Ahhhh tires – the only point of contact between the bike and mother earth! Don’t know about you, but for me nothing bolsters my self confidence more than a fresh set of high performing tires. I can have all the latest and greatest bits on my bike, but if the tires aren’t up to par I end up worrying about it too much and in the end it ruins my ride experience. Nothing can ruin your ride like crashing hard because your front tire washed where it should have hooked up!
Unfortunately my only local chairlift assisted mountain decided to suspend the park and lift operations for this summer – they are constructing a Ritz Carlton Hotel and decided that this was the best option to assure the highest quality of experience and the safety of their guests and employees.
Because of this summer’s closure, I have found myself spending way more time on my trail bike
than any of my other bikes, this also sent me on a hunt for the perfect trail riding tire. Since January I’ve been testing out all kinds of tire combos in hopes of finding the ultimate trail riding setup for around these parts (Northern California). Whatchutalkingabout - There aren't any rocks in NorCal
Some setups offered excellent grip but rolled VERY slowly. Some offered decent grip, were fast rollers, but had weak sidewalls. In short all setups I’ve tried failed in at least one of the following categories:
• Rolling resistance
: I like a tire that rolls relatively fast but that still offers decent grip. Especially the front.
: I like a front tire that offers excellent cornering grip. It also must have reinforced side knobs, which don’t fold when cornering on hard pack. The rear must share some of the qualities of the front, but also offer nice traction when pedaling up hills and stop you when going down.
: I don’t consider myself a weigh weenie – e.g. I’m not willing to compromise reliability by using lighter parts. But tires and tubes is a place I always try to save weight.
• Pinch flat resistance
: I ride a lot of rocky trails – no need to say more.
When I used to race cross-country, Hutchinson Python Gold’s were my tires of choice. I ran those exclusively for over 3 years and believe it or not, I never flatted once! On the occasional muddy race I would run Hutchinson Mosquito Gold’s, but for the most part Pythons are all I used. Back then Hutchinson’s line of MTB tire was pretty thin – that was before the Bulldog, Piranha and Barracuda came out. And if I’m not mistaken, I don’t think the Octopus was out back then either.
Hutchinson has been making bicycle tires for more than a century – so they know a thing or two about making good quality tires. Hutchinson’s team of engineers develops new products over a 3 to 5 year design cycle. The team is there from the very start of the birth of a new product including the conception of new materials to their use in full production of tires. So when you buy a Hutchison product, you know it’s been put through its paces. This means you (the consumer) can enjoy the product with a peace of mine and know that you won’t be doing Quality Control for them.
A few months ago I decided to contact a good friend of mine, Orven Zaragoza, to inquire about these new Hutchinson Barracuda tires. Orven has been working closely with Hutchinson for the past few years and also is an accomplished racer who regularly podiums at Southridge DH races down at Fontana, CA along with a squad of Hutchinson-sponsored racers.
Orven testing 2008 prototype CX tires
Photo by Heather Zaragoza
He started off by explaining to me all the difference between the MRC compounds (e.g. MRC vs MRC High vs MRC Medium vs MX casing, etc....) In his exact words:
• MRC HIGH
: Hardest compound – fast rolling, less braking but lasts the longest.
• MRC LOW
: Softest and slow rebound rubber compound. Real sticky – definitely a racing compound or if you absolutely want no compromise on traction/grip. Wears fast but not as fast as say a slow reezay.
• MRC MED
: Best of both High and Low. Great compromise for me. I run MRC LOW on the front (since it’s the steering tire) and MRC MED on the rear.
• MX CASING
: Is the new casing Hutchinson is using for Freeriding and DH models. Simply put, it is anticipated to offer better characteristics from last year’s big hit tires.
Next step was to decide what combo to try out? I settled on a Tubeless 2.3 Barracuda MRC Med for the front and 2.1 Barracuda Air Light for the rear. Orven was nice enough to put me in contact with Mark “Gully” Gullickson, the US Hutchinson Marketing Guru so he could send me a set to review. The plan was to mount the front as tubeless using Stan’s and a DT 4.1d rim, and run a tube on the back (I personally am not a fan of tubeless for back tires – I tend to burp them). Alas, because the Stan’s rim strip fills most of the middle channel on the rim, I wasn’t even able to get the bead of the Barracuda over the edge of the rim. I just went ahead and ran a tube. If I would have known, I would have asked for the non-Tubeless version, which is approx 200gr lighter. Nothing like fresh rubber
These are true 2.3 and 2.1’s. I measured the width while mounted and they were spot on. They are also fairly light at 998 grams for the Tubeless 2.3 Barracuda MRC Med and 648 gr for the 2.1 Barracuda Air Light.
