The Ground Control was one of Specialized’s first mountain bike tire names back in the 80s, and the Fast Trak and Renegade have been blasting around trails and race tracks for years too. Between them, the three tread patterns can be paired up for pretty much any surface/weather and the S-Works, Control and Grid carcasses and T5 and T7 compounds now cover most aggression/stiction scenarios this side of hardcore trail. Several months of testing have proved they’re an excellent quiver for pretty much every situation.
The first thing to make clear is that this isn’t the Grid Trail carcass that we recently tested on the Butcher and Eliminator tires. Grid (XC) is a multi-layer 60TPI (Threads Per Inch) weave with sidewall reinforcement for stability and cut resistance but no extra protection under the crown. That leaves it more flexible and faster rolling than Grid Trail but less damped in feel when you’re pounding through stuff. You can obviously add a click or two of fork damping if you want, but the brighter more lively feel really suits the intended use of the Ground Control and it syncs really well with SID/Pike/32/34 group forks.
The single compound-activated silica T7 rubber has a decent sense of stick and confidence when you push the limits too. While it will unsurprisingly drift rather than adhere when compared to a Butcher or Eliminator with bigger lugs, it’s always very predictable and controllable, sidewall reinforcement lets you run low pressures without worry as well. The T7 does feel a little draggy on the back from an XC point of view so we’d go for a T5 on the rear if you want collar and cuffs tires but judging by the Fast Trak we’d be wary of a T5 upfront in the damp as grip won’t match the visual promise.
At just over 850g for a generously wide (59mm on 30mm internal rims) 29 x 2.35in size it accelerates and lifts easily too. That makes it great for either lightening up a mid-travel trail bike or downcountrying an XC bike and the smooth, energetic feel will flatter any frame feel without spacehoppering all over the place.
Ground Control has changed a lot in the past thirty years but the current wide-spaced, mid-sized, lateral sipe topped center and shoulder block design has been providing reliable grip upfront on Specialized XC/Trail bikes for years. While it’s not a full filth tire, it does OK in the wet and it cleans fast even at moderate speeds. Small paired side knobs give reasonable off-camber/lean grip as long as you don’t come in too hot and heavy too. The new range offers it in all three carcass types S-Works, Control and Grid carcasses and T5 and T7 compounds but we tested it in the T7 Grid format.
The Fast Trak uses an alternating diagonal center line tread with small center depressions for a bit of extra bite and we’ve always been impressed by the amount of grip it can pull out of a wide range of conditions. Closer spaced intermediate and lower shoulder tread mean it leans in smoothly and it hangs on pretty well when banked hard too.
We tested both T7 and T5 compounds in the Control Carcass version which gets puncture protection under the crown rather than sidewall protection. Tubeless fitting is super easy and weights are light for the size at 710g T7 and 690g T5 for a 58mm width on 30mm internal rim. Lack of sidewall reinforcement means it needs more pressure to hold shape than the Grid tires but we were happily running in the 25-23psi range without wallowing. We’ve had no puncture, rip or pinch flat issues in several months of hard work either so while it can ping a bit we’ve not felt like we’ve had to nurse it through rocky stuff more than a normal, significantly slower trail tire.
While the T5 does roll very fast, it’s also very quick to slip on damp roots and rocks which is workable on the rear but seriously sketchy upfront unless it’s bone dry. Running the T7 upfront and the T5 on the rear gave us extra gears over standard trail tires without having to temper cornering and braking expectations too much.
Despite a scarily low weight of 610g and seriously thin sidewalls, the S-Works has proved surprisingly tenacious on the trail too. Running it upfront we’ve made maximum use of the stickier T7 side compound while the T5 center and super low weight make it an instant speed and agility upgrade. You will need to keep it around 25psi to stop it crumbling in turns which can create a lot of bounce and skip that’s worth adding some fork rebound to tame, but the 120TPI carcass does include puncture protection and again they popped into place easily and haven’t leaked or flatted since.
The Renegade is the highest velocity tire of the three but also the least versatile. We’re big fans of similar ‘semi slick’/low tread designs like the Schwalbe Racing Ralph, Rock Razor and Maxxis Aspen/Ardent Race and are always impressed by how much they hang in - at least on the rear - even when things get wet and wintery. The alternating ramped, either side of the center tread of the Renegade looks like it might be able to pull some purchase out of damper conditions too. Specialized’s statement that it’s only for dry/dusty/desert conditions is bang on though as we repeatedly span the rear of our T5 test tire well before the previously mentioned competitor tires whenever things got damp.
The payback is very rapid rolling speed but it’s not any quicker than the tires that leave it spinning. The 650g weight gives instant acceleration though and again the Control carcass has been a totally trouble-free energy and efficiency boost that’s been a pleasure to ride. We’ve now got a 580g T7/T5 S-Works version on the way which we’re really keen to try for do or die race days.
While the beauty of Specialized’s approach is that you can mix and match tread/compound and carcass of each tire for your individual usage situations/climate etc. there are definitely some sweet spot combinations Ground Control Grid T7 is an energetic all-rounder that’s trustworthy in most weather/surface situations all year round.
The Fast Trak is the most versatile of the obviously speed-enhancing treads and works really well in T7 upfront, T5 rear in the Control for general speed work and in S-Works racing. T7 Grid would be a good rear option for rougher down country/fast trail work too.
Renegade doesn’t match its obvious competitors for mixed conditions grip which surprised us as it looks like it would, but the rolling speed of the T5 Control on the rear is outstanding if it’s dry enough to keep if hooked up consistently.
The real win with all the tires though is the pricing, which is well below the going rate for rubber we’d be happy to line up at any race or confidently ride hard over hill and dale on.