Plus-size bikes have been a hot topic in the bike world for the past few months. With the plus-size denoting the tyre width, measuring from 2.8″ to 3.0″, they are reputed to embody the perfect compromise between a regular width bike tyre and a fat bike. But is there any truth behind the marketing hype? What is the price we have to pay for such great grip? Who are they made for and what should we be aware of when riding? So many questions, now it is finally time for some answers!

Im wunderschönen Latsch in Südtirol haben wir dem neuesten Trend der Bike-Indstrie auf den Zahn gefühlt um herauszufinden: was können Plus-Bikes wirklich und für wen sind sie gemacht?
We put the bike industry’s latest trend through the wringer in idyllic Latsch, South Tirol, hoping to find out exactly what plus-size bikes are capable of, and just who are they made for?

The test

You could argue we’re comparing apples with pears in this group test, and you’d be right. Even prior to the testing, our office rapidly descended into heated discussions to define the exact direction and purpose of the test. Those buying bikes today should pay more attention to the complete bike, rather than the tyre size, right? And that’s exactly why we decided to look at exactly which bike model is best suited to which rider.

The idea

It sounds both simple and ingenious, as plus-size tyres claim to nail the gap between the well-known 2.35″ width and the monstrously wide fat bike tyres, which measure up to 4.0″. On paper, their design unites the grip of the voluminous fat tyres with the agility of the narrower ones, thereby delivering yet more traction and stability without being overly bulky. But does it work in reality? Has the bike industry succeeded in producing something wholly unthinkable for cars – have they designed a tractor that behaves like a Ferrari?

Unsere Testtracks waren die vielfältigen Trails der Region.
The location for our testing was South Tirol’s interwoven, jam-packed network of trails.
Unsere Testcew bestand aus Profis und ganz normalen Bikern um so die Bedürfnisse und Ansprüche unterschiedlichster Fahrer und Fahrerinnen widerzuspiegeln.
With the objective of reflecting as wide a spectrum of riders as possible, our test crew was deliberately made up of pros and regular Joes.

Lab stats? No thanks!

Still in its infancy, plus-size tyres have a lot of variables that still need to be researched, with suitable products often still in the R&D phase or just entering their first production model. Conducting a purely fact-based comparison in a lab wouldn’t be the right option here; it’s far more important for riders to assess how they feel the tyres actually ride.

Unser Labor waren die abwechslungsreichen Trails rund um Latsch.
The lab: Latsch’s mass of trails duly became our testing ground.
Bei allen Bikes wurde penibelst auf den korrekten Luftdruck in den Reifen geachtet.
Each tyre’s air pressure was meticulously controlled.
Neben den verschiedenen Bikes haben wir auch unterschiedliche Laufrad-Reifen-Kombinationen und Reifenbreiten ausgiebig getestet.
As well as various bikes, we also extensively tried out wheel-tyre combos and a horde of tyre widths.
Stimmen die Herstellerangaben? Wie groß ist der Unterschied zwischen den verschiedenen Modellen? Wir haben es herausgefunden.
Do the manufacturers’ stats ring true? What’s the actual difference between the various models? We’ve got the answers.
Macht die Kombination aus Plus-Reifen und Schwalbe PROCORE Sinn? Wir haben die Antwort.
Are plus-size tyres the perfect companion for Schwalbe PROCORE – is it a combination that works? We got the bottom of this.

The test bikes in brief

For the purpose of this test we initially intended to test three identical models in three wheel sizes from the following companies, Specialized, Scott and Stevens. However, only Stevens managed to send the trio of bikes (27.5″, 29″ and 27.5+). Scott and Specialized kitted us out with two of their identical models, each bearing different wheel sizes.

Specialized schickte das Erfolgsmodell Stumpjumper mit 27,5" und 27.5+ Laufrädern zum Test.
Specialized sent the super successful Stumpjumper with both 27.5″ and 27.5+ wheels for testing.
Von Scott erhielten wir das Genius in 29" und 27.5+
From Scott we received the Genius in 29″ and 27.5+.
Einzig Stevens konnte uns das Whaka mit allein drei Laufradgrößen zur Verfügung stellen. Hier zu sehen: die 27,5" und 27.5+ Version.
Stevens was the only company to send us one model in all three wheel sizes, namely the Whaka. Shown here are the 27.5″ and 27.5+ versions.

Our test team & test track

This test saw us travel down to Latsch in South Tirol, armed with three exciting plus bikes from the coming season and their counterpart with regular tyres. Our test crew knew exactly what our aim was: put an end to all the half-guessing, suss out the marketing hype and conclude the speculations. The test crew included pros and amateurs, reflecting the needs and wants of as broad a spectrum of riders as possible. Also part of the team was the current German Enduro Champion Fabian Scholz, who relished the diverse mountainous test tracks around Latsch. Each ride served up a medley of terrain, with everything from man-made berms, gnarly rock gardens, root sections, dusty terrain and loose forest floors represented, giving a taste of virtually any ride.

Das Test-Team auf einen Blick.
The test team (l-r) Andi, Steffi, Fabi, Vinzenz and Christoph
Bergauf ging es mal aus eigener Kraft, mal mit dem Shuttel um die Bikes auf allen Untergründen testen zu können.
Some of the climbs were done under their own steam, others with the shuttle; important was checking out the performance of the bikes on every terrain.
Latsch ist ein echtes Bike-Eldorado und bietet unzählige Trails mit ganz unterschiedlichen Beschaffenheiten.
With countless tracks and no two trails the same, Latsch is a genuine riding El Dorado.
Eine frühe Erkenntnis des Tests: bei Plus-Bikes ist die tubeless-Montage der Reifen Pflicht!
We soon discovered that plus-bikes have to be tubeless!
Ein nicht zu unterschätzender Faktor: das Spaßpotenzial der Bikes.
Don’t underestimate the fun of these bikes.
Trail-Talk: An Ort und Stelle wurde über die verschiedenen Eindrücke diskutiert und gefachsimpelt.
Trail talk: why wait to discuss their merits?
Wie performen die dicken Reifen auf Steinen, wie auf Sand und wie im Matsch?
How do these chubby tyres perform on rocks, sand and mud?
Von Sonnenauf- bis Sonnenuntergang haben wir getestet, getestet und noch mehr getestet.
From sunrise to sunset, our agenda was testing, testing and more testing.

Check out Issue #019 of ENDURO Mountainbike Magazine for the ultimate low-down on just how the plus-size bikes performed. Is it a case of bigger is better? Is there any room left over for improvement? How much potential is stacked in their chubby tyres? And is it really just all about the wheelsize? Stay tuned! !

Text & Bilder: Christoph Bayer


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