Asking The Pros | What Tires They Are Riding And Why

by | Mar 8, 2023 | Bike Setup, Bike, Cycling Athlete Profiles, Skills & Setup, Sports

We’re kicking off a series of articles taking a look at the preferences and habits of South Africa’s top cyclists. In this instalment, we dive into the nitty gritty of tire choice.

If we’re talking about components of your bicycle that have a big influence on your riding experience and performance, your tires could arguably be the most important! They are  your connection with the ground. Your steering, braking and of course power transfer all depend directly on them so having the right rubber wrapped around your rims is worth more than a brief thought.

As far as people who need to worry about their tire choice go, professional riders sit at the top of the list because their paychecks are very much dependent on their ability to steer, slow down, and accelerate their bikes better than anyone else!

Given that, we reached out to a bunch of South Africa’s finest road and mountain biking athletes to find out what tires they are riding on and why they choose that spec for day to day and racing situations.

Of course all these athletes are having to ride their particular sponsor’s equipment but with so much variation within each manufacturer’s tire selection, we can identify trends for tire width, tread patterns and pressures. Without further adieu, here are their responses.

Asking The Pros: “What is your favourite tire combo and why?”

Phil Buys (Pyga EuroSteel) – 2022 South African Marathon and XCO Champion

“If the route is not too risky and not too rocky, mostly marathon races, I’ll go for 2.35 Schwalbe Thunder Burt front with 20 psi and rear with 24psi. More on the safe and grippy side of routes I will go both front and rear 2.35 Racing Ralph. front, 20psi and rear 24psi. 

Usually we would stay away from Thunder Burts, but now that we can get our hands on 2.35 volume, I love them and feel fast.”

Phil Buys Riders A Schwalbe Thunder Burt Tire
The Thunder Burt is one fast looking marathon tire (c) Shcwalbe

Amy Wakefield (Efficient Infiniti Insure) – 2022 National Marathon Champion

My tyre choice is Bontrager XR1 2.0 rear. It’s a really fast rolling and light tyre, Bontrager XR2 2.0 front, also fast rolling and light but with some bigger knobblies for grip. In muddy conditions or extra gnarly rocks I might pop a XR2 on the back too.

My favourite tyres are actually the XR 2 2.35 front and rear, the bike handles so well on descents. There’s grip for days and it almost feels like you go up a wheel size. The downside is that on the climbs it feels like you’re pedalling though clay because of the weight and rolling resistance. So as a marathoner, the 2.20s it is!

Asking The Pros | What Tires They Are Riding And Why
Amy Wakefield isn’t afraid of the technical. Her skills coaching has seen may a rider level up to new heights and she pays attention to her bike setup and tire choice.

Oh and my pressure varies slightly depending on terrain. Generally I’ll go around 1.3 rear and 1.1 front but can knock it down .1 of a bar

Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg (Denver Disruptors) – 2022 Elite Road National Champion

My tyre of choice is obviously the ones I get given to ride with, the Goodyear Eagle F1. I mostly prefer 25 mm, but I find 28 mm to be pretty good as well. My choice depends on the road surface, weather conditions and what characteristics are most important for the ride. 28 mm allows you to run slightly lower pressure, making the ride a bit more comfortable and you’re less likely to flat.

Going tubeless allows you to run even lower pressures, and have the advantage of small holes being sealed on the go. Rolling resistance is also a big factor, and tubeless have recently been proven to be faster than their counterparts.

Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg Rolls On Goodyear Eagle F1 Tires
Reinardt rolls on Goodyear Eagle F1 Tires (c) Goodyear

However the goal of the ride should be kept in mind. When I am out training I don´t care about those things, and have found tubeless in South Africa not to last very long due the amount of broken glass we have on our roads. I recently opted to have 32mm Gravel tyres on my training wheels just to stop puncturing on training rides!

Frances Janse Van Rensberg (Stade Rochelais Charente-Maritime) – 2022 / 2023 Elite Road National Champion

Racing Tyre – Panaracer Race Evo 4 (26C). I won both my Elite SA titles on these tyres. My team is using Hutchinson tyres however, so that’s what I’m currently using while in Europe.

Tristan Nortje (Toyota Specialized) – 2 X u/23 National XCO Champion

Fast Track Control front wheel and Renegade Control Rear, 2.35 front and rear width.

Depends on what race/terrain but my go to is normally 17psi in front and 19 psi in rear. The typical terrain I ride is mostly trails with some tar and gravel, basically where the road takes me. 

Tristan Norjte Is One Of South Africa'S Most Talented Youngsters On The Marathon Racing Scene Riding Specialized Control Tires
Tristan Norjte is one of South Africa’s most talented youngsters on the marathon racing scene. (c) Ray Cox / Specialized

Gert Heyns (Valley Electrical Titan Racing) – 1st at Wines2Whales and sani2c 2021

I enjoy using fast rolling tyres for marathon and XCO racing, I would usually choose a wider fast rolling tyre over a narrower but more aggressive tyre. Wider tyres tend to roll faster over rough terrain, you get some extra grip out of the wider tyre due to running lower pressures and still having enough volume to not pinch flat.

