Having been one of the best known names in the rubber business for a very long time, it’s no secret that Kenda has probably gone a little off the boil lately. But heavy investment (including a new R&D centre in Ohio) has resulted in a much-needed rejuvenation for the 55-year old brand. The fruits of Kenda’s labour can be seen in three new tyres that have been released in the past year: the Helldiver, the Hellkat and the Nevegal².
The Hellkat is born from the exact same tyre as developed and raced by the Polygon UR team. You know the one that’s taken two World Cup victories, plus Silver and Bronze World Championship medals over the past two seasons? Yeah, that one.
What we’ve got here then is a lighter, trail-friendly version of the same Hellkat downhill tyre that Tracey & Mick Hannah and have been racing to glory at the highest level of the sport.
Currently available in a 27.5×2.4in size, the Hellkat is soon to be available in a 29er size, and there’ll be 2.6in widths to follow too. Unlike the heavy wire-bead DH version, the foldable Hellkat Pro uses a supple 120tpi casing with dual compound rubber that sees it come in at a claimed 880g per tyre. Our pre-production sample set came in lighter at just 810g per tyre.
Arriving in the UK this spring, we’ve been testing a pair since last summer. I’ve been running one up front on 31mm wide carbon rims, with a new Nevegal² tyre fitted out back. To gather additional feedback in a wider variety of conditions, I sent the same combo up to James in the Lake District, which he strapped onto his trail bike up that’s spec’d with 29mm wide alloy rims. James has a reputation for being a bit of a tyre-destroyer and a much harder rider than I am, so I was keen to see what our combined experience would be like.
On my 31mm test rims and James’ 29mm test rims, the Hellkat Pro has a slightly squared profile, with aggressive shoulder blocks that protrude out from the casing. These are siped for flexibility and braced for support, and provide unbelievably good cornering traction that’s on par with the Maxxis Minion DHR II and Schwalbe’s venerable Magic Mary. Compared to something like the Maxxis High Roller II, the Hellkat Pro has a smoother transition between the crown and the cornering tread, so it feels more consistent as you lean it from side to side.
Cornering bite is aided by the softer 55a rubber compound, while the reinforced sidewalls help to keep you propped up as you push into the turns. Even at pressures as low as 17psi, I never noticed any wiggle from the ATC casing. That’s impressive for a sub-900g tyre.
The tread through the crown of the tyre is made from firmer 62a rubber that helps to lower rolling resistance. These centre blocks are smaller in both size and depth compared to the cornering tread, and that helps to maintain a more consistent contact with the trail beneath you. And while I wouldn’t say the Hellkat is quick – the new Nevegal² Pro is a much faster tyre – they do roll well given just how much grip there is. They’re certainly much faster than the aforementioned Magic Mary and Minion DHR II. Also surprising is how well the Hellkat handles hardpack trail conditions – something that toothier tyres tend to struggle with.
The tight-ish intermediate tread pattern does mean the Hellkat doesn’t shed gloopy mud as well as a full-blown spike tyre, but the conditions have to be pretty foul for it to lose control. If it’s loose and rocky though, you best get a firm grip on the handlebars, because this tyre ain’t interested in letting go. Every time push came to shove, it was my nerves that gave up long before the tyres did.
Hidden underneath the centre tread is Kenda’s K-Armor Belt – a tightly woven sheet of proprietary fibre that’s designed to ward off pointy rocks from penetrating through the tyre casing. I personally had no issues with durability, and overall wear (or the lack thereof) has been mighty impressive. There are signs of general wear, but none of the knobs have torn off (something we’ve had happen with a few Schwalbe Hans Dampf and Magic Mary tyres), and there’s been no degradation to traction levels (like we’ve had with some Specialized tyres).
Only James was able to puncture a tyre, which was promptly sealed with a tubeless tyre plug and has remained airtight ever since. Mind you, his local trails typically demand much heavier rubber than this – many of the riders within his local riding group resort to using 2-ply downhill tyres on their trail bikes because the terrain demands it.
On that note, Kenda does offer the Hellkat in a heavier duty reinforced RSR version, with a 1.1kg claimed weight that will likely be better suited to such bruisers that are chasing maximum durability. For more slight-bodied enduro racers or just the general weekend warrior crowd, these tyres will please many with their versatility.
The Kenda Hellkat Pro is an exceptionally dependable tyre that grips in all conditions but the absolute greasiest. It’s ideal as a front tyre for use on 130-150mm travel trail bikes, where it’s beefy shoulder blocks help it to dig into loose, rocky and unpredictable surfaces. Given how reliably sticky this tyre is, there is no doubt that the Hellkat is one of the faster, lighter and more durable options within this category.
|Product:||Hellkat Pro EN-DTC 27.5x2.4in Tyre|
|From:||Moore Large, moorelarge.co.uk|
|Tested:||by James Vincent & Wil for 6 months|