Words by Natalie Fraser
I’m sure we’ve all heard of plus tyres and how more and more big brands are getting behind the movement and developing their own plus bike models.
Plus bikes aim to provide more control, more comfort and more traction with tyre widths of between 2.8-3.0", as opposed to regular tyres which are sized between 2.2-2.4". But do they really offer any major advantages or are they just another fad that won’t last? We took to the trails to put the plus MTB tyres to the test, pitting them against the regular sized MTB tyres to see if we can provide an answer.
Over the weekend we took our two test steeds; a Scott Genius 720 Plus and a Norco Fluid 7.1. The trails were still pretty churned up and sloppy after a wet few weeks, so test conditions were prime.
Both bikes performed admirably but the Plus bike inspired more confidence for hitting wet, muddy and skiddy patches, especially on berms or moving at speed downhill.
The contact patch is much bigger with plus tyres, up to around 20% bigger in some cases which means more rubber is in contact with the ground, meaning more grip and the possibility for the bike to lean further over without losing traction.
There were a few moments where the Plus bike squiggled about a bit, but I managed to stay upright… Just to reinforce this point, there were five instances when the regular tyres lost grip and I ended up eating mud.
One thing that must be discussed is the increase in comfort the Plus bikes provide. While the full suspension Norco was pretty comfortable already, it’s undeniable that the wider tyres and lower tyre pressures of the Scott Plus bike add to the comfort of the bike.
It’s like having a little extra suspension which makes even the roughest of rock gardens that bit smoother. The increased grip adds to this too, the tyres slip less on wet rocks giving you a cleaner line through rough patches.
One of the rumours about running plus tyres is that they are slower and harder to ride uphill. The rolling resistance is reportedly only about 2% more, so not really anything to worry about.
However, I did notice that the Plus bike was slightly more work to peddle uphill than the Norco but that could easily be down to the tyre pressures of the two bikes. Conversely, I also noticed that when going downhill, the Plus bike was an absolute rocket! So maybe it was my legs that were struggling uphill and not the increased rolling resistance.
Another factor to take into account when looking at different bikes is, of course, spare parts, how easy are they to get a hold of? How expensive are they? Some bike shops don’t stock Plus sized bikes or plus tyres and those that do only keep a limited stock. Add to this the larger price tag and it's not looking very inviting is it. Of course, you can always opt to go tubeless which removes some of this, but you still need new tyres now and again.
Maintenance and Set-up
On that note, trying to remove a Plus tyre to either replace an inner tube or a tyre is one hell of a workout! Those big tyres really are difficult to budge in the first place and then just as difficult to reseat afterwards. Despite the fact they run on low pressures, they actually need a lot of pressure to seat them initially.
One final point to consider is the Boost dropouts which are fitted to most Plus bikes. Basically, these widen the fork spacings to allow you to change the tyre sizes on a Plus bike, allowing you to switch between plus and regular sized tyres as well as 29in wheels. So with this in mind, you could buy a Plus bike and run standard tyres while having the option of changing to Plus if you wanted to.
From what I’ve learnt on this test, I would say that Plus bikes do have their place.
They definitely offer increased comfort, control and traction and come into their own in the wettest, sloppiest conditions. Also, with the flexibility of wheel sizes that the Boost dropout allows, you get real versatility when buying a Plus bike. So whatever your thoughts, I’d recommend giving Plus a go, it might surprise you.
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