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Gear Review: Kenda Tires
By MBT Staff

Keep the Rubber Side Down

Action Traction

Of all the parts on a bike, perhaps the most important are the only two points of contact with the ground: your tires. Without them the ride would certainly be very stiff and unforgiving, and we'd really spend a lot of money on rims and wheels. While all tires are rubber, not all tires are created equal. Some work well in the mud, some work well in dry hardpack, some work well in gravel, some work in all conditions and some just plain don't work. Kenda USA produces a wide range of tires for many different applications and in many different rubber compounds. We tested a number of Kenda's offerings and we've got more than a few things to say about them.

The all terrain Nevegal is one of Kenda's most popular tires.

Tomac series Nevegal DTC

DTC stands for Dual Tread Compound, which means that the center knobs are made of a different (harder) material than the shoulder and side knobs. The harder center knobs allows the Nevegal to roll more quickly and the softer side knobs gives a boost in cornering prowess. According to Kenda, the "Dual Tread Compound (DTC) is the ultimate compound to have in a tire. The center tread of the tire has Kenda's L3R Pro compound and the sides or cornering knobs have STICK-E compound. The benefits are numerous - Great center tread life, and great cornering control and grip." The Nevegal is a directional tire which our testers found worked well as both a front or rear tire. With knobs that are rather closely spaced compared to some other tires, the Nevegals have a tendancy to pack up when the mud is greasy and sticky. Even when packed with mud though, our testers never had problems with the tire breaking away. In deep thin mud or water, the tire cut through the muck well to find the grippy earth underneath, rarely throwing us off our line. Even when the trail turned gravelly, loose and dusty, we never had to worry about the tires breaking away unexpectedly. Rocks and roots really are the playground of this tire though. The Stick-E outer knobs grip rocks and roots with authority and allow you to rip through rough trails faster than normal. The limit of traction with these DTC models is very easy to feel and it's quite easy to ride on the edge of traction after getting used to the tire's characteristics.

We found that the pressure ranges printed on the sides of the Nevegal tended to be a little bit conservative. At the minimum rated pressure (40 PSI) the tire's footprint really didn't seem to be large enough to effectively utilize the gripping power of the Stick-E knobs. When we lowered the pressure to around 34-36PSI, we not only widened the footprint of the tire a little bit (allowing us to enjoy increased cornering traction and grip through rough sections) but increased the amount of perceived suspension travel our test sleds had. Beware pinch flats at lower than rated pressures, but we haven't experienced any in all of our testing. In fact, we experienced no flats at all, even through our roughest north east terrain. Size wise, installed on our test sleds, we noted that even though our tires are claimed to be a 2.1, they really appear to be more like a 2.2 or 2.25. That's not a bad thing, but it's something to keep in mind if mud clearance isn't plentiful.

On the downside, we had some issues getting the beads to seat on our tubeless wheels (we did run these with tubes for testing purposes) and we had some issues even getting the tires on to some of our non-tubeless wheels. We're not sure if it's an issue of the tire being a little on the small side or the rims a little on the large size. We rectified our bead sealing problems with a touch of soapy water and a good work over with a track pump. We also noticed that the outer knobs (the Stick-E compound) did tend to wear a little more quickly than the center knobs, but this is a well known fact of life with these tires. Overall, they are a wonderful tire for all conditions, and they eat up dry conditions of all kinds. Our testers found them to be excellent front and rear tires, but there was a preference to run the Nevegals as a front tire. For the price, you'd be hard pressed to find a better all purpose tire, front or back, for any kind od terrain.

Size Tested - 26x2.10
Bead Type - Folding bead
Compound - DTC (Dual Tread Compound)
Recommended Tire Pressure - 40 to 65 PSI
Weight(g) - 61030
MSRP - $47.99

We loved the way the Blue Groove stuck to anything we threw at it.

Tomac series Blue Groove Stick-E

In stark contrast to the DTC models we tested, the Blue Groove Stick-E has softer center knobs for better grip. According to Kenda "STICK-E Rubber compound is a slow rebounding compound for the ultimate in traction control. The slow rebound ratio of the rubber, acts as a suspension, allowing the tread to conform to the trail surface rather than bouncing off of it." Translating this to laymans terms, the rubber molds itself to the terrain you're riding, giving you better grip. The directional Blue Grooves have larger knobs, spaced similar to the Nevegal's design, but they seem to be a lower profile tire overall. The wider spaced knobs shed mud better than the Nevegal or Small Block 8 and there is still a hint of traction available after the tire has packed up. Deep thin mud and water was no problem for this tire, and would either carve through the slop or float over it (given enough speed.) In dry conditions this tire carved like no other tire on test, but it did seem to have some issue with loose earth. We are somewhat puzzled that the Groove had a problem, but the Nevegal was stable through all sorts of nasty. Rocks and roots are absolutely destroyed by the Stick-E rubber of the Blue Groove, providing perhaps the best traction we've ever experienced on rocks and roots. It was easy to push these Stick-Es well beyond some tester's comfort limits without finding the limit of traction. We were utterly amazed at the grip these tires offer (given the right conditions.)

Again, the tire pressures recommended by Kenda seemed to be a little bit too high, providing a narrower footprint than we found to be optimal. Our testers tended to run around 37-38PSI (recommended 40PSI) to spread out those ultra sticky knobbies and increase available traction. We experienced no flats, pinch or puncture, throughout testing and the tires added a pleasing amount of extra suspension feel to our test rigs. Like most of Kenda's tires, the Blue Groove seems to run large; our 2.1s were more like 2.2s.

