CUSHCORE XC TIRE INSERTS REVIEW
PROTECTIVE AND PEDAL-FRIENDLY, BUT PRICEY
Review by Robert Johnston
Cushcore have been protecting the rims and improving the ride quality for aggressive mountain bikers for the last few years with once unparalleled performance, and really changed the game when it comes to aggressive riding with tubeless tires. Although their original offering provides a huge amount of cushion and great protection, they add a significant amount of weight to the area on the bike where handling is most impacted, leading them to kill a lot of the agility of a shorter travel bike and strike them off the list of many trail and all-mountain bikers. This led to the development of the Cushcore XC – a slimmed down version of the full-fat Cushcore that hopes to be just the ticket for a more pedal inclined rider. Our resident tire insert expert, Robert, got his hands on a set to see how they stack up against the competition.
As with the Cushcore Pro insert, the Cushcore XC is constructed from a proprietary closed-cell polyolefin foam with specific damping properties and a resistance to the ingress of sealant. The insert effectively transforms your tire into a damped suspension system, broken down into the tubeless air space as the spring with a foam damper for the deeper parts of the travel. The material is designed to respond to an impact differently depending on its magnitude, giving a softer response to a light impact and stiffening more to increase protection for a harder hit. The profile is heavily shaped to sit tight against the rim bed, occupying a small volume of the air space inside the tire and pushing against the beads and sidewalls. Pushing against the sidewalls of the tire gives them some extra support, which should allow for a reduction in tire pressures with reduced chance of squirm and folding under hard sideways forces. By ensuring the tread area is not affected by the insert, rolling resistance should remain relatively unaffected and the tire should be able to deform freely to maintain grip. The slimmed down XC version occupies a smaller volume within the tire compared with the original Cushcore Pro, with the innermost portion cut into segments that effectively halves the contact with the rim bed. Still, at 155g (per 29” insert, actual) and with a good bead-to-bead coverage it should still provide a decent level of protection.
The Cushcore XC is available in 27.5” or 29” as either a single insert for £85/$78, or pair of inserts for a slightly reduced price of £159.99 /$149. Included are the signature green Cushcore air valves for compatibility with the inserts, a valve core tool and the important fitting guide. They are compatible with tires from 1.8” to 2.4” on rim internal widths from 22 to 32mm, covering the majority of riders on XC and trail bikes.
There was no mistaking that these are a Cushcore product from the second I opened the box. The signature Cushcore bright green on the packaging and valves, and the dense gray foam of the insert leave that undoubted. In the hands the insert is certainly not as burly as the Pro insert, with a more delicate feel due to its reduced thickness and lower weight. As you’d hope for a $150 pair of inserts, the finish quality is impeccable, and the valves are of good quality.
Fitting the Cushcore XC’s is certainly easier than the full-fat Pro insert, but in the same way that standing on a Lego is less painful than being shot. You’ll still be better served by fitting these when you’re free of time pressures from elsewhere, as it’s not always an easy job. That said, following the Cushcore guide does help, and once you get the feeling for tucking the tire bead underneath the insert, they go on okay with a bit of muscle. I initially attempted to fit them like I’d typically fit other inserts, in between laps on a ride so that I could back-to-back with a competitor, and the tight fit of the insert on the rim made it laughably difficult. Lesson learned, Cushcore knows best. A pro tip from our man Cole is to let the insert heat up in the sun before fitting, and to give them a good pre-stretch when warm – a radiator should do the same job in the winter months. Once the tire is on the rim with the insert within, the force pushing outwards on the bead makes seating the tire a breeze, popping up in place with the slightest wisp of air from a track pump.
When they’re on, their impact on the tire feel is significantly less profound than with their bigger brother, the Pro. Taking up less space inside the tire and pushing against less of the tire sidewall makes them fly under the radar a touch compared with the very obvious Pro. This means there’s less support for the tire sidewall, and so as pressures decrease into the insert-demanding realm – around 22 psi in a rear tire with downhill casing for my 95kg kitted mass – a bit of squirm can begin to creep in on hard corners and off-camber compressions. Don’t get me wrong, it’s significantly better than without an insert fitted, but there’s certainly not the same level of support as the bigger brother. Similarly, at nearly half the weight, their impact on the acceleration of the wheel is also much less, though on-par with most of the other insert options on the market.
