WTB 2010: Tyre and saddle highlights

What's shakin' from the pioneers in NorCal

For 2010, California-based Wilderness Trail Bikes (WTB) are paring down their tyre line, lowering prices a tad and redesigning several popular tyre and saddle models, while also expanding their ashpalt line called Freedom.

BikeRadar spent a day learning about the highlights of the new range and sharing saddle time on Santa Cruz Bicycles owner Rob Roskopp's personal Blur LTc.

WeirWolf

WTB have been designing tyres for other companies since 1982 (nearly 30 models for Specialized alone at one point) so it's no wonder they know what they're doing when it comes to their own models like the WeirWolf, named after WTB employee and all-round racer Mark Weir, who had an extensive hand in the redesign.

All-rounder and tyre master Mark Weir out testing recently

"The traditional WeirWolf is what we call an 'aggressive lean' tyre," said WTB's marketing manager Dain Zaffke after a test ride on the trails around Mt Tamalpais near company headquarters. "It featured a distinct channel between the crown and side knobs that allowed the tread to pierce deep into soft soils, especially at aggressive lean angles. Mark Weir and Mark Slate designed this tyre so that the further you leaned over, the better the traction."  

According to Zaffke, the compromise with that design was a slight fall-away feeling before the tyre’s large side knobs engaged. Some riders perceived this as the tyre reaching its limits and never learned to push it to its true potential.  

Old WeirWolf (L) compared to the new design

"The redesigned WeirWolf is a different animal entirely," Zaffke said. "We added an extra row of transitional tread between the crown and side knobs. This slight alteration gives the new WeirWolf a positive feel and consistent traction at any lean angle, from moderate to extreme.

"No tyre can excel at everything, and the new WeirWolf is no exception to this rule. Its added transitional knobs make the tread more tightly packed and less suited to muddy trails (we’d recommend the Moto Raptor or Wolverine 1.95 for these conditions). On most trails, however, the new WeirWolf offers a remarkable improvement. Weir himself says it’s the best tyre he has ever ridden."  

Mt Tam looms behind WTB marketing manager Dain Zaffke nice way to spend lunchtime, eh?

According to Weir, the new WeirWolf has been a work in progress for a while. WTB felt that the tyre worked great in its current design, but seemed hard for the non aggressive user to feel confident riding.

"The WeirWolf is built on confidence: the more you push the tyre, the harder it grips," Weir told BikeRadar. "What made it hard for some is the uncomfortable float zone at moderate lean angles; this is what we changed.

"We went from four knobs to three on the side and stepped them to increase working directional edges," he added. "The stage three side knobs have almost removed the moderate lean angle float and still kept its progressive grip under heavy force in a turn."

The new WeirWolf will be available in UST – the Mavic open-source tubeless bead standard – and Tubeless Compatible System (TCS). Several WeirWolf models will be available, including WTB’s lightweight Race casing with a UST bead and a Team FR version with TCS plus a puncture resistant nylon shield that WTB call 'Inner Peace'.  

The 2010 WeirWolf 2.3 Team FR will cost US$60 and will be available this autumn. Target weight is approximately 700g.

Dissent 2.3

The Dissent 2.5 was introduced in 2007 to moderate success. According to Zaffke, the tyre excelled in hardpack conditions but its tightly packed tread was overwhelmed in mixed, loose conditions.

"Throughout the 2008 season we worked with several World Cup downhillers to refine the Dissent and make it a more versatile downhill tyre," he said. "The Dissent 2.3 – with its opposing direction tread pattern – is the result.

"We introduced this 2.3 version last fall and it has been enormously popular. The new tread pattern works exactly the way we hoped: the deep channel between crown and side knobs and more open knob configuration pierces soft soils and holds firm in a hard lean."  

WTB is booting out the old Dissent 2.5 and replacing it with the wider version of the 2.3. "We’re expecting this tyre to be a big hit in a wide variety of conditions from the North Shore to the loose pumice slopes of Mammoth," Zaffke said.

"And of course, the Dissent is the official tyre of the Whistler Bike Park, so it will work damn fine there." The Dissent 2.3 line will retail from US$25-$60 (depending on version) and will be available in late autumn 2009.  

Vulpine SL 1.9 Race

Designed by Slate with input from cross-country racer (and current leader of the American Pro XC Tour) Max Plaxton, the 400g Vulpine SL 1.9 Race tyre is built for speed and is one of the lightest on the market.

"I've used the Vulpine on my backyard pump track for the last three years," Weir said. "It rolls like a gangster but doesn't have the best off-camber performance.

"The Vulpine SL may look small, but it has a really good side lug profile," he added. "The SL has a more ski-edge style side bite, which is the kind of thing you want in a fast rolling, loose-ass cross-country weenie tyre (laughs)! I think the SL has what it takes to be competitive in the cross-country light tyre market. 

"We've tried all kinds of WTB and other brands of tyres on the pump track," he said. "So far the Vulpine SL has been the fastest rolling."

Weir doing laps at his Novato, California pump track

As Weir said, WTB sometimes doesn't initially know what the people want in a certain tyre tread, but he knows what he and his fellow riders want. He just hopes it’s all one in the same.

Featuring WTB's DNA rubber compound with minimal centre tread, mid-sized transition knobs and raised outside knobs with added corner shelf tread, the Vulpine SL is best for cornering in hardpack to loamy surfaces. It will retail for US$50 and will be available in late autumn.

New saddles

WTB is introducing a new saddle for 2010, the Valcon, and making tweaks and enhancements to its popular Rocket V model, a favourite of endurance junkie Zaffke.

The new WTB Valcon racing saddle not quite finished

New and/or redesigned WTB saddles for 2010

Freedom asphalt brand

At the start of the decade, WTB started a cycle commuter brand called Freedom, with a percentage of sales going towards supporting agencies like Safe Routes to School, Marin County Bicycle Coalition, America Bikes and Rails-to-Trails.

Since the mid 1980s, WTB have been actively involved with bicycle access and advocacy. In 2005, WTB's sister non-profit organisation Transportation Alternatives for Marin, with the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, initiated a federal transportation bill that included US$712 million in programmes like Safe Routes to School.

For 2010, the Freedom brand is expanding to include more saddles, tyres and grips which will be distributed through independent bicycle dealers via Quality Bicycle Products, one of the largest bicycle component and accessory distributors in the world.

The Cruz and Thickslick tyres are two standouts in the line, designed for daily urban use. Brand manager Marcus Vyvyan makes his commute from San Francisco to Mill Valley via the Golden Gate Bridge, and understands the need for affordable and reliable commuter gear.

"For the past few years we've worked with companies like Raleigh, Norco, Rocky Mountain and some others with getting Freedom products specced on production models," he told BikeRadar. "Now we're expanding into the aftermarket, and we'd like to see more non-cyclists get into bicycling as often as possible."

Freedom's tyre line uses what Vyvyan calls "Urban Armor Casing" and a DuraStrip, an anti-puncture belt composed of crushed Kevlar. The yellow DuraStrip shows through after repeated skidding, creating a patchwork effect, especially on the Racine and Thickslick tyres.

Three rims – the Racine Elite, Ryder23 and Tunnel Top – offer a full range of 700c and 26-inch options for trekking, commuter and fixed-gear messenger riders.

The Freedom line includes eight saddles, ranging from the 140mm wide x 275mm long 260g Racine Elite saddle to the 189mm wide x 262mm long 550g Urbane Comfort saddle. For more information, visit www.freedombicycle.com.

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