At the moment I am using Vittoria Mezcal tyres in 2.35 width as they roll really fast and offer enough grip and puncture protection for the rough and loose trails in South Africa’s dryer regions where most of our racing takes place. Something to also consider is to match up your tyre width with the inner width of your rims in order to get the right tyre shape, this is crucial for both grip and puncture protection. With rims generally getting wider these days it is important to use wider tyres as well in order to not expose too much sidewall that could be cut by rocks.

Tyre pressure is usually determined by the risk of pinch flatting or tyre roll/burping and is usually the limiting factor in how low a tyre pressure can be used. One should not underestimate how running lower tyre pressures can actually prevent punctures just due to the extra control over line choice on rough and unpredictable terrain, it is however a very fine balance to strike.

Kim Le Court (Efficient Infiniti Insure) – 1st at Wines2Whales and sani2c 2022

Tire combo is a difficult one for me as I just recently changed to Specialized 2 months ago. I am still getting used to the tires and learning about them, how to use them best, when, for which terrain, pressure etc. 

But at the moment I am racing Fast Track Grid (2.35) on the back & Fast Track Control (2.35) on the front 

Yes, slightly heavier tires than the Fast Track S-Works that I initially had on but for the terrain we have here in SA it’s what works for me. If I had to race overseas I would most probably put my Fast Track S-Works back on. Yet again, for stage races preferably stick to my combo I have on now.

Kim Le Court Is Fast With Road And Mountian Bike Tires
Mauritian Kim Le Court is fast on the road and the mountain. (c) Imbuko Big 5

Pressure for me is quite dependable on the terrain and temperature for the next 2-3 hours of my ride. I would in normal days on off road go for 1.4/5 on the back & 1.2/3 on the front. If tar road on the mountain bike I would go quite hard. 2 bars both wheels. 

If I am going out racing or training on off road and it’s quite warm outside I would pump my tires slightly less than the normal range of my off riding because with heat tires get harder throughout the ride.

Small example – Epic 2021 one of the stages ( can’t remember the exact stage ) but it was planned to be quite a scorcher day out there. I literally started my race on 1.1 on the back & 0.9 on the back. And finished the stage on almost 2.5 – 3 bars in both tires!

Marco Joubert (Imbuko type{DEV} powered by Giant) – 2022 ABSA Cape Epic Queen Stage Winner)

My standard tire setup is Schwalbe’s Racing Ralph 2.25 front and rear. I run 15 psi in front and 16.5 at the back. I mostly ride single-track, the trail you would typically find on an XCO course. I am a size small (63kgs) so 2.25 is plenty of rubber for me. I think the heavier you are the more rubber you would need – in theory.  

Travis Stedman (Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team) – 2022 Elite Road National Champion

Currently riding Pirelli p-zero. Really enjoying the wider width tyres (30mm) as I can run them a lot lower for more comfort.

Cherise Williet (Sandton City) – 2nd at 2022 National Road Champs

So on the road I love the Specialized Cotton Tyres – the rolling resistance is amazing, but the material is very thin, so you do puncture easily. For big races I will put them on my wheels and take them off afterwards for training. I ride my tires 8 bar on the road for most races, if I know it’s a bad road with lots of potholes, I will ride them a bit softer. As for width, I’m on 26c tires – that’s what hubby puts on and beggars can’t be choosers

Mariske Strauss (Rola / Liv / Garmin) – 2022 African XCO Champion

Fav tyre combo at the moment is definitely my Maxxis Recon Race. 2.35 in the front and 2.25 in the rear. I just love how they handle this combo, it’s been my go to tyre for years but last year I played around with the wider tyre in the front and def not going back. Makes such a difference!

Matt Beers (Toyota Specialized) – 2021 ABSA Cape Epic Winner and man of many words.

Specialized Fastrack T5 2.35 front 1.5 bar 

Sarah Hill – 2023 Attakwas Extreme Winner

This year, I am riding on Hutchinson tires, with a 2.3 Kraken on the front and a 2.3 Skeleton on the rear. For Epic, I’d like to drop down to a 2.25 on the rear (party on the front, business in the back!). I’m also terrible at tire pressure, I always go via feeling. More squish in the front (around 1.2 if you really want a number!) and less squish in the back. Typical terrain I ride: Rocks rocks and more rocks!

What can we deduce?

Well that was a lot of info but very interesting to see the similarities and differences. The biggest standout here is definitely a ‘wider is better’ trend, even on the road for increased comfort and reduced rolling resistance on rougher roads. It is worth noting that having an appropriate rim width to match your tires is important as Gert Heyns pointed out.

For some more info on helping you pick the right tires for your riding, check out our quick guide on choosing the right tires here!

Some riders are option for more grip up front, not a bad idea at all if you would like a bit more control on the front of the bike, and tire pressures are fairly low amongst the MTB pros which help to reduce rolling resistance on rough terrain.

These kinds of adjustments are obviously tied to one’s weight and riding style so what works for a pro may not for you. That being said, if you usually pump your tires up to rock hard pressures, try letting some air out and feel the increased traction and rolling speed! Experiment, learn, and enjoy the ride!

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