Are Plus tires and bikes still a thing?

Examining the rise (and fall?) of the wide-tire revolution

Plus Tires
Are Plus tires and bikes still a thing?

Santa Cruz is among the many bike makers that still offer Plus tire-equipped build options. But are people still buying them? Photo courtesy Santa Cruz

Plus tires, we hardly knew ye. You seemed like such a great idea. Once riders got tired of the squish and weight of full fatties, you jumped in as a way to still get the benefits of wider rims and tubeless tires without the penalties of phat.

When Derby and then Ibis introduced lightweight wide carbon rims, Plus tires offered better handling and traction at low psi than the longtime 2.25-2.35 trail standard, which tended to bottom out or fold under aggressive riding.

For riders who preferred poppy and maneuverable 27.5-inch wheels but liked the extra rollover of 29ers, you seemed like the perfect compromise.

Are Plus tires and bikes still a thing?

One place Plus has had no impact is at the highest levels of racing, be it enduro or downhill. Photo courtesy EWS

For bike makers wanting to offer riders a best-of-both-worlds bridge from 27.5 to 29ers, you provided the option of trying both on the same steed. For a while there, forum chatter was all about which setup on a given bike was better and why.

But as always happens, the world evolved. Big wheeled 29ers, aided by single-chainring setups, got more aggressive, nimble, and lively. Wagon wheels didn’t seem so sluggish and clunky anymore. And tire makers got clued in, keeping high volume and tall sidewalls while adding casing stiffness, more compliant knob patterns, and rounder profiles to reduce squish on wider rims.

Are Plus tires and bikes still a thing?

Of course weight is one argument against Plus.

In response, Plus tires started going minus. Aggressive riders wanted faster rolling, less squirmy rubber with a narrower footprint. From 3.0, the sweet spot went to 2.8. Then last summer, 2.6 became the new magic bullet. Bike makers such as Scott, Ibis, and Santa Cruz started offering builds with 2.6 tire compatibility — mostly for 27.5 wheels but also 29ers.

It’s an open question whether even 2.6 is the goldilocks fit, though. Now 2.4 and 2.5 tires that feature stiffer sidewalls and a broad tread fit the bill for many riders. Some bike makers seem to agree, topping out rear-triangle clearance at 2.5 on some models, think Santa Cruz Hightower and Devinci Spartan 29.

Are Plus tires and bikes still a thing?

Tire clearance is another issue with Plus setups.

So here’s the burning question: Assuming we define it as 2.8 and above, is Plus still a thing? Most industry observers say, yes. But only in a qualified niche-targeted kind of way.

“If you really want to charge a trail, ride hard and aggressively, Plus isn’t a factor,” said Dustin Adams, president of Kamloops-based wheel maker WeAreOne Composites, which has a Plus wheel under development. “But for someone who likes lots of traction, isn’t as concerned about weight, and just wants a comfortable, confident ride, Plus still has its place.”

In winter months, when trails turn sloppy, Plus wheels mated with hardtails or even fully rigid mountain bikes can suit aggressive riders with a “klunker attitude,” added Adams. “They’re not looking to set Strava PRs, they’re just out to have fun.”

High-end wheel maker ENVE’s M640 rim, earmarked for tires from 2.7-3.2, is a hit with Plus riders, claimed marketing director Jake Pantone. “Most are intermediate weekend warrior types who are older than 40, or very novice riders but passionate about their newfound love of mountain biking,” Pantone explained. “For riders looking for added confidence and comfort at lower speeds, Plus is great.”

Are Plus tires and bikes still a thing?

Tire makers such as Bontrager continue to offer an array of Plus tire options.

Indeed, big name brands are sticking by Plus as a way to attract the broadest customer base possible. Santa Cruz’s Bronson, 5010, and Chameleon all play nice with Plus, while Trek’s Stache, Remedy, and Fuel models accommodate up to 2.8 and even 3.0 tire widths in some instances.

“We’re engineering Plus into our bikes early on and making it work for as many riders and bikes as possible,” said Trek marketing manager Travis Ott.

Other applications where Plus still finds favor include bikepacking, where weight is a non-factor but traction and durability are premium; e-bikes, where the added bulk of the bike again puts traction and stability high on the list; and regional riding conditions like the Southwest, where dry, rocky terrain benefits from Plus’ traction and support. Tempe-based Pivot was an early Plus supporter with its Switchblade, and offers Plus on its Mach429 SL lightweight racer, Trail 429 all-arounder, and Shuttle e-bike.

