Maxxis has redesigned its racing tire lineup with a series of low-crown tread designs that feature reinforced cornering blocks. The one that caught our attention is the Aspen cross-country racing tire. Its chevron tread style and round, high-volume 120 thread-per-inch casing seems right for the job. The rubber is a 60/67 dual-compound durometer--tough enough to keep the tread's minimal blocks sharp and grippy. Aspen tires are stated to be 2.1 inch width, but their minimal tread makes them seem narrower. We tested the 29er versions, which weighed 510 per tire on our scale and that is very light for 29er rubber. Expect to pay between $49 and $59.
Maxis Aspen tires are unknown in many XC circles--but that will change soon.
I hoped that Maxxis had done its homework when designing the Aspen tire
, because my first test ride was an epic route
that I had not ridden and all the locals showed up with six-inch-travel all-mountain bikes bristling with 2.35-inch knobby tires. My short-travel XC bike with its Aspen tires looked like a bald-headed shoe salesman standing next to heavyweight boxers. As the trail unfolded, however, I was happy to discover that Maxxis Aspens are little tires with a big bite.
Chevron directional crown tread is minimal, but grippy.
Climbing traction is good, with plenty of grip available as long as the rider pays a little attention to weighting the rear of the bike up steep or slippery grades. We used tubes for the test, but we anticipate that a tubeless conversion would make the Aspen tire an exceptional XC climbing tire. As advertised, Aspen tires roll fast over all surfaces and receive an A-grade for hard-pack trails. Where we did not expect the Aspen's minimal tread to excel, was powering through deep sand. In the 29er format, Aspen's chevron tread makes short work of sandy straight-aways and can actually find enough traction to climb loose, sandy ascents.
Strong edging blocks do their job while cornering.
Technical riding is no problem for Aspen's tread and profile as long as one minds the tire pressure. Run the tires over 35 psi and you'll skid up the trail under braking and scratch your way up steep grades. At 30 psi, with a 160-pound rider board, the Aspens hooked up well under braking and hard cornering. Traction was available for huffing over rocky steps and sketchy off-camber section as well.
Where one can overdrive Aspen tires is on gravely sections of the trail. Here, the tires are too narrow and the short cornering blocks cannot corral enough aggregate beneath the contact patch to keep the bike on a tight line. That said, our Maxxis racing tires never pulled the rug out from under us when they were fighting for traction. We always felt confident when we were pushing them beyond their envelope.
Maxxis has a potential winner for any 29er rider who wants a fast, competitive XC racing tire that has technical-trail capability. The only thing that the Maxxis Aspen leaves us wanting for is a wider, 2.3-inch version for aggressive trail riders in search of a lighter alternative to the Maxxis High Roller or Kenda Nevegal.