Pro tips: How to choose the right tire with Canyon MTB Racing

When it comes to racing tires, they are one of, if not the most important, part of a rider’s setup. Matching the tires to the conditions can make or break a race weekend.

Don’t have the right mud tires? It doesn’t matter how hard you train if you slip through all the turns. Mud tires in dry weather? You will waste watts and somehow you will always slip.

And, of course, no tire will go fast if you can’t keep air in it. Walking is slower than driving, especially when pushing a bike.

To learn more about the art of choosing the right racing tire, we turned to two Canadians with a long list of racing victories: elite national champion Jenn Jackson and two-time national under-23 champion and BC Bike Race winner Laurie Arseneault. Both represent Canada at World Cups around the world with Canyon MTB Racing. Jackson also spends his winters and his days off working at a bike shop in Kamloops, British Columbia. Having seen rides across North America and Europe, both know how to match your tread perfectly to the trails.

Not just World Cups: Laurie Arseneault soars to win the 2021 BC Bike Race. Photo: Dave Silver
Canadian MTB: What course factors do you consider when choosing a tire combo when arriving at a new World Cup venue?

Laurie Arseneault: It always depends on the conditions of the course, like if there are more roots, loose rocks or bumpy sections. After watching the track on day one, we choose based on that.

A wet course really has an impact on our tire choice. For my part, I don’t really worry when it rains, I always go with a more aggressive tire for more grip #GripIsYourFriend. In this case, I will choose the Rocket Ron.

jenn jackson: Mainly the nature of the surface of the track: humidity level, hardness/looseness of the ground. Secondarily would be what is on the track itself: roots, rocks, wooden bridges, etc. Also important is how their characteristics change, in terms of sharpness and grip in dry or wet conditions.

For example, if the trail conditions are firm and dry, I would run Thunder Burts. It has very low rolling resistance and a high contact patch for traction over roots or rocks on the course. If there were any loamy or loose areas with an incline (uphill/downhill), I would probably switch to a Ralph/Ray mid-tread combo to get a bit more bite as the ground moves away or shifts. If the climbs are firm but the descents loosen up, grab an Intermediate up front for confidence, then the Burt in the rear for speed.

If the moisture content is high, sometimes the mud is sticky and other times it makes the course wet. If it’s sticky mud, the tread opening becomes very important for clearance so the tire doesn’t bunch up. Tire pressure becomes even more important to ensure the tire is compliant and giving enough grip rather than veering off. Speeds are also generally lower when wet, so there’s less chance of quick hits and pinches. A softer tire compound and the freshness can also make a huge difference in the feeling of grip on wet roots and rocks.

Jenn Jackson Canyon ATV Race 1

What about tire carcass and rubber compounds? Do you change them at all between sites? Or between racing and training?

not a word: If there are a lot of sharp, hard edges on the course (usually rocky features, or even smaller ones embedded in the ground), I might use a lower TPI casing. Our tanwall tires have a higher thread count, so they are lighter and more flexible. But it also comes with the trade-off of being slightly more tear-prone.

Most World Cup courses are pretty well groomed, so 90% of the time we’ll be using the lightweight version in the most grippy compound available. On the other hand, in Kamloops where I train, there are a lot of rocks and rubble, the ground is hard and abrasive and the speeds are quite high. So I would be much better off using the lower TPI casing and a harder, more durable tread compound.

Emily Batty driving the Racing Ralph/Racing Ray combo in Nove Mesto. Photo: Markus Greber
How is choosing a racing tire different from choosing a tire for training?

THE: We always choose what we think will go faster or be more efficient, which is not so important in training.

not a word: Racing is all about performance for 90 minutes – which tire will help me get to the finish fastest. Training is all about consistency – which tire is going to help me show up every day and enjoy the ride.

What’s your all-time favorite tire combination?

THE: On a daily basis, I really like driving the Racing Ray at the front and the Racing Ralph at the rear. This is my favorite setup. But I also really like Thunder Burt when it’s dry.

not a word: I just want to race Thunder Burts all the time, but I’m still working on that dream.

Presented by Schwalbe

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