Vee Tire is one of the only fat bike tire makers to offer two different rubber compounds; one black like normal, the other an off-white color. I always wondered if this was just a gimmick or if there was anything to the white compound. Vee lists the white compound as having “better ice performance, is quieter, and allows less terrain to stick to the tire.” I had ridden both black and white versions of their tires but had never ridden the same tread and casing size in both colors. Without a true “apples-to-apples” comparison I was always wondering is this just more marketing mumbo jumbo or is there something to this?
Gomez came to the rescue in my time of bike dork need and said he would be able to hook me up with two pairs of studded 4.8″ Snow Avalanche tires, one pair black and the other white. Finally I could geek out and see if there was a difference! The Snow Avalanche’s side knobs are fairly tall which gives good cornering performance and the center knobs are lower providing lower rolling resistance. That gave the tire a somewhat square profile on my 100mm rims and provided better drive and braking traction than I would have expected. I am not sure if this has anything to do with the compounds or just natural variation in the manufacturing process but the black tires came in at 1,574 and 1,575g while the white tires weighed 1,674 and 1,662g. They all went tubeless very easily. There was a bit of wobble in one of the black and one of the white tires but not so badly that it was something that I could notice while riding.
Their black rubber tires are called their “Silica Compound” and come in at a durometer of 57 A which means the rubber is around the same hardness as most other fat bike tires. Their off-white compound called “Pure Silica Compound” and has a durometer of 50 A which means it is softer than most other fat bike tires. Silica is a common rubber additive and has magical powers (in the eyes of many dorky engineer types) when added to rubber. Normally there is a direct relationship between tires wearing more quickly and rolling more slowly as the rubber gets softer. The flip side is that the tire also gets grippier. Adding silica to rubber compounds (along with some other additives like silane) breaks this direct relationship and allows you to have softer, grippier rubber that wears as well and rolls as fast as a harder rubber tire. This becomes especially important in the winter because rubber hardens making it less grippy and able to conform to the surface. The question in this comparison comes down to is more silica better?
I did my best to try and ride back-to-back in similar conditions bouncing between the two different pairs of tire compounds. That said, winter ran out of steam in my neck of the woods before there was a weather window that allowed me to perform any “scientific” tests like a roll down test. Because of that, here are my seat of the pants observations.
Traction: I never could tell any difference in snow between the two compounds. My guess is that is because the snow deformed similarly and it didn’t make that big of a difference in the rubber conforming to the terrain (the snow conformed to the tread instead). However, on rough ice there did seem to be an improvement in the traction of the white PSC tires. In these situation the tire needs to conform to the ice because it is so hard compared to the rubber and the softer white compound seemed to do a great job of that.
Rolling Resistance: The white PSC compound definitely seemed to roll faster than the black compound. Near freezing I had a hard time telling the different but as temperatures dropped the gap widened, making the white PSC compound notably quicker rolling.
Durability: Not sure about other fat bikers but I never wear out the tread on my tires by riding in the snow and ice. I wear them out riding dirt or some part of the casing fails. Because of this, I didn’t see any difference in the wear between the two compounds. Where is did see a difference was in how well the studs stayed in the tires. We had a period of perfect spring snow that allowed us to ride trails faster than we can even ride them during prime summer conditions. During this period we were able to put huge cornering and braking loads on tires and I did experience a couple of the studs popping out from the white PSC tires. It only happened when I was riding super hard in a corner, the tire slipped and then caught a ridge or some other sort of texture on the trail and hooked back up quickly so it was a fairly rare event.
How Much the “Terrain” Sticks to the Tire: This seems to be heavily snow condition dependent. There were some snow conditions where the white compound seemed to pick up far less snow than the black and there were other times it seemed fairly similar. My impression was that drier snow stuck less to the white and that the difference was minimal with wetter snow. That said, winter quit early in my part of the world and I can’t say I really got it nailed where the white compound may offer an advantage.
Cost: The list price of the white PSC compound tires is $15/tire more but if you hunt around the interwebs it seems like that premium disappears in the rear world. If I had to guess that is because of the next topic…
Appearance: I have to admit, I think the off white “skunk” tires (because of the white tread and black sidewalls) look pretty darned ugly on the majority of bikes. Most people think my yellow Quiring Triple B with green anodized parts is a pretty good looking bike but with the skunk tires it turned it into the “yellow snow” bike and caused me to break into song on many of ride. It would take a rare color scheme for a bike to look better with the white tires on it.
So are the white PSC tire marketing BS? I would definitely say “no” and commend Vee Tire on offering a product that is funky looking but offers tangible benefits. The white 4.8″ Snow Avalanches became my go to spring snow tire this year. In the morning after a cold night I could pump them up pretty hard and would have a super fast rolling tire with mounds of grip in the corners and on any pools of ice. As the temps warmed and the snow softened I would drop pressure and the big fat tires would hook up well in the corn snow allowing me to ride stuff that the 4″ tire guys couldn’t. They were a pair of tires that made me feel like I had the best of both worlds. In fact I dug the white tires so much that I am considering dropping my own coin to get a pair of white Snowshoe 2XLs for next winter; there are not too many higher praises for a product than that.