Since getting them, I got to spend some good quality riding time on them – hitting a wide variety of terrain. Off the get-go I noticed 2 things: First was the front end of my bike which felt a tad higher (and slacker) due to the high center knobs of the 2.3 Barracuda. To some that would be a bad thing, but I’m all for slacker head angles – so in my case if was welcome change! Other thing I noticed is how fast this tire combo rolled! The high center knobs and harder (faster rebound) rubber really reduces rolling resistance – but the tread pattern still offers great braking/tracking characteristics. Never once did I blow a corner because the tires didn’t bite under hard braking.
It took me a few corners to get a feel for the front tire – the profile is much different than any other front tire I’ve run in the past. The Maxxis High Roller I had on there before had a much flatter/squarer profile. The 2.3 Barracuda is much more round and has a substantial gap between the middle and side knobs. Once I got a feel for the side knobs, which are reinforced and don’t fold on hard pack, I was able to really push the tire in corners. One of my local trail has this downhill doubletrack section where you can really go balls out and drift these series of long sweeping corners. That is the only time I felt the front tire drift. The corners are flat and hard pack with a nice layer of soft soil on top. The front would drift, bite, drift, bite whereas the Maxxis simply stayed glued at all times – just a tad twitchy for my taste. I think the front tire would be much more stable on hard pack if the center knobs were a tad lower. This would reduce the gap between the side and center knobs.
2.3 Hutchinson Barracuda
The rear Air Light was extremely predictable in all conditions. It was super easy to get the back end to drift with a simple tap of the rear brake but was also super easy to get it to bite again. The only time I wished I had a softer compound on the back is while climbing steep techy rock sections (like I Tahoe) – the rear didn’t offer good traction and would constantly spin out. But that’s the only times I wished I had a softer compound on the back.
On my first ride I got to hit many pure rock sections – e.g. Rock slabs covered with more rocks. I was immediately able to notice the difference between the Hutchinson MRC Med and Maxxis Super Tacky rubber, which I have become accustom to. The MRC rubber is harder and has a faster rebound – but still offered heaps of grip on the rock surface. I was also able to make it through those sections faster than usual. The ST rubber really stuck to the rocks, but while offering mega grip it also slowed you down a bit.
The Barracuda performs really well in soft soil. A local riding spot has an abundance of fast single track with tight switchbacks, most of which is soft soil. Same for some of the riding I’ve done in South Lake Tahoe – this combo worked really well in that soft soil. The front Barracuda was at home on that type of terrain. Not once did the front wash out – really inspired confidence!
Just want to make one thing clear – I personally don’t think there is any tire out there that will do everything perfectly! There will always be compromises - but for the type of riding I do, this combo in my opinion is pretty damn close. Like mentioned in my review, the only thing that could be improved in my opinion is the height of the center knobs on the 2.3. I really don’t feel I was able to push that tire on hard pack like I did with the High Roller or Minion DHF. On the positive side, it rolls very fast and cuts through soft dirt like a snow plow.
When it comes to tires, I would rather pay top dollar and run good tires than run mediocre ones even if I can get them for free. The only conditions I didn't try these tires in is wet/mud – so I can’t comment how they shed mud. But judging from the thread pattern I assume they would work pretty well. I also can’t comment on long term wear and durability.
If you are looking for a good all-rounder trail riding tire combo I highly recommend checking out Hutchinson 2006 line of tires. http://tires.hutchinson.fr/uk/velo/accueil.php
Big thanks to:Bikes are cool - get out and ride! Go FLAT out....
- Marc “Gully” Gullickson for providing me with test/review samples.
- Orven Zaragoza for taking the time to answer all my questions and putting me in contact with Gully, the former cyclocross diety. LOL!