Wil reviews the latest version of the venerable Specialized Ground Control tyre
I seem to have been riding a lot of chunky tyres lately. I’d say it has a lot to do with the influence of living in a steep valley amongst the Pennines for the last couple of years, where the ‘eclectic’ Todmorden weather ingrains a just-in-case attitude into every mountain biker who lives within it. The result seems to be equipping oneself with a lot more bike, more suspension, and more tyre than is often needed. But when the skies inevitably turn grey, unleashing sopping mizzle on the previously-not-muddy trail before you, it’s always a good idea to have a bike (and rubber) that’s ready for it.
Now I’m back in Oz though, I’ve been re-familiarising myself with the many dusty and rocky hardpack trails around my hometown of Bendigo. These are trails where the durability and stickiness of tyres are still important, but given it hasn’t rained substantially since December (I’m typing this in late-April), the need for mud-cutting traction is basically non-existent.
To suit my local conditions, I decided to seek out something a little faster and better suited to these dry and rocky trails. The combo I’ve been rolling on for the past few months? A Specialized Fast Trak out back, and a Ground Control up front – both with the GRID casing and in a 29×2.3in size.
Major Tom To Ground Control
The Ground Control is without doubt one of the most storied names in the history of Specialized. As one of the original high-performance off-road tyres in existence, the Ground Control was launched in 1986 alongside input from WTB. Things have changed a little bit since then, though the modern day Ground Control aims to encapsulate the same spirit of versatility of its forefather.
Compared to the last version, the latest Ground Control gets a completely reworked tread pattern that Specialized says has ‘CAD engineered knob shapes‘, which I think is a good thing. Overall the tread is spaced a little bit more tightly, and there have been substantial changes to the shape and arrangement cornering blocks too.
Within the broader Specialized off-road tyre range, the Ground Control slots in between the Fast Trak (a hardpack XC tyre) and the Purgatory (a toothier loose-condition trail tyre). It’s billed as an all-condition trail tyre that you can ride year-round through all the weathers.
Specialized Ground Control GRID 29×2.3in
Depending on where you are in the world, there are a number of different versions available in the Ground Control. The Ground Control mostly exists in a 2.3in width in both 27.5in and 29in diameters, where it’s available with or without the heavier GRID casing.
Additionally, the Ground Control can also be had in 2.1, 2.6 & 3.0in widths, and there’s even a fat bike version.
- Size tested: 29×2.3in
- Gripton rubber compound
- 60tpi casing w/GRID reinforced sidewalls
- Casing width: 2.33in (59.14mm)
- Width at tread: 2.28in (58mm)
- Claimed weight: 810g
- Confirmed weight: 857g
- RRP: $75 AUD / £42
The Ground Control is a directional tyre, and according to Specialized it’s fine being run on both the front and rear. I’ve mostly tested it up front along with a Fast Trak 2.3in GRID out back – a combo Specialized specs on some of its own MTB models including the Epic EVO.
I’ve had no issues with tubeless setup, with the Ground Control fitting comfortably to both Santa Cruz Reserve 27 rims and FSA Gradient WideR rims. Real-world dimensions are acceptable, with weight coming in just 6% over claimed.
Setup between 23-24psi on the front, the Ground Control has a very found profile – especially compared to squarer rubber like the Maxxis Aggressor or Specialized’s own Butcher. In theory, this should give it a natural and predictable feel when being leant over.
In terms of the tread pattern, the Ground Control elects to use smaller knobs but more of them. Wide rectangular central tread blocks are followed by two individual blocks spaced a little further apart. These three knobs are siped laterally to increase braking and climbing traction.
Square transition knobs lead onto the cornering blocks, which are grouped into a repeating pattern of two-by-two. These have strong forward-leaning edges to them, but they’re still fairly small in profile to keep rolling resistance low.
On The Trail
The Ground Control is an interesting tyre on spec. Weighing 857g, it’s meaty given the low-profile tread pattern. But while it’s similar in weight to say, a Maxxis Minion DHR II EXO (873g) or a Bontrager XR5 Team Issue (846g), in reality these tyres could are very different.
With those tightly-spaced tread blocks, the Ground Control is a quick tyre that belies its own weight figure. Along hardpack trails it rolls efficiently with low drag. And thanks to the rounded profile, it puts up very little resistance as you lean it through the corners to change direction. For threading the bike through tight, alternating corners, it gives the front wheel fantastic agility.
Cornering grip is good – up to a point. If the corners are fairly hardpacked, the Ground Control had few issues of keeping the rubber stuck down to the trail. But if that same corner was filled with some loose gravelly rocks – like most of them are around Bendigo – the Ground Control tends to float and skate around a bit.
I had a couple of very specific heart-in-mouth occasions where I lost the front wheel to an uncontrolled drift. Both were on off-camber corners with a loose-over-hard trail surface that caused too much confusion for the shallow tread blocks. Put simply; there’s just not enough height to the cornering blocks to reach down through the rubble.
In this sense, it reminds me somewhat of the Maxxis Forekaster and the Schwalbe Nobby Nic – tyres that also feature a rounded profile that struggles with loose-over-hard conditions. Compared to those two tread patterns, the Ground Control isn’t as grippy in the wet, but it is more consistent on hardpack.
In general, I found the Ground Control to be more comfortable on hardpack, slabbier rocks and softer trail surfaces. This is because the smaller and more plentiful tread blocks distribute weight evenly, with plenty of edges for searching out grip on rocks and on loamier trails. Riding around Victoria in places like Lysterfield, Woodend and Buxton brought the best out of its consistent tread pattern, and I see this also working well at machine-built UK trail centres.
I’ll also say that while I’ve been testing the Ground Control up front, it would make a great rear tyre for a 110-130mm trail bike. The decent volume, fast-rolling tread pattern and GRID-reinforced casing strike a good balance to keep things fast and smooth, while the rounded profile works to boost agility while flip-flopping through successive corners.
As with the Fast Trak, I had no issues with the Ground Control throughout testing. Though given its weight and the fact that I was running it on the front, I didn’t expect to have too many punctures.
The tread is looking plenty strong after about 400km of riding, and I’ve heard anecdotally that the new generation Gripton rubber compound has noticeably improved wear life over previous Specialized tyres.
Though the GRID sidewalls held up through the test period, it’s worth noting that they’re still attached to a regular (and quite supple) 60tpi casing. This makes it a smooth tyre to ride, but if you’re an enduro shredder, a hardcore hardtailer, or just really hard on your wheels, then you’ll still want burlier sidewalls. Specialized’s BLK DMND casing would be a good place to start.
If you’re typically riding on rockier and more firmly packed trail surfaces, or you’re lucky enough to live amongst the loam, then the Ground Control is a great mid-weight trail tyre that offers both consistency and agility in its handling. While it performs admirably within its preferred window though, I personally found it lacking in cornering bite when facing loose-over-hard trail surfaces.
If Specialized could bulk up those cornering blocks a bit (like what you’d find on the Purgatory), I think they’d have an even more capable trail tyre. As it stands though, this is still a quality trail centre tyre for use up front on an XC bike, or on the rear for a short/mid-travel trail bike.
|Product:||Ground Control GRID 2Bliss Ready|
|Price:||$75 AUD / £42 per tyre|
|Tested:||by Wil Barrett for 3 months|
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