Unless you ride on the beach, sand is one of those things you tend to encounter a little at a time. Years ago there was a ride I did every week that had one stretch of sand that went on for between 50 and 75 feet, according to memory. It was just long enough that all the but the strongest riders would be slowed and then the battle to keep the bike going straight would begin. Given that I was relatively new to mountain biking at the time, it taught me a lesson that lasts to this day.
I hate riding in sand.
Or I did until this summer. I’ve been riding the Vittoria Morsa mountain bike tire and feeling surprised. Surprised because mountain bike tires seem always to leave room for disappointment.
The Morsa is intended for enduro and downhill riders. There’s nothing dainty about this thing. At 924 grams, gravity has a powerful relationship with this tire. And while I’m rather decidedly a trail rider, this isn’t that much heavier than many trail-focused models I’ve ridden. I was interested in this beast because it uses Vittoria’s G compound which features graphene for improved rolling resistance. This is an ultra-fast-rolling compound I came to appreciate last year when I tried some road tires with it. It also features Vittoria’s 4C construction process which allows the manufacturer to use four different compounds, layering softer compounds on top of harder ones. This increases the durability of the knobs because a firmer compound makes it harder to rib the knob off the tire, so only the portion of the tire that actually makes contact with the ground will receive the soft compound. Less block squish also improves rolling resistance.
The casing is Vittoria’s TNT which stands for Tube/No Tube. I haven’t tried the tires with tubes because duh, but they set up quickly. TNT is a 60 tpi, two-ply construction that is as puncture-proof as a rock star’s ego.
Initially, the Morsa was released only in 26-inch and 27.5-inch versions, so the 29er is a new development. And while the smaller sizes come in a 2.5-inch width, Vittoria concluded that a 29 x 2.5-inch tire would be overkill, so the 29er version is 2.3-inches wide.
This is the largest 29er tire I’ve ever encountered. It just clears the chainstays on the Scott Genius on which I’ve been riding these tires. Hell, the vent spews (those little hairs on the tires) rub the chainstay bridge, and on the occasion that a rock gets wedged between two of the sizable knobs because the tire has the largest diameter of any tire I’ve encountered, the rock will hit the chainstay bridge and then pop free. It’s nutty.
I’m a reasonably aggressive descender, but not so aggressive as to merit either a Strava KOM or a trip to the hospital, or both. As a result, I’m always on the lookout for a tire that will break away less as I lean the bike over. One of the most common problems with a tire with good side bite is that in moving from the top knobs to the side knobs there is usually a moment when the tire breaks free before catching once again. It can be hard for riders to push past that point and trust the tire; standing the bike up the moment you feel the tire slide is a natural human reaction to a loss of control, no matter how brief it may be.
The Morsa does an amazing job of biting as you lean the bike over, staying hooked up even as one set of knobs ceases to grab and the others are summoned to duty. The blocky side knobs are noticeably taller than the more angular center knobs but these tires roll as fast as some cross country tires I’ve ridden. Sure, at this weight they are harder to accelerate, but for riders who can maintain a consistent pace, the momentum can be a lovely thing.
The big revelation with these tires was a pleasant one. This is the best-handling tire in sand that I’ve ever encountered. I’d had a bit of exposure to loose dust and sand over hardpack from my riding here at home, but on a recent trip up to Lake Tahoe, I rode trails that were almost always sandy and the fire roads were often several inches deep with sand. No matter what speed I hit the sand, whether fast or slow, the Morsa tracked straight when I wanted to go straight and would turn on command. Maybe not on a dime, but the tire was obedient in the loose stuff.
Even when I was sliding the movement felt controlled, predictable.
I can’t speak to how this design works in mud, but in every variety of terrain and ground cover I’ve encountered, it has performed admirably.
The Morsa goes for $69, a price that seems at odds with just how good this tire is. I never encounter products I feel are underpriced, but this tire is so superior to everything I’ve ridden in the last year, they could charge a lot more and not be cheating anyone.
Final thought: I’m going to change and go ride these tires.
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