Kenda Hellkat / Helldiver Pro 2017 Mountain Bike Review

Kenda Hellkat / Helldiver Pro 2017

Reviews / Tyres

Kenda 25,820

At A Glance

Kenda have launched a new set of downhill tyres aimed to compete at the highest level and have been developed in collaboration with the UR Racing Team, which includes DH legends Mick and Tracy Hannah. The Hellkat Pro and the Helldiver Pro are designed for a wide range of conditions and have brought with them an attractive array of new casing technologies with the aim of mixing it up with the best tyres on the scene. A solid statement in which wheel size they see as best; these tyres are both available in 27.5 x 2.4, tubeless ready.

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The Hellkat Pro

‘The burly one’ is an aggressive wire beaded tyre consisting of rectangle side knobs with staggered L-shaped ones for cornering traction, and a blocky centre tread pattern. The all new dual ply Advanced Gravity Casing (60tpi) consists of three technical components: Kenda Vector Shield (KVS), the Iron Cloak Belt (ICB) and the 20mm Apex insert.

KVS is a sheet of woven aramid fibres laid up in the sidewall aiming to provide a cut resistant wall which is said to be roughly 200g lighter than your average dual ply casings and offereing an impressive 285% higher resistence to sidewall cuts than standard protective materials - wow!

The ICB part is also an aramid belt, but this one sits directly under the tread to minimise pinch flats whilst still keeping things supple and the weight down. The 20mm apex is a strong rigid rubber which wraps around the bead so that when it’s set up tubeless air burps are kept at bay, and of course this will help considerably towards preventing pinch flats too.

The combination of these new technologies are aimed at more than just protection against punctures. To compete at World Cup level Kenda know that sidewall stiffness when running low pressures is essential to provide maximum grip without the tyre feeling like you’re riding on jelly.

Keeping their acronym game strong, Kenda have also added the RSR (Race Stick-E Rubber) to the mix. This is the dual rubber compound on the outside of the tyre which aims to take grip to a new level. It’s a super soft and sticky 42sA compound aimed at race conditions on a variety of surface types. The outer contact layer is soft and slow rebounding while a firmer rubber sits behind this to help hold the tyres shape.

The Helldiver Pro

The Helldiver is Kenda's new semi-slick rear tire which has a low profile, fast rolling centre tread pattern and more aggressive taller side knobs to dig in on the corners. Like the Hellkat, it uses a dual rubber compound and hosts the same acronyms (RSR, ICB & KVS), but unlike the ‘Advanced Gravity Casing’ used on the heavier Hellkat this slicker tyre uses ‘Innovative Gravity Casing', the difference being a single-ply casing and a folding rather than wire bead.

On The Trail

Setting the Hellkat upfront and the Helldiver on the rear was a breeze, they flew onto my 30mm rims without any issues at all. At 1170g the Hellkat Pro is by no means a lightweight tyre, but then it isn’t trying to be, even though for a wire bead DH tyre this is still relatively light. The lighter Helldriver Pro (972g) saves its weight with a folding bead, single ply casing and a less aggressive semi-slick tread pattern but still felt like a solid tyre before I’d even got them rolling. Having not been a fan of Kenda tyres in the past, I was now very excited to try a set!

I have been loving my aggressive hardtail ride of late, and thought that throwing these rubber beauties on would give them a good honest testing from the start. The weight and aggressive tread on the Hellkat up front feels as ‘draggy’ as you would expect from a hard hitting dual ply DH tyre, but team it up with the Helldriver on the rear and it balances itself out nicely into a set up that allows you to pedal to the top of your descent without too much of a battle.

I had imagined that the large team of people behind the development of these tyres wouldn’t have put too much effort into the climbing qualities of these tyres, yet I was immediately impressed with the amount of grip going up. It’s all about the rear and the Helldriver Pro dishes out bundles of traction on the dry climbs. The soft dual compound Race Stick-E Rubber (RSR) combined with the low profile tread pattern just kept urging me on up the steep technical climbs, until the only excuse I had for failure was my fitness. No blaming these downhill tyres, even on the ups! Run them a touch too hard in wet, muddier conditions and you’ll have a battle on your hands, but knock a few psi out and again they perform surprisingly well.

I’m used to running dual ply’s front and back so I was more than happy to use these as my all-round trail tyre. I’m always willing to sacrifice a little quality in climbing performance (and it is only a little with these) in return for maximum grip when tackling the descents. It’s worth noting that Kenda are in the process of producing a lighter weight version of these tyres aimed at the Enduro market - watch this space!

On the first proper descent I was so happy with the grip of the Hellkat. By the time I was on my second turn my elbows instinctively rolled forward and my weight shifted further over the front, right where it should be. A confidence-inspiring tyre, immediately. As testing went on it became apparent that the Hellkat Pro can be run at lower pressures than I’m used to, without taking away the stability or making it so supple that you feel like you’re riding on custard. This is thanks to the impressive Advance Gravity Casing which has taken 3 years and thousands of gondola runs in the development and testing.

The tread pattern on the Hellkat has been cleverly produced, double ramped centre treads on the leading edge allow it to roll faster than it looks like it would, buttressed shoulder knobs help reduce tyre flex whilst saving weight and there is progressive siping dotted all over the treads which aids both cornering and braking traction. There is usually some compromise in a tyre, but the balance here is excellent; this is one of the best tyres I have ever used, hands down.

The Helldiver on the back has also impressed massively. The fast rolling semi-slick tread allows you to really carry speed through sections and although it is only a single ply casing I have been unable to put any holes in it yet. The aggressive side knobs allow you to really lean into corners with confidence and carry the speed through which is gained before each turn thanks to its fast rolling design.

Like the Hellkat the support is excellent and allows lower pressures to be run without the tyre folding too easily under the rim. The only downside is the durability of the Helldiver, the soft compound combined with the shallow tread means that if you ride a lot and push hard the life is short, but this is a tyre built with racing in mind so no real surprise there. You will be hard pushed to find a tyre that can match the Helldiver Pro for its balance between rolling speed, weight and traction.

Overall

After putting these tyres through their paces it is clear that the people behind the design and production really know what is needed from a high-end tyre. Kenda and the UR Team have worked in harmony to produce such a well-balanced hardcore set of tyres. They definitely perform better in dry conditions, but that said, they won’t exactly ruin your ride in the wet.
An incredible balance of grip and puncture resistance, these tyres are perfect for any gravity fed riding.

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By Charley Oldrid
Charley Oldrid is a man who spends a lot of time in the saddle. A highly experienced Mountain Bike Guide, having led trips all over world riding the finest trails he can find. His personal riding style can only be described as wild, getting sideways isn't an option on a ride with Charley, it's mandatory. If anyone can find the limit of a test bike, it's him.

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