Specialized resurrected the legendary Ground Control moniker last year, evoking that famous tire's admirable versatility but approaching the new design with the power of finite element analysis. Surprisingly light, fast rolling and grippy (in most conditions), it's a highly capable tread.
Despite the full-height knobs that are only just slightly ramped on their leading edges, the new Ground Control rolls with remarkably little resistance. At 589g (actual weight, 26x2.3in with Control-level casing) it's quite light, too, making it a good choice for weight- and speed-conscious cross-country and trail riders who might otherwise reach for a semi-slick. We even detected just a slight gain in rolling resistance compared to Specialized's barely there Renegade.
Overall traction is far better than with the Renegade (or any other semi-slick we've used), with the Ground Control gripping tenaciously under power or hard braking. The stout shoulder knobs bite very well at extreme lean angles and break away progressively when you've exceeded their limits – at least when the trail is soft enough for the knobs to penetrate a bit.
The notably rounded profile and healthy intermediate tread also help the Ground Control feel light on its feet during quick left-right/right-left transitions, easily rolling from edge to edge in a natural and predictable fashion.
Our Control-level casing was resistant to sidewall cuts and easily converted to tubeless
Traction on bare rock was confidence inspiring as well, but sun-baked hardpack and loose conditions are where we found the Ground Control a little lacking (in fairness, most tires struggle here). In those conditions, the rounded profile didn't provide as much of a shelf to lean on as a more squared-off tread, and the Ground Control's otherwise predictable drift characteristics were harder to catch once it broke loose.
Likewise, the tall, open knobs dig into soft dirt and clear mud reasonably well but the single-compound rubber is a bit too hard to secure truly confidence-inspiring traction on wet roots.
Overall wear and durability have been acceptable given the tire's light weight and speed. Our test tire's shoulder knobs only just started to lose their edges after a couple hundred kilometers. We also suffered no pinch flats, sidewall cuts or punctures despite our Control-level sample's rather supple casing – surprising given the abundance of sharp rocks that blanket the Front Range.
Our 2Bliss Ready sample was very easy to convert to tubeless operation, too – we easily seated test tires on an Easton Haven Carbon rim with a floor pump, for example. But it measured a little narrower than the stated size – our 26x.2.3in sample was almost exactly 2.2in across.
Minor caveats aside, the new Ground Control largely lives up to its storied namesake. We expect riders living in areas with even moderately tacky dirt will probably be happy with it mounted either front or rear, but those in more desert-like climes might want to restrict it to rear use.