First Impressions: WTB Nano 40C Tires

Wilderness Trail Bikes‘ (WTB) Nano 40 tires have an impressive lineage. The 700×40 Nano‘s tread pattern is based on the company’s long-running Nanoraptor 29er tire. And according to WTB, the full-sized Nano is the number-one tire choice for Tour Divide ultra-marathon event.

The Nano 40C is available in three versions: TCS Light ($54.95 MSRP), Race ($49.95 MSRP), and Comp ($31.95 MSRP). We tested the Race model, which features a folding aramid bead, WTB’s DNA rubber compound, and a lightweight 60 tpi casing. Our sample tires weighed 460-462 grams (less than the 470 gram advertised weight), and measured 40.1 mm when mounted in 22.6 mm-wide rims (18.5 mm inner width).

While the 40 mm Nanos may look a bit anemic when compared to full-sized 29er tires, they have far more volume than your typical ‘cross knobby. The Nano’s casings have a decidedly u-shaped cross-section, which puts of lot of air between you and the ground. That plump profile, combined with a recommended pressure range of 35-65 psi, translates to a smooth, comfortable ride on rocky trails and broken pavement. Unlike some competitors’ tires that utilize excessively large side knobs (which tend to be largely cosmetic), the Nano’s tread is actually narrower than the casing (by approximately 5 mm). That unique combination means more clearance at the frame and fork.

The Nano’s tread pattern features an elevated centerline that rolls efficiently and quietly on hard surfaces, but don’t mistake these for run-of-the-mill hybrid tires. On soft, loose soil, the WTB tires really shined–yet they remained squirm-free when railing turns on hardpack and loose-over-hard. Even though the majority of our testing took placing during dry weather, we were pleasantly surprised at how well the WTB tires performed in light snow. We tested the WTB tires at various pressures, and found that they worked best between 40-55 psi (depending on riders’ weight, terrain, and riding style).

It’s obvious that the Nano 40C can’t–and isn’t designed to–replace dedicated road or mtb tires. That said, on-road performance is quiet and fast enough so that riding (pavement) to the trail isn’t something to be avoided. And once you reach the trailhead, off-road performance is as good as it gets for a tire of this size.

Disclosure: WTB provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

First Impressions: Selle SMP Saddles

Saddles with cut-outs are nothing new, and most saddle manufacturers offer a few models with carved-out centers. Selle SMP takes it one step further, though–the Italian company designs all of their saddles with cutouts. Each model–from the ultralight Full Carbon to the generously padded Plus–features the distinctive eagle beak profile and relieved central channel.

While Selle SMP may be unfamiliar to some, the company began producing saddles in 1947. For more than 65 years, SMP saddles have been designed and manufactured exclusively in Italy. In 2004, the company was granted four patents for their saddles’ central channel, eagle beak tip, frame, and split rear depression.

Choosing the correct SMP saddle is easy, thanks to the company’s selection table. Simply locate your waist size on the chart, and look for the recommended models. Unlike competitors who offer the same saddle in multiple widths, Selle SMP divides their seventeen professional/road saddles into seven different size families (with men’s and women’s models differing only by color and graphics). Plugging in my waist size revealed that I fell between the large and extra-large saddles. Knowing that I tend to prefer relatively wide saddles, I decided on the Avant, Plus, and Pro models.

Model Length (mm) Width (mm) Weight (grams)
Avant 269 154 345
Plus 279 159 369
Pro 278 148 320

All three saddles feature carbon-reinforced nylon shells and microfiber covers (the company also offers versions with genuine leather covers). Each of the test saddles were equipped with stainless steel 7.1mm rails, although the Avant and Pro are also available with unidirectional carbon fibre frames. Selle SMP utilizes three different levels of padding–minimum, standard, and high. The Avant and Plus are classified as high-level padding, and the Pro is spec’d with standard-level padding. Fit and finish was excellent, and each saddle included a tri-color ribbon signifying the Made In Italy construction.

As with any saddle, proper setup is key to comfort and efficiency. Selle SMP saddles are designed to divide the body weight between the glutes and the lower part of the pelvis. To achieve the proper balance, SMP recommends installing the saddles with an initial neutral position. This is achieved by centering the rails on the seatpost clamp, and adjusting the saddle’s tilt to horizontal (with the aid of a spirit or bubble level). From there, the saddle’s position can be fine tuned to accommodate the rider’s preference.

