in the past five years where an errant rock has deflected up off my front wheel and managed to snap off a fancy alloy Presta stem. If that happens out on the trail and you’re not packing a spare Presta valve, you are screwed. This could potentially increase the size of that random potential rock target. I know, what are the odds?

flohi

Thumb-high high-flow.

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Comments

MNKid
+19 Andy Eunson Brad Nyenhuis Squint roil Mike Ferrentino Jerry Willows Andeh Dave Smith rolly Ryan AndrewR vunugu Lynx . Timer Merwinn TerryP Wapti Konrad lewis collins

Seems like they missed an opportunity to make things easier to understand:

XR = XC  Could have been XC

XT = TRAIL  Could have been TR

SE = ENDURO  Could have been EN

G = DOWNHILL  Could have been DH

Reply

Roxtar
+5 roil AndrewR vunugu Merwinn Konrad

There you go, trying to make all kinds of sense.

This is mountain biking, dammit, we don't need no sense.

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Timer
+1 Jotegir

Mountainbikers can make sense of total gibberish like “Minion DHR II EXO+ WT MaxxTerra”. Which sounds like output from a random string generator (and consequently would make a pretty good password if less well known). 

Why even bother with a comprehensible naming scheme?

Reply

Jotegir
+1 Konrad

They're called G because of how you feel when you ride a Downhill bike. Like a total G.

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mikeferrentino
0

Lookit you, talking like some kind of brand/product insider...

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Wapti
0

check out the big brain on Mike

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Znarf
+8 Tjaard Breeuwer Jotegir Allen Lloyd Andy Eunson vunugu justwan naride Lynx . Timer

Mike, I enjoy your essayistic, well written pieces! I think I could enjoy reading them even if they didn‘t feature mtb stuff, which inherently interests me anyway! 

And my work forces me to read and grade a lot of written stuff I wouldn‘t touch witch (which) prongs, if I didn‘t have to :)

On-topic: I always wonder what hard pack, loose and soft mean in real life? I‘ve rarely encountered hard packed trails without any kind of sandy, gravelly or otherwise squirrelly layer - outside of bikeparks. The more dry spells we get over here, the more sandy our trails become. And then there are a lot of trails which consist of a mix of all that. 

Naming after riding locations is a rather clever idea in that regard - the ones Trek chose are rather specific however, if you don‘t happen to live in the neighbourhood, no?

And what I find incredibly ironic - they change their naming scheme for the tire pattern and with a clever idea to begin with and then scrabble that all up with nonsensical nomenclature for their carcasses/compounds instead of just xc, trail, enduro, dh. 

I mean, even in the provided info graphic it is super counterintuitive. 

Back when I worked as a lbs-person tires might have been the most confusing product for customers. And the one component which altered the fun/satisfaction with any given bike in the most significant way. 

Put the wrong tire for a given purpose on a bike and you‘ll ruin the experience.

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Jotegir
+5 Mike Ferrentino finbarr Timer Merwinn lewis collins

"We should move away from the XR and SE nomenclature. People find it confusing. Let's instead name the tires after where we think they'd be good. How about Montrose and Mount Saint Anne?"

"Great idea! But we're still going to offer several options for carcass/compound strength and weight. What should we call them?"

"Hmm... how about XR and SE?"

"Brilliant, Jerry! Emondas all around!"

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rigidjunkie
+1 lewis collins

Agree 1,000% on the naming point (and the readability).  We made the names easier to remember and decipher... assuming you are familiar with CO trails.  

My personal opinion is rubber compounds should be numbered soft to hard.  1 (softest tire) will last 1 ride before it is done, the 5 (much harder tire) will last longer.  Casing should follow the same with 1 being the least durable and 5 being the most.  If they have to use letters then use the mounting biking disciplines (XC, TR, EN, DH, FR)

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taprider
+2 Jotegir TerryP

I was at first thinking that a Sainte-Anne would be great on steep slimy rocks and roots

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andy-eunson
0

It might actually be ok. I happened to come into a pair of RSL Saint Anne and have them on my hardtail. The compound sounds a lot like a Maxterra rubber. I was told by my local Trek shop that Maxxis makes the Bontrager tires so it sounds plausible. 

I really like these tires. It’s just getting dusty and loose here now and they are doing really well on the hard pack flow trails at decent speed. Might be less than ideal on loamers but yeh, I’d buy them again.

Reply

velocipedestrian
+1 JD

I, on the other hand, would like very much to touch some witch prongs. What qualifications do I need to do your job?

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Znarf
0

=D Got me there!

- which (!)

I am not a native English speaker and only grade papers in my native tongue luckily.

I have very limited experience with actual witches or witch prongs for that matter. 

Would - „wouldn’t touch with a tent pole“ be a better expression in English? The German saying with the „prongs“ doesn’t seem to work well :) 

My wife doesn’t qualify as one (witch, not a tent pole) (most of the time).

