My first experience with Wilderness Trail Bikes’ Ranger tire came shortly after the arrival of a Jeff Jones demo bike. Jones had spec’d the bike with Schwalbe Super Moto (29″ x 2.35″) tires, and while the stock rubber proved more than capable on dirt and gravel roads, I found myself wishing for something with a bigger footprint and more grip for the loose-over-hard trails that are prevalent on Colorado’s Front Range. And because my rides usually involve some pavement, I wanted a tread pattern that wouldn’t slow me down getting to the dirt and gravel. I shot an email to the folks at WTB, and they recommended I give their 29″ x 3.0″ Ranger a try.
Billed as the ultimate do-it-all tire, WTB offers the Ranger in 26″, 27.5″, and 29″ sizes. Widths range from 2.8″ to 3.0″. The 29″ x 3.0″ Light/Fast Rolling model retails for $69.95 and the Tough/Fast Rolling model will set you back $76.95 (all prices MSRP). Both the Light and Tough versions feature WTB’s TCS technology for easy setup. Due to the demo Jones’ limited chainstay clearance, I ran a 29″ x 3.0″ Ranger in front with WTB’s 29″ x 2.25″ Trail Boss in back. My personal Jones Plus is shod with 29″ x 3.0″ size front (Light/Fast) and rear (Tough/Fast).
Both the Light/Fast and Tough/Fast Rangers feature the same directional tread pattern. The tires’ center and middle knobs have short, blocky profiles, whereas the side/shoulder knobs are optimized for cornering. According to WTB, the tread elements’ directional siping provides increased traction whether accelerating, braking or cornering. Mounted on i35 rims, the Rangers’ casings measured 72 mm wide, and 76 mm from knob-to-knob. My most recent samples weighed 900 (Light/Fast) and 1150 (Tough/Fast) grams.
As you might expect, riding a 3″-wide tire for the first time feels very different compared to a conventional tire. While 3.0″ tires don’t have quite the monster truck feel associated with fat bike (4.0″-5.0″) tires, the plus-sized Rangers felt downright massive compared to 2.25″-2.4″ knobbies. You’d think, however, that a two-pound tire would feel sluggish, and accelerate slowly, but that really wasn’t the case with the Rangers. Sure, you might notice the tires’ extra weight when picking up the bike, but it’s not as drastic as the difference in ride quality between, say, a skinny, ultra-supple road tire and a heavily armored commuter tire.
Is a 3.0″ knobby–no matter how versatile–overkill for gravel riding? Yes and no. It depends on the type of gravel. If the gravel is deep and loose, the Rangers’ extra volume will provide the flotation needed to keep you moving forward instead of bogging down. But if your local gravel route is more like a sun-baked dirt road, you may want to consider something smaller and lighter, such as WTB’s 29″ x 2.25″ Ranger or Riddler. For me, personally, I like the fact that I can start a ride from my front door and not worry about traction or control if I decide to explore some technical singletrack in between sections of gravel and pavement.
So which is better–the Light/Fast or Tough/Fast version? If you’re looking for the ultimate in reliability, you’ll probably want to go with the Tough/Fast model. While tread wear is similar between the two versions, the Tough/Fast casing is much more resistant to sidewall wear and abrasion. This is especially important on plus-size tires as there’s more exposed casing compared to conventional tires. Having spent considerable time switching between the Light and Tough versions, I found that running a Light/Fast in front and a Tough/Fast in back gave me the best compromise of weight, durability, and ride quality.
Disclosure: Wilderness Trail Bikes provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.