Wednesday, January 29, 2014

More Choices In Fat Tires & Rims Soon?

Click on this image to make it bigger- then look at the tire.
I've been thinking a lot about fat bike tires again, ever since I rode the Snow Dog the other day, and I have determined that the fat bike tires we have pretty much suck.Yep. They are sub-par at what they are meant to do, (or as in the case of being tubeless- not do), and if fat bikes are to really get going, we're going to need some better tires.

Surly makes great tread patterns. Their tire maker makes okay casings. But the consistency of quality has been suspect over the long run, and they are not sold in a tubeless version. This won't do going forward. Oh, and I am also looking at you, 45NRTH, your tires are essentially the same in this regard.

Don't tell me your split tube method is working great. That is missing the point. We should not have to use split tubes, or Gorilla Tape, or any of that backyard nonsense. There should be tubeless tires and rims for fat bikes. The bigger brands are already getting beaten to the punch on this by China and the smaller brands. (And they jumped on 27.5"ers because they didn't want to repeat the "missing out" that happened when they drug their feet on 29"ers?)

Vee Rubber makes a couple of tubeless compatible tires, but rims for that are rare, and the Vee Rubber company has not quite figured out how to make a big, voluminous tire that works like Surly's do. So, there are our two tire company choices- Surly/45NRTH on one hand and Vee Rubber on the other, and they both stink overall. (Yes- I realize I am being somewhat of a spoiled sport here since only five years ago there was exactly one tire choice!)

Well, this image I posted today from Twitter shows a Trek Farley with a Bontrager branded tire. Bontrager has an excellent tubeless ready system. Will they be smart and bring it over to fat bikes? Will their tires be something that has the tubeless ready nature and work as well as Surly tires plus be big? What about Specialized's Ground Control fat bike tires? What will Specialized bring to the table. I've heard rumors that Kenda Tire is doing a fat bike tire. What will that be like?

The fact that we can even legitimately ask such questions now is reason to get excited about the possibilities. Let's hope we don't get let down by all of them.


Unknown said...

My question has been who is making the Specialized (and Bonty) tires?

Yet to even get a country of origin answer.

MG said...

I'm looking forward to additional options... We are getting some better options, but fat bikes are still in their infancy. It's similar to being a 29" wheeled rider in 2005, but it'll get better quickly, I suspect.

Bontrager's tires have been awesome since they hired Frank Stacy away from Specialized, so I have high hopes there.

Matt Maxwell said...

Do you think that there are any special considerations given the ultra-low pressures that fatbikers often run? I would imagine an increased tendency to "burp" at 4psi.

Guitar Ted said...

@Matt Maxwell: This is a concern, and I think one has to understand how a tubeless tire works differently than a tire designed to have tubes in it. Obviously, a rim's dimensions for the bead seat are more critical when a tubeless set up is desired, so rims have to be part of a systemic approach with regard to tires. It doesn't work all that well if tire and rim manufacturers are not on the same page.

This is why Surly/45NRTH really need to step up their game. These brands have both tires and rims under the same roof. Spending 150+ for tires and about that for rims when all you can have is a tubed set up? This seems to be a component system with a low value to performance ratio compared to mountain bike tires and rims that cost far less.

Yes- I understand the "numbers are not there" for the fat biking products, but they cannot be far away from getting there with QBP's claimed 20,000 units sold to date. (Which translates to 40,000 tires and rims, by the way.) I can't see going forward not having more value built into these premium priced products. To me, that means a true tire/rim tubeless system.

Now to the pressure question: If a true system is developed, (thinking like a UST type), I see no reason why tires could not be driven down to the low single digits psi safely and with reliability. Garage tinkerers are already doing it with non-system components.

Joboo said...

All this talk about setting FatBikes up tubeless has me confused.
WHY? I ask myself all the time.
While I agree with the statement of tape this, tape that, slime this, orange that.
But why?
Are we all that much concerned with light weight FatBikes???
Isn't that an oxymoron??
Are we turning into FatBike weight weenies??
Again why??
I for one don't want to waste my precious little free time messing with a tubeless FatBike set up. I have much more important things to do... Like RIDE!!!!
If I have a flat...... A tube will work EVERY SINGLE TIME, to get me riding again!!
If you're that concerned with getting your FatBike to be as light as you can get it, spend another 3-4K and get a full on carbon'd out fatty...... With the carbon rim set for tubeless to boot!!
It strikes me that 5-6 years ago nobody gave FatBikes a 1st, 2nd or 3rd look...... Now since everybody and their brother has one....... It's waa waa I want this, or waa waa I want that!! Come on!!
Only in the short time frame I mentioned above...... No one ever thought about the waa waa factor..... WE ALL made due with what was at hand; and a lot of the time we had to wait for things FatBike related to get to our grubby little hands!!!
Sorry, I'm not knocking anyone's opinion, just trying to be Mr. Obvious......... FatBikes have come along way..... In a relatively short amount of time!!
Pedal On..... Whatever you like...... Just please keep the waa waa factor to a minimum, please!! ;)

Guitar Ted said...

@joboo: I can see where one might feel that way, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that there are no designed-to-be-tubeless systems for fat bikes. This is the same deal as the situation 29"er guys found themselves in around 2005.

So now that there are designed-to-be-tubeless systems for 29"ers, why would you not run a 29"er tubeless? The advantages are clear.

If there were a system for fat bikes, (and when you spend 2K plus on most fat bikes, there should be), again I ask the question: Why would you not run your fat bike tubeless? Taking out 4lbs of Surly tubes would be one reason. Maybe lower rolling resistance would be another. Not having to ever deal with pinch flats in summer would be another. Perhaps not being bothered by goat heads and other pesky enemies of tubes would be another.