I had a stepmom which did. Luckily „had“.

Reply

kos
+5 Tjaard Breeuwer Jotegir Andy Eunson Merwinn TerryP

Thank you, Mike, for the detailed primer on old vs. new Bonty -- err, Trek -- mtb tires.

As a fan of them in general, the changes look great. Give the tire designers and engineers a raise!

Those at Trek in charge of the name changes, however, should be sacked, effective the day before they did said naming.

Reply

rolly
0

You either don't live near the North Shore, or you've never tried other tire brands. Those Bonty tires perform so woefully poor in our area compared to Maxxis, Specialized, Conti, etc.

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justwan-naride
+2 Mike Ferrentino embadude

Inevitable comparison, the Montrose looks A LOT like the Maxxis Ardent. There may be some spacing or knob height differences that are not easy to catch on the screen and that actually make a difference on dirt, but the tread pattern is extremely similar.

Which is kinda weird, because the Ardent is a very old (and outdated in my opinion) design.

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Roxtar
+3 justwan naride Lynx . TerryP

"Which is kinda weird, because the Ardent is a very terrible design" (fixed it for you)

Reply

Lynx
0

Absolute WORST tyre Maxxis ever produced, put me in the ground hard, twice, horrible, horrible design, would like to try the Race version though, the added intermediate little knobs might fix that issue, but would most likely go for a Rekon Race instead.

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Onawalk
0

What makes a design "outdated"?

Reply

kos
+6 taprider Velocipedestrian Mammal Konrad Andy Eunson cheapondirt

The "Bro Consortium" determines such things. Their process is not public.

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justwan-naride
+1 Timer

Something is outdated when there are newer products that are better are doing the same thing. Which I think pretty much describes the Ardent. I vaguely remember a Maxxis employee admitting that they would have discontinued production, but brands keep asking for it for OEM.

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Fat_Tony_NJ
0

It's also a big seller as a replacement tire at REI, likely because of the price. $63 USD vs $85 and up for most other Maxxis MTB models. 
It's the cheapest folding Maxxis tire they sell that "looks like" a MTB tire. Which is all that matters for a large swath of riders.

Reply

MTB_THETOWN
+1 Mike Ferrentino

I'm interested in how the montrose compares with a Rekon. My rocky mountain element came with Rekons and I've been surprised by the grip (especially for the oem versions) given how fast they roll. The montrose looks similar.

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mikeferrentino
0

Rekons are a good fast roller that can stretch a lot further than the lighter XC tires. I would rate the Montrose better, size for size, but I don't think the Montrose is available in a 29x2.6 whereas the Rekon is available in a 2.6 AND a 2.8. That said, the Montrose probably gives up a little rolling speed to the Rekon but has more grip all around and more edge grip in particular.

I'd put the Montrose as very similar to the Purgatory T7 in almost all aspects, but might be a bit faster rolling.

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rigidjunkie
0

Specialized Eliminator in 2.6 is a surprisingly good dry conditions tire.  It rolls very fast and has a very smooth break away.  I think the short knobs create a very progressive break away and when things are dry they don't squirm.  People always thought I was crazy when they saw them on my bike at the bike park, but the combination of fast rolling and progressive break away meant they were both fast and confidence inspiring.

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mikeferrentino
0

I'm still hoarding a couple sets of 2.6 Eliminator, got the T9s on my hardtail, and a pair of T7s for when those are done.

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cxfahrer
+1 Mike Ferrentino

Thanks for the XTC reminder, that was such a long time ago, Godley&Creme 10cc and all that I happily forgot :D

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avner-b
+1 Andy Eunson

I don't understand why are the manufacturers and consumers bothering with all these new upgraded Presta valves. A solution for most of the issues they try to solve already exists, Schrader valve for the win. With the width of rims today, why use Presta? 

I enlarge the valve hole with a drill and pop a Schrader in. It probably voids a warranty or something but it's not an issue for me.

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Tjaardbreeuwer
+2 Kos Avner B.

I agree that Schrader makes sense, but I don’t Dre take a drill to my expensive rims, especially carbon ones, which were bought partly because of the warranty.

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andy-eunson
+1 Avner B.

It’s not that long ago that Mavic mountain bike rims came drilled for Schrader valves. They weren’t that wide either. They were aluminum though, not carbon. A plastic spacer came with the rims to convert to presta. My guess is that presta valves came about in road bike rims which way back were narrow and weak. A big valve hole made for a weak spot.

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fartymarty
+1 Avner B.

I'm also a Schraderizer - i've drill all my rims since 2010.  Moto valves work well for me - the Stans and Joes mtb specific ones were no good long term.

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maximum-radness
+1 Avner B.

I went to ghetto tubeless schrader and loved it, then I went to dh casing, negating the need for said Ghetto tubeless, and had an old stans schrader tubeless valve in the tools stash. Popped that puppy in and I gotta say, it doesn’t gunk up (an issue in the drhigh country of the Rockies)  moves tons of air, and gives the pump better purchase. Now I’m wondering if I can switch all my bikes, my wife’s bikes, my kids bikes all over- oh Nevermind. That’s a headache.

