The first time I paid enough attention to my tires to select a “favorite grip” I was riding Kenda’s original Navegal tread. That was a long while in the past, and I have since tested and torn several hundred tires from various brands.
When Kenda launched their Hellkat Pro gravity tire, tested by 2019 UCI World Cup Downhill champion Tracey Hannah, I was keen to try a set. Over the summer I rode with the Hellkat Pro tires mounted front and rear. They gripped rocks and roots across western Europe, and I even loaned them to a friend who raced a 4-day-long enduro on them. Somehow there is still some rideable tread remaining, though they do look well used.
On first glance, the Hellkat Pro tread and casing profile closely resemble that of the Michelin Wild Enduro tires that I reviewed back in May. The Hellkat Pro shoulder knobs are slightly shorter than those of the Wild Enduro, and the center knobs use a different offset pattern in relation to the shoulder knobs, but the overall appearance remains quite similar.
Tubeless setup with the Hellkat Pro rubber was a breeze. The 29×2.4″ tires weigh roughly 1,100g each with Kenda’s Advanced Enduro Casing (AEC). Unlike other gravity-oriented tires I have reviewed, I decided to test them without any form of tire/rim protective inserts. That decision saved some grunts and minutes for sure. The beads seated admirably with a floor pump, and the reinforced sidewalls didn’t weep a tear of fluid.
The tire’s 3-piece Aramid casing proved itself useful for more than simply holding sealant. I banged these tires into countless rocks and hard edge landings, and I never once had to put a tube or puncture-plug in them. After a few months of riding, there is still enough of the original sealant remaining to plug some holes, though I will replace it with fresh latex soon just to be sure.
The overall profile of the Hellkat Pro is slightly more round than a lot of gravity treads I have mounted on my 30mm wide (internal) rims, with similar curvature to a Maxxis DHF of the same width. The broadly spaced knobs clear mud wonderfully, and braking bars formed by every other set of knobs provide more than enough stopping traction on steep descents.
Central knobs are ramped and siped to maximize braking traction and speed respectively, while the transition and shoulder knobs have pits cut out to drop weight and increase grip. Each of the shoulder knobs has a pair of rubber pillars that prevent squirm when things get properly sideways. All of this adds up to some of the best gravity grip available in the Hellkat Pro’s weight class.
On the trail, these tires are a pleasure to ride. The sidewalls and shoulder knobs stand tall, allowing the rider to precisely tune how much the carcass flexes and folds with slight shifts in the pressure. Some tires with thinner sidewalls require higher pressure to maintain their shape under cornering forces, but the Hellkat Pro sidewalls hold strong.
I didn’t manage to flat these tires on the same trails I typically ride with protective inserts, and their braking capabilities are fantastic. Yet the best element of the Hellkats is their grip. Have you ever tried to pick a kitten up from a high-pile carpet when it didn’t want to be lifted? Well, that’s how they hold-fast to the trail. Like they are tangled in it. I have experienced few “all conditions” tires that grip as well as these do. That grip translates to rider confidence, cornering speed, and more direct lines on wet roots and rocks. For folks who like to speed toward the edges of traction and balance, the Hellkat is a welcome companion.
I would recommend these tires to a close friend, and in fact, I loaned them to one such friend for a multi-day enduro so that she wouldn’t be stuck on heavier 27.5+ tires. The tradeoff for all of their magnetic grip is that the tread wears a bit faster than some other tires, and they take a little more effort to pedal to the top. For folks in search of a high performing gravity tread that they can ride nearly year-round, the Hellkat is a worthy contender. The few extra watts paid to push them to the peak will be dutifully reimbursed.
Thanks to Kenda for sending the Hellkats over for review.
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