Written by Big Al Friday, 21 December 2012 00:00
I have been testing these tires for several months, nearly seven to be more precise. I have actually had them longer than that so I could have been testing them even even longer and now I am wishing I had.
I have to say right up front I am a set and forget it kind of guy when it comes to mountain bike tires. I like to find a tire that works well in most conditions and leave it well enough alone for the season. I have never been one to chase the conditions with different tires to maximize weight reduction and minimize rolling resistance. I don't want boat anchors but I will concede a few extra grams for a tire setup I can use all the time. Such was the cause for my reluctance to mount up the Drivers straight away. Out of the package they feel light, really light for a 29er tire. Panaracer claims on the packaging a weight of 580g average and I weighed them at 605g on my scale which is probably within the margin of manufacturing and scale variability. They also look fast, I mean really fast. A very low miniature block on top of a diamond pattern center section with higher side knobs out at the edge. I thought it looked like a great race day tire for bone dry courses that are not too rocky.
Not until a teammate and training partner raced these on a really rocky course in New Jersey and gave them a whole hearted thumbs up did I start to get serious about trying them myself. I had heard other good reports and really wanted to give them a shot but previous to that I hadn't heard from anybody that could compare them in the context of the trails that I ride. Are you sensing the reluctance to change here? That is really a lot of what it boils down to. I also had my big event of the summer coming up, a 50 mile point to point MTB endurance race and I wanted (needed?) every advantage I could get. So mount them up I did to get a few miles on them ahead of the race.
I haven't run tubes on my MTB for I can't remember how long, must be 10 years or more. So for me, being able to run tubeless is a must. Although the Driver isn't officially listed as a tubeless compatible tire, none of Panaracer's other 29er tires are either and I have successfully run those tubeless with Stan's sealant with no problems. It is a pretty tall task for a manufacturer to test every combination of rims, sealant and strips or tape with their tires and even if they did just because everything works today doesn't mean a new product won't come out tomorrow that doesn't. So the easiest thing for them to do is make no claims and leave it up to the user to determine their own personal level of risk and responsibility. That is why some manufacturers will only go so far as to say "Tubeless Friendly." That probably leaves enough plausible deniability to keep most ambulance chasing lawyers off their back. Fine by me, I am ok taking that level of responsibility. At any rate, mounting was pretty straightforward for me. I mounted them on the new Pacenti TL28 rims with Carver sealing strips and Stan's sealant. They aired up quickly with a compressor and gave the audible pop-pop-pop when the bead seated that is music to my ears in the confidence department. The only issue I had in the mounting is for some reason the rear had noticeable leak down over a couple hours but after the first ride it settled in and hasn't been a problem since.
This is also the first season I have used the wider profile XC rims that are becoming popular. The Pacenti TL28 is 28mm wide on the outside and 23mm wide on the inside. I have read some concerns about the lack of volume of the Driver despite being billed as a 2.2 but on the TL28 it looked like it had plenty of volume for me. I run my pressures lower than the manufacturer stated minimum of 30psi and again, I accept this level of risk. I in no way recommend or condone it, I merely state what I do for reference. It is up to you to decide what level risk you are willing to accept. I run 23psi in the front, with that pressure the casing is 53ish millimeters and 57ish millimeters across the widest point of the tread. I run 25psi in the rear and that increases the previously mentioned dimensions by maybe a half millimeter. My measurement from top of the tread to the rim is somewhat crude but it was roughly 55 millimeters. These numbers may not seem particularly voluminous but paired with the wide TL28 rim there is some extra air hiding in there that can't really be measured with the caliper but trust me, it is in there.
So the first ride impressions were, 1) Wow, these are light and 2) Wow, these are fast. Which led me back to my assumptions about light and fast tires. They must be delicate, hence for race day only and also only good for a narrow window trail conditions like dry and hard. The one thing that continued to push me away from this assumption though was this crazy sound they emitted every time the trail got dicey and I had to put some power down on roots or rocks. It was this crazy almost Velcro ripping sound. The tire wasn't slipping but you could hear all those micro edges of the small center tread gripping like cat climbing up a tree.
I was impressed enough with dry grip to make the leap to race on them in the 50 miler given the conditions were forecasted to be dry on race day. Conditions were in fact dry on race day but that didn't mean there wasn't any moisture, mud or loose conditions on the 50 mile course. It was a pretty good mix of just about every east coast condition you could encounter. How did they fair? In a word, awesome. I won my Expert age group (old guy) and was 2nd Expert overall. I think the winner was sandbagging a little and perhaps should have been racing Pro but no sour grapes here, the race was a blast. The tires never let me down. They hooked up when I needed them to in technical stuff, they were confidence inspiring on nasty descents and rolled fast on open double track and fire roads.
So race day comes and goes and I liked the tire enough to try running them as daily drivers. No pun intended there but now that I think of it perhaps that could be a good marketing ploy. Boy am I ever glad I did. So much more fun than dragging around the big old knobs I usually like to run and place my confidence in. I was so enamored with the tire and this 50 mile thing that on a summer trek to Kingdom Trails in northeastern Vermont I knocked out another continuous 50 miles mostly on single track with the tires. They were flawless.
After exorcising my demons about what the tire can handle with 100 miles of burly New England single track I just ride the tires and smile, constantly amazed at what they can do given the amount of tread they have. This may all seem too good to be true and believe me I am usually a die hard skeptic but this tire has made me think I can have my cake and eat it too.
With temps dropping below the freezing mark here and the trails firming up accordingly I thought it might be time to swap out for the big knobs. Being a bit of a procrastinator I have kept rocking the Drivers anyway and they continue to shine. Who knew it was also the perfect tire for frozen ground? I am not talking ice and snow here, I mean that hard as concrete ribbon of brown single track. Nirvana. It feels like a race track with these tires.
I have used almost every Panaracer MTB tire since way back when they rolled out the Smoke in the early 90's. I would go so far as to say that the Driver may be their best MTB tire to date. So bottom line, if you are looking for some light, fast, grippy 29er tires that can handle most conditions then look no further. Get yourself some Panaracer Driver29erPro tires, you won't be disappointed.
|< Prev||Next >|