The Trail Snob presents the periodic, ill-informed opinions, malformed thoughts, and inappropriate convictions of a certain Web Content Editor. Art’s Cyclery disavows all knowledge of, responsibility for, and concordance with anything that comes out of their keyboard.
Frank Zappa phrased the question a bit differently, and with more than a touch of cynicism, but the intent remains the same—to make you think about who you are and the acts you engage in. OK, maybe that’s not my intent, but back to the subject at hand—you could go with the obvious and sexy: fork, cranks, or dropper post, all of which are solid choices, but they tend to be at the top of the pay scale. To make it on to my Best Of list, there’s got to be some give and take—preferably less giving and more taking on my part. That’s why my answer is a little more pragmatic; my favorite component is tires.
Tires are the connection between you and the trail, where the phenomenon of friction works with your sense of balance to either fill your soul with joy or fill your credit card with charges from the emergency room. Tires—their volume, tread design, and construction—hold the key to enabling your riding to match what you see in your mind’s eye. My current favorite tire, the Continental Trail King, costs just 6% of what a Rock Shox Pike does, yet has about 80% of the Pike’s influence over your riding happiness. Choosing the proper tire for the terrain you ride, and your riding style, is crucial to get the most out of your experience.
Tires get chewed up pretty quickly in the alternating rocky and hardpack terrain of San Luis Obispo, so we are always trying out new treads. I’ve been riding with the aforementioned Conti Trail Kings for several months, and have gotten used to their
characteristic grip. As a front tire, the TK can be leaned over seemingly until your handlebar touches dirt, especially when paired up with a rear TK. As would be expected, a rear Trail King keeps the bike solidly hooked up as well, with a lot of outside foot or inside handlebar required to break free into a tight, controlled slide through turns.
I was forced to experiment with a new tread when my rear wheel blew itself up. Luckily, my wife is the only other person left who rides a twenty-six inch wheeled bike, so I was able to commandeer her wheel, tire and all, while I built up my new wheel. With a different rear tire underneath me, my bike had a completely different feel. First, the new tire—whose moniker starts with a P and ends with a Y—was about 100 grams lighter than the Trail King, making it feel as if I had an extra gear when climbing. Second, that weight savings came from the tire’s thinner sidewalls, so I had to run more tire pressure to protect the rim from rock strikes and from folding over in turns. I still, however, managed to administer a couple dings to the rim, sorry Honey! Most noticeable was the P——-y’s tendency to break free much earlier and with quite a bit less effort than the Trail King required. This added a playful feel to my bike, and made roosting around tight, slower speed corners really fun. But at higher speeds, when staying hooked up without sliding was desirable, the rear tire influenced my front tire to break free also, at a point well before I was used too. At first I enjoyed the way this new tire combination worked, but when I finally put my old tire onto my new rear wheel, I felt much more confident with the “limiter” the Trail King provided. In our office discussions it was revealed that another member of the Art’s staff had just switched rear tires with similar results—an earlier breaking point which influenced the front tire to slide easier as well. For him, this was just what he was looking for; two-wheel drifts around every turn.
Simply by swapping out the rear tire, both of our bike’s handling characteristics changed noticeably, resulting in an improvement for them and a different, fun, but ultimately not optimal feel for me. This is why tires are the favorite part of my bike; they have the potential to totally change the bike’s performance with hardly any monetary commitment. Finally, I leave you with a haiku in reverence to my component passion…
Rider craves traction
Strong tire tracks tight to arc
Drifts two wheels for fun