What the Plus?

July 03 — 2018

Some thoughts on tire widths...

Nowadays there’s more tire options than ever before and that’s a bloody great thing. Twenty years ago there was a handful, literally, of half decent tire choices and just a couple actually good tires. Now there’s a tire size, tread pattern and carcass protection to suit anyone and everywhere. You can even match the sidewall of your tires to the colour scheme of your bike...beige being the most exciting choice. Which is ironic.

Tire preferences are like assholes, people don’t really talk about them unless there’s something wrong with what they’ve got. But unlike assholes you can swap tires out and try new ones if you’re having a problem with them.

Now, there’s a million and one combinations of treads, sizes, compounds and sidewalls to choose from (just ask our Product Manager, Josh Kissner, about scouring through spreadsheets so vast and disorientating that he’s lost his hairline to them over the years) and we won’t go into most of what those things mean. Instead let’s just focus on tire width today.

First, let’s clarify what some of the most common and current tire width terms actually mean. For years tires were 1.9-2.3-inches wide. Nowadays less and less of the narrowest sizes are commonly used and tires have generally got a little wider. On a modern trail bike the standard width will be 2.3-2.5-inches wide, and even though that doesn’t look like much on paper (0.2-inches might not seem to be worth boasting about in some other places) it does make a drastic difference to how a bike rides and how a rider can react to terrain. Wider tires allow more room for bigger, more aggressive lugs on the tire pattern, which can result in more traction in turns, better braking and more grip for accelerating. However, those fat rubber paddles create more rolling resistance so the tire might be slower.

EWS Manizales

The Santa Cruz Enduro team rolls on tires ranging from 2.4 – 2.5-inches wide to cover a variety of surfaces and conditions.

Then a few years ago, after fat bikes (bicycles with tires up to 5-inches wide, ideal for soft surfaces like snow and sand) blew up the scene and became the hottest new bike category in the coldest of regions (before anyone asks again, sorry, no, we’re still not planning on making a Santa Cruz fat bike because...just because...because brrrrr) Plus size tires came along. These were 2.8-3.0-inch wide tires that have considerably more volume than the tires we’d all been trail biking on for years. Plus tires provide a more plush, forgiving feel on uneven surfaces but at the cost of some exactness, toughness and options in tread and carcass. Because they are so much bigger manufacturers can’t just press the +33% button on existing designs because all of a sudden those tires would become far too heavy and slow. To resolve that the sidewalls are thinner and proportion of the lugs are reduced. The problem is that for some riders, in some conditions the tires squirm a lot (generally speaking, on fast rolling, artificial trails) and the tire casings don’t provide as much protection as regular tires (especially in jagged, rocky terrain).

2.6-inch wide tires seem to be the new hot thing, and it’s easy to see why. They offer extra volume compared to traditional tires (2.1-2-5-inch) so they have some of the benefits of fatter tires but with the precision of smaller volume tires. And perhaps, like traditional width tires there might be a larger choice of tire patterns and protection.

There’s no right or wrong choice, and the spectrum of tire choices available today means there’s a greater chance a rider will find the right setup that suits their riding style and the trails they are riding.

For a moment let’s conjure up a fictitious rider. Let’s call him Sam, Shredder Sam to his closest friends (in fact, his first email address was shreddersam23@aol.net). He lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He’s 43 years old and has been riding for 18 years. He gets out for a good pedal twice a week in the summer time, once at the weekend for an all-morning ride and once midweek with a crew of local riders his age.

For Shredder Sam the Plus size (2.8-3.0-inch) tires work well very well for him on the slow, tech, bursty trails of Marquette, MI. He tried a Plus tire bike when the Santa Cruz demo van come through town two summers ago. On the test ride he found that he was able to keep his balance over the relentless rocky and rooty trails. He even cleaned a section he’d never managed to make before. He was sold on Plus tires from that day on. However, on a recent holiday to Colorado’s high country trails he found the big tires would start to squirm a little when he was pushing hard into the fast (20mph+) sweeping turns on the buff singletrack rollercoasting trails.

