There’s more to these bike tires than you think
August 30, 2005
Last month, I found myself barreling down a steep dusty singletrack, the rear wheel of my mountain bike skidding perilously side to side as I held a death grip on my brakes. For some reason, I had decided to do the cross-country race at the NORBA Nationals in Snowmass, even though I hadn’t had my bike checked or tuned since last season.
Properly functioning tires with good tread are vital in mountain biking – for obvious reasons. Just as people make the semiannual snow-tire swap for their cars, they should check out their bike tires a couple times a season, and be better than I am about replacing them.”A lot of people like to just be able to hop on their bikes; they have no idea,” said Brett Sorrentino, bike mechanic at Gene Taylor’s in Snowmass Village. “They can tell they need a new tire when the tread is gone, but they’re not aware of dry rot and things like that.”After the race, I promptly bought a cool new pair of Kenda tires at the vendor village, for about half the suggested retail price. (The great thing about these events is that you can get bike parts almost at cost.) But it was only when I got to researching this review that I realized how cool those tires are. For one thing, the 2003 NORBA national women’s cross-country champion, who also competed in the 2004 Olympics, rode only on the Kenda Kharma, which is what I have on my rear wheel.
According to Kenda spokesman Jim Wannamaker, the problem with most tires is they wear out unevenly – the center wears out faster than the edges. So the folks at Kenda came up with a technology called DTC, or Dual Tread Compound. The center of this tire, which needs to last the longest, is made of harder rubber, while the edges are sticky, for better cornering.The Kharma DTC is popular with cross-country racers who need the best of both worlds. Downhill mountain bikers, on the other hand, often use full-blown sticky tires – for maximum grip at 40-50 miles per hour.On my front wheel is a Kenda Blue Groove, which is advertised as a freeride/downhill tire. It has more knobs – hence more traction for cornering – than the Kharma. Both tires cost $40 apiece at Aspen Velo.
The choice of bike tires is very personal, I’ve learned: Some bike experts rave about Kenda (which has made tires for more than 40 years); one had “absolutely nothing good to say about them.” Talk to your local bike shop about the right tire for you. Factors to take into consideration include your height and weight, type of bike (rear, full or no suspension), how you ride and what terrain you typically ride.Catherine Lutz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org