Maxxis have been around in the tire industry for some time, and they have at least been synonymous with quality and value for money bicycle tires in Singapore. What few people realize is that the Maxxis product range extends into stuff like tires for cars, motorcycles and heavy vehicles. They even have a division for aftermarket car sports rims. With such a wide product range focusing on what cyclists commonly term as ?rubber?, it is no wonder that Maxxis product research has resulted in some interesting innovations being transplanted into useful tires that you and I rely upon on a daily basis.
For someone looking into Maxxis? MTB tire range for the first time, the number of different compounds available, sometimes for just one tire model, can be bewildering and confusing too. Why does Maxxis do this? The main reason is simply because the MTB discipline has evolved into many distinct sub-disciplines, each having its own terrain type and also competitive needs. A typical product cycle first starts when Maxxis goes into researching and developing a tire that will perform well in all conditions, usually for its professionally sponsored riders. Next, they look into developing a tire and compound that will handle a specific terrain well, with less rolling resistance or even slower rebound. This is catered to specific race conditions.
This is also the origins of Maxxis? eXCeption series of tires, a series of tires developed for racing purposes, which involves using a lighter 120 threads per inch (or commonly referred to as ?TPI?) casing combined with a 62a compound. This not only makes for a lighter model of tire, but also enhances cornering, braking and acceleration.
What?s ?120 TPI? you ask? The higher the TPI rating in a tire’s casing (or also known as ?sidewall?), the more resistant it will be to impact damage from rocks and other obstacles, which is an important factor when you are involved in any MTB sport. The casing of a tire is the network of cloth that gives the tire its shape. The TPI of the casing is usually a clue to the characteristics of a tire?s sidewall. A lower TPI count indicates a less expensive tire that will be heavier and give a slightly harsher ride. But this tire may be less prone to side cuts. This is because more rubber fills the cracks between the threads than on a tire that has a higher thread count. Higher thread count casings are produced with less rubber in between the cords, and provide a smoother more supple ride, a lighter tire, but often these tires may not be very forgiving on rough terrain. A higher TPI count also means more efficiency: With less rubber, the tire experiences less rubber deformation as it rolls, which is normally a big waste of energy. However, because there?s less rubber, there?s less deformation. Hence, a faster rolling tire!
?62a compound? sounds Greek to you? When you see ?62a? on the tire, essentially refers to the durometer reading of the tire in question, and a durometer measures the hardness of the tread compound. A softer compound generally results in a tire with more grip but a shorter tread life. Harder compounds give increased tread life at the expense of traction. The numbers should help give you an idea of how sticky a specific tire is.
But enough of the science already. How exactly does the eXCeption Series version of the tried and tested Maxxis Larsen TT feel in the kind of conditions commonly found in Singapore? Read on to find out!
The Tire Specs
I was fortunate enough to lay my hands on a pair of these racing compound tires merely days from the moment they landed at Soon Watt, they being the distributor of Maxxis tires in Singapore. These were official after market tires, rather than the OEM ones that may be found at certain unauthorized dealers. The only way to make sure you get the official after market product, rather than something OEM which has normally been sitting in a warehouse for God knows how long and are being offloaded onto the market due to age, is to examine the packaging.
Weighing in at a claimed 520g per tire, the 120 TPI Kevlar beaded 26?x2.0 tire certainly fell within the lighter category of XC tires. An entry may be found in Weight Weenies for the 1.90 version, with a weight of 424.5g, about 25g below the manufacturer?s claimed weight! Not having the benefit of a digital scale to verify this, I can only say that even with a variance of 10%, this tire is still relatively light for its category. Weight watchers out there should seriously consider this tire, without having to sacrifice puncture-resistance like so many lightweight XC tires in the market currently. The closest comparison would be the Hutchinson Python Airlights, but the TTs cost far less.
Oddly enough, the thread design on these tires look somewhat ?oldschool?, given that most other tires in the market currently all display rather ?interesting? or aggressive thread patterns. To an ordinary person, they almost seem nondescript and plain. Poser value here would be poor, the saving grace being the interesting graphics and complimentary colours on the sidewall.
The TT Testing Grounds
Originally designed by Steve Larsen himself, the tire was given the ?racing? touch with the introduction of a higher thread count and softer durometer compound, giving the eXCeption series tire more grip and less weight, but also allegedly wearing out faster.
