WTB Trail Boss TCS Tough/Fast Rolling 2.25 Review
Cons: Expensive-ish, often above average but rarely best
Our Analysis and Test Results
Slightly above average in nearly every category, this tire was like a consistent B-student; never receiving accolades, yet never drawing much criticism when report cards came out at semester's end. This tire flew under the radar so stealthily we found ourselves reaching for it almost subconsciously. It performed well across a wide variety of conditions and terrain. A good boss should be capable of performing any job duties they're tasked with overseeing and the Trail Boss is competent across the board.
The center tread is comprised of alternating knob rows spaced two-across and three-across. Compared to the taller knobs on the WTB Vigilante, the knobs on the Trail Boss are a bit shorter and lower profile. Every knob on the tire is siped and of uniform height.
The center tread is horizontally siped and the side knobs longitudinally siped. Initially, we lumped this tire in with other semi-slick designs like the Schwalbe Rock Razor and Specialized Slaughter Grid, but upon further inspection, we determined it a poor fit for this category. Even on our 30-mm internal diameter test wheels, the profile of this tire is not especially squared-off, and it's not exactly round either. We found it to be a nice middle ground. In addition, the center tread isn't quite as small and tightly packed as the true semi-slick designs.
The side knobs are slightly offset, which gives the tire the same tenacious edge grip over a greater range of lean angles, effectively increasing the sweet spot. There isn't a very clearly defined channel between the center and side knobs, so the tire has a very even feel during cornering. The more significant center tread made of 60A rubber prevents the tire from feeling unsteady or drifty as it rolls onto the softer 50A side knobs and allows for increased confidence over a wider range of lean angles. The utilitarian nature of this tire, as well as cornering feel, was closely matched to the Maxxis Aggressor. Both tires were rarely out of their element.
In a word, we'd describe this tire as versatile. It may not be the most perfect tire for every condition, but we were hard-pressed to find a condition where it was inappropriate. Sure, pedaling up super loose climbs you might find yourself wishing for something with a burlier tread pattern to claw deeper in search of traction. A tire with more pronounced side knobs and a squarer profile, think the Schwalbe Rock Razor, might corner better than this tire as well. When things get sloppy and mucky, larger knobs with wider spacing like those found on the Michelin Wild Grip'r or even the Continental Trail King might clear mud better than the smaller, closely packed knobs found here.
The medium height knobs won't penetrate mud very deeply but certainly outperform some semi-slicks. The Trail Boss does the best with what its got, however, and with each and every knob being siped, there are more edges coming into contact with the ground to provide traction. If you ask us, we'd prefer to have a tire that does pretty much everything at an acceptable level rather than excelling at just one thing.
We were especially pleased with the braking quality of this tire. The ever-so-slightly offset side knobs offer more bite than tires with a straighter and more uniform alignment. If you want the rolling advantages of a semi-slick like the Schwalbe Rock Razor or Specialized Slaughter but desire a tad more braking prowess, this tire is a solid choice. This design gives dirt somewhere to tuck up and pack in rather than just slice through.
If you're having too much fun to anticipate an upcoming corner and forget to set your speed beforehand, this tire's ability to dump speed when braking hard into a corner might be appreciated. Straight line braking is also pretty decent. Again, it has a more middle-of-the-road performance that's quicker to stop than a semi-slick but not quite as responsive as a bigger knob tire. It looks like someone went crazy on this tire siping away with a razor blade, but the thorough siping job and square knobs certainly aid in this tire's braking prowess.
There's a pattern to the performance we got from this tire. If you're slow to pick up what we've been putting down, this tire wasn't the fastest rolling tire, nor was it the slowest in our test. The only real design feature that seemed aimed at improving rolling resistance was the arrow-shaped center knobs with the pointed end showing you the way forward. Knobs are siped but not ramped. This mountain bike tire bore a close resemblance to our Editors' Choice Maxxis Aggressor and the Continental Trail King; tires that both struck a good balance between rolling resistance and grip.
The TCS (Tubeless Compatible System) that WTB uses on this and other tires is UST (Universal Standard Tubeless) approved. Like any tubeless tire, you'll want to use sealant with the Trail Boss, but the extra engineering effort made things seal up just a bit more reliably than some of the others in our test. The Trail Boss, along with the WTB Vigilante, was impressively easy to install and can be done at home or even in a parking lot if need be.
The TCS Tough version we tested features a double layer of bead to bead 60 tpi casing for added protection against sharp rock and other surprises on the trail. During our test tire's maiden voyage on an extremely technical ride, we put quite a few good scuffs into the sidewall. One even abraded some of the casing and we expected the lifespan of the tire would be foreshortened. Throughout the remainder of our test, however, the tire successfully shrugged off countless poor tire placements without further damage. For optimal longevity in trail riding tires, our two Editors' Choice winners, the Maxxis Minion DHF and Maxxis Aggressor and their EXO casings are top of the heap.
We struggled to find a place where we considered this tire "best." That's not to sell this exceptional tire short, however. As we stated above, this tire was a solid "B" performer. If pressed, we could usually find a tire that out-cornered, out-rolled, or out-climbed this one. However, no tester felt this tire to be much of a consolation when it was selected for them to take out for a rip. After months of channeling our thoughts on tire performance, this consistent performer allowed us to focus on other bike maintenance issues like sticky dropper posts and fork pressures during our testing.
At a retail price of $77, the versatility of this tire makes it a good value. Unless one particular aspect of performance trumps all else for you, this tire is a no-brainer. If you ride many different areas you'll rarely find a need to swap to a more appropriate tire based on your destination. For the best value, we dubbed the Specialized Slaughter and Specialized Butcher our Best Bang for the Buck tires. Ringing in at $60 each, these two Specialized tires are something to feel good about. Alternatively, the Maxxis Aggressor, an Editors' Choice winner, can be purchased for $62 and offers even better performance as a rear tire.
We felt this tire was an excellent all-around, versatile tire well suited to racing or everyday riding. Its square, siped, simple knobs provide adequate traction on both the up and down. The slightly offset side knobs allowed this tire to maintain a consistent grip in corners over a wider degree of lean angles which increased its appeal among less aggressive riders. We questioned the tire's durability after our initial test ride beat up the sidewalls pretty good but they hung in there like a boss.
The Trail Boss is available in 26", 27.5", and 29" wheel sizes in 2.25" (tested) and 2.4" widths. They are offered in both Light and Tough (tested) casings and in tackier High Grip or harder Fast Rolling (tested) rubber compounds. Prices vary slightly by wheel size, but the Light casing versions retail for $10 less than the Tough.
WTB recently announced an updated version of the Trail Boss that will be available for 27.5" and 29" wheels in 2.4" and 2.6" widths. We will be testing the new Trail Boss as soon as they become available.
— Sean Cronin and Jeremy Benson