I can honestly say that running the Vee Rubber Sterlings tubeless has been a 100% increase in performance over the tubes I used in terms of rolling resistance, weight, traction, and ride feel. Again- Why would I not want that?

Tubes won't disappear anytime soon, but the advantages of a designed tubeless system is undeniable. When you are a limited horsepower engine, every bit of gain is meaningful, no matter how small, and tubeless for fat bikes presents such a big gain in performance, I don't see it not happening for fat bikes in the future.

Nicholas Carman said...

The Specialized tires impress me in ways that Surly/45NRTH tires haven't, ever. They seat without fuss and sit nice and round. Nice rims too.

The future looks good, but tubeless features will be a necessity. The first tubeless-ready system will force everyone else to do what they already know is necessary. It seems Stan's might do it.

Joboo said...

I totally here what you're saying..... Sorry I didn't mean to come off like an a*#. It's just all these new..... Forget it!! ;)
I've done the tubeless thing with my Trek 90D and Cane Creek Zonos tubeless compatible wheel-set.
It worked ok, (not how I thought they should work though), but you're right, I'd never try to set up say, a Rolling D tubeless. Just to imperfect without a proper rim/tire compatibility set up.
With said, Borealis and FatBack (not yet) have new carbon rims which are tubeless compatible, if I'm not mistaken? There again we're talking about a cool $1600 for the Borealis carbon wheel set. I can buy A LOT of tubes for that price!! Lol
Maybe as more of the "big boys" get into the FatBike "fad" we'll see the truly tubeless FatBike wheel sets come to market? Maybe Surly will think about a tubeless dedicated ClownShoe and Rolling D and Marge Lite??
As you say the FatBike wheel sets are where the 26.... and 29er wheel sets once were.
Time will tell, but what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger!! ;)

Guitar Ted said...

@Joboo: No worries! I think that you and I are actually coming to agreement- What we have sucks and what we should have isn't quite there yet.

My point really is that when you spend in the 150.00-200.00 buck range for tires, they damn well ought to be tubeless and rims should be there to match. That they currently are not so is getting to be something of a (bad) joke. (Never mind the crazy carbon rim prices.)

I will say that the Velocity Dually wheels I have been running (along with the designed for tubeless Sterlings) have been flawless as tubeless wheels so far. But- those dang Duallys are only 45mm wide. is a start, but it isn't really where we should be getting to by now.

@Nicholas Carmen: That you report the Specialized tires are doing well is encouraging, but again- are those tubeless designed beads on that tire? I doubt that they are. They should be.

I am just a bit surprised that carbon frames, forks, and rims were "fast tracked" into this market but something as important as tires and tubeless systems were not. It seems a bit incongruous, for example, to buy a 5G+ carbon fat bike from Salsa and not have any designed in option to run the wheels tubeless. I bet that issue gets addressed soon. I think that has to be QBP's fat bike brands next step in the evolution of this market. If it isn't, well then they are really missing the boat.

Adam Perkins said...

I guess I'm not too dissapointed in what is being offered now. If they some day come out with tires and rims that are designed and marketed as tubeless - great! However, I think current Surly tires and rims make some pretty bomb proof combinations if run tubeless with gorilla tape. I've been running my Bud and Lou on Clownshoes tubeless for well over 1,000 miles of mostly snow and ice with a bit of dirt and pavement thrown in here and there without a single issue. We are rippin' down rough snow covered single track here in Boulder county locking up the rear wheel - skidding, hitting little drops and catching some air. Hell, I've even hit all of the medium lines at Valmont Bike Park with this setup. Running anywhere from 3-8psi in all temps. I've also put 100 Grip Studs in to each tire for a season and taken them out. Not much to complain about on my end of the deal. I guess if I wanted some carbon rims and had the money to throw at multiple wheel sets I'd be asking for more innovation and commitment across all tire/rim combo disciplines, but unless you are racing and trying to podium, I just don't see how there is much more to ask for.

Guitar Ted said...

@Adam Perkins: Thanks for that comment. Again, this is so similar to how 29'ers were in '05. Some folks were having "no problems at all", while others were blowing tires off rims and burping tires on rides.

The same thing is occurring now with regard to fat bikes. Thankfully you are one that is having a good result. I know others that have had terrible results. Until the results for everyone are repeatable, easy to attain, and safe, the situation as it is now should not be considered to be "just fine". It isn't.

The fact of the matter is that Surly tires, 45NRTH tires, and most aluminum fat bike rims are NOT designed to be tubeless so results making them tubeless are going to vary. Once again- for what you pay for these products, the intrinsic value that you get out of them is equivalent to wire bead 29"er replacement tires at folding Kevlar, tubeless ready pricing. It ain't right.

Adam Perkins said...

The right tire/rim combo is key. Surly Nate, Bud, and Lou have all been setting up tubeless flawlessly on Clown Shoes, and Holy Rolling D's around here with gorilla tape over the Surly rim strip without issue - 3-8 or 10 psi in all temps. Hell, I've even put 100 Grip Studs in each of my Bud and Lou's and taken them out again. A sidewall tare that was too big for Stan's is still holding air with a standard Park Tool patch on the outside of the tire! I'm not going to complain about more options in a growing market, but I guess I'm not feeling like I have lots of reason to complain. Maybe if I was trying to podium at races I'd wish there were more options now - but I think the prices reflect the current demand and am extremely happy with what we have. I've put my Bud and Lou through their paces as well - serious single trap ripping down snow packed trails puts lots of lateral force on these tires and the bead is set - even down to 4psi and locking up the rear tire. I've even run the medium line at Valmont Bike park on this wheelset at about 6psi with no issue. I'm seriously impressed with the Surly rim/tire combo.