Kenda Hellkat Pro
Words & Photos by Drew Rohde // Tested by Drew, Chili Dog & Sourpatch
It’s been more years than we can remember since we’ve ridden a pair of Kenda tires. In all honesty there may have been a test bike or two in the last five years that came spec’d with their tires, but we probably pulled them off almost immediately. It was a far fall from the days when every bike on the showroom had Kenda rubber and any serious rider was rocking Kenda tires. After talking with Kenda at the Sea Otter Classic earlier this year, it seems they had finally hit the wall. The company realized that everyone else had been getting better, while they had stayed the same. Enter the new Hellkat Pros.
We briefly introduced the new Kenda tires and their renewed desire to produce pro-level worthy rubber back in April so we’ll keep the backstory to a minimum. If you are curious to learn more about the new investment Kenda is making, click here.
The Hell-line currently has two offerings: Hellkat Pro and Helldiver Pro, but more tires are on the way. New features on Kenda’s Advanced Gravity Casing (AGC) tires include: Vector Shield, Iron Cloak Belt and 20mm Apex.
Vector Shield – A woven sheet of aramid fibers that are laid up across the sidewall of the tire. Kenda used the material to keep weight down while also improving cut resistance. They claim 285% gains in cut resistance and a 200-gram weight savings compared to traditional 2-ply DH casings.
Iron Cloak Belt (ICB) – This refers to the light-weight aramid belt that runs under the tread of the tire. Again, the goal here was to reduce the chance of punctures.
20mm Apex – A rigid rubber insert, 20mm tall, sits on top of the bead to help stiffen the sidewall while also improving the tire’s ability to prevent pinch flats. The increase in stiffness also helps protect your rims while also allowing riders to use lower air pressure for maximum traction.
Construction and material changes aren’t all that make the new Hellkat a winner. A vital part of the Hellkat’s performance lies in the new rubber compound – RSR dual-layer rubber was developed by Kenda as an evolution of the Race Stick-E Rubber (RSR) compound. Kenda stacks the new softer and slower rebounding rubber on top of a stiffer, longer wearing layer.
We were lucky enough to receive a couple pairs of Hellkat tires in early April and have been testing them on bikes in Oregon’s soft soil and SoCal’s hard, rocky trails. We’ve had them on everything from all-mountain bikes to DH rigs. With six months of riding on them, we’re beyond happy to report that Kenda has won us over, and we’re not the only ones. Watchful eyes have noticed that professional racers seldom ran tires from the brand whose logo was screened on their jerseys. That changed this year. For example, a scroll through Sick Mick Hannah’s Instagram page and you’ll see Kenda hot patches on his tires all season long, during one of his most impressive seasons in recent history.
The new Hellkats sport tread blocks that aren’t as tall as a Schwalbe Magic Mary but similar to a Maxxis High Roller. Though that means the tires lack the aggressive bite of a Magic Mary in the mud or soft soils, these tires roll a lot faster than a Magic Mary. In fact we took them out for some long pedals and really enjoyed the climbing performance and rolling efficiency. Kenda employs a double-ramp leading edge on the center knobs while tie bars and siping aid in braking traction and stability.
Flat resistance was also impressive. The Hellkats were unphased by the sharp granite rocks in Mammoth Mountain’s bike park, even at low pressures. Traction in hard pack or soft conditions was solid, with the tires having a predictable and usable breakaway point between grip and slide. The RSR rubber does a stellar job of clinging to rock as well, offering Velcro like traction even on steep rock rolls. The best part is that grip doesn’t come at the expense of longevity. Despite all of our combined flogging, the tires look like they still have more life to live.
The Wolf’s Last Word
The Hellkats rode very well and changed our mind about Kenda’s mountain bike program. From dry, hard pack terrain to loamy PNW trails, the Hellkats continue to impress. Highlights include: braking performance, rolling speed, longevity and traction. We felt confident pushing our bikes hard into corners as the predictable traction kept us focused on the line ahead. We didn’t find much slimy mud this summer, but imagine the somewhat shorter knob height may not be the best option for wetter conditions. Some riders noticed a little bit of squirm in berms when pressures approached 20-PSI, but for those who ran a bit more air, this was not an issue. At roughly 160-175lbs, our testers found the tires performed best between 24.5 and 28.5-PSI and have quickly become one of our favorites on the trail. If you’re looking for a fast rolling tire that offers impressive traction in drier conditions and has a respectable lifespan, the Hellkats should definitely be on your list.
Weight: 1,183 grams
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