The Good: Speed, grip, puncture-resistance, and durability: Vittoria’s graphene-infused cross-country Mezcal has it all. And we thought that was impossible. It’s lightweight and grippy (even on slimy Vermont roots and rocks), and after a month of daily use, it shows less wear than other XC tires I’ve run for the same period of time.
The Bad: Right now, my only gripe is that I want a more aggressive version of this tire—more like Vittoria’s Goma, but with the graphene’s reduced weight and added durability. The good news: That tire, called the Morsa, is coming soon, according to the company. Because the Mezcal has such a low profile, it gets bogged down in the mud.
The Verdict: A perfect mountain bike tire should have low rolling resistance and be durable, lightweight, and grippy. Most tires do just one or two of those things well. If they’re grippy, they wear out fast. If they’re fast, they’re not aggressive enough. The Mezcal, on the other hand, gave us everything we could hope for in a tire: grip on wet surfaces, speed, and puncture resistance with no weight penalty.
- Weight: 22.4 ounces
- Intended For: XC mountain biking
- Construction: Rubber with graphene, available in tube/no tube
- Size Tested: 27.5x2.1, 2.25
- Price: $70
- The Test: A month of riding wet, rooty, rocky East Coast trails
Graphene, the thinnest, strongest material ever discovered, is a nearly transparent sheet of pure carbon that, in its extreme form, measures just a single atom thick. The graphene Vittoria uses, called pristine graphene (Vittoria brands it as G+), is two to eight atoms thick.
The stuff has several characteristics that, surprisingly, make it ideal for tires. A gram of graphene has an unbelievable surface area: around 2,630 square meters, or half the size of a football field. It’s about 200 times stronger than steel and has high thermal conductivity—more than twice that of a diamond. It’s half the density of aluminum, which makes it light and highly elastic. “Essentially, adding it to our tires has let us remove the material barriers of rubber,” says Ken Avery, vice president of marketing and product for Vittoria.
When graphene is added to rubber, as it is in the Mezcal, it changes the properties of the tire depending on the terrain, according to Avery. For example, when you’re rolling straight, the tire remains relatively hard. When you’re braking or cornering, it softens. “Our 2016 Mezcal rolls faster, grips better, and lasts longer than if we had simply used a softer performance compound,” says Avery.
If that sounds downright mystical to you, you’re not alone. I was skeptical, too. But after a summer of testing the Mezcal in Vermont, I came away convinced that it’s one of the best XC tires on the market and that the added graphene is more than a gimmick. Vittoria doesn’t have stats for its MTB tires—the company claims trail surfaces are too variable to come up with meaningful metrics—but it does have stats for the Mezcal’s graphene road counterpart, the Corsa Speed tubeless-ready G+. Vittoria says the Corsa Speed has 20 to 40 percent less rolling resistance than the same product without G+. In the Vittoria lab, the road tire had a 32-second speed advantage over its nearest competitor after 50 kilometers.
None of which I’m able to prove without a third-party lab. But after hundreds of miles of testing, this is what I was able to verify.
Quite frankly, I was blown away by the tire’s grip. On a tour of backyard Vermont singletrack, I climbed like lightning, even when it was technical and wet, and cruised down descents where my riding partners slipped and skidded. I’d normally choose a tire with bigger knobs and a more aggressive profile to ride these trails, but I found I didn’t need that aggressive tread. On slick terrain, it performed as well as the Schwalbe Hans Dampf or Maxxis Highroller II.
After a summer of riding, the tires aren’t close to being worn out. Despite riding on rock, root, road, granite slab, dirt, and mud for 30 days straight, they’re still in excellent shape. It's impossible to say how long they'll last, but they're on track to last for the whole season, which for me means near daily riding from May through October.
The tire is available for 27.5- and 29-inch wheels in widths of 2.1 and 2.25.
No one else is making tires with graphene—Vittoria has an exclusive on this material for tires. And graphene tires are quickly making their way onto the podium. Cross-country racer Jason Sager says, “The Mezcal is the fastest and most versatile tire I’ve used. Typically, you need to choose a fast tire, like the Specialized Renegade, or a tire that handles well in dry conditions, like the Maxxis Ardent Race. The Mezcal feels as fast in a straight line as the Renegade but still corners on everything, from marbles on hardpack to loam and even a little mud, better than something like the Ardent Race. Add in the long-wearing centerline tread and you have a tire that you’ll get to enjoy for many, many miles.”
The Schwalbe Hans Dampf is the Mezcal's closest competitor: I like it for its' excellent grip, but it's major downside is its lack of durability. I found the Vittoria to be just as grippy, but more rugged, than the Schwalbe.