24 February 2009

bikefix Initial Review: WTB NanoRaptor 29x2.1 tire

Sometimes, revisiting an old piece of gear is like getting to know an old friend again. With time and distance, the details tend to fade and one is left with either a generally positive or negative impression of either. When finally reunited, some of those details become clearer and maybe you feel as though that which once made things work between you are no longer there- or that one or the other has changed enough that you get along fantastically.

My previous experience with WTB's NanoRaptor tires started and ended several years ago. Somehow, the 26x2.3in wire bead version was as light as or lighter than narrower folding versions. The high-volume and tight, low tread made for a startling revelation- it was the first tire I'd used that really worked well in sandy conditions. The relatively dense tread somehow managed to find traction in high-desert (loose over hard, rocky) terrain better than my old standbys and the near-continuous center tread rolled well. Being prone to understeer (washing out in corners), the NanoRaptor wasn't a great front tire, but the big footprint and rounded profile made for a great, predictable rear and spent a good deal of time on my single speed.

For racing, Specialized's The Captain struck me as a bit heavy and slow. It's by no means a bad tire (see review), but it never felt fast. Looking at my options, I decided to give the NanoRaptor another go- this time in the narrower-but-bigger 29x2.1in size. As with many people, my tire choice tends to go in cycles. From whippet race tires, my tastes gradually work toward the chunkier and knobbier. At some point, this becomes unacceptable and things trend back in the opposite direction. Seeing as the events that I do enter tend to be longer (12-24 hours), I do tend to be wary of superlight, superfast tires that aren't forgiving of sharp rocks or corners. The NanoRaptor seemed like a good choice: fast rolling with plenty of purchase. Lots of edges for cornering, but a relatively low profile to keep squirm to a minimum. A week or so after the decision was made, the shop rang- it was time for some new kicks.

Paired with Specialized's excellent Fast Trak on the front, the NanoRaptor makes for a fast rear tire that still manages to forgive the odd steering miscalculation. While not quite as predictable as the Fast Trak or Geax Saguaro, it rolls a bit faster than the former and matches the latter for weight (650g). It seems closest in character to Kenda's Small Block 8, though probably a smidge better in corners. As a front tire, the NanoRaptor isn't for the faint-hearted- it sometimes stubbornly refuses to take the bike in the direction in which its pointed- but on the rear, bearing the bulk of the the rider's weight, it provides plenty of forward and turning grip. In mud? Happily I can't say- though it likely wouldn't be my first choice (though the shallow tread shouldn't hold on to mud like deeper patterns can).

After a few hundred miles' use, the NanoRaptor is holding up well- it's looking like a friend that will stick around for a bit. A softer compound would likely help it corner better but almost certainly take it back out of my life that much faster. As it sits, mine's showing little (if any) visible wear and should readily last a good 1,000 miles (barring any sidewall cuts). Particularly if using a rigid fork, I'd be tempted to combine the NanoRaptor with WTB's ExiWolf- the ExiWolf is a proven front tire that will offer a bit more cushion and steering thanks to its 2.3in casing and slightly more aggressive tread. The combination would be fast without being sketchy- exactly what I look for in a tire set.

WTB's NanoRaptor was one of the first 29er tires widely available and it remains a contender. The casing is lightweight without being paper-y and the while the price is on the high side (around $60), the return will be in durability. On the road ride to the trailhead, it won't slow anyone down or wear unduly. The NanoRaptor would make a great rear tire for dry condition riders and racers as well as those whose mountain bikes also do time as commuters. In the right conditions and on the correct wheel, its an old friend that I'm happy to have around for a more than a few more rides.



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