I tested each saddle on multiple bicycles, and with seatposts of varying setback/offset. Each saddle was installed using the aforementioned guidelines, and the initial positions proved to be very comfortable. Fine-tuning the saddles’ positions usually required tilting the noses up slightly, and adjusting fore/aft position to compensate for very steep or slack seat-tube angles. SMP saddles feature rails that offer plenty of room for adjustment, but take care to properly tighten your seatpost’s clamp, as the slick finish can cause them to slip over time. gravel grinder Selle SMP Avant Plus Pro seat saddle Italy

Selle SMP’s Plus saddle on the author’s Salsa Vaya.

Although the three saddles all share similar dimensions, I found that I preferred the wider, flatter (side-to-side) shape of the Avant and Plus models. This wasn’t too surprising, though, as my preferred personal saddles all tend to have very flat rear sections. And while I was initially skeptical of SMP’s swoopy profile and eagle beak tip, the saddles’ unique shape worked exceptionally well at reducing pressure on my soft tissues. This improved comfort was immediately apparent when riding in the drops, or climbing steep, technical trails while perched on the saddle’s nose.

That increased comfort doesn’t come at the expense of support. Selle SMP’s one-piece loop frame helps prevent the heavily relieved shell from sagging or collapsing, which is often an issue on conventional saddles with large cut-outs. The saddles’ thick, dense padding proved to be extremely effective at filtering out both high-frequency (paved roads) and high-amplitude (unpaved trails) vibrations. It’s too early to evaluate long-term durability, but I didn’t encounter any issues or premature wear during the four-month test period.

If you’re unhappy with your current saddle, consider one of Selle SMP’s models. Riders who cannot get enough setback, or those who prefer a more angled saddle position will be well served by the Italian company’s offerings. A list of current stockists can be found here, and many dealers have demo or loaner saddles available.

Disclosure: Albabici / Selle SMP provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

First Impressions: Sealskinz Neoprene Overshoes

Hailing from the United Kingdom, the folks at Sealskinz are no strangers to damp, cold weather. To combat those harsh conditions, the company developed a laminated waterproof sock designed to keep heat in, and water out.  Over the years, Sealskinz’s lineup has grown to include gloves, hats, and cycling accessories. For riders who don’t want to hang up their cleats when the weather turns nasty, there’s the company’s Neoprene Overshoes ($50 MSRP).

Sealskinz Overshoe

The Sealskinz Neoprene Overshoes are constructed from a blend of–surprise–neoprene and nylon. Kevlar® reinforcements protect the toe and heel areas, and an extra-wide storm flap helps keep out water and cold air. The locking YKK zipper is secured by a high-viz strap, and the cuffs feature silicone grippers. Reflective logos and heel stripes offer increased visibility during early-morning or evening rides. Stitching and construction is first-rate, and the cleat openings easily accommodate a wide range of cleat styles.

We tested the large size (43-46) overshoes with Mavic road and Sidi mountain shoes (both size 44.5). The fit was snug, but not tight enough to restrict movement or cause discomfort. If you plan on using bulkier, or higher-volume shoes, you may want to size up, however (the company offers four sizes that fit shoes ranging from size 36 all the way up to 49). While we didn’t subject the Sealskinz overshoes to any extended hike-a-bikes, the Kevlar-reinforced heels and toes proved to be more than adequate for general, off-bike use.

Despite their sleek profile and light weight (162g for the pair), Sealskinz’s neoprene overshoes proved extremely effective in frigid conditions, outperforming several competitors’ heavier and bulkier overshoes. While individuals’ cold-weather tolerances can vary, our testers found the Sealskinz comfortable down to 32°F (0°C) with the aforementioned shoes and lightweight cycling socks such as those from DeFeet and SOS. Our autumn and early winter test period proved mild by Colorado standards, but the Sealskinz had no problem fending off road-spray and snow melt.

Sealskinz’s Neoprene Overshoes are perfect for riders seeking warm, yet compact shoe covers. The neoprene overshoes easily fit in a jersey pocket, but provide enough warmth and protection for all but the most extreme conditions. For extended rides in sub-freezing temperatures, the company’s Waterproof Cycle Over Sock offers even more insulation, but without the convenience of the neoprene overshoe’s zipper entry.

Disclosure: SealSkinz Inc provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.