I've always been a sucker for cheap tires. In part because I'm a starving artist but also because riders tend to pay too much when it comes to upgrading their bikes. For example: How often have you seen a recreational rider purchase top of the line tires because they save him a few grams in weight? In most cases, if you really want to cut a few grams put down the cheeseburger.
When it comes to mountain bike tires my measurement of quality sits at the apex between cost and consistency. For this reason I'm a huge fan of Schwalbe's Rapid Rob tires (Read that review here). While I'm still running a Rapid Rob on the front of my bike, I decided to try something new on the rear. Something even cheaper. Introducing the CST Patrol.
For about $26. the 26" by 2.25" version of the CST Patrol is uber cheap. You get a wire bead, a weight of 780 grams with a single rubber compound but no EPS (Exceptional Puncture Safety) which can be found on other versions of the tire. The Patrol was easy to seat on the rim. It has medium length knobs which are placed in a balanced pattern to allow for smooth rolling and moderate bite. Now let's see how it works.
The first test of the Patrol was a big one. I brought my bike to the Croom 35/50 Off Road Challenge which takes place annually at Withlacooche State Forest in Brooksville, Florida. These trails had a good variety of terrain that was both wet and dry with climbs and descents. Some trails were taken at a crawl while others were blitzed at top speed. I went with a group of fast friends who really pushed the pace. This meant that my new tires were under pressure to perform.
Hardpack: This was the majority of the ride. A single line of narrow trail with long slight climbs and fast twisting downhills. This is also where the tire excels. The grip never slipped on the way up and I was able to bounce down at the fastest speeds without ever missing my lines.
Pine Needles: We jokingly call this brown ice. Layers of pine needles are easy to slide on especially around corners. The tire had enough flex so as to compensate for this condition. Despite miles of brown ice I never slid out, not even a little.
Sand: Small sections of trail, including fire roads that crossed the path were made up of medium depth sand. Again, it was easy to steer or surf through with no slippage. Are you starting to see a trend?
Roots & Climbs: I put these together because they present a similar challenge. On technical sections where the dirt was interrupted by roots - guess what? No slippage, perfect grip.
Above are the conditions that the tire was made for and it certainly held up to its part of the bargain. Next we'll check out some grounds that it was not made for.
I took to the streets for some commuting. My philosophy group is held at the local library only five miles away but I filled that middle ground with every silly obstacle that you might typically face on a road based ride. The winter traffic and ill timed road construction assisted with my creative line choices. To and fro I jumped curbs, crossed medians, swirled around caution barrels and avoided aggressive snow birds.
The Patrols have a max tire fill of 65psi. I was running them at about 55 and enjoyed a nice flexible bounce on the road. They easily absorbed the hard drops and stuck to the cement giving the kind of grip that you can count on. It made this normally boring ride rather fun. There was no sense of drag and the tire weight is too minor to notice. I was looking hard for a flaw but so far nothing has stood out. In fact, the Patrol is outperforming my Rapid Rob front tire by being more supple and thereby more appropriate to the type of terrain I typically ride.
Mud! You know it. You hate it. It's dark and sticky and cold. Plus it really slows us down. I took the Patrol out on my local trails which have suffered from a couple surprise storms. The mud was everywhere. Rutted, thick, gooey and surrounded by large areas of standing water. It was a perfect test for a new tire.
The 2.25 felt a whole lot wider when it hit the ruts. Daring the singletrack with 50psi was a blessing. The full volume of the tire compressed the mud making it easier to ride atop the mess. In fact, not once on the ride did I rip out, get bogged down or stop cold. Better yet, as I exited the muck there was nothing sticking to the treads. The spaces are wide enough to allow for even the clingy stuff to fall away. Clean up afterwards was quick and easy.
Finally I took the bike out on a 20 mile group night ride which was largely made up of gravel roads. It was a fast group so the pressure was on but once again I could count on perfect grip, smooth rolling and easy mud shedding. I'm so confident in its performance that I will be using this tire combo for an upcoming race.
It is probably too early for a solid conclusion but I can say that so far the CST Patrol has passed every test I threw at it. While this tire has shown itself to perform beyond expectations, I suspect that it might not have that long of a shelf life. Usually this kind of rubber fails after a few months of hard riding. I will keep a close eye on tread wear and I will update this review.
Update: I have taken on several rides/events and competed in some cool races. The tire weathered the varied terrain providing all the grip I could ask for. In fact, after riding the raw edges of a newly built trail my Rapid Rob went flat but the Patrol survived intact.
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Twisted Trails, my book of mountain bike short stories. Now available in paperback and on the Kindle.