In our ‘How to set up your ride (Part I - Suspensions)‘, we went through stuff regarding dialing your mountain bike suspensions to ride the specific application of downhill commonly found in bike Les Gets & Morzine (or other great steep mountain locations for mountain bike riding).
In this part I would like to go over stuff that as common as it may be, the average rider pays little to no attention at all and it is our interface with the ground - the tires and also the brakes.
Apart for the fact that they all come in the same form and mostly in a standard diameter (26") this is where similarity often ends. The variety of shapes (thread patterns), width size, material composition, etc. is so vast that it is probably one of the most diversified part on a bike. It is also one of the cheapest parts but on the other hand has maybe the most effect on our ride and therefore it is maybe the most important mountain bike part too.
This stage is too short to go into detail on how to choose the right tire but my golden rule in general would be to experiment as much as possible with different types because at the end of the day it is, as with any other mountain bike part, a matter of personal preference.
As for the Downhill application, my tips regarding tires when riding in Morzine & Les Gets are:
Tire Width - Keep it at least 2.5 inch wide (especially in the front).
Tire pattern - If it is muddy (as it often is), select a spaced pattern with tall knobs for better grip and mud clearance.
Sidewalls strength - I would strongly recommend at least a 2 ply casing (thicker sidewalls) for greater resistance to punctures (especially in the rear tire).
Compound - The higher compound number the harder the rubber is. The harder the rubber is the lower traction it will have but it will also wear out much slower, it‘s a simple trade-off. If the soil is soft (like in Les Gets at the beginning of the season) then a harder compound (60) will do fine, if it is drier and loose (middle or end of season), a softer compound (40-50) is preferred. I‘d go with a higher compound in the back and softer compound up front (where traction really counts!).
Air pressure - that is one of the most influencing parameter. Since it depends on so many parameters (surface type - rocky or smooth, rubber strength - tougher or weaker, rider weight & riding style - heavy and ‘rougher‘ or lighter and ‘smoother‘,inner tubes or tubeless, etc.). The higher PSI = lower rolling resistance (higher speed) & higher resistance to punctures but lower traction while lower PSI = well. the opposite. For normal downhill use, and if traction is your main concern (usually is) I‘d say, go as low as you can without risking resistance to punctures. It can be anywhere between 15-25 psi. Normally you can put 2-5 psi less in the front wheel.
Tubeless - In most cases I‘d rave about it. It lowers rotational weight and lets you go real low with air pressure (with certain tires you can go as low as 5 PSI!!!). Downhill application has it own reservations as in certain situation (lets say tight speed cornering) with very low tire pressure the tire might fold under the wheel and let out the air at one instance which can lead to a ‘crash & burn‘. As with anything else, some love it, others stay away from it.
Some very popular tire brands that are commonly seen in the Alps are Maxxis (mainly ‘Minions‘), Kenda (mainly ‘Nevegals‘), Intense (mainly ‘DH‘), WTB‘s and other excellent brands.
The other system, maybe even complementary, is the mountain biking braking system. As with most other bike pasts, supply is with abundance. Brake system very in mechanisms, stopping power, modulation and adjustability but they are all aim for one purpose only; to stop the bike whenever desired.
As for Downhill application my recommendation for brakes system would be:
Hydraulic only - Forces are extreme and no mechanical mechanism is on par with any hydraulic system.
The stronger model (of each brakes maker) - every manufacturer has more then a few models aimed for specific bike application. Since downhill involves great forces with high speed the requirement is for very strong systems. Weight winnies or top racers who have the perfect skills and count every gram may choose the lighter systems (that are normally weaker), if your name isn‘t Sam hill and you rely on a brut stopping power, I‘d say look elsewhere for saving weight. Powerful braking system will inspire you to go faster and provide you with more confidence.
Rotors - Go big! An 8" (inch) rotor can increase stopping power by more then 40% as opposed to 6" rotor. I‘d say no less then 8" rotor up front (where main physical force plays part in downhill) and 7" in the rear for better control and to avoid frequent wheel lock.
Modulation - The more modulation a brake has to offer the wider grey area you have or better controllability. Some (older) systems tend to feel more like On/Off effect, it messes up your lines and overall approach. There are excellent system out there that let you modulate your power and you can apply 20 or 50 or 80 percent as you feel required. This is of a superior performance.
Adjustability - today‘s systems offer adjustability not only for the lever reach but also for determine when the pads start ‘biting‘ the rotor and start braking. This adjustability feature better help you to fine tune your brakes to your liking.
Reliability - In a Downhill run you go fast, very fast. A lot of things can go wrong. Last thing you want is to blaze down a section and then give a big hug to some tree at the bottom just because your brakes broke! Most systems out there are reliable and they cost good money. Don‘t be tempted to save your $$ over a no-named brand or some very old and used system that can fail on the next run. It‘s actually a matter of life saving.
Some very popular brakes systems that are commonly seen in the Alps are Magura (‘Louise‘ & ‘Gustav‘), Hope (‘M4 & M6?), Shimano (‘Saint‘), Formula (‘K series‘), Avid (‘Juicy‘ & ‘Code‘) and other excellent brands.
Sooooo my fella riders, play and fiddle with those set ups. Don‘t just grab the bike from the store and ride it. There is a lot you can influence your riding experience and performance while riding inLeg Gets - Morzine.
Tune it well and you will Pin it!
See more info about Morzine bike hire.