Previewed: Riding SLO with WTB and Rocky Mountain

For a photo gallery of images from this trip go HERE

One's Canadian, the other American, but Rocky Mountain Bicycles and WTB are two companies with a lot in common. For starters, each has been around for more than 25 years—an impressive run considering the sport of mountain biking isn't much older than that. Both are headquartered in celebrated mountain biking locales—Rocky Mountain in Vancouver, British Columbia; WTB in Marin County, California. And though both companies create road and mountain bike goodies, the roots of Rocky Mountain and WTB are planted firmly in the dirt.

With that shared heritage, Rocky Mountain and WTB decided recently to get together in the green hills of California's central coast for a few days of riding on their latest products. After drawing the lucky straw, I humbly accepted an invitation to join WTB and Rocky Mountain, then bee-lined it from Bike magazine headquarters for a couple of days out on the trails.

Not even a little (okay, a lot) of stormy winter weather dampened spirits as we explored some incredible trails in and around San Luis Obispo with legendary freerider Wade Simmons and Rocky's endurance-racing extraordinaire Andreas Hestler, among others. Over the course of two days, I sampled the Rocky Mountain Slayer SXC 70, a sturdy all-mountain machine, and several new WTB tires. Here are some initial impressions.

The Tires
The big news out of WTB this year is a renewed focus on its core business. The company has decided to discontinue its headsets, stems, seatposts and handlebars (with the exception of the Mountain Road Drop Bar) and focus on tires, saddles, wheels and grips. WTB is also expanding into foreign markets with a new European headquarters in the Czech Republic.

WTB can easily claim one of the most comprehensive and diverse lines of mountain bike tires on the market, with treads available for virtually any type of terrain and riding style. The most interesting new offering this year is the Wolverine, a lightweight XC tire that's meant to be equally capable on the racecourse and rugged backcountry trails.

One look at the Wolverine gives you an idea of what WTB is going for here. It's fat for an XC race tire, with a larger volume casing than others in its category. It's labeled a 2.2-inch diameter tire, but every manufacturer seems to have a different means of measuring, and the Wolverine is as stout a 2.2 as I've seen.

"WTB has always focused on big-volume tires," said WTB marketing coordinator (and former BIKE scribe) Dain Zaffke. "If you had to describe what WTB is all about, it would be all-mountain riding. We're not as focused on, say, World Cup style racing."

That philosophy would explain the lack of a smaller-diameter version of the Wolverine, but even with its larger casing this tire more than holds its own in the weight wars, coming in under 600 grams (595, according to WTB). With a roundish profile, the Wolverine is designed to be predictable, with what Zaffke describes as "moderate lean" characteristics.

After a short tutorial from Zaffke, our group pulled on the raingear and headed for the trails to get a feel for the tires. Our first destination was Montana de Oro State Park, an open, hilly coastal area with insane views of the Pacific. We rode sandy switchbacks, boggy flats and some exposed, spiny ridges in the howling wind.

My first impression with the Wolverine is that it's faster than it looks. With an interesting tread pattern that combines widely spaced edge knobs with tighter center knobs, it looks capable of providing decent traction in a variety of conditions—but I really didn't expect it to roll as fast as it did on hard surfaces.

Since we were in the midst of a deluge, the only hard surfaces we rode were pavement and rock. Those rocks we rode were slick, and the only possible compromise I noticed with the Wolverine is that its fast-rolling rubber didn't grip the wet rocks as well as a softer compound might. But the tires seemed to excel on soggy sand and soil. Though not designed for heavy mud use, the Wolverines floated through soft bogs and helped me maintain momentum on wet, sandy switchback climbs. The side knobs offer good cornering bite, and lower-profile center knobs smooth things out when you put the head down and spin the cranks. I was especially thankful for this when trying to hold the draft of WTB's wicked-hard-riding Mark Weir on a smooth, rolling climb toward the end of the day. Yeah, he probably eased off to make me think the tires were fast, but what the hell. It worked.

For a photo gallery of images from this trip go HERE