Plus Stuff From the Second Annual Maxxis Summit at Mulberry Gap
Maxxis jumped into plus tires in a big way in recent years and has developed what is arguably the most complete lineup of plus sized tires (at least for 27.5+) of any tire company. They have everything from the fast rolling Icon all the way up to the Minion for getting rowdy on the downhills. For 2017 there are not big changes but they are upping their game in a two ways: 1) Adding some additional size casings to existing tread designs, and 2) making some additional reinforced casing technology available.
Where Do “Regular” Tires Stop and “Plus” Tires Start?
Back in the day it used to be obvious what a plus tire; it was a 3” wide. We saw the expansion of 2.8” and 3.2” tires in recent years and now there are several companies (including Maxxis) that are blurring lines even further by offering 2.6” tires. I am sure there is going to be plenty of debate about what is truly a “plus” tire and what isn’t but in my world regular MTB tires have historically stopped at 2.5” and therefore anything bigger is a plus tire until you chub out to 3.7” where you cross into fatty world. If you call it a “plus” tire or not is arbitrary but the benefits of being able to tune your tires to the exact conditions is a big boon to riders regardless what you call it. I haven’t run Maxxis’ 2.6 options but have run a 2.6” tire from another manufacturer and feel like it could be the sweet spot for some riding conditions (like Pisgah) where it is nice to have more float than a “regular” MTB tire but a full “plus” tire can get a bit bouncy and tough to fit into certain places when driven really hard.
Maxxis is jumping into the 2.6” realm with both feet offering up three different tread designs in the 27.5 diameter: The Rekon, Forecaster and Minion DHF. The Rekon is an aggressive fast rolling tire, the Forecaster is similarly aggressive but with a more open tread design that is more mud friendly, and the Minion DHF is an agressive trail tire that still rolls fairly well. My take on these three is that Maxxis has offered up treads in the middle of the tire spectrum. The super extremes like crazy mud and super fast rolling are not going to be served optimally by these tires but you likely are going to want to go with different sized tire for those conditions anyway. Each of these get the Maxxis “Wide Trail” treatment and are designed for modern wide rims so they have the optimal shape without overly exposing sidewalls or becoming too rounded.
Word has it that a 29×2.6” version of the Minions is coming soon. This is a tire I am salivating over. For aggressive riding with a bigger hit 29er, this tire would be the bomb for ripping downhills.
If you are asking “why make a 2.6” tire when you already have 2.5”?” you are not alone. Seems like we are mincing hairs until you talk to one of the engineers at Maxxis. Supposedly there is a 7% bump up in air volume from 2.5” to 2.6” which is a significant enough to aide bump absorption and float but not so much that it will have totally unfamiliar ride characteristics. Also a 2.6″ is going to fit in some forks and frame where a 2.8” will not so this hopefully will allow some riders with traditional MTB frames/forks (non-plus) to fit some fatter rubber and leverage some of the advantages of plus tires. Think of 2.6″ tires as the gateway drug to full plus-ification.
New Widths on the Fatter End:
There isn’t a ton of new stuff here but the biggie in my eyes is the expansion of the High Roller II from just being a 27.5×2.8” tire to also being offered as a 3”. The High Roller is a great front tire and if you pair a 3” with a 2.8” Rekon on the rear you have a VERY grippy combo that will still roll fairly fast. The slightly fatter front tire gives a bit more traction (generally) and prevents the front wheel from knifing in soft stuff. This is the combo I rode for the last two days of the Maxxis Summit and to say I was smitten would be an understatement. I didn’t feel disadvantaged when I needed the bike to roll efficiently but I was able to get some serious brap on when going fast.
Plus Tire Construction Technology:
The next section is going to require some acronyms and techno mumbo jumbo. Maxxis offers up their plus tires in a variety of configurations and for the uninitiated the alphabet soup can be pretty confusing. Below is my best explanation in trying to explain what all this means and why you may want one thing over another.
Casing Technology Stuff:
If you want to hop over this section because I am getting too dorky, go for it. However, you want to take away that Maxxis is upping the casing durability game for plus tires while keeping them light and nice riding by adding a second reinforcing layer to the tires.
60tpi and 120tpi casings: This is how many threads there are per inch. Fatter threads (aka lower tpi) makes it so there is more rubber in between threads so the sidewalls are thicker and stiffer. Lower tpi casings are heavier, have higher rolling resistance and traction is marginally lower because the tire has a tougher time conforming to trail irregularities. If you can afford the slight increase in cost of higher tpi tires, definitely go for them. Maxxis offers up a lot of casing “armoring” options so you can go with the 120tpi, get the enhanced ride qualities and not worry about ripped sidewalls.
SilkShield (SS): A puncture protection layer in the casing that goes from bead to bead improving both traditional puncture protection but also sidewall durability. From what I can tell, SilkShield has only previously been used in gravel, road and BMX tires so this is a new thing in the MTB/Plus world.
EXO: An extremely cut-resistant and abrasion-resistant material added to the sidewalls of tires.
We have seen a big increase in the availability of longer travel plus bikes. Any time you need more travel, you likely are also going to need more sidewall durability to avoid cut sidewalls. This has been the bane of plus tires up to this point because riders want a tire that can be abused and slammed into stuff (a.k.a. the awesome sauce that plus brings to the table) but also want tires that weigh the same as a skinnier tire and are nice and supple.
Maxxis is addressing these contradictory characteristics (durability and suppleness with low weight) by offering a “Silkshield” casing option. Silkshield takes their puncture protection belt (Silkworm) and extends it from bead-to-bead greatly increasing the sidewall durability. Instead of placing the EXO reinforcement material on the outer layer of the tire like they normally do, they add it to an inner layer of the plus tires so you have a reinforcement “sandwich” for the tire keeping it supple but also helping to prevent cuts. The one-two punch of Silkshield and EVO casing reinforcements should allow aggressive riders to fly down the trail on plus tires and not fret about slashing sidewalls. For now they are just offering this option on the Rekon which commonly gets run on the rear on longer travel plus bikes. This is something near and dear to my heart. While riding down Mountaintown Creek because I started out riding a EXO Rekon+ (non-Silkshield) on the rear but cut a sidewall just above the EXO ply while bombing a chunky section. It wasn’t bad enough to need a boot but bad enough to not seal and need a tube. Once back to headquarters, Tristen at Pivot hooked me up with another Rekon+ but with the Silkshield and I didn’t have any issues the rest of the trip.
In 2016 Maxxis already had the most extensive plus tire range of any brand but they are not resting on their laurels in 2017. They have added more tweener sizes for those out there that may be plus curious but don’t want (or can’t fit) a traditional plus sized tire. They have offered one of their most popular models (High Roller II) in a wider 3” version. Lastly, they have upped the protection game by offering the Silkshield casing. It is tough to improve when you are king of the hill but Maxxis has successfully done that for 2017.