I want a tyre with more grip. I hear this all the time. The other one is “I want a tyre for the slippery chalk”. Well, I hate to disappoint you but, there isn’t one. You choose your tyre for everything else. For chalk the smaller the knob the better the chance of maintaining grip so a chalk tyre might not be the best choice for the wet clay of the season.
At this time of year we advise on tyres for the conditions. Riders are a slipping ‘n sliding. As an adviser I have to think hard as I have spent the last month using a 35mm Schwalbe Sammy Slicks. So my view of slippery may be different to yours. There have been problems though, 35mm and about 30 psi has meant that I have had a series of pinch flats. All my fault because I don’t want to slow down despite only having the flex of a carbon fork for shock absorption.
This issue of grip came to me again Sunday riding my mountain bike for the first time in
while (recently on a Niner RLT9 or for the shop team rides the Whyte T-130). I was riding the ultimate XC racing bike (my South Downs Way killer) a Scott Scale 900 SL, but it was very slippery. And what did I have for grip? Schwable Racing Ralphs – naff in the clay but good enough everywhere else.
When mountain biking you need to think about the terrain. Anyone who skis will understand this. Snow is white but virtually every metre has a different texture and what’s more this changes continually through the day. You ride on experience and learn to interpret the different looks of the snow (read mud). You look for certain signs. To ride a bike on the South Downs you need to do the same thing. Only a few weeks ago the chalk was the enemy now it’s your friend. The only real problem at the moment is the soft clay but the thing with clay is that it usually has grass growing out of it so you ride the grassy ridge and not the smooth but now muddy track. The answer is to choose your line: Muddy riding rule No 1 chose the right line.
The great thing about riding in the current slippery conditions is that the all too common slide happens at slow speed so, without too much trauma, you start to get used to it and learn to relax. And that it is Muddy riding rule No 2: Relax (let the bike move under you).
How do you relax? One method that I have used every year and every time we have another wet spell is too tell myself to relax, stay loose, don’t grip too hard, floppy elbows, loose hips, gentle on the power and the key to it all: smile. If I can’t then I am not relaxed enough and I will skid and fall.
Another way to relax is to buy a tyre that has more grip. Its main advantage is that it generates more confidence in your bike handling. What improves your ability more is the fact that you have confidence and so are more relaxed. So Muddy riding rule 3: Buy a tyre that has more grip. P.S. reduce your tyre pressure for better grip. Over the years I have had tyres that I believe work and others that put the fear of god into me. Come in and have a tyre chat.
In the light drizzle of Sunday morning with every bit of clay as soft as can be my tread clogged and I slid if I couldn’t stay on chalk, grass, leaves or flint. Fortunately we could find chalk, grass, leaves or flint for far more of the ride than I expected. So late is the bad weather this year that a lot of the usually unrideable sections are still not too bad (firm underneath). It helps if you think about where you ride. Muddy riding rule No 4: Chose your route to suit the conditions.
As for the Niner RLT9, I have just replaced the 35mm of Sammy Slicks with a 40mm WTB Nano. They should make me feel invincible (they are tubeless too). For the record the thinner CX tyres usually cut through the mud to give you more grip than you would think. You also tend to ride with more thought knowing that you don’t have suspension and high volume tyres to get you out of trouble.
Here’s the ride. It was cut short through an injury. I had pulled a stomach muscle and so rode with too much caution. My front wheel slipped and instead of riding it out I flicked my foot to prevent a fall and the subsequent pain as my muscle stretched made me realise that, despite my riding experience, going home would ensure that I could be riding in the mud again soon.
Then wind is our friend and the gales of the last few days have dried the trails out a treat!