15 January 2009

bikefix Exclusive Review: Specialized Captain Control 29er tire

Lately, I've been a bit disappointed in our friends at Specialized. While I haven't owned one of their bikes in some time, I'd really been getting into their tires. Their tubeless Roll X was as close to the ideal New Mexico and Colorado tire as I'd ridden... until it was discontinued. The Fast Trak Control was, for me, a great 29er tire- fast with the ability to carry speed through corners- until I was told by my local shop that it had been discontinued (it is now back on the company's website). Their Alias saddle plain hurt my bum. Like a scorned lover, I've become reluctant to get a crush on another Specialized product. Needing a new tire for my 29er single speed, I decided to give the Captain Control a go- but told myself that I wouldn't fall in love with it.

While I strongly feel that any tire named for mountain bike legend Ned The Captain Overend should instead have been called the Deadly Nedly (after another of his nicknames), it certainly has much of what I look for in a tire. The closely-spaced center row of knobs is clearly intended to roll smoothly and quickly, while the aggressive outboard knobs suggest tenacious cornering ability. To my eyes (which have been known to deceive), it looked like a tire well-suited to loamy trails, which would allow the widely-spaced cornering knobs to bite and still afford the center knobs some forward traction. The tire has a large volume for its 2.0in casing (especially when viewed from the side), which should help protect the rim. The "Control" casing allegedly improves the tire's resistance to cuts and punctures (a weakness of the Fast Trak), yet the whole thing weighs a reasonable (for a fully-knobed 29er tire) 660g.

In a decision based purely on appearances (the Captain looked like a rear tire), I mounted it to the rear of my single speed. While (unsurprisingly) it gives up some speed to the Fast Trak, Saguaro and ExiWolf, I was surprised that it also gives up some forward traction. In our local sandy, loose-over-hard conditions, lots of little knobs seem to work better than a handful of large ones, and I found myself slipping a bit more than I would have liked. Cornering was predictable, with the Captain allowing a bit less drift than the Fast Trak- but still giving plenty of warning before lateral grip lets go completely. After the snows came, I really expected the Captain to work a bit better than it did. In slush and mud, it performed as well as an all-around tire can be expected to, but didn't compare to a dedicated mud tire, or even to Schwalbe's narrow-but-knobby Albert 29x2.1. Not bad, but somehow I expected better.

Deciding to mix things up a bit, I swapped the Captain to the front of the bike. This is where I feel that the Captain comes into its own. Paired with a Fast Trak or ExiWolf at the rear, a rider gets the benefits of a fast rolling rear tire (where most of the weight and resistance is) and a reasonably fast (but more aggressive) front. Around the same time as moving the tire, I also installed a slightly longer stem on the SS, which put more weight on the front wheel for more aggressive cornering. Altogether, this combination provides loads of forward traction, good straight-ahead speed and fantastic cornering (with just a hint of controllable oversteer). The lower knobs of the Fast Trak shed goop just as well as the more widely spaced but deeper Captain knobs. It's not the lightest combination out there, but light weight is no good if you (a) have a flat or (b) can't corner with all of that it's given you. Is it a a better combination than two Fast Traks or an ExiWolf (f)/Fast Trak(r) combination? In the desert or in terms of all-out speed, I'd have to say no- but if your riding is at all loamy or wet, or you're not OK with a bit of drift at the front wheel, I'd lean toward the Captain at the front.

At $50, the Captain doesn't represent the value that Specialized's tires used to (at $35-40). Mine does seem to be wearing well, though, so I can't complain. At $50, it is up against some very stiff competition, including Continental's excellent-but-heavier Mountain King and WTB's fat-but-fast ExiWolf. It's not an all-out race tire, but Specialized have done a great job at minimizing compromises to build a tire that doesn't particularly excel anywhere yet is very good in nearly all conditions I've managed to put it in. I haven't fallen head-over-heels, but have a feeling that ours will be a long, healthy relationship.



1 comment:

Matt said...

That looks like a tire made for people who no longer like to corner fast and reckless. Damn good way to get the confidence back. I may be looking at this one.