Last year, the big trend in the mountain biking world was plus-sized tires. Just in case you’re getting back in the sport after a long hiatus, the basic idea is you wrap a 27.5” wheel in a 2.8” to 3.0″ tire. The end result has roughly the same diameter as a standard 29” setup, but because you have more volume, you can run crazy low tire pressures. Think fat bike lite.
The downside for aggressive riders is that the tire technology hasn’t quite caught up. While plus-sized tires allow you to monster truck through technical terrain, you can blow half your day patching flats. And that’s before we start talking about the squirmy feeling in corners and the weird rebound issues at speed. If a manufacturer adds a more robust casing and beefy knobs, the weight can easily surpass 1200 grams.
Despite the minor problems, the basic premise behind plus is solid. Which is why we’re seeing a new trend emerge – the 2.6” tire. Now before you start rioting, let’s discuss this rationally. This “trend” isn’t a new standard per say. It has nothing to do with axle width or rim diameter, it’s just a new tire size that slots between the standard 2.3”-2.4” category and the 2.8”-3.2” plus market.
Actually, that’s not fair either, 2.6” isn’t really a new tire size. It’s a naming convention. The current crop of 2.5” tires were developed five to ten years ago for gravity riders when rims were still pretty narrow. This new generation of 2.6” tires are designed for modern 35-40mm wide (internal width) rims. The tread patterns also run the gamut from lighter more trail oriented versions to EWS gnar. Whatever your preference, the end result is a tire that shares the positive attributes of plus size, without the squirmyness or rampant flats.
A number of brands are already producing 2.6” tires and a number of others are slated to be launched this year. What does this mean for consumers? We reached out to several frame, wheel, and tire manufacturers to learn more.
Mtbr: Why 2.6”? We already have 2.5” tires?
ENVE: The key here is that these tires are designed for wider rim standards. Most 2.5s are older tread pattern more likely optimized around 25mm or even smaller rims (outside of the Maxxis Wide Trail stuff). So some of the casings are not really much bigger than 2.5, it’s more of a reset and refinement of that largest size MTB treads
Maxxis: A lot of riders want the largest tire they can fit into their frame and fork. While only a couple millimeters wider, the 2.6” platform offers a nice increase in volume compared to smaller tires offering similar benefits to a plus tire along with the precision found with smaller tires.
Specialized: Historically, we have tended to focus on 2.3” tires for trail and all-mtn. The only 2.5” tire Specialized offers is the Butcher in a DH casing. We’re now offering 2.6” tires as another option. A lot of riders are getting excited about more volume, but some don’t want to go as big as 3.0”; sometimes due to their riding style, where more aggressive riders may not like the somewhat squishy feel. 2.6” tires give more support than 3.0” and still offer more traction than 2.3”. Others like 2.6” for better traction in the mud over 3.0”, and for the lighter weight.
Ibis: Most of the 2.5″ tires have heavy sidewalls and more downhill style treads. The 2.6″ tires are much lighter trail tires which generally differentiates them from the 2.5″ tires we’ve seen.
Vittoria: Valid question. The current 2.5 tires are mostly designed for DH use, or aggressive trail. While some of the new 2.6 tires also cater to this market, this segment is more broad, and also features larger sized XC treads and technologies.
Mtbr: What advantages do 2.6” tires offer over existing or plus sized tires?
ENVE: The idea would be a ton of traction and grip, without some of the squirm and rebound issues. Most riders love the easy/lazy corning feel of big treads on flat and/or loose corners and the straight line speed – but when things get going fast and rough they want a little more accuracy and response and a little more hold in the corners compared to the really big casings on plus tires.
Ibis: They have nice ride qualities because they’re designed for wide rims and have high volume. On the other hand, they don’t have any of the undamped spring weirdness of the larger plus tires.
Maxxis: The small measured difference between a 2.6 and a 2.8 changes the feel of the tire under turn-in and hard cornering conditions. At Maxxis, we are designing all of our 2.6” tires around our Wide Trail (WT) concept, optimizing the tires around modern 30-35mm inner rims to match the same tire profile a 2.3” tire would have on an older, narrower, rim.
Specialized: See answer to question 1.
Vittoria: It’s like the story of the 3 bears… the 2.6 is becoming the new sweet spot that is “just right” for a large number of riders. There is a movement to embrace the larger volume and footprint of the fat/plus segment, but then reduce weight and increase lateral stability like traditional tires offer. The 2.6 offers a bit of both, so as the 3 bears said, the porridge is just right.