Then there’s the intermediate or casual rider for whom Plus offers extra traction and stability. “A good example is my girlfriend — she loves the extra confidence of 2.8,” notes Julien Boulais, brand manager for Devinci, whose 27.5 Troy model fits up to 2.8 tires.

Are Plus tires and bikes still a thing?

Is this the true best application for Plus tires and bikes?

At the Downhill Zone bike shop near Seattle, owner Adam Schaeffer still gets requests for Plus bikes. But they’re mostly from riders still learning or moving on a path toward more aggressive riding. On sketchy, blown-out trails Plus retains some draw, said Schaeffer. But with the explosion in long-travel 29ers, the width and cush of Plus may be unnecessary. “Sometimes you want firmer suspension but with a softer base, where Plus can play a role,” he said. “But once speeds hit a certain level, Plus tires in general just feel vague and unresponsive.”

Many observers believe the majority of riders of all stripes will settle on 2.4 to 2.6 tires fitted to wheels with internal rim widths of 30mm or 35mm, with a lean toward the latter. The Ibis 942 and 742 (35mm internal) rims, for example, outsell their narrower 29mm cousins by 9 to 1.

At ENVE, sales of the aforementioned M640 (40mm internal) rims have dropped by over half compared to 2017, while ENVE M630 (for 2.3-2.5 tires), and M635 (2.5-2.8) have spiked.

Are Plus tires and bikes still a thing?

For Nukeproof’s just launched 2019 Mega line, clearance for 2.4 tires is plenty wide enough.

Simultaneously, tire makers are continuing to offer enhanced sidewall, tread, and compound options in wide but non-Plus formats. Bontrager is touting a whole array of 2.6 options designed around different weights, casings and rubber types. Other tire makers have similar expanded options under development.

“Look at all of the new 2.6 tires — XR2, SE2, XR4, SE4, XR5, SE5 — from Bontrager,” said Trek’s Alex Applegate. “You get the benefits of larger volume — traction, support, lower pressure — while still maintaining snappier accelerations and a more precise on-trail feel associated with traditional tires.”

So here’s the deal, as Mtbr sees is. Tire sizes now designated as Plus may hang on. But Plus as a distinct category, and reference term, seems destined to go away. Instead, bike makers will continue to offer plenty of clearance for whatever size tire a rider wants to use.

“There really isn’t a need for a 27.5 bike to exclude Plus-sized tires, or for a 29er to run Plus wheels,” said Joe Brown, owner of Methow Cycle & Sport in Winthrop, Washington, which still does a brisk business in fat bike tires for groomed Nordic trails in winter. “Just let the customer decide which size wheel and tire they want.”

Are Plus tires and bikes still a thing?

As the popularity of fat bikes waned, Plus jumped into the wide-tire breach. But now 2.5-2.6 seems to be the more popular choice.

Some suspect Plus was a solution to a problem that never existed. All that needed to happen was for bikes to accommodate wide rims outfitted with appropriate tires for whatever skill level and type of riding suited the purchaser.

“We felt the magic of wide rims before Plus even existed,” said Colin Hughes, engineering manager at Ibis, whose trail bikes are 2.6 but not Plus compatible. “It took a while for the tire manufacturers to catch up is all.”

What do you think, is Plus still a thing? And if so where does it fit in the wider mountain bike world?


About the author: Paul Andrews

Dividing his time between Seattle and Santa Cruz, career journalist Paul Andrews has more than a quarter century of mountain biking under his belt, which he wishes had a few less notches.


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  • Denny says:

    idk just tell me what to buy as usual please!
    wait, you just did…

  • Suns_PSD says:

    Article is mostly on point, except for the part about 35mm ID wheels being the future. 35s are too wide and really don’t work all that well. Maybe they are a good width for the 27.5 2.6 tires, but on a 29er that needs 2.4-2.5 tires (actual, not labeled) around 30mm really works better.
    I would have loved to have found a nice used Yeti Sb5+ for my wife’s first bike however.

    • eb1888 says:

      Rim width depends on the tire volume and whether it has a rounded tread profile. And your terrain and speed. You may be right for Maxxis on endure terrains. For Bontrager XRs at lesser speeds their higher volume more rounded profile needs 40 for a 2.6 35 for a 2.35 and 30 works perfectly on a 2.2.

  • Lisa says:

    I like plus tires because I ride in sandy areas where I live. They don’t have to be too plus, but more than 2.3 is …. well, a plus!
    And of course fat tires for winter snow.

