Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Mitas E07 tire report at 6,000km

As a near-record wet season comes to a close, I've been squeezing in a few last rides and reflecting on  what kind of bike and set-up works best for me. Since the most obvious wear item on my WR250R has been tires, I've been experimenting with different options aimed at completing a month-long adventure ride.

Last May I installed a set of Mitas E07 50/50 tires on a new set of wheels I built up myself. Having run knobbies (MT21 front, D606 rear) for much of last year, my plan this year was to let the pendulum swing back the other way and see how well a more road-oriented set-up would perform on a long, dirt-oriented route (see my Round Algonquin Park report for 2017). Call it a test ride in preparation for a more ambitious attempt at riding the Trans-American Trail in 2018.

Anyone who's played with different tires knows there's no one perfect choice for all-round adventure riding. Bike type, riding style, load, route distance, and of course route conditions all factor in to selecting appropriate rubber. On my WRR I've previously run the original Trailwings (horrible on pavement and dirt); Scorpion Pro FIM front and K760 rear (K760 wears fast and can break loose unpredictably in the dirt, and the Scorpion can wander in gravel); Heidenau K60 Scouts (overall decent on pavement and gravel, but useless in mud); the classic combo of MT21 front with D606 rear (the best handling and wearing knobbies I've tried). Sure, knobbies are great in loose gravel and dirt, but they vibrate and wear out fast in the rear--especially on hot pavement and with a loaded bike. They're a poor choice for longer rides involving slab unless you can change your rear tire every 3,000-5,000 km. So, what to choose?

Having had a generally good experience with the K60 Scouts, I thought that perhaps a "better" version of the 50/50 concept could offer extended wear life and a slight improvement in dirt handling, opening the door to longer adventure rides on rough terrain where a small bike shines. Various forums raved about Mitas tires, and particularly the E07 which is rated as a 50/50 tire with exceptional wear due to Kevlar fibers incorporated into the rubber. Having now ridden almost 6,000km on these tires (much less than planned, thanks to all the rain and mud this season), it's clear they've held up well in terms of general wear:

The front appears hardly scuffed, and although the rear has squared off a bit, there's still a good 5mm or so of tread above the central rib and lots of tread depth below that.

Now with more kilometers on these under my belt, my overall impression has shifted since my first review. They still handle well in gravel, but as my speed and skills have naturally improved over the season I think I quickly reached the grip limit of the front tire and got a little frustrated with my front wheel drifting and washing out in the loose stuff. At the same time, as the already low tread in the rear wore away, I found traction in the wet stuff noticeably diminished. Altogether, it quickly became tedious navigating any kind of mud, where holding a line was almost impossible with the low lateral traction. This can be forgiven in the rear (as long as you can maintain momentum), but having the front constantly slide around because a serious liability.

Interestingly, the tires performed much better overall when my bike was fully loaded with bags and gear. Indeed, the combo worked surprisingly well in loose sand with a loaded bike, although it was sometimes a struggle to keep a line. Perhaps the lack of knobbies prevented the front from ploughing in and dumping the bike, which is a risk if you can't keep your weight back and throttle up. The enhanced performance with a loaded bike is likely because the E07s are tremendously stiff--especially the front, which is the even stiffer "Dakar" version. The unloaded weight of my bike and rider simply isn't enough to form a decent contact patch without almost deflating the tire. In fact, after one short ride I discovered my front tire was completely out of air and yet it was almost unnoticeable when riding! On the other hand, the stiff sidewalls offered great pinch protection in the rough stuff, although somehow I still managed to put a minor ding in my front rim.

My conclusions on running these tires on a small bike are as follows:

  • The E07 front (especially the stiff Dakar) isn't worth it unless your bike is fully loaded. It  would be a strong contender for a heavier bike like the Africa Twin, where you're probably not as likely to ride much rough single track and so the lower traction in those conditions isn't as much of an issue.
  • The E07 rear is so heavy and hard to change (easily the hardest tire I've tried!) that it too is not one I'd recommend for lighter bikes. A K60 Scout would probably offers reasonably comparable performance and wear, at significantly lower weight and cost, and would be much easier for a tired rider to change trail-side. 
  • Having switched my front tire back to an MT21, I have to say it makes a great combo with the 50/50 rear: all the front traction you need to corner and maintain a secure line (loaded or unloaded), with the smooth-rolling wear and acceptable traction of a 50/50 rear.
You could agonize forever about what tires to run, but at some point I think it's just splitting hairs and it comes down to rider skills. As long as my tires are in the right ballpark, I'll continue to focus on building my riding skills so I'm less reliant on the rubber and can just "run what I brung".

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