Since my decision to start writing about mountain biking again, I’ve been doing all I can to log miles on different equipment, though I admit I’ve skewed things in the 29er direction. I’m not a downhiller, never really was, and that’s even if you count me competing as one of the final two riders to attack the Mount Snow Downhill on a fully rigid bike. I swear.
It was 1991 and I got huge cheers all the way down. People were screaming, “Go rigid! Go riiiigiiiiid!” I was fourth from last, which means I not only beat the other guy on a rigid bike, I also beat two guys with suspension. Given that the field was nearly 100 riders, it was a victory roughly as hollow as a politician’s promise.
So like I said, I was never really a downhiller, which would be my justification for not really going after any 26″ bikes. Were I still riding in Memphis, or some places in New England, I’d be open to it, but around here, with all these fire road climbs, it seems silly to do a long, nontechnical climb on 26″ wheels. However, I’ve been known to swear by 26″ wheels at the apex of any switchback. It’s a bit like how there are no atheists in foxholes, though not nearly so dire.
In talking with a product manager friend recently he noted that for a mountain bike product manager to spec the most universally useful tire on a mountain bike, that is, the tire that will work on as many different environments as possible, the effort will result in lousy reviews because those most adaptable of tires tend to be heavy. Spec a race tire and you can shave a half pound off a bike, even though it might make the bike handle like a Fiat 500 in a quarry.
So while the difference in road tires can seem dramatic, when compared to the wide differences in mountain bike tires, road tires differ by a matter of degrees. I’ve been using the Panaracer Driver 29 Pro as my primary tire this year. I’ll ride it for a while, take it off, ride something else, then give it another try. Inevitably, the scenario is less thorough than that might read. I get fed up with how easily this marathon tire breaks loose in turns, only to end up dismayed at how slow another tire climbs, and I put it back on. Because the tire is 2.2″ wide, there is some meat there to grab the ground, and while it can float nicely on sand, it really does break loose the moment the bike is leaned more than a few degrees. These tires could have been called the Rogue for all they choose to do despite your input.
There are plenty of knobs on this tire. That’s not the problem. The trouble is that they are smaller than the average income of a self-employed writer. No names mentioned. And while those side blocks look like they’d catch once you get the bike leaned over, the tires break away too much for me to trust that they’ll eventually hook up. I’m not saying that they won’t hook up, just that I chicken out before I can get there.
But oh, how they roll! I don’t care what the surface is, if you’re riding in a straight line, I suspect the only tire that would be faster would be an 0ld-school slick. It’s absolutely the fastest tire I’ve ever ridden. The challenge of matching tire to conditions is both this tire’s promise and Achilles heel. It’s never going to be at its best in loose and often sandy conditions. However, I’ve ridden places where conditions do tend to be a good deal firmer. There were places I rode in the Berkshires where this tire would be star geek in calculus class.
Panaracer claims the tire weighs 590g; mine was a bit closer to 600, but that’s close enough for a non-racer. What surprised me is that the tire could be so light despite being only 66 tpi. I’d have expected anything this light to be 120 tpi. The upshot is that even though it’s a reasonably light tire, it has proven to be exceptionally durable. I’ve yet to experience a flat with this tire, though my record of flats on 120 tpi tires is dismal. The Driver 29 Pro comes in only one size, the 29″ x 2.2″ and carries a suggested retail of $56.
What I wish I could manage to do is revive my former ability to drift. If I could just get a feel for when these would break away and by how much, I might not have much interest in running other tires. Alas, that muscle memory seems destined, currently, to remain just that—a memory.
Final thought: It’s not you, it’s me.