He’s noticed more and more trails getting reworked in his area and some machine-made trails popping up around the country, and he’s keen to go experience them. Perhaps 2.6-inch tires could provide him with a good balance of rock-crawling traction, stability and protection. Or perhaps having the ability to change the width of his tires to suit the riding he’s most enjoying at the time would provide him with a versatile setup. That’s where the Reserve 37 wheelset comes in. One rim width to seat them all!

Building a Reserve 37 Mountain Wheel

A Reserve 37 carbon rim getting laced up at the Factory.

The Reserve 37 (we called it that because it’s 37mm wide internally) is designed to work with a really wide range of tire widths. More than any rim has been before. 2.4-3.0-inch is the span of tire width choices. Which means if your frame can also accommodate the same variety of plumpness then you have a super versatile wheelset.

And that’s where we’re at with tire choices. We enjoy the options available and we try to make bikes and products that allow riders to customize their ride so it’s optimized for exactly what they like doing and where they like riding. We also do this by making simple machines that don’t have wackadoo and proprietary “technologies” that would make them obsolete the minute the trend shifts to something totally different next week. We hate obsolescence almost as much as we hate punctures.

Santa Cruz products are guaranteed for life and made to last. Quality is our redeeming quality.

Reserve Wheel lineup

Side-by-side comparison of the Reserve 25, 27, 30, and 37 carbon rims.

On with the Questions


  • Q: Can I use Reserve 37 rims with 2.5-inch WT tires?

A: Yes.

  • Q: Can I use Reserve 37 rims with 3.0-inch tires?

A: Yes.

  • Q: Can I use Reserve 37 rims on 2.6-inch tires?

A: Yes.

  • Q: Can I run Reserve 37 wheels on my Hightower?

A: We would advise you to run 2.8-3.0-inch tires on the Hightower. Anything smaller and it may make the bottom bracket height too low.

  • Q: Can I run traditional width tires (2.3-inch) on wider rims?

A: Probably not. This is entirely dependent on specific tires as each model has a different profile, some of which might be OK to use, while others are probably advisable to avoid using in that combination. Check tire manufacturers recommendations. 2.5-inch WT tires can be used on Reserve 37 (internal diameter of 37mm) but we don’t advise using narrower profile tires.

  • Q: I live near [insert riding location], will this 2.6-inch mid-Plus thing work for me?

A: Every rider is a little different and trails vary from coast to coast. What works for one rider might not feel optimal for another rider, on the same trail. Likewise, each wheel/tire setup has advantages and disadvantages, and the terrain upon which you ride will either compliment those advantages, or not. We build bicycles that allow riders to optimize their bike to perform best on the trails they love to ride.

2.6-inch tires might provide more grip and rollover on rocky, rooty, greasy technical trails out East. Or they might provide more comfort and confidence for riders getting to “grips” with more technical riding. However, some riders, in places that have faster, buffed out trails might find that traditional width tires provide more support and agility in high-speed jumps and turns. There’s no right answer; now riders can fine-tune their personal setup.

  • Q: Why are you making it so complicated? Why not offer each bike with one wheel/tire size?

A: We believe in customization. Having options means you, the rider, can fine-tune your bike to perform the best for your terrain, riding style and desires.

  • Q: Can I buy the Reserve 37 wheels aftermarket?

A: Yes. Go to santacruzbicycles.com/reserve-wheels to check them out and then find your local retailer using the locator.

  • Q: Can I still buy a Hightower with a Plus kit?

A: Not in MY19. We won’t be selling the Hightower with Plus kits, but you could still purchase aftermarket wheels (Reserve 37 wheels, for example), tires (2.8-3.0-inch), a 150mm-travel fork (this can be done by changing the air shaft in most forks, at a very reasonable cost), and flip the chip in the link.

  • Q: Can I still buy a Tallboy or Joplin with a Plus kit?

A: Not in MY19. We won’t be selling the Tallboy or Hightower with Plus kits, but you could still purchase aftermarket wheels (Reserve 37 wheels, for example), tires (2.8-3.0-inch), a longer fork (we suggest a 130mm-travel fork for Plus on the Tallboy), and flip the chip in the link.

Have more questions? Send us an email, message us on Facebook or Instagram, or give us a call at (US) Telephone: 831.459.7560.