Words and photos by Aaron VanDerlip
Wilderness Trail Bikes’ Byway 47 is a 650B/27.5″ tire ($67.95 MSRP) that borrows significantly from the company’s Horizon 47 Road Plus model. The Byway replicates the same smooth tread pattern along the centerline as found on the Horizon. Outside the centerline you’ll find a row of herringbone tread, followed by a diamond-shaped pattern that transitions to low-profile side knobs. If you crossed the Horizon with Clement’s X’PLOR MSO, you’d get something like the Byway as the result. From the side profile, it looks like a knobby tire, but the knobs take up a minimum of the tread surface.
The target rim for my installation was a WTB KOM i23. A set of TCS valves and Orange Seal sealant were provided by WTB. The rims were already taped for tubeless by the wheel builder. For the past several years, I have been running 38 millimeter 650B tires with tubes. Prior to the Byways, I didn’t have any exposure to tubeless tires. I was under the impression that they were tricky to set up, so I called on a friend with more experience to help with the installation. I wanted to be sure that any trouble setting them up wasn’t due to my lack of experience.
The process went like this:
- Install the valves into the rim. Tighten with pliers so that the interior rubber gasket deforms slightly.
- Seat the tire except for the last third of the bead.
- Pour three ounces of sealant into the tire, and rotate the tire down so the sealant doesn’t spill. Push the rest of the bead into the rim well.
- Seat the tire using about ten quick, full strokes of a floor pump. In my case, an older, well-used floor pump.
- A few magic dance steps to swirl the sealant around the tube, and done!
Both tires seated up quickly without any mess or leaks. No compressors, CO² cartridges, syringes, flying goop or profanities. The ease of this could be contributed to using a tire and rim from the same manufacturer, designed around WTB’s TCS system. Overall, the process was far easier than I had imagined, and no more difficult than installing a tubed tire. Once installed, my first impression was just how large the Byways looked on the bike compared to the 38s that had been mounted to the same rims. Not only the width, but the height of the sidewalls as well.
The advice I was given by my installation helper was to keep the tires at a relatively high pressure overnight, so that everything seated and sealed properly. Riding home was largely unremarkable, as the tires’ high pressure did not offer much give. That evening the calipers measured the tire to be 47 mm, just as advertised. Measuring the tires the next morning with my analog pressure gauge did not show any appreciable pressure loss.
The following day, after letting some pressure out of the tires, I headed out for a short series of hill climbs. There was a fair amount of moisture on the road and it began to rain lightly. On past rides, it was not uncommon to slip the rear tire during climbing, especially where silt run-off and gravel had collected on the road surface. Along the same route with the Byways, however, I didn’t experience any wheel slip. It could be attributed to the tires’ increased contact patch, rubber compound, or combination of the two. On the descent, the tires held their grip and shape. I made some effort to lean hard into the curves to see if I could notice any difference by the transition from the centerline to the diamond tread. Other than a little more hum, the tires behaved predictably.
The following day I reduced the tire pressure to the mid-20s and rode down the unimproved dirt and grass paths that run through my neighborhood. The ground was soft from the rain and the tires provided some additional traction compared to the herringbone treads on the tires I had previously been using. At these pressures, the bike floated easily over the rocks and potholes, but squirmed a bit once I transitioned to the pavement.
Once the weekend rolled around, I found that my 650B rando bike needed more work than I had the time–or supplies–to complete. I had planned my day around testing these tires, so I grabbed the backup bike, a Surly Straggler equipped with a swept flat bar. While I’m often frustrated by the bike’s idiosyncratic rear dropouts, I was thankful that Surly continues to design their bikes with plenty of clearance and the 47 mm tires were an easy drop-in.
Pros and Cons
I started the ride with roughly 35 psi in the rear and a few pounds lower for the front. My ride was about fifty miles with around twelve of that being gravel roads used by grass seed farmers. It was slow going. I was headed north and the winds blowing south were a constant 10-15 mph with gusts. Riding the commuter bike wasn’t my first choice; it has an upright position, and being a Surly, it’s built more for battle, not speed.
I had to put aside trying to feel out the efficiency of these tires since all the controlling factors were skewed. I instead focused my attention on the quality of the ride and how the tires performed on the gravel portions. I was also curious how much of the tread outside of the centerline engaged the road surface when riding on pavement.
The WTBs’ additional volume isolated the road vibrations, small bumps, and uneven surfaces. My prior 38 mm tires provided some of these same benefits, but the additional volume of the Byways was a noticeable upgrade. To answer the question of where the rubber meets the road, the photos show the before and after of transitioning from a gravel to a paved section. You can see that the centerline is free of dust while rest of the tread remains covered.
My prior experience with dirt-road and gravel riding has been with 32-35 mm road tires on 700C wheels. Right away it was clear that the extra surface area of the tires allowed the bike to track better when rolling on the flat sections. The front of the bike remained more stable when turning, with less tendency to washout. The addition of extra tread and the larger surface is almost always going to improve off-road traction and handling. When I managed to break the rear tire free while in a turn, it did so in a predictable manner.
The Byways did a good job of keeping the bike rolling forward while providing some amount of passive suspension. That being said, I feel that I didn’t have the optimal pressure setting for this surface and that I would need to spend a bit more time with the tires in order to find the sweet spot. Had I spent most of the day riding off pavement, I would have definitely dropped the pressure.
Of course what everyone REALLY wants to know is, Are they slower? According to my GPS app, I was about 3 mph off my typical pace. I would attribute this primarily to the headwinds, my energy levels, and lastly the bike. I honestly can’t say with any confidence that the tires slowed me down. Also compared to Byways, the 38mm tires I have been using are almost the same weight when factoring in the weight of the inner tube. Having the additional volume at the essentially same weight is pretty cool.
It is exciting that WTB is expanding the market for modern, tubeless, 650B road tires, which until recently was largely limited to tube-only setups and conservative, retro-inspired tread patterns. The only negative I can come up with for this tire is this: I am unsure why you would buy the Horizon, given that the Byway covers everything it does and adds some additional traction for unpaved surfaces. You should definitely consider these tires if you are doing a fair amount of mixed-surface riding and are willing to spend some time experimenting with air pressure to extract the best performance out of them.
Disclosure: Wilderness Trail Bikes provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.