Very few problems were experienced in installing these tires on our test bikes. Only one set of rims had problems mounting these tires (seating the beads was a breeze once the tire was on the rim) and even that wasn't much of a problem when compared to the fun we had with the Nevegals. These tires wear at about the same rate as the Stick-E knobs on the DTC model tires, but don't sweat it, you'll get loads of miles out of them. Our testers were torn about the best position for these tires; some prefered them on the front, but the majority found them to be the best rear tire on test, bar none. The amount of traction allowed for ruthlessly aggressive climbing, speedy descending and overall great handling.

Size Tested - 26x2.10
Bead Type - Folding bead
Compound - Stick-E
Recommended Tire Pressure - 40 to 65 PSI
Weight(g) - 62035
MSRP - $47.99

The Small Block Eight is the perfect racing tire; fast rolling and reasonablly grippy.

Tomac series Small Block Eight

The DTC Small Block Eight is designed to be Kenda's hardpack or race tire. Directional, closely packed knobs (8 Nevegal shaped but smaller knobs across the tire give better 'bite', according to Kenda) give this tire a fantastic, fast rolling profile. The small knobs try to strike a balance between a slick and knobby tire, and they do a reasonable job. Compared to the Blue Groove and Nevegal, when the Eight packed up with mud, it became a slick mess. Cornering traction and stability was greatly compromised and our best riders really had a hard time dealing with the packed up Eight. Deeper, thin consistency mud and water had little effect on the Eight, as long as everything washed through the knobs and didn't pack between them. In dry conditions, just as billed, the Eight was a fantastic carving tire. The numerous small knobs gripped dry, smooth singletrack with authority and provided gobs of traction. In sandy or loose earth, they still performed reasonably well and offered very predictable breakaway characteristics. We always knew where the limit of traction was with the Eight and were able to skid the tires where necessary.

Compared to the other tires we tested, the rated pressure varied widely. Running a lower tire pressure worked well for trail use, providing a larger footprint and bringing the Stick-E side knobs into the equation more often. When we needed a really fast rolling tire for hardpack conditions, jacking up the pressure would round out the profile a little more and put the long wearing, fast rolling center knobs in the spotlight. While the tire seems larger than a 2.1, it's not quite as large as the other tires on test here.

We had no problems mounting and seating the Eight's on any set of wheels we tested and no flats out on the trail. As with the other DTC models the outer knobs will wear faster than the center rows, but in this case it will depend upon the tire pressures you're running. Even though the Eight is really only a dry condition tire it has a great range of uses from all mountain/trail use to a dedicated race tire. Just changing pressures by a few PSI can give a completely different handling feeling. Our testers loved this tire as a front and rear tire for fast, smooth and dry trails or as a front tire on rocky and rooty trails with lots of technical climbing.

Size Tested - 26x2.10
Bead Type - Folding bead
Compound - DTC (Dual Tread Compound)
Recommended Tire Pressure - 30 to 80 PSI
Weight(g) - 52025
MSRP - $47.99

Low center knobs allow for loads of speed at the expense of traction.

Tomac series Short Tracker

Yet another DTC offering, the Short Tracker is a "semi-slick" type of tire. It has a distinctive low profile design with tire width "knobs" that increase traction. In addition to the knobs, the tire features traction increasing grooves in between the knobs, giving this tire huge amounts of bite in hardpack or concrete. Designed as a short track tire (hence the name Short Tracker) for groomed tracks, it also works very well as a dirt jumping tire and an urban riding tire. Forget about riding in slick mud of any kind; this tire just won't give you traction (we tried it, and the results weren't pretty.) Mud will turn this tire into a slipping sliding mess with no grip whatsoever but the good news is that it doesn't pack up, so if you can get through the muddy parts, traction will be right there waiting for you on the other side. In dry conditions that this tire was designed for, we loved the incredibly fast rolling characteristics it offered (easily the fastest rolling tire here) and the grippy nature. In urban situations, the Short Tracker was a beast that allowed us to conquer anything we chose to try and ride over. Particularly on concrete (sidewalks and such) this tire allowed us to make evasive maneuvers without hesitation.

We found that Kenda's tire pressure recommendations were spot on for the Short Tracker. We ran our tires right around 42PSI which gave us a good footprint and a good tire profile that resisted rough landings quite well. As for size, we found this tire to be the truest to its 2.1 description of all our test tires. We loved the speed of acceleration we experienced with this tire. In urban situations and dry, groomed hardpack we were able to jolt off the line like a shot.

We had problems mounting the Short Trackers on only one bike, and we attribute it to the notoriously difficult Sun Blackeye rims we used. No bead seating issues appeared, no pinch flats, no problems. Testers definitely would have chosen this as a race tire for well packed tracks, but as a trail tire, it has some limited use. Front and back it is a great urban and dirt jump tire, which is our recommendation.

Size Tested - 26x2.10
Bead Type - Folding bead
Compound - DTC (Dual Tread Compound)
Recommended Tire Pressure - 40 to 65 PSI
Weight(g) - 64035
MSRP - $47.99

Our overall winning trail riding combination has to go to a DTC Nevegal on the front wheel and a Stick-E or DTC Blue Groove on the rear wheel. This gave our testers the best balance of climbing ability and general trail traction to keep the bike on course. For racing, without a doubt we would choose Small Block Eights front and back for dry and hardpacked trails, or a Small Block Eight in front with a Nevegal in back for nastier trails. For urban and dirt jumping situations, the Short Tracker is a must. We were impressed with the overall workmanship of Kenda's rubber as well as the durability each tire showed, even with the Stick-E rubber being as soft as it is. What's the bottom line? Kenda has a great selection of tires for all purposes, and any rider would be hard pressed to find a better manufacturer in the bicycle world.

Kenda USA - Website
Kenda USA - 614-866-9803

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