Back Issue | Group Test: 6 Enduro Race Tires
“You have to finish first to finish first,“ said Jared Graves once when he was asked about his tactics for an Enduro World Series race. Crashes and defective equipment are anathema to those competing for podium places. If a rider crosses the finishing line with head bowed, the first thing people look at is the wheels and tires. If they have no air in them then the stage, and often the entire race, is ruined. Tires have to cope with a lot of abuse, and not only in races. Grip, and above all puncture resistance, can make the difference between victory and defeat.
Update June 2016: This article is from 2014, don’t miss our new enduro-tire group test!
For this reason, the candidates in the second part of our comparison test also had to prove their mettleon the test stands of the tire giant Continental in Korbach. ENDURO editors Christoph and Max-Philip oversaw the whole test procedure, which included measuring the puncture resistance and casing strength as well as the classic rolling resistance test. For the pinch flat resistance test, the fall height of a 10kg weight was increased in 5cm increments until the inner tube lost air after the impact. For the two sharp object puncture tests, we analyzed the solidity of the contact surface with a needle and the sidewall with a blade. Our aim was to demonstrate how resistant the various models are to thorns and sharp-edged stones.
For the practical test the ENDURO test crew had additional support from Tobias Reiser, who has done several World Series and European races for the Focus Trail Team and knows the requirements of a good enduro tire. Together, we tested the tires on various types of surface and in different weather conditions to find out about factors such as grip, performance on berms, traction in the wet, and damping features.
In the subsequent discussions about the ride qualities of each model, the laboratory test results helped us to evaluate our test impressions and complete the final result of our testing process.
Continental Trail King Protection 27.5 + Apex
The Continental Trail King is not only the only tire on test made in Germany, it is also the only one which offers a different rotational direction for front and rear wheels to provide the perfect combination of rolling speed and traction. One of the many features that the Korbach developers have given the Trail King is the extra Apex layer (plastic layerIt is located in the lower part of the sidewall and helped the tire to get top puncture protection results in the lab. In practice, however, this stiff casing requires much lower tire pressures (1.3─1.5 bar) than the competition to get similar damping features – otherwise the tire feels very hard and doesn’t hug the ground sufficiently.
The profile of the tire is formed by the wide central lugs and the staggered side lugs and it provides good grip, especially on hard stony ground. If the surface becomes softer, braking traction is still fine, but the grip on bends and slanted slopes is diminished considerably. The narrow threshold zone between grip and slide is crossed early and quickly. Thanks to the Black Chili compound, the tire masters wet roots superbly (at low air pressure), and the rolling resistance off-road is very good — plus there was virtually no wear and tear to be seen.
+ low wear
+ good grip in the wet
+ high puncture protection
– grip limit reached quickly
– little side grip on soft ground
Trail King | compound/carcass: BLCH ProTech TLR | 2,4 x 27,5 | 930g | 64,90 € | www.conti-online.com
Maxxis Highroller II EXO 2.4 (Recommended)
The Maxxis Highroller II is available in many different varieties. For our test we received the cheapest version with a width of 2.4”, a reinforced EXO casing in the MaxxPro compound, but without the TR (tubeless ready) addition, as this version wasn’t available at the time. With a weight of 960g, the tire finds itself in the top third of our test selection, and the Maxxis doesn’t deliver great results in the rolling resistance test on the test stand. As far as puncture resistance goes, it achieved above-average values. Unlike the tubeless- ready model (tested previously), our test model was fitted to the rim easily and without a great deal of effort. The wide, tall side lugs provide the tire with a lot of traction on off-camber slopes and very good grip on turns. It takes a while to reach the grip limit, but then it comes suddenly. After losing grip, the tire finds it again quickly, however, and stabilizes the bike. Thanks to its very good damping qualities in the casing area and the rubber compound, the Maxxis moulds itself well to the surface below. Roots and stones are cushioned well without harsh rebound, providing very good riding quality, especially in the wet. The wide, broadly staggered and flat-topped central lugs deliver a balanced mixture of high braking traction and acceptable off-road rolling resistance.
+ grip limit reached late
+ lots of grip in all riding situations
+ good damping qualities
– rolling resistance somewhat high
High Roller II | compound/carcass: EXO 60TPI | 27,5 x 2,4 | 960g | 49,90 € | www.maxxis.de
Onza Ibex 27.5 x 2.4
Ibex means “mountain goat,” and Onza promises traction values for this tire which resemble those of the nimble mountain dwellers themselves. This is achieved through the finely-woven casing (120TPI) and the dual rubber compound. The Onza achieves above-average results for weight (930g) and in the lab tests.The low values for rolling resistance were confirmed in practice on the trail.
“The profile seems good,” said test rider Tobias when he first acquainted himself with the Ibex. The combination of thick, high side lugs and wide central lugs seemed nicely balanced and impressed us immediately on the test track. On hard, rocky, or soft ground — whatever surface we rode on — the side lugs kept the tire firmly on track and didn’t give way or buckle, even at high speed. The virtually seamless transition from lug to lug creates a ride quality which is very pleasing, if a little undefined. The grip limit is reached late, but then it comes surprisingly quickly. The Ibex’s only weakness is wet roots, where it has difficulty staying on track. A slightly softer rubber compound in the side lugs and more pronounced damping would be welcome here. There was virtually no wear and tear to speak of during the test period, meaning long-term satisfaction is guaranteed.
