If you follow bike media you will know that at one point not that long ago 2.8-3″ plus tires were the greatest thing ever. Now the talk is that they are too squishy and vague but 2.6″ tires are the goldilocks size, splitting the difference between traditional MTB tires and “full” plus tires.
Personally, 2.6″ tires have really interested me because after riding 3″ 29+ tires for several years the pros and cons of a 3″ were pretty evident and it seemed to me that there was a place for tires in between 2.3ish” and 3″. Here are some generalities about the pros and cons of traditional MTB tires and full plus tires:
Plus Tires (2.8-3″):
- Pros: more float, better traction in certain situations, lower rolling resistance in certain situations (when bumpy/chunky and/or soft), more comfortable, bigger contact patch is more forgiving
- Cons: more weight, can be bouncy/vague, worse traction in loose over hard and some mud, less aero at high speeds
Traditional MTB Tires (up to 2.4″)
- Pros: Lighter, lower rolling resistance on hard pack, can be better riding ruts, better traction when you need to dig down through loose/sloppy, more “precise” feeling, more aero
- Cons: Less comfortable, less float, less traction in some conditions, higher rolling resistance in some conditions
As 29×2.6″ tires have started to become available I have been trying to get my hands on them to try them out. That started with the Schwalbe Nobby Nic back in February 2017 and has lead up to the Bontrager XR2 which I got only 2 weeks ago. Here is a summary of what I have found out about some of the less aggressive, faster rolling 29×2.6″ tires that are now available.
All measurements were taken after tires had been mounted and inflated for over a week (and therefore have stretched about as much as they will) and on a 30mm inner width rim (about the perfect size for 2.6″ tires) at 18psi (I generally run them at 15-19psi). There are a lot of other 29×2.6″ options out there so this is far from a comprehensive listing of options.
Schwalbe Nobby Nic EVO TLE, older non-Addix compound:
- Width: 2.53″ casing and knob width
- Measured weight: 823 g and 831 g
- Center knob height: 3.7 mm
- Side knob height: 5.2 mm
- MSRP: $95/tire
This is an older, no longer available version of this tire. Schwalbe has updated their whole line with new rubber compounds. The compound should not have a significant impact but are supposed to make the tire a bit quicker rolling on hardpack and a bit better wearing.
The Nobby Nic is the most aggressive tire listed here and correspondingly is also the slowest rolling. It is a bit squared off in profile. I have used this tire in a very wide variety of conditions and have found it to be a great allrounder. It clears mud well and they are especially good on wet roots and rocks. Cornering is good but not great. Drive and braking traction are both good and are the best of the tires listed here. Durability has been good with no casing cuts or excessive tread wear. I have used this tire a lot in some challenging conditions including bottoming it out on rocks and roots so I have been amazed I haven’t flatted or damaged the casing.
This is my go to tire later in the fall and spring when trails tend to be wet, leafy and sloppy. Being a bit narrower than a full plus tire allows it to better punch through leaves and debris but the added float is nice going over roots and rocks hidden under the leaves and debris.
Maxxis Rekon EXO/TR 3C:
- Width: 2.51″ casing, 2.54″ knob width
- Measured weight: 796 g and 795 g
- Center knob height: 3.8 mm
- Side knob height: 5.1 mm
- MSRP: $74/tire
I have been riding the Rekon for about 6 months now. It has a very squared off profile with pronounced side lugs and low ramped center knobs. Because of this it is a great cornering tire but still seems to roll fast. When run in the recommended direction the drive traction is okay but not great. Braking traction is good in that direction. Running it backwards on the rear definitely seems to help drive traction. The tread design clears mud well so it corners well in the wet but is pretty sketchy when your bike is more upright on wet rocks or roots where the ramped center knobs seem to really struggle to find traction. Durability doesn’t seem to be as good as the Nobby Nic with quicker wear on the knobs and I ruined one tire by pinch flatting it on a rock (running too low of pressure). I was able to plug the hole in the tread but never could get the hole by the bead to seal up even with 3 plugs in it.
This has been my go to front tire for most conditions. You can lean it over and really engage the side lugs to rail corners. On the rear it is okay but nothing special.
Vittoria Mezcal III G+ TNT:
- Width: 2.60″ casing and knob width
- Measured weight: 864 g and 861 g
- Center knob height: 2.5 mm
- Side knob height: 4.1 mm
- MSRP: $67/tire
I only have about a month of riding on these tires so I am still getting to know them. The casing seems burlier than any of the other tires listed here and it is slightly wider too. These factors seems to be reflected in the weight which is the highest also. Because of the burlier casing and slightly bigger size I generally run these with up to 1 psi less pressure for the same feel. Rolling resistance seems to be one of the lowest of this bunch and the tire is especially quiet on hardpack because of the almost continous center ridge. Cornering is okay but definitely behind the Nobby Nic and Rekon. Drive and braking traction are ok in general but that center ridge seems to make them especially poor on wet roots and rocks. They seem to clear mud well but the low tread makes these a poor mud performer.
I haven’t figured out exactly where this tire will fit into my quiver yet. The durability of the casing (and supposedly great wear of the tread but I don’t have enough miles on them yet to know firsthand) and fast rolling make me think this is going to be a great bikepacking option.
Bontrager XR2 Team Issue TLR:
- Width: 2.55″ casing and 2.60″ knob width
- Measured weight: 760 g and 750 g
- Center knob height: 2.5 mm
- Side knob height: 3.9 mm
- MSRP: $65/tire
This tire may look familiar because Bontrager recently renamed the Chupacabra and are now calling it XR2. I have a ton of miles on the Chupacabra and it is my favorite all round 3″ tire because of its excellent durability, low weight, and surprisingly versatile fast rolling tread. I only have a couple weeks on the 2.6″ XR2 but it seems like they have ported all of those great characteristics over from the 3″ version. The knobs are a bit smaller but also seem to be slightly taller on the 2.6″ but otherwise things are similar.
Cornering is ok but not as good as the Rekon and Nobby Nic with their considerably taller side knobs. Drive and braking traction are surprisingly good for the tiny knobs but it does fall short of the Nobby Nic. In the dry the drive/braking is similar to the Rekon and Mezcal but when things get wet the XR2 has the edge (pun intended) over those two because of the lack of ramped knobs. The XR2 seems to roll really fast and the weight is the lowest here so they feel snappy under acceleration. I haven’t had these long enough to comment on durability but the Chupacabra has been very durable (both for tread wear and casing) so I expect the same out of these.
This has slotted in as my rear tire of choice for anytime I want to go fast. The predicable traction across a wide range of conditions and low weight are just too good to go with anything else. When paired with a Rekon on the front I have a combo that can out corner most any regular MTB tire that rolls well but is still fairly light and fast rolling. I look forward to seeing how this tire holds up over time because it seems to be hitting well above its weight and is also the cheapest option here.