Specialized have done a big rejig over their tyre range, with a big focus on compound.
Mountain bike tyres are one of the best components to get right on your bike. They have a huge impact on braking, acceleration, cornering, comfort, confidence and more. They're your one contact point with the trail (all things going well) and picking the right tyres and setting them up right is important.
Earlier this year, Specialized overhauled many of their tyres treads, matches with a new numbered compound system. T9 is the softest, tackiest compound, and tyres run down to T5, which suits greater wear with less rolling resistance.
Specialized have sent out a set of Ground Control and Fast Trak 29x2.35 in T7 Gripton, and a pair of the same tread patterh with T5. I fitted up the T7 models first up.
A closer look
The Ground Control is said to be the most versatile tyre from Specialized, and the Gripton T7 model has plenty of chunk for a 2.35" trail tyre. This one weighed in at 870g, and inflated to 58.34mm on a 29mm internal rim - although I suspect it will expand a little over time.
The Ground Control has a tread in tread layout, so as the tread digs into softer terrain, there are more edges. It also helps give tread blocks a bit more support. The Grid casing on these test samples also help for sidewall stability and protection.
I put the Ground Control on the front, and paired it with a Fast Trak in the same Grid casing with the same Gripton T7 compound in the back. The Fast Trak weighed 810g, and inflated to 59.88mm on a 29mm internal rim.
The Fast Trak is billed as a cross-country tyre, while the Ground Control is called a trail tyre. That's due to a lower tread height, but still with plenty of edges. It's better on harder than softer surfaces, and would be an ideal choice for hardpack. The rounder profile also means it has a light 'feel' when moving the bike around. The centre tread is nearly joined, which is why it feels pretty quick in a straight line on hard surfaces. Still, the sideknobs have support down the sidewall, to make sure it can take a corner as well.
The T7 compound is said to prioritise grip over speed and wear, whereas the T5 models I was also sent roll faster, wear longer and give up a little in the chemical grip of the rubber. They're also about 10-15% lighter - and probably a great choice for loose over hardpack cross-country/light trail applications.
After I put sealant in the tyres and inflated them, I set the pressures to 19psi in the front and 21psi in the back, as a moderate starting point for how I ride.
On the trail - first ride impressions
I've mostly used 2.35" and 2.4" tyres on my bike for the last 18 months - they're just a better fit for the typically dry conditions where I live, or for the conditions of other places I travel to for events or riding holidays.
But looking down to the front wheel, the Ground Control looks meatier than most tyres I have used on my Norco Revolver for a while.
Riding to the trails, there wasn't a huge change in rolling speed, but it was a little noticeable. I often run a faster rolling rear tyre, and even did all the way back to 1998 when I had a 26x2.2" Ground Control on the front of my Gary Fisher Paragon, with a Tioga Psycho K in the back. I'm always happy to give up rolling speed for a little more grip for steering and braking, while keeping some faster rolling speed in the back.
My usually dry local trails are currently getting rained on a lot, so I opted for the two trails I know drain the best. And all I got was hero dirt. This makes my first impressions of the tyres pretty glowing!
The Ground Control didn't miss a beat, and even pedalling over wet logs the Fast Trak stayed... tracking. There was no unexpected squirm in corners or from rockier sections, although having the right tyre pressure for an individual rider really helps here.
So far, so good. It's an ever so slightly burlier setup than I usually use, but I reckon it will work well for most people looking for a very grippy and versatile option for their XC or light trail bikes. At $80 per end, I think the pricing is spot on. I'll put together a complete review when I have a lot more time on the tyres, along with the T5 variants.