2013 Specialized 2.3″ 29″er Tires- by Grannygear
I was pretty stoked to hear of the new Specialized 2.3″ 29er versions of some of Specialized’s XC and AM tires. The 2 Bliss (UST type bead) Control casing versions of many of the Specialized tires have been quite good on several test bikes, working well tubeless across many different rims. The Ground Control 2.1 was a tire I had some time on and knew pretty well, the Purgatory 2.2 is my favorite front tire for typical So Cal conditions and the Butcher, a tire that came from the gravity side of 26″ tires, was brand new for 29″ers. Now to have these in a bigger than 2.2 size had to be a positive move.
First of all, let me get this said…they are not 2.3″ tires. Sorry. They are 2.2″ tires. Maybe they are a European 2.3″ in the same way a Euro jersey means I wear an XL instead of a Med/LG? I have had them all on a decently wide rim at 21mm internal and run tubeless and they are absolutely 2.2″, but no more.
That out of the way, let’s look at what we have and the way they have performed so far. Now I need to say all the tires have been in play during summer to fall conditions so the trail has been hard baked at first, then as the surface deteriorates, the hard patches are mixed with sand craters, loose rubble, and such. Hardly choice, but that is what we have. I cannot speak to wet conditions or even loam, etc. All samples were Control versions, no S Works, etc. All were run tubeless.
Weights across the samples (I had multiple tires in some versions so all the samples were weighed).
Purgatory 2.3″ 794g, 786g. Ground Control 2.3″ 685g, 725g Butcher 2.3″ 725g. Now the last 2.2 Purgs I weighed in the Control version came in at 746g and 739g. The last numbers I have for the 2.1″ version of the Ground Controls in a Control casing were 600g and 602g. So you can see that some weight was gained in the Purgs despite the 2.2″ real world sizing. You would expect the bigger 2.3″ Ground Controls to be heavier.
The Purgatory – The Purg has been my #1 front tire for a 29″er trail bike. It is solid, predictable and stable. It also was a bit of a slow roller and I seldom used it as a rear tire. It has a lot of braking traction, making it a bit difficult to rear steer with, if you like doing that. The 2.3″ Purgatory is, at first, not that different looking than the 2.2 version but closer examination will show a tweaked tread pattern from the older tire. I was quite surprised how much better it rolled when I swapped it onto the front of the long term test Camber. It was noticeable. On trail, if anything, the Purgatory was an even better tire than the old one. It showed no bad habits and was just dead solid on the junky surfaces of late summer. Turning, braking, etc. was equal to the older version. It felt the same as you leaned into turns with no obvious dead spots or bad habits. There is a lot of support for the side knobs so they are steady on hard surfaces. I loved the old one and this is at least as good and rolls much better. Winner.
The Ground Control – I had liked this tire but not really loved it in the 2.1″ version. It was designed as an all-rounder tire. Sometimes that can end up being a jack of all trades master of none kinda’ thing and the GC (for short) was good in a rear tire and so-so on the front in our loose over hardback conditions. There were times I was a bit let down by the cornering traction as a front tire when I had them F/R on the Carve single speed test bike. But as a stock rear tire on the Camber, matched with a 2.2″ Purg front, it was actually pretty good. It rolled well and was easy to rear steer, having a ‘sudden death’ feeling when you got beyond the side knobs in a brake slide, but it always would hook right up again making for fun entrances into sharp corners. The 2.3″ versions have been mounted F/R on the Carve single speed replacing the 2.2″ Fast Traks. The extra volume and increased rubber on the ground has made it a better tire on the single speed and it does not feel slower compared to the 2.1″ version. The 2.3″ is a tire I would keep on the single speed although I lost some speed when I took off the Fast Traks. However I gained some grip in the loose conditions as well as climbing hook-up in the rear. I also expect them to be better tire than the Fast Trak would be as we get into wet soil. Now one thing that stands out to me…they are the best tires in sand I have used as far as steering straight ahead when crossing sand patches, sand washes, etc. It really is remarkable and is something they share with their smaller brothers, the 2.1s. If I lived in Florida and wanted a good handling tire, but did not need or want a huge carcass on the rims, I would sure try these. The 2.3″ is, in my opinion, the better of the two sizes for most riders.
The Butcher – The Butcher was a complete unknown to me and was the last tire I mounted up. I replaced the 2.3″ Purgatory on the front of the Camber with the 2.3″ Butcher and noted that it had a different profile. Viewed from the saddle, there are four distinct rows of knobs and a slightly peaky shape compared to the very rounded profile of the Purgatory. The Butcher is meant as a front tire and the rows of aggressive knobs look like they would reach out and touch whatever you point it into. It is a single compound tire and is a bit softer across the tread compared to the Purgatory. Traction. Traction is the deal here. I never liked the Eskar and could not take it off fast enough but the Butcher has been a very interesting tire. On the pavement it rolls with little rumble and seems decent with the ramped knobs. The Purg does feel smoother. It turns off center faster than the Purg and really perked up the steering of the Camber, something that had been slowed a bit with the addition of a 120mm fork. The entrance into fast sweepers and sharp corners was more playful but did not have that ‘gap of indecision’ feeling that the Eskar had when you were in-between the center and side knobs. It feels absolutely tenacious when turning aggressively…weight the front wheel and go fast. I am not so sure how it would do on truly hard surfaces as the side knobs are a bit squirmy compared to the more solid Purg, but that is not the trail conditions I am riding in. I took the Butcher on a few hours of riding over some moto trails that were full of whoops, berms, and broken, loose rocks. The Butcher was all I needed it to be and even the 203mm rotor of the Formula brakes did not overwhelm it on the junky trail descents. I am liking this tire very much as a front trail bike tire and I bet it would be good in deep loam too. Paired with a 2.3″ Purg for that day on the moto trails it was solid and steady. On the more moderate trails of home, I would run a 2.3″ Ground Control rear and the 2.3″ Butcher front. As well, note that the Butcher is a lighter tire than the new Purg.
How could they be better? The 2 Bliss Specialized tires have been the best performing tires across multiple rims designs that I have ever used when it comes to ease of tubeless set-up. Floor pump city, 99% of the time. But they could use a better side casing. I never use S Works tires…too fragile for my trail needs. I have had good luck with the Control versions, but some of the new tech in tires like the Continental Protection casings are making 29″er tires better and tougher without adding a great deal of weight. If I could wiggle my nose and change anything here, it would be to have something like a ‘Grid Lite’ casing to choose from….not full on DH stuff, just a bit more bulletproof. Is that on the planning board at the Big S? Dunno’, but I would not bet against it.
Meanwhile, as long as you were not expecting a truly 2.3″ version of these tires, they all are improvements over any existing versions and are good options for 29″er riders.
Note: Specialized sent the tires for test and review at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches. We are not being bribed, nor paid to do this review. We will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.