Sunday, August 24, 2014

WTB All Terrain CX Tire Review


It was a beautiful August morning here in sunny Florida. I took my CX singlespeed onto the Legacy trail in Venice to get in some miles and carve through a few local parks. For some reason my seat was not cooperating, it squeaked and twisted under my weight giving me some early saddle pains. I was not off to a good start. I broke off the trail into some dirt, cutting corners but trying to keep her steady.

My Kenda Small Block Eights were not holding up their side of the bargain. That bargain exists between every rider and the rubber they count on. We put trust into that compound, they must withstand abuse and not let us down when it matters most. 16 miles later my Kenda's failed. Sand spurs, ever the scourge of Florida trails, had brought me to a compete halt.

I was 3.8 miles away from my car in the unforgiving heat with no help and a minor limp from an earlier injury. I pushed my bike back but with a grudge, I had trusted my tires and they let me down. It was not the first incident but it would be the last. Time for an upgrade.


If there are two things I have always preferred, it's a hard casing and a larger width. My soft rubber Kenda 32c failed on the job so my local bike shop Real Bikes Englewood sold me on a pair of WTB All Terrain 37c. I had been researching new tires but this one wasn't even on the radar. A brief check over at MTBR brought up several reviews that focused on the MTB version of the tire. They were mostly on the favorable side but with a few notable drawbacks. I would take all of them into consideration for my own tests.

Switching rubber was easy enough. The WTB's fit on the rim quickly and easily. They were noticeably more sturdy with firm sidewalls. I even liked the larger tubes. My longing for a tougher tire was slowly being satiated.

The next day the dark clouds looming in the distance threatening to shorten what was already going to be a very mellow ride. With my injuries still throbbing I took a 6.5 mile stroll around the neighborhood just to get a feel for the wider rubber. It was plush. Granted there is a 5 centimeter difference between the two but wow! It was like riding a whole different bike. Sidewalk bumps that used to jar my bones would melt away almost as smoothly as if I were riding my mountain bike. Brief stints on hard pack shared that same easy flow.


Another day another ride, once again avoiding the summer storms I took a 14 mile road ride into the community of Rotunda. Shaped like a pie, the roads arc around like large slices of pizza. The slices have very little traffic so they are ideal for biking but no matter what you do, you can't avoid the wind. This was another easy cruise but on my 37c plush rubber it was the gentlest stroll I ever enjoyed there.

During the ride it occurred to me that I can no longer compare the WTB's to the Kendas. They are too dissimilar in size and style. However, earlier this year I spent some time on a Foundry Harrow Cross Race that rolled on Bontrager CXO 38s. Those tires impressed me, mostly off road, where I was unafraid to take on any terrain. The WTB's matched the CXO's in size and feel if not tread. The trails would be the next challenge and it should be a daring one for these tires to distinguish themselves.


Battle of the Beasts!

As the master of unfair comparisons I decided to pit my CX bike against my MTB in a battle of the beasts! Two weeks ago I took my MTB on the local loop for a solid 2 hour excursion using a countdown clock on my watch to time the ride. I hit all of the trails including the secret ones where only I dare. The result was an exhausting 16.5 mile ride that included a bridge crash and a fox sighting.

Putting my CX (With the WTB tires) through that same gauntlet of trails, including some I've never ridden any CX on, gave me a surprising result. The thing is - it wasn't a flawless ride. One half mile section known as The Grind brought me to a heaving halt. In fact I hit the anaerobic wall at least three or four times. Also, there was a higher than usual amount of traffic on the trails. I hit my brakes for runners, people walking their dogs and a mid-sized payloader that was clearing branches. I was sure that the distractions and difficulty would have resulted in less distance covered but I was wrong. In the same 2 hour period I handled all those obstacles, including dismounts/remounts. Plus, I covered just over 18 miles.

The WTB tires performed flawlessly in this battle. Even my seat didn't hold up to the ruckus. It came loose after a boggling remount where I hopscotched four logs. I had to ride back very carefully so as not to loosen it further. When I got home I found that several sand spurs attempted to pierce the hard casing of the tires only to have failed. The rubber crushed most of them leaving no holes at all. That revelation left a big smile on my face.


Additional rides brought up three notes of interest.

1. These tires are directional but they can be ridden backwards. I took them on a 23 mile ride, mostly road, and there was no recognizable difference because they traveled mostly on the smooth center tread.

2. They track well in sand. I hit the deeper sand, the soft stuff that forces you to control your balance and momentum. The tires tracked well, allowing me to stay upright. I never even put a foot down.

3. They hold air very well. My Kenda's needed the air pressure adjusted for EVERY ride! The WTB All Terrain tires can hold pressure for days with little to no adjustment.


The WTB All Terrain 37c tires cost me $31. each at retail. That is a fair price as Cyclocross specific tires usually range a little higher. The big tests will come when I bring this bike to the CX races in the fall and to the Gravel grinders over the winter. In the meantime I will update this article with any relevant information. I'm super happy with the tires so far. They have exceeded my expectations and I look forward to further testing.

Update: I entered the bike into a 10 mile gravel time trial but first I practiced the course a couple times. After 30+ miles of bumpy riding, I was very happy with the results. Being able to manipulate the air pressure I found the perfect balance between speed and plushness. I hammered the race beating my practice time by 8 minutes. It was the fastest TT I have ever completed.

Update: On a training ride a piece of metal stuck into the rear tire causing a flat. It was a pretty vicious tack that might have popped a MTB tire. However, my bike shop threw in a new tube and I went on to complete another hundred miles and a then a CX race so there was no real damage done. Very impressive durability.

Check out the WTB website for all their tire offerings.



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