Bearing this in mind, I inflated them to a conservative 60PSi (65 PSi being the maximum as recommended by Maxxis), before taking them out for a day trip to Pengerang. Why Pengerang? It gives me an excellent opportunity to test the tires in a somewhat milder cross-country terrain of fire roads and sandy tracks, with plenty of tarmac as well. Nothing too extreme for its first test, as I didn?t want to plunge them into the ?deep end? until I was assured that they could last.
So for the initial few kilometers of road riding from the jetty to the trail head, I could immediately conclude that the tires definitely have a low rolling resistance, despite its 2.0 sizing. Pedaling was effortless even though the knobs on the tire had a somewhat higher profile than what one would expect from a tire with low rolling resistance. Grip wise on tarmac was also good, be it dry or wet, riding in a straight line or attempting a fast corner. Looks like we?ve got an excellent start!
Not having rained for the past week in Pengerang, the trail was dry and mainly hardpack in nature, exactly the kind of conditions that the Larsen TT was made for. Once again, the tires demonstrated its ability to roll really fast and provide excellent grip whether going uphill or charging down slope. I was beginning to really like the softer compound here, and concerns about potential excessive wear were all but forgotten. The assurance that one gets from a tire that grips well can only build up one?s confidence when tackling technical terrain, so I was very pleased. The long road ride back to the jetty after a satisfying seafood lunch, the tires certainly helped the distance feel far less than it should. No one I?m sure would be in the mood to use high rolling resistance tires under such circumstances. Full marks for the Pengerang outing.
The next opportunity I had to test the tires arose when I mounted one up front to my full suspension bike for the trip up to Batu Pahat for Togoparts? first mass ride for 2004. Although the tire proved itself in dry conditions, I was slightly apprehensive about the tire?s capabilities in the wet, not to mention its mud-shedding abilities. Batu Pahat was going to be wetter than Pengerang, and definitely more technical. Time to subject the tire to a more rigorous test!
On the day of the ride, conditions on the ground were somewhat mixed. There were portions of the trial which were dry, which suited the tire really well, so all you had to do was to pick your line and forget the rest. But there were also sections of the trial which were shaded and thus quite muddy, owing to the lack of sufficient sunlight. Over these sections, the tire was beginning to slide around a bit so I had to be that much more careful in picking the correct line.
And true enough, the closely spaced knobs affected the tire?s ability to shed mud properly. That?s not to say that the whole tire looked like it was coated entirely in chocolate fudge, but you could detect that patches of the tire became caked with mud which would not flake away easily, thereby affecting traction.
In loose soil conditions which were not wet, the tire continued to fair well and there was no perceived sliding or loss of traction. To make things more interesting, I decided to lower the pressure in the tire from 60 PSi. Let?s see how this baby fares when there?s less air.
With tire pressure down and hopefully traction increasing, I began to sense that the grip was returning but still not up to confidence-inspiring levels. Special mention had to be made to those occasions when I rode over slimy rocks and wet tree roots during the ride. Be extra careful! I had a near miss and almost smacked face-first into a tree when the tire conveniently skidded.
The final test for the tires came about when I headed up to Plentong in Johor recently to join a group of the local riders in their notorious backyard playground. I had heard so much about how wonderful the trails here were, so I had to give them a try. This was going to be the TTs? ultimate challenge.
Conditions on the day of the ride were not ideal for the TTs, the ground being very wet from the recent torrential rains in the area. Within 10 minutes from the start of the ride, and the muddy conditions was beginning to get the better of the tires. I had to make a conscious effort to control the direction of the tires, especially when going down slope with mud, pools of water and dangerous tree roots sticking out in an attempt to trip you up. I had a creepy feeling that the rubber trees were trying to get back at me for having ?bled? them in order to produce the very tires I was riding on.
Once again, the muddy conditions did not allow the tires to demonstrate its grippy nature properly and I had to focus hard on making sure the tires avoided too much muck where possible, or traction would suffer. Over the sections where mud or clayey soil seemed inevitable, I took extra precaution in reducing my speed and ensuring that the tires had the opportunity to go through a nice pool of water (which wasn?t hard to come by in these parts due to the incessant rain) before picking up speed again.
Overall, I am still very pleased with these tires. I am not a fan of riding in wet and muddy conditions, so using these tires on those rare occasions when I do ride in loose soil or mud is acceptable to me. Since I enjoy drier conditions, and riding on roads seem unavoidable in Singapore, the Maxxis Larsen TT (eXCeption series) would be an excellent value for money choice in terms of lightweight XC tires.