At the beginning of this winter I got a bunch of tires to test, mostly of the 27.5 fat variety. Of the tires I have available, I have been riding the 27.5×4 45NRTH Van Helgas far more than anything else. Part of this is because Mother Nature had been stingy with snow but even more than that, I just love these tires! Before I dive into my impressions so far, if you want to geek out on numbers for these tires, check out my “first look” write up. That has all the info about how they measure, options available, cost…
I think the thing I dig so much about these tires is how big the “sweet spot” is. The way I think of the sweet spot for a tire is that it is the range of conditions where a tire has the ability to perform in the top 10ish% of tires available. Some tires like the 27.5 Van Helga seem like they are a great option in a really wide range of conditions and other tires only have a very narrow range of (if any) conditions where they shine. Tires with a narrow range suck unless you have the time, inclination and conditions intel to swap them out frequently (and God help you if your ride has a wide range of conditions). With the Van Helgas, you can “run what you brung” and can be confident that you will have a really good setup for most conditions outside of when you have icy slip-and-slide and deep winter bottomless pow.
An important aspect to this large sweet spot is the taller profile of the tire compared to many other 3.8ish 27.5 fat tires like the Minion, Cake Eater and Hodag. You can run higher pressures with any tires in this size class but in my experience you are really limited with how low you can run the pressure on the lower profile 27.5 tire options. I have safely run the Van Helgas in 1-2 psi lower pressures than I can with the others. When you are talking the difference between 3 and 5 psi that is a huge difference in what conditions you can ride. It also allows you to more easily dial in pressures on bumpy trails so that you are maximizing comfort/rollability while not worrying about smacking your rims.
Drive traction is excellent. Even in 8″ of fresh powder I was able to lower my pressures enough to claw my way up climbs. On hard textured snow the plentiful sipes and supple casing allow the tire to grab onto micro edges. In wet sloppy snow the knobs are spaced and ramped well enough that I have never had issues with snow packing up in the tread.
Cornering traction isn’t crazy good giving you that “on rails” feeling but it is still very good. For instance, a front tire like the Flowbeist or Wrathchild (both only available in 26×4.6) are going to give better absolute grip in a corner but that doesn’t mean the Van Helga is necessarily going to corner slower. The Van Helga slips and grips in a very controllable manner on everything except for the most rutted conditions. Being able to feather if the wheels are griping or slipping in a corner allows you to rail corners far harder than their absolute cornering traction would make you think you could. This predictability allows you to really push the envelope but more importantly (to me at least) it makes it so much more fun to get loose and act like a hoodlum braaping around corners.
In the fall when I was riding on dirt there were times I felt like these tires rolled a bit slow compared to something like a Jumbo Jim. I have never had that impression riding snow and ice. The Van Helga has always seemed to roll really well. This is notable because the tires are also so grippy traction-wise. This “have your cake and eat it too” nature is one of the primary aspect that make the sweet spot for this tire so big.
I don’t have a 26er Van Helga to compare the 27.5 version to but my impressions are that this is the “float-iest” 3.8″ tire I have ever been on. This is significant enough that I have headed out into challenging fresh and crusty snow conditions that I never would have considered riding with a 3.8″ tire previously (at least when I have had so many good wider tire options). If I know I am going to be breaking trail, this tire gives me enough confidence in its traction and float to go “narrow” knowing I will save a bunch of energy not compacting as big of a swath in the snow. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t going to challenge a Bud/Lou on 100’s anytime soon but it is surprisingly capable and for me personally has opened up new trail options this winter that I wouldn’t have considered otherwise.
Tubeless performance is something that I have gotten spoiled with in recent years. At this point most MTB, plus and 26 fat tires/rims just work tubeless if they are rated to be run that way. 27.5 fat has some work to be done in this regard and tire/rim manufacturers need to tighten up their specs; this winter I have felt like I am back in the early days of 26 fat and tubeless. I bring this up not to complain about the Van Helgas, rather to highlight that they are one of the 27.5 fat tires out there that have their sizing dialed and are not going to be a royal PIA. A couple months ago I didn’t appreciate this nearly enough and have to tip my hat to 45NRTH for making a 27.5 fat tire that is really nice to work with tubeless.
If it isn’t obvious by this point in the post, I am really stoked about the 27.5 Van Helga. It is a great all rounder tire that excels in a wide range of conditions. I can’t say this definitely (yet!) but all my impressions are that the 27.5 version adds a lot of breadth to the sweet spot of a great tread design.