Words/ Photos by Chili Dog, Action Photos by Forrest Arakawa
As we wandered the myriad of products at Sea Otter, the new Assegai tires in front of the Maxxis booth caught our attention. Thankfully, that first fleeting glance wouldn’t be the last. Maxxis was kind enough to invite us out to the forests of Santa Cruz, California to get some initial impressions on the new Assegai just a few weeks after the big show in Monterey.
Normally media camps move pretty slow, but not this trip. Straight off the flight, I was over at the Santa Cruz Bicycles HQ to dial in my test rig. An XL Nomad was waiting, sporting shiny new Maxxis shoes. Our crew was motivated, and instead of standing around waiting for dinnertime, we opted to hit the trails for a quick ride on the UCSC campus. It proved to be a great loop to get acquainted with the new bike and tires. Our pre-dinner loop put us on everything from pavement to steep, loamy singletrack, and it was the perfect appetizer.
After making the climb up the road and onto the school campus, we turned into the woods. For those not familiar with University of Santa Cruz, aside from being a solid UC school, the campus is also home to some insane riding. Most is unsanctioned, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.
Our crew dropped in, tearing through the opening chute in a cloud of dust. At the first stop, the consensus between everyone was clear– the Assegai tires GRIP. Roots, loose corners and off cambers turned into nothing. Braking traction is also exceptional. The last chute on the trail that normally feels like skiing was a no hassle event. Other trails near the campus confirmed the composed nature of these tires under heavy braking on loose surfaces. Even in butt puckering moments where the tire kissed my shorts, traction was a non-issue.
Sadly the epic descending left us with a substantial climb. The way back up gave us more than enough time to reflect on how inefficiently a full fledged DH tire pedals. The heavy DH casing the tire is currently offered in didn’t help matters either. It’s definitely more at home on the World Cup DH tracks it was designed for than it is under a trail bike on a climb.
The Syndicate Lab
After returning to the hotel from our brief outing we were told to meet outside of the Santa Cruz HQ for a special treat. Joey from Maxxis guided me up through a back door and into an industrial building next to the Santa Cruz HQ. The inside that was once the Wrigley chewing gum factory had been converted into an art gallery and music space. It wasn’t the type of thing I expected.
As we rounded a corner in the hall, I was greeted by two sliding red doors, and a collection of vintage motorcycles. I admired them as I walked up, but I was still confused as to exactly what was going on. The only cue to give away the secret lab was a Santa Cruz floor mat that had been placed out front to welcome us. Inside those sliding doors however, sits the mad laboratory that breeds bikes for some of the best DH riders in the world.
The Syndicate Lab is where the team mechanic, Doug “Dougie Fresh” Hatfield has his workshop and preps for the season. Inside are stacks of parts, tools and of course the team’s bikes. Two V10’s belonging to Minnaar and one for Ratboy sat ready to be ridden. Even better, Luca Shaw and Greg Minnaar were there to tell us about the tires in person and ride with us the next day. Who better to talk to than the man that inspired the new tire? Oh, and there was also pizza, which after our ride was far more enticing to me than anything else.
The Man Himself
According to Minnaar, the tires started as a drawing some two years ago. After a lifetime of experience on the track, Minnaar wanted to make a tire that perfectly suited his needs. Most keen observers will notice that the Assegai tires look like a lot of other Maxxis designs. That was intentional. Instead of starting completely from scratch, Minnaar and the Maxxis team took the best traits from different tires in the Maxxis line up and put them together. Think of the Assegai as a “greatest hits remix” of the Maxxis gravity line.
The knobs on the Assegai are tall, falling right between the height of the DHR II and the Shorty. The similarities to the DHF are clear with the familiar parallel lugs to the left and right of center. In between and down the centerline are ramped and siped center lug to increase traction under braking and pedaling. In between the center lugs and the side lugs is a pair of extra lugs. Minnaar said that these are to aid in traction when transitioning from the center lugs over to the side lugs, which are triple and single siped in an alternating pattern and borrowed from the High Roller II. The side lugs are thick to offer support on hard corners.
The Assegai is offered in both 27.5” and 29” wheel sizes but is currently only offered in a dual ply DH casing. Given the intended market of these tires, Maxxis’ ultra-sticky 3C MaxxGrip rubber was the compound of choice. Though no dates were given, the team hinted that the tire will also be available in less aggressive casings and compounds later this year. That’s good news for the weight weenies in the crowd because the 27.5 Assegai tires I was on weighed 1,254 grams each.
You’ll notice that despite playing a large role in the design of the tire, Greg Minnaar’s name is absent from the sidewall. Instead, he chose to name the tire “Assegai” as a nod to his homeland of South Africa and the iron-tipped spear used by the Zulu people.
Day two of the trip was the main event, with a promise of super top secret trails that were 100% shuttle accessible. It was exactly the kind of thing we needed to really test out the Assegai. I wouldn’t miss pedaling up the UCSC grade one bit either!
We loaded up the Maxxis rental Ford Expedition and headed deep into the woods. After a short hike we were at the peak with nothing but downhill between us and the end of the trail. The run was fast and steep, with loose shale on the upper 3/4 that faded into a forested, loamy finish. The variation in terrain made for the perfect testing grounds. I did my best to follow behind Greg Minnaar and Luca Shaw during the three laps down the trail. It’s not often you get to follow (or try to follow) this caliber of talent. I was quickly reminded just how slow us mortals are even on a bad ass set of tires.
The upper section had several long, steep, off camber straits that led into sharp corners. Each time, I was impressed by the tire’s composure and lateral traction. It most definitely kept me out of the deep ruts below the off camber. Its confident braking traction was also a massive benefit when it came time to slow for the hairpins at the end. Even though the slowing was minimal as I chased Greg Minnaar and Luca Shaw (they were being good hosts and going easy on us), the Assegai’s let me brake late and hard in the loose shale soil. It was impressive to say the least. Grip in the deep loam of the lower section was much of the same.
The area these tires truly shine however is in corners. As a non-racer that’s typically concerned more with fun than time, I usually prefer tires with a big gap between the center and side lugs. Designs like the e*thirteen TRS give a big float zone between the lugs that I love to use to slide around on the trail. The Assegai’s on the other hand don’t have that float zone. Instead they have an incredibly linear and predictable assuredness as you lean the bike from the center lugs to the side lugs. It’s exactly what I’d want if I was racing on the clock and had a prize purse on the line. The thick side lugs also offer unyielding support and the soft, sticky 3C MaxxGrip rubber clings to anything and everything.
Though I only got two days on the Assegai’s I was very impressed. While they made me feel like I was dragging an anchor on the climb, that isn’t what they were intended to do. Point the bike down and the Assegai’s come into their element. With an impressive balance between cornering and braking traction, they’re a force to be reckoned with. The thick sidewalls took a good beating on roots and stumps during my two days on them, with zero punctures or leaks. We’re definitely looking forward to pointing these soft rubber rippers at some rocks in future long term testing. Are these the new best DH tire out? We’ll find out in the long term review, but their sure footedness and predictable composure in corners makes it very possible.
Weight: 1,254 grams (27.5)
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