Riding with a local shop owner recently, our talk turned to tires.Â Somewhat aggressive XC and “trail” riders, we agreed that we both look for large volume tires with a lot of small-ish knobs.Â Though my tire intuition has let me down on occasion, I was pretty excited when I started seeing WTB’s new (for 2010) Wolverine TCS tires on local trails.Â TCS stands for Tubeless Compatible System and marks WTB’s long-awaited arrival at the tubeless tire party.
(Updated: Tyler’s review added)
Read on to see how my our months with the Wolverine have gone.
Here in the high desert of the Southwest, it seems as though we ask a lot of our tires.Â Not only do we have nice, loamy trails at higher altitudes, but long stretches of sharp, loose rocks and a healthy dose of sandy loose-over-hard surfaces to keep things interesting. Mud isn’t really a factor in these parts- moisture generally serves to makes rock slicker and trails tackier, something for readers from wetter areas to keep in mind.Â Tires whose knobs are too widely spaced or too tall tend to feel squirmy and can perform unpredictably (or predictably poorly).Â The decomposed granite and sandstone that makes up many of our trails is especially hard on soft rubbers and a sturdy casing is a must- lightweight casings often don’t tend to last more than a couple of rides thanks to sharp rocks and spiky plants.Â For that reason, most riders around here tend to prefer true tubeless (over “tubeless ready”) casings.
I was willing to make an exception to my “true tubeless” rule when it came to the Wolverine.Â Its large number of relatively short, wide-based knobs and well-supported shoulder knobs were a big part of it.Â Another factor was the WTB’s size.Â The Wolverine is easily the biggest 2.2 I’ve ever seen- and just as big as some of their 2.4s and large enough to cause clearance issues on some frames.Â Big cushions of air are essential for protecting spendy wheels from the insults they inevitably face in my hands.Â For their AM TCS (All-Mountain Tubeless Compatible System), WTB have taken a standard cross country tire casing, adds a tubeless-ready bead and integrated a thin “Inner Peace” nylon layer to the sidewall.Â This layer is claimed to protect the tire from damage as well as to reduce sidewall flex. The claimed 660g weight and $65 price seemed reasonable for a high-volume tubeless tire (though my Wolverine’s actual weight was a whole lot closer to 800g).
On the rear wheel, a new Wolverine is fantastic. Though the tire seemed to hold air just fine without any, the usual couple of scoops of Stan’s sealant were added and it was off to the hills.Â The low profile center tread rolls fast and provides plenty of straight-ahead grip on everything but loose sand over a hard base. In just about every condition it encountered for the first few months, the tire’s cornering grip exceeded my nerve. The Wolverine is actually the first tire that I’ve ridden that holds on longer in corners than the Schwalbe Nobby Nic front tire it’s been paired with. It takes some foolish and unnatural forward weight transfers to to provoke the Wolverine into sideways slides- and even then it hooks back up very quickly.
As a front tire, I can’t speak as highly of the Wolverine.Â The tire needs to be finessed a bit more than, say, a WTB Mutano, and can plow a bit.Â Given the choice, I would pair the Wolverine with a Mutano 2.4 (which is just about the same size) or the Nobby Nic mentioned earlier.
I initially thought that the AM TCS casing was on the soft side- but that was the result of a malfunctioning pump gauge.Â When inflated to around 27psi, the Wolverine provides plenty of comfort and grip while cornering without rolling and protecting the rim.Â I have yet to cut the AM TCS casing- it seems to be right up there with Geax’s TNT casing as far as resistance to cuts.Â Yes, cactus spines and thorns will work through- but any that did were addressed by the sealant.Â Unlike some other tires, it is rare to see damp spots on the tread where sealant has leaked through.
