26 July 2010

bikefix Initial Review: WTB Wolverine AM TCS 26x2.2 tire

Among the bikefix crew, we probably spend more time talking about tires than any other piece of equipment. Maybe we live in an unusually difficult area, traction wise. Maybe we ask more of our tires than they were ever designed to give. Maybe we're just picky. In any case, we're always on the lookout for tires that are well suited for moderately-paced, all-day riding on trails that range from sandy to loose and rocky to loamy and smooth. Tubeless tires that handle a wide range of terrain predictably and capably, aren't susceptible to sidewall cuts or fast wear, roll fast, but aren't particularly heavy or expensive are surprisingly hard to find.

Like most riders, I have a feeling for what looks right when it comes to tires. For my riding style and our local conditions, I'm always on the lookout for fairly high-volume tires with a large quantity of small-ish tread knobs and well-supported shoulder knobs. When I first started seeing WTB's tubeless-compatible Wolverine popping up on local bikes this spring, I was pretty excited. The WTB tires that I've ridden over the past several years have been excellent for New Mexico conditions- with one exception: the company's reluctance to embrace tubeless tires. For 2010, having either come around to tubeless themselves or grown tired of loyal customers jumping ship, the company has released a number of tires in one or more of three tubeless configurations. While we tend to prefer true UST tubeless casings for their ease of sealing and generally more substantial sidewalls, and avoid "tubeless ready" systems for their often fragile casings, WTB seem to have split the difference with their AM (All Mountain) TCS (Tubeless Compatible System) tires.

The AM TCS casing takes a standard tire, adds a tubeless-ready bead and integrates a thin "Inner Peace" nylon layer to the sidewall. This layer is claimed to protect the tire from damage as well as to reduce sidewall flex. The claimed 700g weight and $60 price seemed reasonable for a high-volume tubeless tire, so when the last of my Specialized Roll Xs finally died, I decided to order one to try.

Before pulling the Roll X off of my trail bike, I couldn't help but mount the Wolverine on a spare wheel to get a good look at it. The first thing I noticed was that it is the widest 2.2in tire I've ever seen. In fact, it's just about wide as a Conti Mountain King 2.4 and darn close to WTB's own Mutano 2.4. This is one big tire. Also, the AM TCS tire held air just fine for about a week without any sealant (WTB recommend against using it this way). It's also considerably heavier than advertised- mine came in at right about 800g.

On the rear wheel, the Wolverine is fantastic. The low profile center tread rolls fast and provides plenty of straight-ahead grip on everything but loose-over-hard sand. In just about every condition I've ridden over the past couple of months, the tire's cornering grip has exceeded by nerve. The Wolverine is actually the first tire that I've ridden that holds on longer in corners than the Schwalbe Nobby Nic front tire it's been paired with. It takes some foolish and unlikely forward weight transfers to to provoke the Wolverine into sideways slides- and even then it hooks back up very quickly.

The AM TCS casing does seem a bit on the soft side- I've been feeling the rim hit rocks much more than usual lately- but a few extra psi (to around 28 or 30 under my 145lb) has made a big difference, without seeming to hurt cornering ability. As is often the case with dual compound tires (here 60 shore A in the center, 50A on the shoulders), the Wolverine's cornering knobs are starting to show wear much earlier than I'd like. While the rest of the tire still looks new, the shoulder knobs are already starting to degrade and are on course to be the tire's weak link. I had planned on moving the Wolverine to the front wheel to get a feel for its performance there, but will have to order a second to find out (rather than getting the wrong impression from a worn tire). Our guy Mike in Arizona reports that the tire can be prone to washing out when used on the front of the bike- but his riding is generally a bit sandier than ours.

So far, I'm very impressed with the Wolverine. I'm glad that WTB have decided to embrace tubeless tires- they're one of the few companies who seem to get dry conditions riding. Looking at their range, I may order a UST Wolverine to replace the AM TCS version I've been using. With a heavier casing still and 60A rubber all over, it should help to reduce rim impacts at low-sh pressures and wear a bit better. If that tire comes in close to its advertised 840g weight, that would be great and not far from the AM TCS tire. If it is also 100g overweight, I might rule that option out. Wear issues aside (and those haven't caused any problems yet), the Wolverine has been a near-perfect rear tire. The price is reasonable and the tread design is exactly what I've been looking for. Charlie also has a set on order and we'll report back once we have some more time on the trail.



1 comment:

SingleTrackSal said...

Unfortunately, my experience with this tire in a tubed version and 650b size has been less-than-acceptable while serving as the drive tire on my single speed. And, in the tire's defense, it may be that duty that reveals its traction weaknesses. But, I too have noticed the fast wear and even on the back I've had the tire wash out rather than drift on more than one occasion. Also, I experienced far more pinch flats with this tire than I have with the Pacentti Neo Motos I quickly changed back to after testing out the Wolverine.
I think this tire would excel in a loamy-soil environment, but here in Colorado I find that rocks conspire to contribute to its early demise. BTW, enjoy the site, thanks!