Second Look: Specialized Fast Trak: by Grannygear
I had tried a Specialized Fast Trak tire a couple of years ago on a singlespeed I was riding at the time and I was quite unimpressed. I had trouble keeping the back tire hooked up on sand over hardpack climbs and braking was so so as well. It did not last long on there and I replaced it with a Continental Race King 2.2, still a minimal knobbied tire, but much better in overall traction. Interestingly enough, Guitar Ted says they are a staple tire in Iowa and well liked in the Midwest, so horses for courses.
Jump ahead to a patio table in France during the Roc d’ Azur where I am having a conversation with Chris Wyatt, MTB tire guy at Specialized Bikes and all around nice guy. We were talking about the new Ground Control (a nice all a rounder on it’s own) when I mentioned I had pretty much hated the Fast Trak. He told me that the Fast Trak had been redesigned with the same FEA analysis approach with which the Ground Control had been created and that the new Fast Trak was a much better tire. Really? I was skeptical. However, I was experimenting with new tires on the Carve Pro SS and the Fast Traks crossed my mind again. I wanted a full volume tire with a small to moderate knob, fast rolling, cushy, and yet with enough traction to make it real on an single speed in dry So Cal conditions. Also, it needed to be tubeless ready and work on the Stan’s-like (read tight) fit of the American Classic single speed wheels.
An email or two and I had a set of 2.2 Fast Trak Controls in my hands. The difference between the old and new version was not immediately apparent to me as it had been a while since I had used one. However, I had a slightly worn 2.0 version of an older Fast Trak mounted on my wife’s geared 29er hardtail (not a great pic…sorry, raining). Size would not compare, but tread should. It is obvious that this is barely the same tire here. Wider spacing on some knobs, more working edges, and the center knobs are really different. But would I care about all this when I rode them? I dunno! So on to the singlespeed they went.
Immediately I was a bit bummed with the casing size. Well, they were not tiny for a 2.2 tire, but they did not seem to plump up like a Captain 2.2 does. Still, they weighed in at 588g and 618g each, so they are lighter than a typical 2.2 29er Captain Control at 730g claimed average weight. Note that a typical Fast Trak Control 2.2 is listed as weighing 650g, so those numbers on the Specialized site seem to be high. In any case they look and measure more like a 2.1 on the American Classic rims. Maybe they will plump up a bit over time (after some time mounted on the AC wheels, they reached a 2.15″ casing width). By the way, mounting them was eezy-peezy and took only a floor pump using some excellent Geax sealant.
Putting around on the front street, they were smooth rolling and had a very round profile, no peaks or gaps from center to side tread, etc. It was time to get them dirty and dirty they are. I have about a good dozen rides on them now, beginning with very loose conditions to hero dirt after some rain, now swinging back toward dry. The rides have been typical So Cal singletracks and fire roads along with paved connectors. Mud? No idea and that is unlikely at this time of year. I expect they would be a poor performing wet conditions tire. But what about the dry dirt I have been on? Are they better than I remembered them being? Oh my, yes!
In fact, in my opinion, at least for the use I want them for, it is truly like a whole new tire. They hook up much better than before and I seldom have had any sudden breaks or spins under some pretty tricky climbs. As long as the surface is hard underneath, the sand or gravel over the top is dealt with surprisingly well. Once it begins to get to deeper or chunkier rubble, then they lose some composure, but that is where a Ground Control steps up and begins to rule, then the Purgatory, and so on. They bite harder in corners than I would expect for a somewhat minimal tire. They have not drifted or cut away even once, something the previously mounted Conti X Kings would do every now and then. Now these are being used on an single speed hardtail, so I am not exactly qualifying for a World Cup DH on them, but they have impressed me so far.
Steering is completely neutral and it does not require any adjustment to get the line you want. I do wish they were a bit plumper but I have to say that I am coming to think a 2.1″ wide 29″er tire might be perfect for most XC trail use. But on the single speed, if I could get more volume then it means I can drop the PSI a bit and live fatter and perhaps happier. I also noted a slight harshness to the ride after coming from the Continental X King tires I had on there (also a 2.1 tire), but then the Conti tires use a high TPI casing (and are more costly too!). In this pic on the left the Conti X King is the top tire, Fast Trak below.
I am impressed by a tire I pretty much had no use for before and they remain on the single speed for now, so if you shared my thoughts regarding the older Fast Trak, give the newer version a shot. It just may convince you too. It is pretty much a whole new ball game.
Specialized sent over the Fast Trak Control tires at no charge for test and review. We are not being bribed, nor paid for this review and will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.