+ very good profile+grip limit takes a long time to reach
+ lots of grip in dry conditions
– problems with grip in the wet
Onza Ibex | compound/carcass: FRC120 RC255a TLR | 27,5 x 2,4 | 932g | 53,90 € | www.onzatires.com
Schwalbe Hans Dampf Snakeskin Trailstar
These days the Schwalbe Hans Dampf is rightly known as a classic in the enduro tire sector. No tire is specced more by bike manufacturers than this tire, which was originally designed for the US market. The Hans Dampf is impressive from the start, showing very low rolling resistance. This is made possible by the well-designed Trailstar rubber compound, but the profile also plays a role. Every tread bar of the tire uses a fin to mould itself more closely to the terrain, a feature confirmed by its outstanding damping qualities. The widely spaced central lugs take a long time to clog up, even in mud, and provide solid, if not outstanding, braking results. The seamless transition of the profile from central to side lugs results in a predictable ride quality on any surface. This will especially please less aggressive riders as they will have good traction even while cornering without extreme lean angles.
Experienced bikers will wish for handling which is somewhat more defined and direct. Particularly on soft ground (mud or deep forest soil), the tire doesn’t track so well and lacks smooth turning ability because of the large number of lugs on the side. On solid ground (roots or rocks), grip in the wet is beyond reproach. Nor was there anything to find fault with in the puncture resistance, either in the lab or in practice, despite the low weight of 815g (795g claimed by the manufacturer). The one disappointing thing was the durability of the tire. After only ten fairly long rides the side lugs showed visible cracks, causing them to give way slightly.
+ low weight
+ good grip in the wet
+ very unproblematic
– doesn’t track well on bends on soft ground
– poor mud-shedding ability
– wears out quickly
Hans Dampf Snakeskin Trailstar | compound/carcass: EVO TRL SNSK TRI | 27,5 x 2,35 | 815g | 54,90 € | www.schwalbe.com
Schwalbe Magic Mary Super Gravity Trailstar (test winner)
The Schwalbe Magic Mary tire is not just the tire of choice for World Cup overall winner Steve Smith, many enduro racers also regard the successor to the Muddy Mary highly. The extra layer of fibre on the Super Gravity casing helped it to gain top values for puncture protection and sidewall stability in the lab test. The open profile with the large blocks and the high weight requires a few extra watts on the roller test bench, however. Because of the stiff casing, you have to ride the tire with a very low tire pressure (1.3-1.5 bar for 80kg riders). This is the only way to make it mould well to the surface and get good damping. The profile is noticeable for its high, individually positioned central lugs and its huge downward-pointing side lugs. On soft ground it digs itself deep into the ground, providing phenomenal tracking and grip
when turning. However, it even feels good on hard sections — our suspicions that the lugs could buckle here were unfounded. On the contrary: the Magic Mary provides a well-defined ride quality and gives good feedback. It copes superbly with roots and slanted slopes. The grip limit
is reached late and is easy to control, and the results for braking are also very good.
+ enormous grip
+ nice grip limit
+ good at shedding mud
– high weight
– high rolling resistance
Magic Mary Super Gravity Trailstar | compound/carcass: EVO SG SNSK TRI | 27,5 x 2,35 | 1101g | 59,90 € | www.schwalbe.com
Specialized Butcher Control
The Specialized Butcher Control is the lightest, and by far the cheapest, tire on test with a price of €34.90. The light weight and the short distance between the central flat profile blocks produce top values on the roller test bench. However, the thin-walled casing loses points for puncture protection and sidewall stability — the 50g heavier GRID version of the tire would be a better choice here.
In dry conditions, the Butcher is in its element. The flat profile with the nice transition from middle to side lugs offers a lot of grip and a nicely defined grip limit area. If the surface becomes soft, the side lugs still track well but the central lugs lose traction and the braking quality suffers. The testers also disapproved of the lack of tire damping on wet roots, which meant that the tire failed to follow the ground consistently. In the Control version the Butcher is therefore better for trail riders looking for a capable tire for nearly all conditions. We recommend that racers use the reinforced GRID version of the tire. We will test the latter soon and publish the results on our website.
+ top performance on dry ground
+ good rolling resistance
– low puncture protection
– weak damping
Butcher Control | compound/carcass: Control TLR | 27,5 x 2,3 | 768g | 34,90 € | www.specialized.com
All the tires in our test deliver performance at the highest level while differing significantly in their approaches. The Schwalbe Magic Mary delivers the best ride quality. It offers riders maximum security with enormous grip and a traction limit which comes late and is easily controlled. To lower the rolling resistance of the complete bike, however, we recommend a rear tire which is appropriate to the course (such as Hans Dampf / Rock Razor). Those looking for a tire for all situations will be happy with the slightly cheaper Maxxis Highroller II. Besides the very good ride quality, it also offers good durability and many hours of fun in the saddle. Therefore, it is our choice for recommended buy!
For bikers who want to do long rides with a large amount of pedaling, the Schwalbe Hans Dampf is a good choice. Its low weight saves a lot of energy going uphill, and it provides a solid performance going down to boot. The Onza Ibex and the Continental Trail King are the all-rounders of the test. Due to their solid casing and well-designed rubber compound, they cover a wide range of possible uses although they can’t match the overall performance of the competition.
Update June 2016: This article is from 2014, don’t miss our new enduro-tire group test!
Words: Christoph Bayer Photos: Fabian Rapp, Klaus Kniest, Christoph Bayer