MTB Setup: More Travel vs. More Volume
2.3″ tires look narrow even in my older non-boost fork! Read through for some basic concepts on which rider runs more travel and less tire and which prefers less travel and more tire. Learn about MTB Setup: More Travel vs. More Volume
You’re in the market for your next bike. You’ve narrowed it down to the leading suspension systems – confident downhill, efficient up and quick when you hit the power. (Clearly this has brought you to BikeCo where we work with the absolute best brands in the industry.) You’ve decided on an ideal wheel size for your riding style and requirements.
However with a wide variety of trails accessible you find yourself looking at a smaller trail bike as well as a bigger enduro chassis. It’s a tough decision. Efficiency? Traction? Speed? Confidence? Which way do you go?
With the development of higher volume rims and tires as well as the improved clearance from Boost spacing you have more options than ever.
BikeCo is an industry leader in custom, semi-custom or factory kit upgrades. We can help you manipulate your bike’s personality to hit the widest swath of your riding goals.
A personal mantra on this topic, “I like to run out of talent before travel.” There are some riding specifics that lead me this direction.
I’ve been riding mountain bikes a fairly long time at this point. I’m well aware of my skillset and it’s limitations. As I’ve got more gray hair I’ve become quite aware of a goal to stay on the bike and off the ground.
I am pretty familiar with the local trails I enjoy and am comfortable on. I ride alone more times than not so generally I’m not on the hardest trails I can ride… The reality is a competent trail bike build would suit most of my riding. However, occasionally I end up shuttling with our racers or thumping down bigger trails with old friends. The extra travel provides a level of forgiveness if I miss a line or turn my brain off!
That said, I don’t need a thumper setup all the time. I run smaller tires, 2.3″ F & R, as well as thinner rims, 27mm. Given the current trends these are definitely smaller than average for a 150mm travel frame. This setup trades total traction and confidence for quicker handling, speed as well as efficiency. Depending on exact tire setup it may require higher lean angles for maximum traction.
To add “quickness” to a larger travel bike 27-30mm rims are common as well as 2.2 to 2.4 tires. The modern Fox compression controls are great as well. I can add compression to create more of a “poppy” feeling while quickly dialing it out when riding more demanding terrain.
This is one of the most popular recent builds by BikeCo. An Ibis Mojo 3 with the 2019 Fox 36 Float Grip2 fork and X2 rear shock. Even with less travel the quality of suspension as well as the 35mm internal wheels give this bike amazing trail capacity.
Ok, for this conversation let’s look at how a smaller bike with a larger rim / tire volume performs for me.
Smaller travel bikes tend to be more lively, poppy or quick. Less travel setups tend to have a more playful feel at lower speeds. The downside can be in larger terrain that quick, lively personality can make a bike feel a bit nervous. We can manipulate that feeling with wheel and tire setup. More volume, or more tire, will provide additional traction and therefor more confidence.
In reality we have the options of more volume, more tread, more sidewall to help fine tune performance.
Wider rims, typically 33-36mm manipulate a tire’s volume as well as the tread shape. The additional volume allows riders to run lower air pressure providing improved traction. Additional volume will act as “suspension” as well adding forgiveness to a bike’s riding personality.
With tires common in the 2.4 to 2.6 widths available in a variety of tread patterns riders can find even more traction.
In a full bottom out situation a smaller travel bike won’t be as forgiving as the larger travel option. That said it will competently ride up to its limits while providing more traction, which is essentially synonymous with confidence. Riders looking to develop skillsets in bigger terrain or faster speeds often appreciate the extra volume setups.
Is that to say fast riders always run more travel and less tire? Nope… It really comes down to desired bike personality. Working with the Ibis US Enduro team we see Evan consistently finishing in the top of the pro division on the Ibis Mojo 3 while other riders prefer the larger travel HD4. Different strokes for different folks. Work with BikeCo and we will help dial in your ideal bike personality.
Efficiency in mountain bike tire setup isn’t black and white. Arguments can, and are, made all over the map with credibility. For instance there are situations where the terrain is so technical that a heavier, more aggressive tread pattern “can” be more efficient climbing if it keeps you on the bike and spinning the pedals instead of hiking. We’re not going quite that direction with efficiency however.
In general, lighter, less aggressive tread patterns with a smaller contact patch are more efficient. With this in mind, my personal bike with smaller tires and a bit of compression tune on the suspension mimics the “standard” setup of a smaller travel bike.
Running higher volume tires increases the contact patch which will affect efficiency. The balancing act on this becomes what pace you ride climbs or flat sections. At some point at high pace, full power outputs you may be able to feel a “speed limit”. If you’re simply surviving your typical climbs you’re probably not fast enough to notice it. (I can’t notice it in the climbs, a bit on the flats)
Traction & Confidence
Traction really does equate to confidence when you’re near the edge of your riding skillset.
Running the larger travel bike with less tire takes more to hold a line at speed. It took me many years to get used to comfortably over riding tires and the slide or “push” associated with understeer. That said, it’s pretty fun…
A smaller travel bike with larger volume wheel setup will maximize tire to ground traction. This minimizes slide while providing the best braking traction available. Read, “confident”. Trail bikes with additional volume are incredibly popular with newer riders who don’t see themselves pushing into larger terrain.
We often suggest even experienced riders on new bikes run a bit more tire than typical to ensure a confident break in period.
Lots of ways to look at “speed” in MTB. Uphill, on the power, total speed capacity.
The differences in tire volume, on its own, are pretty minute to any of the speed categories. Weight, tread pattern, bike geometry, travel vs terrain all have a greater impact for the average rider.
In the Marketplace
One of the first bikes to take advantage of the ability to fine tune personality through tire size and volume was the Ibis Ripley LS. Defined originally as a trail / light enduro chassis Ibis added substantial tire clearance allowing the Ripley LS to confidently attack Enduro level terrain. Ibis brought the Mojo 3 to market capable of running standard or plus tires as well.
Even bikes with a more standard tire range can benefit from volume changes. One of the most popular is the Yeti SB4.5 29er. Over the years we have build many of the SB4.5’s with larger volume rim and tire combos. This gives the Yeti a bit more confident footprint and higher speed threshold which pairs nicely with its aggressive geometry.
Looking for the best in personalized setup? Not sure how a bike will really fit into your riding windows? Chat with our expert staff to define the best chassis and setup for your needs.
BikeCo is an industry leader on the cutting edge of spec, setup and tune. Our expert sales team will help you define your riding style, terrain needs, and goals. We offer the best bikes on the market from Ibis, Yeti, and Alchemy.