California-based Wilderness Trail Bicycles (WTB) are working on a new range of tyres with input from former world champion downhiller Fabien Barel.
Since signing with Team Subaru/Mondraker, who are running WTB rubber this season, the Frenchman has been helping the Mill Valley outfit to develop some new deep-tread all-mountain tyres.
Company spokesman Dain Zaffke told BikeRadar: "We're really excited to have Fabien on board for tyres. He's one of the most professional riders in the sport. Although we just started working with him this winter, we have already received tonnes of great feedback from him. As for a 'new tyre' we're developing with him, I can't share any specifics this soon.
"I can say that Fabien and our chief designer Mark Slate have been in frequent communication lately. Fabien's feedback will likely be incorporated into several new tyres. WTB has some big things in the works. We've assembled a tyre development 'dream team' right now with Mark Slate, Fabien, Mark Weir and Jason Moeschler, our new OEM sales manager."
Company co-founder Slate has been WTB's chief product designer since the departure of co-founders Steve Potts and Charlie Cunningham in 2002. According to Zaffke, Slate has created more tread designs than any other person on earth.
"Fabien is pushing tyres to the absolute limits and giving us detailed reports," he added. "Mark Weir has worked for WTB for a number of years – since before he was pro – but only now is getting involved with tyre research and development. Weir is a guy who knows tyres and rides at the top level in virtually every segment of the sport.
"Long story short, this is an exciting time for WTB tyre design and you'll start seeing some really cool new treads and technology as soon as the 2010 product line."
WTB Test Ride Kit: saddle up, partner
In other WTB news, the company's Test Ride Kit saddle demo programme continues to evolve, branching out to more dealers in 2009. The idea is that riders can try out different WTB saddles and find out which fits them best before committing to buying.
According to Zaffke, the kit is affordable for shops to purchase at US$100 and can be found at every big distributor. It includes WTB's nine most popular saddles.
Zaffke said: "The Test Ride saddles purposely have steel rails to bring the prices down, but WTB actually makes zero profit on these kits. The idea is to use them as sales tools. Once the shop purchases the kit, it's their decision how to use it, we only ask that they don't resell the yellow demos.
"Most shops charge a small deposit to the customer, and that deposit will either go towards the purchase of a new saddle or is refundable. But it's the shop's decision – some shops don't charge any deposit at all.
"We've had the Test Ride Kit for three years now and it has been enormously successful. It's also flattering to see our competitors finally follow suit with their own demos, although the other demo kits cost hundreds of dollars more.
"It makes complete sense to have a saddle demo program. Saddles are so specific to personal preference/anatomy. You can't ask someone to blindly buy a $165 saddle without knowing if it will fit their anatomy."