A new tire size is coming and it doesn’t suck

What the hell is mid plus?

27.5 29er Company Spotlight Plus Tires
Santa Cruz Hightower

Should you go plus or opt for a 29er with high volume tires? New bikes like the Santa Cruz Hightower let you experiment with both options.

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.

Rocky Mountain Pipeline

Plus sized tire erupted in popularity last year.

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.

Tires that have been on the market for a number of years were originally designed around narrower rims. As tire volume has increased, rim manufacturers have had to increase the inner diameter of their offerings.

Tires that have been on the market for a number of years were originally designed around narrower rims. As tire volume has increased, rim manufacturers have had to increase the inner width of their offerings.

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.

Rocky Mountain Pipeline

High volume plus sized tires can help level terrain, but the sidewalls are much easier to tear.

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.

Continue to page 2 for more Q&A on the new tire size »

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  • JCWages says:

    “Baby Fat” Awesome! Haha

  • Mark says:

    It seems to me a new mountain bike standard should be developed where bikes have internal width 30-35 mm rims, boosted hubs, and fit a broad range of tire widths from 2.4-3.0 inches. Just pick tire width depending on your conditions and personal preference. I’ve mounted everything from 1.8 to 2.4 inch wide tires on my “narrow” bikes which is a similar width range and it didn’t seem to affect the bike geometry much.

  • joseph says:

    Tire manufacturers need to stop worrying about the weight weeny crybabies and make tough durable plus tires…… if you don’t like the extra weight that comes from a aggresive trail ready plus tire……… then don’t buy one …….. stick to normal size bikes. Want a plus bike or fat bike? Deal with the weight. Now go ride.

  • jc says:

    Maxxis Rekon+ 2.8 on i35 rim is 2.63″ wide, so there you go.

  • Mark says:

    Mount a 3.0in wide tire on an i30mm (i = internal width) rim and you get a 2.8in wide tire. Mount a 2.8in wide tire on an i30mm rim and you get a 2.6in wide tire. Rule of thumb – 8mm of internal rim width change produces 0.1in of tire width change.

    • Pilot says:

      I’ve got a Specialized Camber 29er (base model) that came with 20mm wide rims. I’m not extremely pleased with the ride quality over its 2.3 wide tires. The front tire is always sliding sideways on me. It feels like there’s not enough surface area on the places I’ve been riding, especially when I’m pushing hard on climbs. So I’ve been contemplating switching to the 27.5 Plus but I don’t even know where to start and I’m not sure how much money I’d have to be spending on rims, tires, spokes, tires, plus labor for someone to do the job for me . I was really afraid of this (torn between 650b and the 29er) when I bought the bike a year ago (it was quite a bit over my budget to begin with) and now I just feel like selling the bike altogether and just buy cheaper 27.5 plus hardtail. Any ideas and opinions would be appreciated. Thank you!

  • PinkFloydLandis says:

    What’s with the rampant flats? First I’ve heard of it. I’ve put 2000 miles on my 3″ tires and have yet to flat. Same w/ my main riding partner. Article seems to give no explanation why a 2.6″ tire is fine, but on 2.8 you’ll “blow half your day patching flats.” Drop the hyperbole.

  • dddd says:

    Like the title of the article says, this “new” tire size doesn’t suck, in part because the tires are appropriately designed for current rim widths.
    And like jc says, this isn’t quite a new size, just a new designation that the tire makers will be working around with their sizing, design and marketing.
    I’ve been running the inexpensive and generously-sized Vigilante 2.3’s on my i35 rims, still gives 2.6″ width, and which works a lot better than on the i45 rims I was using.

  • Tom from RI says:

    Bought the 275 plus Stump jumper-carbon and love the bike- had nothing but problems with the Ground Control 3.0- thought the GRID was going to do the trick and the bead separated from the tire(running tubeless) have resorted to putting a tube in the rear- the front is the Purgatory and I had problems with sealant leaking through the side wall but has been fine for a while. This tire size is a work in progress- we will see how my warrantee request goes and the replacements- if not good it will be three strikes you are out…got my eye on the High Roller II and going to do some more research on tire width and relation to rim width- again knew that there were going to be some issues you cannot have such a big light tire and expect no issues. Absolutely love the bike and thinking I will end up with 2.8- I ride very aggressive technical love riding rocks- had 0 issues with the sidewall getting slashed which I have heard of- people are going to need to understand this rim width vs tire to get this the way they want it…also it is possible to just get a bad batch for those that farm out the job so that just wrecks any onesie twosie type of analysis -it could of been that one of the two of these just did not come out of the factory right- these forums are great- would love to be able to hook up my ole 26 inch trail bike with a lighter 2.5 or 2.8 if it exists-run High Roller 2.5 DH on my DH bike and 0 issues-tubeless also. These would be way to heavy for the trail.

