Pros: Handles great on singletrack, Flack Jacket puncture protection, relatively light.
Cons: More expensive than the average tire, only excels in specific conditions.
Note: This review is for the S Works edition of the Team Control, not the standard tire. The S Works model costs $49.99 and is lighter than the standard tire.
----- Overview -----
Much like a car or truck, tires on a bicycle are the only direct contact between you and the surface you are riding on. Two patches of rubber both less than two inches long are all that prevents you from crashing or becoming stuck climbing a hill. Mountain bike tires are especially important, as the terrain and conditions you are riding on can vary so much. Finding the correct tires for your riding area and style will help you ride faster, safer, and with a higher level of confidence.
Specialized has made tires for quite a few years now, so naturally all their bikes come equipped with their house brand tires. The S-works tires however are a more racing oriented tire that only come on Specialized's highest end bikes. You can add them to your bike so long as you dont mind the higher than average cost.
----- Choosing the right tires -----
Tires have only three main attributes you need to look at: Weight, traction, and durability. Only one of those matters to me, and thats traction. Weight can be overcome by training, and poor durability just requires you to buy tires more often. Lets look at a few different types of terrain that require differing traction needs.
Type A: Sand and very soft dirt.
Type B: Hard packed dirt and smooth singletrack
Type C: Mud
Type D: Gravel and wood chips
Since no tire is perfect for all off-road conditions, you must make your tire purchase based on the terrain you will be riding most often. The box or sticker on each tire usually gives a good idea of what the tire is made for, and dont make the mistake of buying a extreme knobby tire for its looks instead of its intended use.
----- Okay, now the actual tire review ----
Mountain bike tires are usually sold in two ways; front and rear specific or universal. All off-road Specialized tires are front and rear specific, and also directionally specific. The S Works Team Control is a front specific tire, and is designed to promote maximum steering control, cornering traction, and cornering speed. This tire is meant to be matched to the S Works Team Master rear tire, which I have reviewed separately. When combined, they do an outstanding job of keeping your bike glued to the ground. I have never had this much confidence in my tires when cornering fast on hard-packed trails. The large side lugs that extend up the side of the tire casing allow you to lean into a corner and still maintain traction to the ground. The Team series of tires works best on Type A and Type B terrain. Even though it looks very much like a mud tire, the Team Control tends to clog after a few minutes of mud exposure. For light or occasional mud puddles it works wonderful, it just wont clear out tread with long term mud usage. Sand pits and sandy hills are no problem for the Team Control, as it will float over most any soft dirt. The only tire I have ridden on that felt better in the sand is the Panaracer FireXC Pro.
Where this tire shines best is on firm and hard packed singletrack. You can maintain high cornering speeds without worrying about mid corner distractions like roots, rocks, and soft patches. The soft tread grips with tenacity and the large lugs will grab any irregularities in the trail surface. Your only worry should be rain-covered roots, which are evil with any tire.
Specialized tires also come with their Flack Jacket techology on the sidewalls. Flak Jacket is a specially woven proprietary Aramid belt and provides flat protection without sacrificing weight or ride handling characteristics. This is the same material used by prison guards to protect them against stabbings.
----- Final Comments -----
In the past 3 years, I have tried 4 tire combinations; Specialized Rockster, Panaracer FireXC Pro, WTB Velociraptors, and the S Works Team tires Im using now. The FireXC Pros were excellent tires and my favorite all around set, but for the terrain I ride and race on the Team Control and Team Master are perfect. The only drawbacks are the high retail price and lack of availability. I purchased these tires for 40% off since they were from 2001 and the shop needed to get rid of them. While not the lightest tires by any means, at 585 grams they are midpack. Durability so far is surprisingly good with about 325 miles on them. The front tire shows no real signs of damage, only a slight rounding of the center tread blocks.
These tires use an S-Works Compound which is a full race compound designed to give you World Cup Professional Level performance. These will wear faster than most other tires. For a lot of the same features in a more durable compound check out the Pro version. If you find yourself riding hard packed dirt and sandy areas often, I would try to find a set of these tires.
Here is the link to the homepage for this tire: http://www.specialized.com/SBCEqProduct.jsp?section=13010&browselevel=tires&JServSessionIdroot=9t32b1rblc.j27005
If you are interested in this tire, check out my review of the matching S Works Team Master rear tire.
Thanks for reading, and feel free to comment!