Review: Specialized Ground Control Control 26×2.3 and Fast Trak 26×2.2 Control trail tire combo
For over a year, we have known about the effort that Specialized have invested in their 2012 tire line. Drawing on twenty-odd years of mountain bike tire design and making extensive use of cutting-edge Finite Element Analysis (FEA), the big red S have revived the classic Ground Control name and extensively revised the Fast Trak. In their fatter 2.3in and 2.2in tubeless-ready “Control” casings, both 26in tires come in under 600g. Having had a great experience with the Fast Trak during Project 24.2 and some good fall rides on the Ground Control–and with each tire selling for $55– I thought that I might have found the perfect lightweight trail combo. How have the 1,150g of Special rubber treated me? Cross the line to find out!
Performance-wise, I really have nothing bad to say about the Ground Control Control (front) and Fast Trak Control (rear). On everything from Colorado Trail loam to Sedona slickrock, from boot-polished sandstone to loose New Mexico rubble, the duo have provided plenty of forward and braking traction, rolled well, and broken loose predictably and controllably. The same could also be said about two Ground Controls, but a Fast Trak on the rear is a bit more planted on rocks while rolling a smidge faster and actually climbing better on loose-over-hard trails. The Fast Trak will also break loose a bit earlier than a front Ground Control in corners, allowing for a recoverable rear wheel drift rather than a 2-wheeled slide.
Wear has been good as well- I’ve been riding the same Ground Control off and on since October, on several trail bikes and wheelsets, The shoulder knobs are beginning to come away from the casing- but that’s unfortunately the way in which I tend to kill all brands of tires. The tires’ weight is fantastic- mounted on Specialized’s Roval Control Trail SL wheelset, they can easily take a pound or even two off of most trail wheel & tire combinations. Not bad for $55 apiece.
Where Specialized’s trail combination falls short is on in their sidewalls. My first cut (a Fast Trak) may have been a fluke- desert riding is full of all sorts of sharp things that few tires can hope to survive indefinitely. The second (during the first ride on a brand-new Ground Control) has me more worried. Neither cut occurred on anything that couldn’t be expected in Colorado’s high country, so even those in greener areas should also take caution. It’s possible that, when mounted to the 23mm wide Rovals, the tires’ shoulder knobs don’t extend out far enough, leaving the sidewalls vulnerable. Even if so, it seems that Specialized would do well to beef the tires’ casings up a bit.
Both tires are available with Specialized’s UST-compatible “Grid” casing- but at a cost of $5 and over 200g per tire- not the most attractive proposition. Riding conditions vary all over. If Specialized could produce a sub-700g combination using their Armadillo Elite casing (which has worked extremely well for me in the past), they really would have a world-beating trail tire combination. No other tread combination has worked as well for me in as many conditions as the Ground Control and Fast Trak. Riders in kinder areas may do well to give them a go. I will be crossing my fingers and hoping for a happy casing/weight balance for 2013…