If first impressions are the most lasting, Kenda definitely had a good one at the first World Cup downhill race of 2017. The Polygon UR team had an impressive day at the races with Tracey Hannah snagging a second place in the women’s field and Alex Fayolle winning the men’s race aboard Kenda’s new Hellkat Pro tires.
Hellkat Pro specs
- 27.5 x 2.4in
- Wire bead
- RSR dual-layer compound
- Advanced gravity casing with Iron Cloak belt and Kenda Vector shield
- Tubeless ready
- Enduro and folding bead options in development
- $80, UK and Australian pricing TBD
Kenda Hellkat Pro technology
With development and testing done by World Cup downhill UR Racing team riders Mick and Tracey Hannah, Kenda makes no qualms that this is a pure gravity tire.
To meet its World Cup needs, Kenda designed its Advanced Gravity Casing featuring three technical components: Kenda Vector Shield, the Iron Cloak and the Apex insert.
Kenda Vector Shield is a woven sheet of aramid fibers on the sidewall. It’s claimed to provide 285 percent greater cut resistance than other sidewall protection. Additionally, Kenda contends it saves up to 200g over a regular 2-ply downhill tire casing.
I was surprised at how low I could set the pressure and get away with. The sidewalls have a 20mm insert for stiffness and to prevent pinch flats Russell Eich / Immediate Media
The Iron Cloak belt is an aramid belt that lies under the tread to ward off punctures. An 18 percent increase in protection is touted as is its flexibility, which allows the tread to conform to the trail better.
And it seems to be legit, as the Hellkat Pros don’t possess the wooden vagueness that other super robust tires sometimes display.
To stiffen the sidewalls, a 20mm tall rigid rubber insert sits just above the beads. The Apex insert is said to be more than 60 percent taller than standard sidewall inserts.
The extra height helps to reduce pinch flats and tubeless burps. It also allows lower tire pressures and is claimed to increase feedback so a rider knows how hard to push before traction lets go.
Again, I found this to be the case. The burly casing allowed lower tire pressures. My typical 23psi in the front went down to 18psi, and in the rear 28–30psi wound up around 22–24psi. That was without any punctures, burping or rolling of the sidewall even when way over the ragged edge, too.
RSR dual-layer compound
Building on its successful Race Stick-E compound, the Hellkats feature a dual-layer compound that’s said to increase longevity and deliver better control.
A stiffer and more durable compound comprises the base, which is layered with a sticky, slow-rebounding rubber on top. Together they’re said to provide traction but still deliver a solid foundation to press against and deliver increased wear resistance.
Despite rough testing, the knobs look pretty good and, more importantly, remain intact. If you used to run Kenda tires from several years ago, you’ll know this is a substantial improvement.
Kenda Hellkat Pro ride impressions
While not a detailed, verbose review, that single word more or less sums up the Hellkat Pro tires. My first ride thoughts on the Hellkat Pros only became reinforced as I took the tires on more rides, the trails dried out, and lift-served days proved.
More than I care to admit, the Hellkat Pros saved my bacon. It’s a heavy tire, but that heft delivers in protection, stiffness and traction. So. Much. Traction.
Big knobs with Kenda’s RSR dual-layer rubber compound equates to impressive traction Russell Eich / Immediate Media
I rolled away from some serious stupidity, such as: getting tossed sideways off a jump, with full-on panic, mid-air pucker happening while straight-arming the landing.
Or when leaning way too hard in a corner only to have a rock dislodge and jerk the bike off line. In those instances the big knobbies and stiff sidewalls thankfully cashed the checks my skills couldn’t.
Outside of riding like an idiot, the Hellkat Pros proved their worth time and again in the corners and while braking.
I quickly found out that the super stiff sidewalls meant the more aggressive I rode, the better it was. If I was heavy on the front and throwing my weight and leverage around the Hellkat Pros were eager partners prompting me to smash everything, the harder and faster the better.
Heavy and a bit slow
Compromise is a reality in dang near everything. If you find something or someone that has no compromises, buy 20 of them or marry the person. With tires, compromises are pretty straight forward: light tires aren’t durable, fast tires have little traction, you can probably extrapolate from there.
With that noted, the wire-bead Hellkat Pros with Kenda’s Advanced Gravity Casing are heavy for anything other than bike park riding or if you’re mega strong. They’re also pretty slow if your typical rides have a road slog to get to, or between, the trails. But none of this should really matter as they’re built as gravity tires.
Kenda also has a lighter weight enduro version on the way for bikes that see more than just chairlifts and shuttle vehicles.
Bottom line: downhillers take notice
Maxxis’s venerated Minion DHFs and the equally loved Schwalbe Magic Marys were firmly in the crosshairs when Kenda was designing the Hellkat Pros.
I’d say it hit the mark with amazing traction, serious durability and an overall confidence-boosting tread pattern.