Home Features Events Observations From MBO: Riding the Big Mama, Gordo rims, Conti Mountain King 29 x 2.2
Observations From MBO: Riding the Big Mama, Gordo rims, Conti Mountain King 29 x 2.2 Print
Written by shiggy   
Wednesday, 22 July 2009 18:22

Last weekend I helped guide 300 riders as they swarmed over the hundreds of miles of trails around Oakridge, Oregon--Our Backyard. I equipped my Salsa Big Mama (full suspension 29er trail bike) with Continental Mountain King 29 x 2.2 tires, Kenda Superlight 29" inner tubes mounted on the Salsa Gordo rims (35mm wide) for the three days of fun.

I had been using the Schwalbe Racing Ralph 2.25, a much higher volume tire, inflated to as little as 21psi. I set the Mt King 2.2 at 27-28psi front and 29-30 rear, which felt solid on a quick test spin. I had four rides of varied terrain my agenda. Perfect for tire evaluation. Little did I know I would also learn more about the effects of rim width, and the importance of tire pressure on suspension bikes.

 The basic findings:

  1. The Mountain King has terrain limitations. 
  2. A relatively narrow tire on a wide rim needs more inflation pressure.
  3. Tire pressure has as much affect as shock setting in suspension bike performance.
  4. Not once did I think about rolling resistance. 
  5. I still like my Big Mama--a lot.

What I rode:

 63 miles, 5936 feet of climbing, 15,156 feet of descending, 7.1mph average speed, 32.8mph maximum speed. All types of terrain from tacky hardpack to moon dust; mud to deep gravel; rocks, ruts and roots to buffed tacky singletrack; wide open forest roads to tight switchbacks and hike-a-bikes. These are trails I know well but rarely get a chance to ride all in one weekend or with shuttles.

 1. The Mountain King has terrain limitations:

Please to not take this as a condemnation of the tire. The MK 29 x 2.2 is a good all-round tire. Like most tires, it has places where it does well and those where it suffers. I was intentionally using it where I thought it may not be the best choice.

 It did well overall. Cornering was very good, drive and brake grip never an issue. With the frequency I change tires it can be difficult t know whether it is the trail conditions or the tire characteristics I am feeling, so I listen to and ask other riders. The couple in front of me shouted "Wow! That was greasy!" after a wet section. The MK never wavered. Good stuff. The front tire would slide a bit in hard corners on hard/dry sections, but not too bad considering the fairly open, tall tread. The flat profile from being on the wide rim could also be a factor.

Deep gravel on doubletrack descents were a cheek-clincher. The front tire wandered and slid sideways (the flat profile again?). Still did not prevent me from riding through it at more than 30mph. "Exciting" but I stayed on the road and upright.

As a rear tire I had no issues. Did what I asked with no drama.

2. A relatively narrow tire on a wide rim needs more inflation pressure:

This is where I was using the tires outside of the ideal. I could have run higher volume models and been very happy. The narrow Mountain King 2.2 becomes quite "flat" in profile with fairly vertical sidewalls on the wide Salsa Gordo rim. Great for tire stability even at the fairly low inflation pressures I used: 27-28psi front, 29-30 rear. Handling, grip and control were fine. While I never felt the tires bottom out, I could have used a bit more pressure for pinch protection.

Halfway down Hardesty on Saturday I had the the front tire go soft. It was a slow leak and I just stopped and pumped it up several times to get to the bottom. As I was waiting for MBO clients I had the time and it was simpler than swapping tubes at the time. I suspected a thorn because of the slow drop in pressure. Nothing was found in the tire and two TINY pinholes in the classic snake bite pattern were there.

Sunday the rear tire went soft near the end of the Middle Fork ride. Again a small pinch flat with just one hole at the rim this time.

I have been able to run the big tires at lower pressures on the wide rims but it seems the narrow tire does not fare as well. Next time I will keep the pressure at my narrow rim level. The soft tires did reveal point #3.

3. Tire pressure has as much affect as shock setting in suspension bike performance: 

In each case, when the tire when soft, I first suspected a problem with the suspension. The bike felt bouncy, flexy and/or divey. I checked the pivots, damping and shock pressures but it was simply the low tire pressure. When I first setup the Big Mama I tried all the variables to get the feel of the suspension. While it is very responsive to even small changes, the low tires made at lest as much difference. Tire pressure and shock setting must work together for best performance of a suspension bike. Change either one and you will likely need to adjust the other. Learn how the affect your bike and you will have a better ride.

4. Not once did I think about rolling resistance:

Sure, it is nice to have fast rolling tires, but not at the expense of grip and control. The rolling resistance is really only noticeable on smooth, hard surfaces anyway.

The Mountain Kings gave me plenty of grip (hey, Conti's slogan is "Get the Grip") and control. I stayed on the trail--mostly--, did not crash, and was able to keep the bike rolling with reasonable effort. SCORE!

5. I still like my Big Mama--a lot.

 I test rode a bunch of bikes last fall and liked the Salsa Big Mama the best. Got one this spring and have spent about 2/3rds of my time on it. It is a 29" wheel, 100mm travel trail bike. The suspension is efficient, effective and very tuneable. Handling precise, quick and predictable with the stability of the big wheels. You can ride it all day, every day and still be comfortable and ready for more. I did last weekend.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 23 July 2009 14:02
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