I was in Fruita almost 8 years ago (or was it 7?) that I saw Dave Grey roll up on a 1×1 with the first ever Endomorph tire, Large Marge rim, and fat fork (all prototypes) up front. Was a big “huh” moment. And honestly, as much as everything made sense that Dave told me about it…I didn’t think I’d ever dig it. And only one tire? Eh. Yeah, look at how well 650b did with limited tire selection. Flop.
At Interbike this year however you saw tires formally take off for fat bikes. More options than the 650b world has and growing…fast. No longer was it just the Larry and Endomorph with Nate appearing mid season. We had them plus the Big Fat Larry. 45N’s Husker Du was formally out. Origin 8 had it’s Vee Rubber made tires and Vee Rubber had a mock up of it’s Mission 4.o tire (which I have a set of currently. More later on them). Plus you knew others were taking note. Fat bikes were the talk of the town.
We have yet to really explore the possibilities in tires that we’ve come to enjoy in other bicycle tires as well as the tech in the other worlds of rubber that could be applied. Tires ain’t cheap to make. I spoke to a company once about just reviving a tire it made in the ’90s once. Already designed just needed new molds and make a minimum number of tires. Easy as it gets. Cost? about $50k easy just to get a first batch made. Ouch. And that was for a popular rim size that the tire could have fit on tens of thousands of bikes. Needing much less rubber and such as a fat bike (was a 45c knobby for the record)
We’re still in a niche that you need a special rim, frame, fork, and such to use the tires on. Don’t expect prices and weights to fall in unison for some time. We’re really in a state very akin to the very first days of mountain biking in many ways which is what makes this interesting.
I see a few things coming around in tires to keep an eye out for in 2012 as well as Interbike in September:
Tread patterns: We’re seeing more aggressive treads come around with the Surly Nate, 45N Husker Du, and Vee Rubber’s Mission. I foresee though such coming down to smaller tire sizes as well, with bigger tires (3.7-4.0) seeing the implementation of low profile tread patterns like the classic Kenda Small Block 8 (which I’ve loved on my MTB in 26″ and 29″ as well as on my cross rigs). Or even applying Panaracer’s Cross treads found on the Cross Blaster and Cinder CX onto a big old 3.8 or 4.0. As great as the traction is with bigger tires out there now with full knobs, weight will soon be a bigger issue than it was even a year ago and slimming down tread size will be key.
Rubber types: Today’s fat bike tire rubber is pretty uneventful. Good reason though, price, traction of size of tire already, and niche market still. Yet I see this being a factor to come. Many have forgotten the days of the uber sticky Specialized Umma Gumma and Ritchey Red rubber tires, true they wore out fast…but what could you do with a low profile knob uber sticky tire? And on slick rock? Or ungodly rocky/rooted terrain? We may never know. But other rubber technologies have surfaced over the years from Kenda, Panaracer, and Continental.
This doesn’t take into the account what else is available. Rubber compounds that may not have noticeable qualities on smaller tires could stand out big time on fat bikes. What will these be? And what will it have on tread patterns? Throw in playing with casing flex over the sheer size of the tire, I can foresee someone playing with that to take a whole new look at tire design than what even the best has had locked in their brain for the last 20 years in off road tire design.
Bigger Fronts: Rear tires have already shown their limitations in the Moonlander. We can really only keep pushing the width in the rear so far before we start needing to lengthen the chain stay. Hannebrink is a quick glimpse into how that plays out at the extreme. So what’s left? Front tires. And the great thing is all you need is a new fork (maybe wider hubs eventually) and you can apply it to any existing fat bike frame. Given that many fat bikes are built with suspension corrected fork geometries these days, you can even see room to go larger diameter.
Seem silly? Nope. Bigger front is an old trick that every motocross, bmx, and mountain biker has known for years. Hell on my cyclocross rig I’ve often run 35c front, 32c or 31c in rear. My mountain bike has a Conti 2.4 front (which is massive) and a WTB Exiwolf 2.1 rear. I even have a 38c for my Monstercross to throw in the rear while keeping a 45c up front I run sometimes. So why not on your fat bike?
Weight Redux: Bigger ain’t always better. Dream all you want, but a 4″ wide fat bike tire isn’t going to be down to 600 grams, ever. Nor will a 3.7″. And while a 3.3″ won’t either it’ll be a lot lighter than any 4″ tire. Lower profile by a 1/2 inch all the way around and we’re possibly getting to some pretty snappy tire weights. And no…they probably won’t be great for sand or snow. But that won’t be the point of such. I personally would like such for a rear tire for just normal off roading and commuting. Kinda goes back to above about bigger rubber up front. And on traditional 26″ bikes, a 3.3″ up front is an easy conversion.
Why else will a 3.2″ or 3.3″ tire possibly be a hit? It potentially won’t be just a fat bike tire. Since it’s not available yet I don’t know, but I could see it working on a Velocity P35 rim. Plus it could be built with a little lower profile to lesson ze bounce a bit which could be key on rear squish designs to use such a tire in the future. I’ve also heard some strong rumors that others are developing 40-45mm wide rims which I’m sure it’d be nice for as well. More I think about it, that just may be the size you’ll see the most tire development in because of it’s in-between status in the fat world. I’ll bet one will come by Interbike in 2012.
Tubulars: “Huh? You say Tubulars?” Yes I did hotcakes. We’re talking a bit of weight that can be chopped off the outer limits of the rim. No more need for a hook on the rim all the way around. No need for the bead on the tire. Rim construction in general could be completely re-thunk. Not to mention a lighter tube. Throw in a removable core and a little bit of sealant and you are still ahead of the game. Say adios to 200-300 grams per wheel total. Also design limitations that plague a smaller tire won’t be a factor with the big old fat bike tires in a tubular.
Thinking to yourself….Yeah but I don’t need any of that? Well go back 5 years, 10 years. If I told you that you’d be rolling down the road on nearly 4″ wide tires for your bicycle of choice or to pull out during the winter. Would you have believed me? Probably not. The above will happen I can promise you. It’s just when.
Sevo has been working around the bike industry in one way or another for 22 years. Day job is working with economic development in CO, networking, and connecting ideas/funds/people. Founded Front Range Cyclist and Colorado Fat Bike. He plans to retire on a beach with his fat bike and PBR.