  • Plusbike Nerd says:

    When Surly created that first Plusbike, the 29+ Krampus, they started something new and wonderful but they they mostly got the deatils wrong. Those early bikes had 1250gm 3.0in non-tubeless tires and 800gm drilled non-tuebless i45mm (i=inner width) rims. If you rode one of those early Plusbikes you could feel the magic of increased traction, tire suspension, and flotation but they were overweight tanks with excessive wheel weight. It was just to much tire and especially to much rim and it gave Plusbikes a bad reputation. Now if the those early Plusbikes had come with sub 1000gm tubeless 2.8 tires and ~550gm tubeless i32 rims, I believe Plusbikes would be more accepted. Why i32 rims? Because you can also mount 2.4 -2.8 tires on an i32 rims. In fact, I think all modern Trailbikes should come with i32 rims (any rim i30-35 works) and be designed to use all those tire widths, 2.4-2.8. Thats what a Trailbike should be! No Plusbike-no Narrowbike- just Trailbike that can use Plus or Narrow tires. Bike companies are already building these bikes. The Specialized Stumpjumper and the Scott Genius are just a couple of examples of the many bikes that can bridge the Plus-Narrow divide. I like 2.8 tires and you might like 2.4 tires and now we can both ride the same bike. Before Plus, Trailbikes had 2.0-2.4 tires on ~i23rims. After Plus, Trailbikes have 2.4-2.8 tires on ~i32 rims. Plus didn’t die, it became what we ride!

  • Matt says:

    Plus tires are all over hardtail bikes and I don’t see them going back. And why is 2.6 not a plus tire?? Odd article.

  • guysmiley says:

    I love my 29+ carbon ht w/pike. AMAZING! Its eliminated the need for any other bike and Ive owned them all.

  • MDW says:

    I am an aging 46 year old rider that has been riding for the last 20 years here in the Northeast. This year I picked up a Cannondale Bad Habit that has transformed my riding to more confidence, more fun and a faster ride. I had the similar model in the non plus version for two years and going to the 2.8 Rekon was just amazing. Sold the “normal” sized Habit and have never looked back. My 120tpi Rekon weigh in around 780grams, so don’t take the “heavy” tire statement across the board. There are some great tires in the 700gram range for sure. For the few select race events I do a year, I have a 29er HT, but for general trail riding, plus has been a great switch for me.

  • Rodney says:

    When talking about plus sized tires, the elephant in the room is ebikes. Plus tires will never go anywhere as long as ebikes are around. Increased torque while climbing really necessitates a wider tire. I have some WTB Bridgers 27.5 X 3.0. They measure exactly 3.0 and they don’t bleed Stans from the sidewalls like Specialized tires do. They also are not squishy when ridden with low pressures like other plus tires. I have also noticed plus sized tires are not as squishy if you use tubes but I prefer tubeless for the ease of trail side repair. (ie: plugs)

  • Brad says:

    I’m actually really surprised that nobody ever mentions the old Nokian Gazzaloddi 3.0, the original plus tire. It was heavy, square and heavy, but gave a ridiculous amount of traction. I had these on the front of my Stinky Deluxe back in 1999. It only took another 15 years for everyone else to realize the benefits of lots of rubber, but now they can make them in a manageable weight. I ride a full fat bike with 26×4.6 tires. I’m 47. I like the lack of maintenance of a hardtail. I love the traction. Weight wise, I’m certainly less than that of my old Stinky Deluxe.

  • Andrew says:

    “the majority of riders of all stripes will settle on 2.4 to 2.6 tires”

    The majority of riders I see ride with a 2.3″ rear tire.
    And many prefer 2.3″ in the front and rear.
    Still plenty of folks that buy 2.2 and 2.25″ for XC.

  • dusty steve says:

    I love plus bikes, especially hardtails. In the southwest, they really serve a purpose. I’d rather ride the whole enchilada on a plus bike than on a bike with 2.3s or 2.4s.

    In northern CA, I have no need for a plus, even on a hardtail. Most trails are so smooth that I rarely need more than 120mm suspension, or anything wider than a 2.3. (Tahoe and sierras excluded).

    it all comes down to where you ride and how you ride. I couldn’t care less about strava times, and so many of my intermediate and beginner friends really benefit from the confidence of wider tires. Surprisingly, I don’t feel that traction is the main benefit of plus tires. I have plenty of traction on 2.3/2.4 tires. The biggest benefit is taking the edge off square edge hits, and floataion in sand.

  • Highway Star says:

    I think people will eventually figure out that 26×2.30″ (modern maxxis sizing) is generally the best size for all around trail mountain biking. 26×2.5 if you’re really riding rough stuff.

