As a lover of all things two wheeled and pedal powered (a bike-sexual if you will), I’ve been spending more and more time in the dirt than on the road.
Since mountain bikes and mountain bike parts have become increasingly more technologically advanced and expensive over the years, it pays to do your research and get the right parts the first time.
One of the, if not the (IMHO), most important parts on your MTB is a set of tires. After all, tires do a lot of work keeping you upright and shredding when the going gets gnar. With the ever changing trail conditions of the Pacific NW, it’s best to have a few sets of tires laying around the studio apartment for mud, rocks, dry trail, blue groove, snow, and sandy conditions.
Oh, and one set for night racing on Wednesdays.
But, if you’re on a small budget, all those tires add up. Then you can’t pay rent and you’re living in your Subaru.
Even a single set of high end tires can set you back a few hundred smackers.
Enter the world of CST!
As any rider worth his/her sriracha sauce will tell you, CST, or Cheng Shin, is the Chinese mega corp whose crappy nylon shoes shod the two wheeled beasts found on display at the local Wal-Mart with their backwards forks and downright scary workmanship. Cheng Shin tires are found in “shops” where employees measure bikes size by wheel diameter and not frame size, and who also sell toiletries and salty snacks.
But what they won’t tell you is that Cheng Shin is the parent company of Maxxis tires, kings of all things motocross.
With Cheng Shin’s (or CST as they’re calling themselves now) wide array of products at wallet-friendly prices, it’s becoming easier for the discerning trail rider on a budget to mix and match tires for changing trail conditions.
However, the question still remains: how good can these low priced tires actually be?
The answer is: surprisingly good for the money!
Granted, you probably won’t be wining any World Cup races on these rubbers, but if you were racing at the World Cup level, you’d probably be out training right now instead of reading some gibberish I wrote for some blog while I may or may not have been completely sober.
Is that vodka or water in that glass? Huh. Only one way to find out….
Anyway, I decided to whip out the old credit card and purchase a few sets of these CST tires to play with. After all, I can buy 2 or 3 sets of CST tires for less than a single set of Contintental Trail Kings.
In the end, I purchased the CST Rock Hawk, Ouster and Critter tires in various 29″ sizes, all with CST’s Exceptional Puncture Safety (EPS) cap, dual rubber compound and foldable bead. I tested these on both hardtail and dual suspension bikes in a variety of trail conditions from dry, flowy, eastern Washington summer trails to muddy, western Washington winter singletrack.
Rock Hawk: Size: 29″ x 2.4″. This is CST’s down and dirty rock and mud tire. I do a lot of riding in the foothills of the Cascades, so mud, rocks and roots are all par for the course on our local singletrack. I’m currently running this tire as my front tire, but I’m pretty confident it would make for a decent rear as well. The Rock Hawk should really be called the Mud Something because it really excels in all kinds of mud. However, the wide, flat knobs don’t grip as well on the rocks as the name might suggest. Even though the tire features a dual compound, the EPS cap really makes this tire feel stiff. That said, this is the most supple of the 3 CST tires I’ve tested. However, I suspect that has more to do with the tire size (the Rock Hawk being the largest tire of the bunch) and less to do with actual tread compound. If you spend most of your time on hardpack or blue groove, the Rock Hawk will rattle your teeth out. But, if you play in the mud, the Rock Hawk has plenty of bite for the buck. Price: Around $30.
Ouster: Size: 29″ x 2.25″. CST bills the Ouster as an all mountain, varied conditions tire. I have to say that’s pretty spot on. I’ve run this tire on both ends of the bike, and while I am currently running it as a rear tire, it really does handle the front end better than one might think. The ramped center knobs are fast rolling and grip well in all conditions. The side knobs hang on for dear life when railing the turns. As a rear tire, the Ouster becomes a different animal if you turn it around backwards. In backasswards mode, this thing will climb walls of loose dirt, mud, sand, rock, or anything else one might encounter while climbing. The downside is substantially decreased braking and handling and increased hum and vibration. But, if you run it in the direction that nature intended, you get a serious Swiss Army knife of a tire. While climbing traction is decreased, handling and braking are much better than in backasswards mode. The Ouster is quick enough to keep up with your Lycra clad XC friends on the hardpack, and aggressive enough to huck with your trail bros. Grip is all around very good, with slick mud being the Ouster’s weak spot. That’s not to say that it’s bad in the mud, it just isn’t as good in the mud as it is in the other stuff. Overall, a great choice if you can only have one set of tires. Price: $22-$30
Critter: Size: 29″ x 2.1″. “Designed mainly for hardpack trails, the Critter from CST is a fast-rolling cross country mountain bike tire” is how CST describes the Critter. While the Critter does exceptionally well over loose stuff, the hardpack and blue grove really is where this tire feels at home. With its small center knobs and more aggressive, ramped side knobs, the Critter flies across hardpack and bites into the loose stuff. The Critter provides enough grip to keep you upright in the mud, but you’ll probably want to change your shorts afterwards. All in all, the Critter works best on the rear of the bike as its stiff, unforgiving casing transfers a lot of vibration through the frame of the bike. Maybe a wider size would help to remedy that. Price: $23-$32.
All in all, I have to say that CST makes the best budget off-road tires I’ve ever ridden. They grip well in the conditions for which they are designed, and after a full season of riding, they aren’t showing much wear. The EPS cap makes for a stiff overall ride and feel, but is also the closest thing to bullet proof I’ve seen.
I haven’t tried the same tires without the EPS. Maybe I’ll give them a try later this year and report back. Another small detail is that all of CST’s tires seem to run a size smaller than listed. The 2.4″ measures about 2.25″, the 2.25″ is about 2.1″ and the 2.1″ is downright skinny. All that said, each and every one of these tires outperformed the Bontrager XR1 and XR3 tires my bikes were spe’d with from the factory.