Like most all dual compound tires I’ve used, the Wolverine unfortunately loses its impressive cornering ability far, far too quickly.Â WTB’s Dual DNA compound, which uses 60 Shore A rubber at the tread’s center and 50 Shore A at the outside just isn’t proving very durable and I could see visible wear within a couple of rides.Â After a couple of months’ heavy use, the shoulder knobs were pretty much shot.Â Though the center tread was still doing its job of going and stopping just fine, the disintegrating shoulder knobs made cornering unpredictable enough that the tire was spent before its time.Â The solution would seem to be the all 60 Shore A UST version, but that tire is advertised at nearly 850g.Â If the actual weight is close to that number, the improved wear might be worth it.Â If it’s as overweight as the AM TCS Wolverine was, then we’re talking about a pretty heavy tire.
I really like a lot about the Wolverine AM TCS.Â It drives, rolls, and brakes well in dry conditions and is one of the best cornering rear tires I’ve used.Â The AM TCS casing is certainly up to hard Southwest use- frankly a surprise- and the $65 price is competitive.Â At the end of the day, though, it just wears too fast.Â It is very possible that the Dual DNA compound would last longer in different conditions- it would be great to have commenters weigh in with their own experiences.Â The Wolverine would be a good choice for riders who only occasionally need a big, grippy rear tire (say, for the occasional Moab trip) but who aren’t ready to put up with anything too heavy or slow.Â For myself, the aforementioned Mutano seems to be a good alternative- we have both the 2.2in TCS and the 2.4in AM TCS versions on test right now.Â Stay tuned for future reviews…
I’ve been running the Wolverine TCS 26″ and regular XC version in 29er, both set up tubeless, for several months also. My test rides have been on everything from Downieville’s sharp-rock-strewn XC and DH courses to our local hardpack, rooty singletrack.
Other than a few sections of loose pea-sized gravel over hardpack, I found the front and rear to be equally grippy and extremely predictable. I did suffer one small 4mm-5mm sidewall cut that took about 15 minutes and a few reinflations to seal itself up (also using Stan’s sealant), but the tire held up well and held air for another hour or so of riding after that.
While WTB doesn’t yet make a TCS or UST version of their 29er tires, I’ve had no issues with them holding air using Stan’s sealant. There’s been no seeping through the sidewall or around the bead, and they’ve never felt loose or unsafe. So, while WTB won’t officially say you can run them tubeless, and we certainly can’t guarantee or be held liable for their performance if you choose to do it, we’re certainly not the only ones out there running the 29er tires tubeless.Â The additional benefit is that their non-UST and non-TCS tires come in a bit lighter:
Our test model came in at 787g (29×2.2) with a giant fat zip tie around it, claimed weight is 774g, so in this case they’re pretty much spot on. As with any tires, there’s manufacturing variances, which we’ve seen on any tires we’ve ever tested. If you’re really concerned about it, take your gram scale with you to your local bike shop and buy the two lightest ones in stock.Â There’s no InnerPeace sidewall protection offered for 29er sizes yet, but WTB is working on more offerings for big wheels in 2011.
Admittedly, WTB’s TCS tires, while lighter than true UST models, are a bit heavier, but after riding them in the aforementioned trails and at the also very rocky Breck Epic (Wolverine front, Weirwolf rear) on a Santa Cruz Blur Carbon for three of the stages, I have to say that the weight doesn’t feel like it’s slowing me down…which is something I thought I’d never say.Â In my opinion, the traction is so good, and they roll so fast in a straight line, that like the WTB Prowler tires we reviewed earlier this year, they make you faster.Â And more confident, which just makes riding more fun.
I have noticed the early signs of wear on the outer knobs of the 26″ AM TCS tires, too, but I don’t think I have as many miles on them as Marc, so I can’t comment on their durability.
SIDE NOTE: WTB doesn’t offer TCS or UST 29er tires yet because, as their OEM sales guy Jason Moeschler says, there is no current UST/tubeless international standard for 29er wheels and tires yet, and they are waiting until there is so they can produce tires that will meet those safety standards and perform as expected. Word on the street is that’s coming fairly soon.