Tires have been a major headache for me this season. Early on, every time I went out I had a flat tire of some manner—often a sidewall slash from our desert Southwest rocks. I spent a lot of time whinging about the state of bike tires, and the more I talked the more I heard others complaining, too. So I decided to try and find some solutions.
Over the past six months, I've ridden almost two dozen tires in search of that subtle mix of traits that turns average rubber into your favorite ride. What I've found is that almost no tire on the market has it all: light weight, durability, great traction, low rolling resistance, and a reasonable price tag. But I've settled on a few models that score high in most of those categories and compromise well on their weaker sides. As for methodology, I (along with half a dozen other testers) have simply ridden the heck out of every tire that's come in, tossing out the ones that flat or fail or just feel bad, and continuing on the ones that hold up. I've tested entirely tubeless and mostly on 29er wheels (mix of Stan's, Specialized Roval, Easton, and Mavic), though a handful of tires have also gotten 26 time on Shimano XTR wheels.
Presenting my favorite four tires for fall, none of which have flatted for months. I know, now I'm almost certain to flat on my next ride.
Coming from a racing background, I've been a skinny tire devotee in the past (frequenting WTB Nanos and the like), but a long discourse with Jeff Jones about big tires and rolling resistance and deflection persuaded me to give the 2.4 Ardent a chance. And good thing, because this fatty, one of the widest 29er tires you can get, has become my hands-down favorite. It's as big as it says it is and weighs 800 grams, which is hefty but hardly corpulent for the girth. The mid- to wide-spaced chunky knobs grabbed best in dry to moist dirt and loam, though they tend to skitter a little in sandy and loose conditions. They make up for any slipperiness, though, in sheer size and strength, with a balloon-like round profile and sidewalls so thick they seem impervious to almost everything. I have ridden the same tire for six months in a dozen XC and endurance races, including a couple with brutal rock sections that went on for miles and miles, and not only did the Ardent shrug it all off, but the tire still has plenty of life. One note: The 26-inch 2.4 is just as good as the 29er, and the 29-inch 2.25 is also pretty good, though lacks a bit of the sidewall robustness of its bigger brother.