November 17, 2021
In 2019, Maxxis released an update of its massively popular Ikon tire. The 2.6” EXO/TR update allowed for much lower pressure giving riders more traction and comfort on any cross-country terrain. We swapped our 29+ Dirt Wizards for the more versatile Maxxis Ikons.
I was at Heathrow Airport when I picked up a bikepacking magazine for the first time and my brain exploded. The downward spiral of internet research eventually brought me to bikepacking.com where I spent months reading about what seemed like a whole new type of cycling and drooling over the photos. The early articles from Logan featuring his 2012 Surly Krampus really inspired me.
At the same time, my family and I were living in Tokyo, and transitioning back to Canada. We ended up in British Columbia so “Daddy could bike all year long”. It was obvious pretty quickly that the “gravel” setup I was riding wasn't going to cut the mustard in BC.
I detest cycling genres and have a tough time communicating the type of riding I do. My favorite thing in the world is soloing through every surface I can - tarmac, single-track, double-track, gravel, whatever. The N+1 joke has always kind of annoyed me as I have always dreamed of one rig to do it all. It was early 2020, and Surly had launched a new Krampus which triggered my memories of Logan's early posts. I got one.
The Krampus is the first true plus-sized bike and ships with 29x3.0 Dirt Wizard tires that are intended to climb volcanoes (which they can do easily). The traction and cushion on the Dirt Wizards allowed me to adjust to my surroundings. I love my Krampus. It can do anything. But let's be real, it wasn't designed to be the fastest, snappiest rig on the market. After almost two years/6000km of riding, I started putting thought into how to speed the Krampus up. The easiest place to start shedding weight was the tires.
The volume of the 29x3.0 Dirt Wizards allows you to run super low pressure which is cushy on rocky and rooty terrain. When other MTBers gawked at my rigid frame, I would joke that suspension was in the tires. The tight-knit center knobs keep you moving quickly while the huge outer knobs help provide confidence in cornering. Honestly, they are awesome tires but at 1210g they are a huge weight penalty. After a long day in the saddle, you start to feel every single gram. I knew finding something lighter with as much traction and comfort as the Dirt Wizards would be a challenge.
I was originally interested in the 2.8 Teravail Coronado's until I learned that they weighed in at close to 1000g. My local shop pointed me in the direction of the 2.6 Maxxis Ikons. After speaking to a few friends who swear by Maxxis (specifically the Ikons) I placed my order.
The Ikons are just that - an icon. Maxxis released the Ikons in 2014 as a 27.5x2.3. Alongside the popular Rekons, the Ikons have a purpose-built cross-country tread pattern and became a kingpin in the industry. Since then, Maxxis has introduced a whole range of sizes and the introduction of the 2.6 has heralded the “death of 29+”.
|Maxxis Ikon||Surly Dirt Wizard|
|Color Options||Black/Tan Wall||Black|
Getting the Ikons on my wheels was a breeze. The foldable bead was easy to pop on and get seated. When installing, make sure the arrow and directional tread are pointing towards the front of the bike. You probably want to consider a bit more sealant than usual. I dropped about 150ml of sealant in both tires before inflating.
As soon as the Ikons were on, I went for a boot around my hood. I can't verify this, but I imagine the feeling is a lot like losing 10 pounds and putting on a pair of expensive jeans for the first time. The bike wanted to fly and I couldn't help but smile. This may sound lame but the rotation of the yellow Maxxis logo looked rad. They somehow reminded me of the muscle cars of my youth. The Krampus was reborn and I couldn't wait to get it out on my local loop.
Maxxis positions the Ikons as a true mixed-surface/cross-country tire with a high rolling speed and ready for anything. My local is a 40k loop that leaves from my house and covers all terrain that Victoria has to offer.
My route hits about 10-20km of tarmac to get to (and fro) the trails. This stretch was tedious with Dirt Wizards, especially on the way back when everything is feeling heavy. The distance on the Ikons ripped by and I barely noticed. It took about 10km to realize just how quickly my average road speed had increased. I was moving anywhere between 20-25km/h, a huge contrast to the Dirt Wizards that would maintain an avergae of 14-18km/h. Guess what? Dropping almost 2 pounds makes a noticeable difference.
One small observation, the Ikons have less of a footprint and this makes it harder to “stand” at a stop. With my Dirt Wizards, I could almost stand the bike at a full stop.
The Ikons were purpose-built for cross-country and they no doubt shine on gravel roads and double track surfaces. At first, the challenge was mine - not the tires. The transition time to a thinner tire was a bit longer than expected. I found myself holding back and not fully opening up as I wasn't sure of the footing and traction the tires were capable of. Once my comfort leveled out, I noticed again, average speeds were much faster.
But wow, they are light. So light in fact that I could bunny hop and wheelie way easier than with the Dirt Wizards. I spent a good part of the trip with one wheel in the air.
My only XC gripe about the Ikons was that they spun out quite fast in the mud. On our little island, serious mud is a reality most of the year and the lower tread meant a bit more slippage in the soup.
The true test for the Ikons came in the singletrack. The singletrack here tends to be fairly technical, full of wet rocks and roots - which the Dirt Wizards made a quick job of. Nowhere does Maxxis advertise the Ikons as a singletrack-friendly tire, but I was delighted to find out that side slippage was comparable to the Dirt Wizards. Again, the challenge was me trusting the tires - not the tires themselves.
The drop in weight dramatically changed how I climb on singletrack. With the 29+, I would throw the bike into the highest gear, sit back and pull myself up the rocks. Now with the Ikons, I am leaning in and attacking similar to what most full-suspension riders do - with the weight over my front tire. I love this.
There has been much debate around the death of 29+ tires and bikes. Bikepacking.com has sighted the discontinuation of Surly's ECR as a signal that the 29+ platform is dying and published a great video on the topic. It's indisputable that the number of brands carrying plus-size options has dropped and that it remains a bit of a niche for bikepacking specifically.
After spending a few weeks on Ikon 2.6s, I am pretty confident I will not be returning to 29+ tires and I am left wondering what the use case for 29+ is. Sure, I loved the clearance and the ability to roll over (and through) everything but the 2.6 Ikons have proved that you can still get all of the benefits of a 29+ in a much lighter and nimble tire.
As for my beloved Krampus, it feels like a whole new bike with a fresher, younger attitude. I am now looking at ways to speed it up even more. Maybe slapping an oval ring on the front with a couple more teeth, lighter wheels, and/or a carbon fork. Stay tuned.
Some friends jokingly started calling my regular ride, Barry's Loop. I have been tweaking this line for as long as I owned my Krampus. It has everything you need for an awesome mixed-surface, cross-country ride. This is the core loop for which many, many variations exist that you can find on Strava.
Barry has been cycling and creating digital products around the world for 20+ years. He was a design leader at IDEO, IDEO.org and Nike’s Innovation Lab.