  • dddd says:

    I should have said “…still gives [I]nearly[/I] 2.6″ width…”, and that the narrower rims did reduce sidewall-trauma issues with those tires ridden here in Auburn, CA.

  • bob says:

    how is that “new”? its 27.5+ tires…

  • meeseeks says:

    ridiculous maxxis icon+ recon+ “2.8” is no bigger than continental trail king 2,4 which coming in black chili and protection apex with same weight and twice cheaper.
    why no one asked companies who make real +size tires like WTB, Schwalbe, Duro.

    we need more sizes and also more rims for each size, don’t forget separately adventure, trail and enduro specifics tires

  • Highway Star says:

    I bought TEN 26″ tires this spring. 8x maxxis – 2.3″ to 2.5″ DHF, DHR2, Shorty, Aggressor, Minion SS. Also a pair of Schwable Nobby Nic.

    Won’t be buying any 27″ or plus tires any time soon.

  • narf narf says:

    love the 27.5 2.6″ Rocket Rons on Nox Teos. Perfec combo

  • Rodney says:

    My experience with Maxxis tires is that they are always more narrow than the tire size suggests. So is a Maxxis 2.6 really going to be a more like a normal 2.4?

  • Fo says:

    Darn and the Stan’s Flow Mk3 are 29mm inner width :-/

  • Rickets says:

    Try riding with rickets!

  • Highway Star says:

    This spring 2017 I’ve spent approximately $1000 on 26 Inch wheels and tires. A new Hadley/Flow Mk3 wheelset, and TEN 26″ tires. My bike is also all new within the last 2 years, 26″ frame and fork etc.

    I’m currently running a maxxis Shorty 26×2.5″ Front and 26×2.4″ DHR2 Rear on the Mk3’s. These are HUGE, soft rubber, GRIPPY tires, and at 875g-925g on a 460g rim, they are right on the far limit of is acceptable in weight on a trail bike. They are also not too big to feel floppy bouncy like a plus size. They roll over everything but can still be handled accurately.

    Anyone riding a 27.5″, I strongly recommend getting you hands on a 26″ wheelset with a roughly 30mm inner width, and trying a 750g-900g set of 2.4-2.5″ tires. Keep in the actual difference between 26″ and 650b (27.5″) is only an inch, and a half inch in radius. Compared to a 27.5″ with a 2.2″ tire, the 26×2.5 will be extremely close on ride height and rollover, a similar overall weight, sharper handling, stiffer, stronger, quicker, and will obviously be wider and more grippy.

  • Roger says:

    All the planned obsolescence has ruined mountain biking for me. You guys with big wallets can continue keeping up with the Jones’s. I’ll be buying used 26ers and parts.

    • Christian Ahlmann says:

      Roger, I just tuned up my 1999 Cannondale Super V with Lefty fork and 26″ wheels. Rides great. We’re on the same page ; )

  • gg says:

    Highway Star’s proposal looks interesting.
    MTBR make this happen within an El Comparo or shootout.

  • Stunnerbear says:

    I have a few bikes in the quiver and choosing the right one is just a matter of attitude. Of course choosing the right bike for the right ride does make a difference. For me time is my biggest enemy and the easier it is to set up and go, the easier it is for me to ride more. I choose carefully this year for my new bike and I got an S works Fuse and right away put 2.8 Rocket Rons in the lightest set up I could. Got the bike down to 24.5 lbs with pedals 2 cages and a multi tool. Once I got the tire pressure figured out 13.5 to 14 front and 16 to 17 rear I can now ride this bike faster than I could ever ride my 5″ full sus. trail bike of near same weight. It’s really more about your style and skill that makes what you choose right for you. I wanted a HT trail, light enduro shredder that I could send over doubles and go downhill fast. I guess what I am getting at is this tire option is way better than my 29er CX race bike and more fun than my 26er 5″ trail bike.

  • GuyOnMtb says:

    Didn’t the industry a year ago say the same thing about 30mm rims for 2.5 tires?

    The issue to “refine” fat tires into Plus tires, into Sub+ tires, to finally create the 2.6″ was a waste of energy and time. 2.5″ casings could have been refined and the tread patterns could be widened across the 2.5″ casing to create a tire with less weight then the “new 2.6 standard”.

    New standards before I can break my current standards; is merely a push to create more revenue and screw the consumer out on compatibility and longevity.

    Maybe next we can throw away the 31.8 handlebar and only have 35 bars, leaving about 3 tons of unused aluminum. Or, maybe we can make the BMX rear axle diameter a new standard on MTB?

    Know why this article didn’t have one pro-rider answering questions? Because they would have asked why we are no longer working on 30mm-35mm x 2.5″.

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