Convincing a downhill racer to deviate from their preferred setup can be a tricky proposition, especially when it comes to tires. There's a reason that so many Sharpies get deployed on a race weekend – some tires simply work better than others, and if that's going to potentially be the difference between a podium finish or a mid-pack result, well, sponsors be damned.
Specialized developed the new Cannibal tire as a direct answer to their team riders' requests, a tire whose final design was directly influenced by feedback from Loic Bruni and Finn Iles. The goal was to relegate those Sharpies to the toolbox, and if the podium finishes at the Lourdes World Cup are anything to go by that goal was achieved. Now it's time to see if that streak continues at Fort William.
Specialized Cannibal Details
• Gripton T9 rubber compound
• 60 tpi, 2-ply Grid Gravity casing
• Sizes: 29 x 2.4" or 27.5 x 2.4"
• Weight: 1397 grams - 29 x 2.4" / 1365 grams - 27.5 x 2.4"
• MSRP: $80 USD
The Cannibal's tread pattern deviates from the “looks like an Assegai” route that multiple companies have been traveling down lately. Instead, it uses very large side knobs that are free of any siping. That lack of siping is intended to increase the cornering support, and reduce the chance of the tread folding over at the high speeds and higher forces that are encountered on the World Cup circuit. L-shaped knobs alternate with a 'twisted' shoulder knob that's oriented to help improve braking traction.
Moving to the center tread there are three rows of two knobs, and then a large hexagon shaped knob that sort of looks like the Transformer logo. Again, a high level of predictable braking performance was the goal here, which is what led to the larger knobs – a greater surface area and bigger edges allow the tire to dig in and claw at the ground for more traction.
The best tread pattern in the world is no use if the tire doesn't have the rubber compound and casing construction to back it up. To that end, Specialized has been tweaking their rubber recipe for the last few years, working with their suppliers to come up with compounds that deliver the desired blend of grip, durability, and overall ride feel. The Cannibal uses Specialized's grippiest T9 rubber (the higher the number the softer the rubber), and a dual-ply 60 tpi casing.
During the Cannibal's development experiments were done with the geometry of the apex, the portion of the tire directly above the bead. The height and thickness of the rubber in this area affects the tire's handling and pinch flat resistance, and Specialized's designers ended up going with a curved and tapered design after trying different configurations. That apex geometry is now found on all of Specialized's Grid Gravity casing tires, not just the Cannibal.
On the topic of Grid Gravity, that's the only casing option for the Cannibal, in either a 29” or 27.5” diameter in a 2.4” width. There aren't any plans for a single-ply version, at least not in the near future. Mounted on a rim with a 29mm internal width the Cannibal measured true to size, at 2.44" at the widest part of the tread.RIDE IMPRESSIONS
It hasn't stopped raining for more than a day or two since my test set of Cannibal tires showed up, so I can't comment yet on the Cannibal's handling in the dry, or on long term durability – those verdicts will have to wait. We have a group test in the works, so look for those results later this year. In the meantime, I have been able to get them out on a wide range of trails styles, everything from harder packed and higher speed to steep, greasy, and rooty.INSTALLATION
Mounting up the tires didn't post much of a hassle. It does take a little extra effort to get them mounted onto the rim due to the thicker casings, but that's typical of most DH tires, and once in place they seated and sealed with a floor pump, no compressor required. I've been running 20 psi in the front and 22 psi in the rear, which has worked well for my 160 lb weight and the softer trail conditions. I've also tested them on an eMTB, which allowed me to rack up a bunch of miles in a relatively short amount of time. On the heavier e-bike I increased the pressure by a couple of pounds, but I was still able to run them in the low 20s without any issues.ON THE TRAIL
You don't need to be a World Cup racer to enjoy the Cannibal, but it does feel best at higher speeds. There are some tires out there that feel like they're hugging the ground, wrapping around every undulation like the tentacles of an octopus. With the Cannibal, it's more like like it's trying to pummel every obstacle into submission. Once the pace picks up and the hits get bigger the Cannibal really comes into its own. 'Solid' is the adjective that I kept coming back to – there were no surprises, no sudden slide outs or handling quirks that I had to get used to.
The ride feel is somewhat reminiscent of Michelin's DH tires, although the Cannibal doesn't feel as heavily damped. The Michelins can feel harsh when the miles per hour drop, while the Cannibal has a wider range of comfortable operating speeds.
Despite the relatively tall tread, the Cannibal remains very predictable even on harder packed sections of trail. There's lots of cornering support, and I didn't experience any unwanted squirming or folding over.
I've ridden the Cannibal on some incredibly wet days and came away impressed with how much traction they delivered. Quantifying stickiness is tricky, especially since it takes more than a super low durometer rubber to make a tire work well in the wet, but the Cannibal held its own over slimy roots and down greasy chutes. The tread height is deep enough to dig into softer ground for predictable braking performance, but not so tall that they'll fold over when you hit a rooty or rocky section - the overall predictability translates to rocky and rooty sections of trail as well.
A true mud spike, or even a cut-spike style tire like the Maxxis Shorty or Specialized Hillbilly will still be the way to go for trails where mud is the prevailing element, since the Cannibal can't dig in quite as deep as those options. Still, it can definitely handle wet conditions, and the predictability on harder packed surfaces is a benefit over those more mud-specific models. WEIGHT & PRICE
The Cannibal's 1397 gram weight is right in line with this type of tire. For comparison, a DH-casing Maxxis Assegai weighs 1340 grams, a Schwalbe Magic Mary Super DH weighs 1400 grams, and Michelins DH22 tires come in at 1500 grams each.
When it comes to price, the Cannibal is on the lower end of the price spectrum. No, they're not the cheapest but they are $15 - $20 less than comparable options from Maxxis and Schwalbe.
Very solid and predictable, especially at higher speeds+
Not as expensive as other comparable race-ready tires
Can feel a little clunky when the pace drops-
It's only available in a DH-casing option (for now)