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slyfink
+1 Mike Ferrentino

all this talk about tires... but those valve adapters...

so simple, yet will solve so many issues. I can't believe Aliexpress is flooded with them.

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Jotegir
0

1.  Curious they decided what they needed was more levels of tire. Three was already plenty when in reality there were two: comps that come on Marlins but don't really get stocked anywhere except for bargain basement budget tires to replace what comes off Marlins, and the top of the line one which came on everything decent. The middle one was already kinda rare to begin with, and now there's two middle ones.

The Montrose tire looks really interesting. What else is interesting is that it's broken away from the XR3, which is already a good XC tire but was never translated into SE3 (the last SE3 is the previous XR3 equivalent) format as a heavier casing semi slick. The current XR3 can be reasonably described as having the center knobs of the 2 and the cornering knobs of the 4. Sounds like the Montrose is probably equally fast but perhaps just a bit better in general. I'd certainly try one. 

The Gunnison. As you've noted this really does take after the outgoing '4' series of tire. I have a lot of time on SE4s and XR4s after spending near a decade at a Trek dealer. The following only applies to the sub-2.6 tires as they are remarkably different in the plus-ish and bigger sizes:

They say you're supposed to give feedback in a sandwich style, so you can fit the "constructive criticism" in between something complementary. So here goes for the outgoing 4 series, and hopefully not the Gunnison:

Top Bun: The cornering knobs are pretty good. You lean the bike over, and usually it grips. Nothing Minion-like here, but this tire is a lot lighter and less expensive, so in it's category it does what it says on the tin when the trail turns.

Middle: The XR4 is probably on average the worst tire I've spent significant time on. It's not that it's actually an objectively terrible tire or that it'll instantly cause your bike to catch on fire or anything. The issue is that it doesn't make sense, and the Gunnison, taking after it so distinctly, probably won't make sense either. The core issue with them is that the XR4/SE4 don't roll particularly fast for the level of traction or braking performance they provide. They slow you down and grip slippy surfaces only slightly better than a tire that is much faster rolling, and they roll only a little faster than a tire that provides much better grip and better stand-up braking performance. In short, they're not good enough at anything and you should probably pick something else depending on what you want. They just aren't a good compromise. 

Bottom Bun: The price. Oh God the price. There's a reason I'm still trying to burn through these in my bike room. Your local Trek dealer probably has so many of these that were pulled off customer bikes before they went out the door in favour of maxxis-somethings that you can get them for a song and a dance. I know ours did. Loads of brand new, loose XR-series tires collecting dust in the bin that nobody wanted. If someone came in and offered to take some off our hands for about 20 bucks apiece, I'm not sure we could have said no. Do you need a rideable tire for very little money? Ask around. 

Edit: I re-read this and realized, on day 1, I had mixed the Gunnison and the Montrose up in my above comment. Maybe the old naming convention wasn't so bad.

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Znarf
+1 Jotegir

I love that sandwich! 

Same experience with SE4s. Someone sold me a Bontrager wheelset (which was good quality for little $) and gave me a set of these new tires for free. I was happy and tried them for a couple of rides and then passed them on for free on another wheelset I sold off to someone. 

I have two new Specialized Ground Control Gripton Tanwall tires lying in my basement, also got them for free. They don‘t offer much more grip than a Schwalbe Racing Ralph, but man does that Racing Ralph roll WAY faster.

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Lynx
0

Decent review there Mike, good job on putting forth a very clear image of what's what with the whole new naming thing, absolutely agree with those who said that they could have made it hell of a lot easier just using abbreviations, like DH, EN, TR and XC though.

Profile on those things looks really, really round, what width rims did you try them on? Looks like 30 IW, but would like to hear from the horses mouth. While these may or may not work well on the "Shore", most people aren't so lucky either, so with the prices you quoted, they seem like a good option vs stuff like Maxxis which is now about $100 USD a tyre.

Really wish you would see if you could try the claimed benfits of that valve adapter thingy, would be interesting as an extender so you don't always have to get the longer valves if you have deeper rims and also for seating a tyre that's maybe burped on the trail, actually I think that's exactly how you could test it, as I think if you could get tripple the amount of air in vs a standard presta with core still in, that'd be about the same as removing the core to try to seat a tyre.

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mikeferrentino
0

There were two different wheelsets being used, DT EXC 1501 and Mavic Crossmax XL S. Both had 30mm inner rim width.

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Timinger
0

Kudos for some proper XTC references. One of our localish bike parks is called Skypark at Santa's Village. I cannot Strava a ride there without referencing Skylarking.

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stinhambo
0

The most annoying thing for me is the Elite should be above Pro. 

There are plenty of pro riders/soccer players/tennis players etc but only a handful are elite.

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