  • Erik Peterson says:

    I’m 64 and not shredding like I used to–I ride a Fuse Fatty6 hardtail and I love my 3.0 Ground Controls–love the confidence and handling–especially in the rough stuff–always interested in trying something else in tires if anyone has any recommendations–ride in SF Bay Area–besides, what else would I put on my I45 Scraper rims? Don’t make plus size go away………at least until I retire from riding…

  • Plusbike Nerd says:

    In regards to Trailbikes, any tire wider than 2.8in and any rim wider than i35mm (i=inner width) should be sent to the graveyard of outdated tech. With that being said, a 2.8 tire mounted to an i35 rim might be the best Trailbike wheel made. Plus done right is amazing.

  • slcdawg says:

    I upgraded my 29er HT this year to a 27+ HT and would never go back. The bigger volume tires provide just enough cushion to be easy on the back while still being fast. It is the ultimate in small bump compliance. 🙂 As far as handling, I’ve set PR’s on technical descents and on longer XC rides – I personally don’t see any disadvantage.

  • hirschmj says:

    I’ve been riding my Krampus since 2014 and plus tires have gotten a lot better since then. The thing is a blast to ride, super fast downhill on all but the chunkiest stuff, and climbs great. I’m curious to spend more time on a full suspension plus bike.

  • gravitylover says:

    Being fast is something that’s so far from important for me that tire size surely isn’t going to change but what it does change is my line choice through rocky stuff and tracking in soft corners. I love the fact that I can point it into rock gardens and take a much straighter line than I can on my skinny (2.5) tired bike and with all the rain we’ve had in the northeast this year it’s been softer than usual and I find myself washing out a lot less frequently with more and bigger knobs on my 2.8’s and 3.0’s. The higher volume tires also make it easier to roll through deep leaf covered trails without getting bounced off line as frequently. Bottom line is my fat, slow, old self just has more fun on higher volume tires than otherwise. I’ve been mt biking for over 30 years and have been through every tire and wheel size iteration that’s happened so have a pretty good base to judge from.

  • GJDinoBiker says:

    I’ve ridden the Krampus since it first came out. I’m in my 40’s and live in the 4 corners west. I’ve tried to use a smaller diameter wheel (27.5+) but cannot get over the capability of 29+ and have stuck with it. Most of my friends on suspension can’t keep up. It floats over all but the biggest holes where the smaller diameter wheels get bogged down. Railed Crested Butte Evolution bike park on it several weeks ago. Point being, tire size doesn’t dictate what you can/can’t ride, or how fast you can go, or what type of trail. Ability RULES….

  • Ray a.k.a. derby says:

    Hey Paul, Thanks for recognizing Derby Rims! High speed DH and very similar high speed Enduro DH need very firm 28 to 30 psi tire pressures in Derby 35i (35mm inside wide) rims according to my pro test riders with 2.4 to 2.6 DH large knob tires, to keep the large knobs from folding in corners, because the sharp edge of the knobs provide the traction, not tire patch size. So that narrow 30mm inside wide rims are also plenty wide with firm tires. The tire profile is better cornering with 35i according to elite riders going to Derby 35i rims, and because mountain tire’s profile in fact changes very little in 5mm rim width increments. The pro XC racers also use firm pressures in 2.25 and smaller fast rolling tires on lighter weight 25mm inside wide rims for low rolling resistance, compromising cornering and braking traction for the most important rolling and lighter weight climbing efficiencies where XC races are won. For the vast majority of recreational trail riders for pleasure and exercise, we ride moderately fast but not at DH race speeds in most areas to be safe and responsible for all others, and plus tires 2.6 to 2.8 measured tire are simply easier pedaling and rolling and offer more traction with smaller knobs and greater stability with softer tire pressures than smaller than 2.6 plus tires on the same wheel size. 29 plus tires 2.6 to 3.0 pedal and roll even easier but are a little heavier than 27 plus in the same rim and tire widths. Maybe I’ve tested more tire sizes on wider rims than anyone else in the 6 years since beginning Derby Rims. With very rare exception, 23mm to 30mm inside width narrow rims are ideal for 2.25 and smaller. 35mm inside wide are ideal for 2.3 to 2.5, 40mm inside are ideal for 2.6 to 2.8, and 45 inside wide are ideal for 2.8 to 3.2. Also tires narrower or wider by up to 0.2 or 0.3 inch also work well either side of the ideal rim-tire combinations. The only tire I found to not fit these recommendations is the Minnion SS 2.3, which is apparently designed for a 25mm or narrower XC mountain or gravel bike width rim. All these big brand recommendations for narrow 30mm rims or narrower for 2.3 to 2.6 are because those brands have large rim and wheel inventories to sell that would become obsolete if they were either honest or experienced with the huge improvement of proper width rims for tail riding. See derbyrims.com for much more detail!

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