What it is: A large, high volume 2.5in tire that provides great volume and excellent cornering grip, but with somewhat squirmy behavior on hardpack and a noteable weight penalty.
In July 2018, WTB revamped their tire lineup offering several new tires (the Judge) and changes to their existing lineup (Trail Boss and Vigilante). After reading several really positive reviews on the Vigilante, I decided to put one on the front of my Smuggler (the 29x.25 Light/High Grip) and see what I thought compared to the Maxxis DHF 2.5WT 3C/EXO I had the most experience with.
As you can see in the photo above, the tread pattern is fairly blocky, with staggered side knobs that flare out a fair bit.
What isn't obvious is that the tire is considerably wider and higher volume than the DHF 2.5WT that I was running. When I measured them using calipers, the difference came to about 6mm of additional width at the casing and approximately the same knob to knob.
The casing also feels a lot thicker than the EXO casing on my DHF was. Whether this translates to more durability or slash resistance, I don't know for sure. I typically am not one to tear tires, especially in the front, but it seems a bit more robust than the other EXO casing tires I've had previously.
The downside to these two benefits, the width and casing, is obviously going to be a weight penalty. The Maxxis DHF 2.5WT 3C/EXO is reported to weigh 1,005gr, while WTB reports the Vigilante 29x2.5 TCS Light/HighGrip + Slashguard is 1,137gr. That's a 132gr penalty, rolling weight too, all for a tire with the same purpose and riding intent in mind.
Personally, I can't say I felt much of a difference in the weight and the added confidence from the higher volume tire was really beneficial, but the tire does appear to roll a bit slower especially pedaling on flat terrain with soft ground. That's more of a tread issue, though, and less due to the weight. It's not incredibly noticeable, but it's there and may be a turnoff if you are used to the rolling speed of the DHF.
It's probably also worth pointing out that tires are getting heavier, most all mountain tires are well into the 1,100gr mark for 29er tires, so it's not that big of a downside compared to a lot of other options on the market, but both Schwalbe and Maxxis seem to have the lighter tires in that category.
When I first got the tire, durability of the tread was something I had concerns over. In the past, tires with blocky knobs like the Vigilante just didn't last as long for me. I found that the knobs started to crack and tear really early on, especially when ridden on hard surfaces (roads, hardpack, etc). I also found that with blocky tires, the knobs round off and lose traction quickly, compared to something with more shaped knobs like the DHF, which round off, but still retain traction.
Initially, my concerns were validated when the knobs started to round off and crack after less than 500 miles:
My concerns diminished as I put more time on the tire, though. While they definitely wore over the next 500-600 miles, the wear isn't anything that is abnormal for any other soft compound front tire I've used and I'm not sure it's worse than the DHF 2.5WT I had on there before.
After around 1100 miles on various terrain, the knobs look like this:
The image above was taken after a pretty dry day at Beech bike park, which really wore the tire down. You can see that riding there, along with the added mileage, has cracked the side knobs a little more, but mainly that the overall tread has worn down.
I don't really think this is any more or less than you'd see with any other soft compound tire, which is nice to see for a blocky tread.
I should caveat this a bit: I am, for some reason, really hard on tire sideknobs. My DHF's were near tearing off after 1300 miles and all of my tires wear on the knobs more than the center. I'm not sure if that's normal, but it's worth considering.
Somewhat contrary to that, it's also worth noting that our soil here is fairly soft and I rode this tire during the wettest part of the year, which I assume would reduce tire wear a fair bit compared to hardpacked surfaces. If you ride hardpack, I would expect the wear to be more substantial.
Where I have a hard time not recommending this tire is the grip. It grips really well on almost every surface I've ridden it on, it grabs off camber roots and rocks very well and is very confidence inspiring. I feel that on wet, loose ground it corners better than the DHF does, which is really saying something considering how well the DHF corners. The added volume helps soak up bumps reduce chatter, as well. When riding off-camber sections of trail, it grips noticeably better than the DHF does. It was an immediate improvement over the other front tires I'd run previously, particularly when riding over wet surfaces or off camber roots.
Overall, this is my favorite front tire compared to the other options I've tried. It works great for my terrain and I love the volume. It isn't for everyone, but if it fits your terrain and riding, I'd give it a nod over any other option out there right now.
So who would I recommend this to?
If you ride a Magic Mary and want a higher volume, more durable tire that corners better, then this is a great option for you, although there will be a big weight penalty.
If you ride a DHF and are disappointed in the performance in wet or loose conditions, then this is also a great option.
If you are a weight weenie or ride hardpacked surfaces, this is not a good choice. The tire is fairly heavy and blocky knobs just don't last on hardpacked surfaces, something like the DHF or DHRII will last longer and provide more predictable traction.
vs DHF 2.5WT : The Vigilante 2.5 is higher volume, performs better in wet conditions, soaks up small bumps better, generally corners better, and has a thicker casing. That said, it's heavier, rolls slower in some situations, and doesn't grip as well on hardpacked surfaces. The wear is also not as even as the DHF. They are both great tires, but personally, I'd choose the Vigilante unless I was on hardpacked trails regularly.
vs. DHRII 2.4WT : The DHRII makes a good front tire, but performs nowhere near as well as the DHF or Vigilante does, particularly in cornering. I know some folks love it in the front, but I found it washed out in corners. The only benefit it really has is the weight reduction and (arguably) rolling speed.
vs. Magic Mary 2.35 : I've never really been a Schwalbe fan, the Magic Mary seemed to do alright in the wet, but I found the DHF to be better than the MM in almost all other conditions. The Vigilante 2.5 is very similar to the Magic Mary, but with better volume and it seems to perform a lot better all around. The only downside is the weight penalty, which is significant compared to Schwalbe tires, which are typically well under the 1,000gr mark.
vs. Assegai EXO+/3C 2.5WT : I ran this tire after I wore out my Vigilante and I felt they are two different options for two different types of riding. If I were on a DH bike or riding park a lot, the Assegai may be a better option for it's hardpack performance, better braking traction, and likely better wear. For general trail riding, I think the Vigilante is more confidence inspiring and versatile, providing more grip on roots, loose rocks, and similar terrain you are more likely to encounter on the trail instead of a purpose built bike park. I found the Vigilante more forgiving and compliant when it came to line choice, where the Assegai seemed more likely to skid around. I also felt the Vigilante cornered better when leaned over, I actually had a few close calls when I first put the Assegai on, it really doesn't seem to like being leaned as far and starts to drift.
Excellent traction in most conditions
Corners very well
High volume with large knobs provide great grip in wet or loose conditions
Branding (logos, etc) isn't obnoxious like some other tires out there right now
Heavy compared to Maxxis and Schwalbe options (but on par with other manufacturer offerings)
Can roll slower in wet, soft ground