Trail chatter remains largely unaffected compared with no insert, but once you get into the medium severity impacts, they begin to work their magic. Their impressive ability to take the sting out the square edges of rocks and clusters of roots has a notable effect on the comfort and composition on the trail, which encourages harder charging through janky terrain. Heavier impacts are dealt with similarly well, and it takes a serious impact before there’s any concern required for the health of the rim. I did get a couple of “pung” noises on really harsh hits, likely from the tire knobs pinging off the rock or root in question, but through many carefree attacks in rough terrain they fended off any damage to the rim in quite impressive form.
HOW DO THEY COMPARE TO THE RIMPACT PRO?
As my current favorite insert, which comes in at a similar weight, I felt it worthwhile to compare the Cushcore XC to the Rimpact Pro. I did a bit of back-to-back on the same trails with the two inserts and spent the majority of both of their test periods riding the same tires on the same wheels, so I’m in a good place to draw conclusions.
- Fitting: They’re similarly tricky to fit, with both requiring the bead to be tucked underneath the insert. The Cushcore XC is lower volume, but the shape of the Rimpact Pro is slightly easier to work with. I’d call it a draw here.
- Support: There’s no contest here, the Rimpact Pro feels significantly more supportive at the same tire pressures and allows for roughly 2 psi less tire pressure before things become “squirmy”.
- Rolling: Purely on feel, I’d say the Cushcore XC edges the rolling speed a touch at the same low pressures through mildly rough terrain, but there’s not much in it.
- Damping: The Rimpact Pro damps lower magnitude impacts better, getting involved in the ride more often, however for the medium and harder direct hits there’s a touch less feedback when using the Cushcore XC’s at lower pressures. They’re both excellent for damping properties but go about it slightly differently.
- Protection: I never go out of my way to cause damage to a wheelset but have been pushing the limits of low tire pressures in the last few months that I’ve been running the two inserts, without holding back on attacking rock and root infested trails. The Nukeproof wheelset that’s served as my base for the testing is still without dents – exactly how much of this is to do with the strength of the rim (which had proved to be excellent for its review) I’m not sure, but it’s clear that both inserts have done a stellar job at offering protection, with no sign of damage and zero pinch flats on the tires.
- Longevity: The Cushcores may slightly edge this, but only by a fraction – these both represent the highest order of durability for tire inserts, but a couple of minor marks in the Rimpacts compared with an essentially spotless Cushcore XC means they take the win here. The Cushcore also seems to do a great job at repelling tire sealant, holding onto less than any other insert I’ve used so far, which can only be a good thing in the long-term.
- Value: At $149 a pair, or a considerably worse £160 in the UK, the Cushcores are a serious chunk of cash, with a single Cushcore XC costing more than a pair of the Rimpact Pro inserts. The Cushcore does feel like more of a premium product in the hand, compared with the function-first simplicity of the Rimpacts, but once they’re in the tire you’re left with their performance as the only differentiator, and I can’t find a justification for that price difference. I believe the Rimpact Pro inserts offer good value, whereas the Cushcore XC inserts are overpriced considerably.
The Wolf’s Last Word
The Cushcore XC inserts are undoubtedly a high-quality product that offer real performance benefits out on the trail, but at 150g each I can’t help but question whether they are suitable for cross country bikes and their riders. We reckon the “XC” that Cushcore refers to is from a downhiller’s perspective, where riding Cross Country is less about the climb and involves some aggressive descending. As a trail and all mountain insert, they do perform well, but don’t stand out above some cheaper offerings, which makes their high price tag hard to justify. That said, with decent rolling characteristics, protection, and longevity, they could be the ticket for pedal-hungry riders looking to bolster their descending capabilities for the long term.
Price: £159.99 /$149
Weight: 155g (29”, actual)
Disclosure: Our team selects all of the products we review and do so with honesty and objectivity in mind. Some of the products we receive come directly from Competitive Cyclist, who also value our readers and have offered them a 15% discount (exclusions apply) on their first purchase by using LOAMWOLF15. Through this program we may also receive a small commission at no cost to you. Thanks for your support, TLW.