Review | Hellkat Pro AEC Tyre – For When The Going Gets Steep

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David tests out the Hellkat Pro AEC, an enduro tyre from Kenda.

Way back in the day, Kenda had a solid reputation in mountain biking and seemed to dominate. By a decade or so ago, that seemed to have fallen to competitors, who’d quickly made advances in tread, compound and casing design.

It’s about time Kenda got back on the horse, and after launching the Hellkat in gravity and trail versions to good reviews last year, they’ve launched this new enduro casing and tidied up the naming a little. Wil Barrett and James Vincent ran and recommended the lighter ATC Kenda Hellkats last year. These AEC (“Advanced Enduro Casing”) ones are the mid-range, shedding the extra weight of bead reinforcment that the downhill AGC versions have, but still burlier than the lighter trail (that’s the ‘T’ in ATC, in case you hadn’t figured that out) ones.

Kenda Hellkat
Not a million miles away from a Magic Mary.

The tread pattern on the Hellkat Pro AEC is quite aggressive, not a million miles away from a Magic Mary, though with knobs perhap a tiny bit shorter. These, in size 27.5×2.4in, are knobblier than I’d ever run out back, even in winter slop. In recent years I’ve been happier to let the back end wander, and tend to whack a semislick on the rear wheel as soon as there’s a peep of spring. They sent pair of these, so rather than run them together, I ran them as front tyres on a couple of bikes.

At 1015g these aren’t the lightest tyres, and Kenda state a +/- 51g variance in weight around a base claimed weight of 1010g for this version. They’re around 100g lighter than the gravity (AGC) version that’s aimed more at uplift riding, but a couple of hundred grams heavier than the trail (ATC) version.

Kenda has a bewildering array of rubber compounds, but AEC tyres all come in their RSR )Race Stick-E Rubber) compound, which they list as 42 shore A hardness and say is designed for enduro racing or more gravity oriented park riding.

Fitting

Kenda Hellkat
Easy enough to fit, harder to get to stay up.

These are easy enough to fit, with beads that are sturdy but not too tight. Despite being tubeless ready, I found they didn’t seem to play nice with Stan’s sealant though, frequently losing pressure.

Normally, I’m good enough at the Stan’s Dance that my tyres seal properly before I’ve taken them on a ride. Difficult ones might need a spin round the block to get that sealant sloshing. These though, went down quite a lot and frequently needed pumping up before rides. It was never so bad as to be noticeable by the end of a ride, more of an overnight thing at first, then a weekly thing by the end of the test. Still though, I’d expect much better sealing from a 1Kg tyre.

On The Trail

During the test period, I didn’t get to ride these in anything but dry weather, with occasional sticky mud patches. The water tables seem low right now, so every bout of rain we get just makes the trails tacky rather than splooshy.

When I did hit sticky mud, it tended to build up much more in the centre tread than the wider spaced side knobs, though it soon got thrown out when I built up a little speed. Those centre knobs are slightly ramped on all sides, giving it less of a harbour. I’d tentatively say these aren’t the greatest at clearing mud, but certainly passable.

Kenda Hellkat
Mud shedding is OK.

Given the dry conditions, I ran them through as many different trail types as I could, from bedrock and stone packhorse trails, through sandy and peaty moors, to loose rock and rooty, loamy plummets.

Unlike some super-tacky downhill tyres, on roads these were sticky but didn’t quite feel like riding on wine gums. The soft compound and weight do add up to make them feel slower uphill, but far from the slowest tyres I’ve spun up a 1-in-4 slog.

Braking traction is exceptionally good, with plenty of edges pointing forward down the trail. No skids or washouts, they gave very consistent feedback when it came to traction and brakes. Even in steep dusty chutes, using the front brake felt controlled, keeping me well connected to the trail surface.

Kenda Hellkat
David ran the Hellkat as a front tyre.

Where Wil discovered a nice consistency in the slightly lighter, harder ATC version he reviewed last year, I found these ones can have a very slight gap as the contact patch moves over from centre to edge knobs, momentarily breaking free then biting again. The effect is small though, only kicking in at greater lean angles. It wasn’t a frequent behaviour of the tyre, and not many natural UK trails would test it. Given it only manifested in a few flat, dusty corners that I’ve been learning to hit harder, it’s literally an edge case (fnar).

Despite trails made of loose rock and waterbars, plus a few front wheel dings and clumsy landings, I had no front flats during this test. nothing got through the tread or sidewalls, so the AEC casing certainly seems up to the job.

Overall

On your first climb it’ll become obvious the Hellkat Pro AEC is a more gravity oriented tyre, and it covers that niche well. They have some quirks, tubeless sealing being the main one, but they’re tough and grippy, with really good braking performance. These shine best on steeper trails.

Kenda Flow Rim
Go seek out the steep.

Review Info

Brand: Kenda
Product: Hellkat Pro AEC
From: moorelarge.co.uk
Price: £50
Tested: by David Hayward for 2 months

David started mountain biking in the 90’s, by which he means “Ineptly jumping a Saracen Kili Racer off anything available in a nearby industrial estate”. After growing up and living in some extremely flat places, David moved to Yorkshire specifically for the mountain biking. This felt like a horrible mistake at first, because the hills are so steep, but you get used to them pretty quickly. Previously, David trifled with road and BMX, but mountain bikes always won. He’s most at peace battering down a rough trail, quietly fixing everything that does to a bike, or trying to figure out if that one click of compression damping has made things marginally better or worse. The inept jumping continues to this day.

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Comments (2)

    I love going down trails, but I also love climbing steep technical stuff. This tire could be the perfect rear tire for that maximum trial like grip. But like all other reviews, only downhill qualities are tested, why is that? Is everybody using lifts to go uphill?

    @mortenprom in my case, it’s because the winch and plummet of Calderdale tends to mean climbs are steep roads or relatively gentle dirt switchbacks, rather than steep technical ones. I’ll try to bear this in mind for future though!

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