This Easter long weekend, friends and family inevitably enquired about how your ‘mountain biking’ is going. And bless them, they attempted to appear genuinely interested, by asking the one question all non-riders believe mountain bikers obsess about more than any other: “how much does it weigh?”
We might count, calculate, and curse grams but the true obsession should be tyres. No single component has a greater influence upon your riding, and tyre failure is the most prevalent mechanical to end a ride. Tyres are our true fixation and with a variety of diameters and widths, confusion – instead of solution – reigns.
Two-six returns. Sort of.
To add even greater complexity to the issue of tyre choice, and its influence upon rider feedback, is the potential resurgence of two-six. Yes, indeed: two-six tyres are possibly going to be your trail riding solution in the future. True, it’s a cryptic description, 26-inch diameter tyres are not being reborn, but the 2.6-inch width tyre is our dear MTB-industry’s latest sachet of product marketing Kool-Aid.
Although 3.0 was once the preserve of DH racers, conventional wisdom – and product planning bias – meant you couldn’t ride anything wider than 2.4, aside from a few nearly impossible to find 2.5 or 2.7 mouldings, with crushingly heavy wire beads.
Despite the collective knowledge that wider tyres cope with lower pressures, enabling a volume coefficient benefitting traction, you couldn’t really blame tyre manufacturers for not offering anything wider than 2.4 in the market. Why? Rims.
Since the very first Californian rigid mountain bikes of the late 1970s, riding ambitions have been limited by rim choice: in width, weight, and strength. Large volume tyres on proportionally narrow rims, reward riders with cornering and terrain feedback similar to stirring a pot of Taystee Wheat porridge with your fork. Hardly ideal.
As rim manufacturers have edged towards – and surpassed – the 30mm internal width measurement, tyre manufactures have recognised the opportunity to go wider too.
Why would you be interested in 2.6 width tyres? Well, because the world’s most influential tyre brands have committed to them. Maxxis and Schwalbe have both shown their 27.5 2.6 tyres options, with the Germans having 29 2.6 moulds too. Specialized? They’ve also got 27.5 2.6 tyres available.
Remain sceptical? It’s understandable. Why would you want to ride a tyre that is only marginally wider than a 2.4, and that margin narrower than a 2.8, which is the entry-point to 27.5+ riding?
There is no question that the sheer size of most 27.5+ tyres make them a deeply confidence-inspiring platform for riders rolling blind, down natural trails, with extensive root channels and rock gardens. The issue is their greater sidewall protrusion – due to width – making them more vulnerable to sniper roots and rock edges. To keep the rolling mass to a tolerable endurance point, many 27.5+ tyres, even in 2.8, aren’t particularly heavy, but they are not the best platform for high-speed cornering either, as the sidewalls are where most material has been thinned-out for weight reduction.
The logic of 2.6 is to give a greater volume benefit than 2.4, optimising the current trend of internal rim widths of 30mm and beyond, without edging too wide, necessitating weight savings and the inevitable sidewall strength compromise.
That said, mass savings with 2.6 over a comparable 2.8 aren’t enormous, averaging around 50g. Maxxis and Schwalbe have 27.5 2.6 options encouragingly shy of 800g, which is a comfortable margin away from the dreaded four-figure tyre weight range most people consider unsuitable for anything but shuttling.
Something we actually want?
Far too often, with all manner of mountain bike componentry, we wish there was an ‘option between’ the ones we have. The desire for that silver bullet the industry, for reasons unfathomable, can’t – or worse: won’t – supply. The addition of another tyre width is a moment of consumer happiness and one which non-plus platform riders can credit the fat bike ‘lite’ crew for.
If the desire to own and ride a truly wide set of rims (30-38mm internal) has been great, yet the logic of sealing a 2.4 tyre to those rims appeared a waste of their inherent design advantage, then 2.6 is your singletrack salvation.
Moulded at an ideal width to profit from the newly available ultra-wide rims, 2.6 retaining superior sidewall integrity for high-speed cornering and terrain bite into loam by being inherently less ‘squirmy’ than tyres 2.8 and wider. The sidewall cut risk mitigation, by being that bit narrower than 27.5+ tyres, helps make 2.6 an unintended consequence of all things plus: the perfect wide-rim Enduro/trail tyre.
We spend a lot of time complaining about trends and ‘evolving’ standards, but 2.6 is a gift delivered unto us by the proliferation of plus-bikes as a platform. As with financial markets, in times of confusion, there is always value to be discovered… 27.5 2.6. For all those who yearn for a return to two-six mountain biking. Your opportunity is now. Never thought that would happen again, did you?