Posted by Editoress on 06/12/13
Talk about a flashback. Back in the '90s the Specialized Ground Control Tires, especially the light weight S-Works version, were one of the hottest tires going. Light, a great tread design, and durable. They weren't the cheapest, but if you wanted to race cross country, or just have a good all around tire, then this was one of the one's to buy. Would I be interested in testing them? Oh, yes please.
That being said, this is a very different tire than the ones we rode back in the day. Specialized has done a lot of work in trimming the tread down to save weight. The old tire had a fairly square profile, with aggressive side knobs. The new tire is more rounded in profile and the tread blocks are much smaller. I didn't have any old S-Works kicking around any more but I remembered that a friend had one and kindly passed along a photo. It doesn't take much to see the difference.
Above: 2013 Ground Control 26x2.3
Below: Original Ground Control 26x1.95 circa 1992
Right: 15yr old Team Control
However, you can't really compare the two. There is at least 15 years separating them and technology certainly changes. The 2013 S-Works Ground Control has to stand on its own merits.
It is available in an array of sizes (1.9", 2.1", 2.3") for both 26 and 29 inch wheels. I tested the 26x2.3". The weight of this size was 580g, which I have to consider pretty good. A 26x1.9" weighed 490g by comparison. Specialized lists it under their categories as a XC Trail Tire. You can get lighter tires for XC racing but they have minimalist knobs (e.g. S-Works Fast Trak) that may not work in some conditions. The bead is foldable and the casing is a high end standard 120tpi. It is set for tubeless application, what Specialized calls 2Bliss Ready. I rode it with a lightweight tube. Mounting the tire on the rim was easy without tools and it was a nice true tread.
The first impression is that it seemed kind of narrow for a 2.3". Putting a caliper on it got a width of 5.1cm across the casing. Conversion from inches to centimetres is 2.54. That works out to 2.008" for the test tire. Going right to the tip of the chevron shaped knobs gives 5.25cm which is 2.067". To get a true 2.3" width needs at least 5.8cm. I measured a bunch of tires in our home fleet and not one of them was able to come to their quoted width. The only reason I can think of is that the manufacturers are playing the weight game at the expense of the true width. This one just stood out as narrow from the get go. One last width example is another newer Specialized tire that I have on a bike, The Captain Control 2.2. Casing width was 5.25cm (same as overall width of the Ground Control S-Works) with the maximum width up to 5.5cm (2.17"). A conclusion? Even though it is listed as a 2.3" I'd treat it as a 2.1" XC tire. The 1.9" that I was provided with (2.1" were sold out at Specialized) was really narrow to the point that I couldn't ride it.
Now that I've got that out of the way, on to how the tire rides. It is very fast on hard pack surfaces. The round profile certainly helps keep most of the contact patch on the centre knobs. The low weight is also very pleasant on climbs. The dense tread pattern gave it good grip on rocks. It could be me and age, or it could be the new tire design, but it didn't seem to inspire as much confidence while being pushed into corners on looser soil. Although it hooked up well climbing as a back tire, I would personally like to see a slightly more aggressive knob on the sides when using this as a front tire.
Overall all, though, the Specialized S-Works Ground Control Tire is a good one. If you're looking for a light all around tire this is certainly a tire to consider. This quality doesn't come cheap. I've found it online for as low as $59.95 but most Canadian retailers are selling it for between $70 and $80. 29er tires will be slightly more than 26er tires. Is it worth it? Yes, I think so. It's a high end piece of equipment that might just make the difference in a race or a long ride. To view all of the Specialized tires visit www.specialized.com.
Report by Mike Badyk
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