e*thirteen Grappler Tire REVIEW
Review by Dario DiGiulio | Photos by Dario DiGiulio/courtesy of e*thirteen
One could easily argue that tires are the most important component on a bicycle. They are your only point of contact with the ground (hopefully); play a critical role in your suspension systems, and are the biggest factor in the rolling speed and feel of your bike. Given all that, it’s no wonder that people tend to choose their tire preference and rarely deviate from it, even though there might be more to life than the classic DHR/DHF combo. With a mixed history in the tire market, e*thirteen has long been an option that many people haven’t tried, but the engineers there are hard at work to change that. From my time on their brand new offering, the Grappler, I can confidently say that these tires deserve a place on more bikes. Maybe even yours.
For their newest and most aggressive tire to date, e*thirteen has carried over some of the tech from their previous models, and added innovations where necessary to achieve their goals. As this is primarily an enduro and downhill tire, it comes in exactly those two variants: Enduro, which is a dual-120tpi casing with the suppler of the two sidewall inserts; and DH, which is a dual-72tpi casing with a beefier sidewall. Width on the Grapplers is kept simple, they only come in a 2.5, inflating to a nice middle ground between Maxxis’ relatively slim 2.5s, and a heftier WTB 2.5. As to the claimed weights, the 29” tires come in at 1200-1400 grams, and the 27.5” at 1150-1320 grams. In the 29er wheel size, my Enduro casing weighed in at 1320g, and my DH casing was 1405g, so no major deviation from their claims. All this comes at a relatively low cost, with prices ranging from $60 to $70 – a very welcomed bit of information considering the triple-digit price tags on some tires these days.
One carryover from prior models is the stickiest rubber in the e*thirteen lineup, something they call MoPo. This super low durometer compound has a very slow rebound characteristic, and feels more like a climbing shoe rubber than the stuff you’d find on your car tires. For the MoPo variants on their new tires, the entire tread is coated in the sticky 42a stuff, while the base is a medium-hardness 50a rubber that provides better support and durability. If you want something a bit harder wearing, the Grapplers also come in the Endurance compound, which has a hard 56a base compound and the medium-tack 50a rubber on the side lugs for cornering grip.
Tire lineups quickly get too complicated, and choosing the right combo can feel like picking the right mid-ride snack at a fully stocked gas station, so luckily the options here are relatively simple: MoPo or Endurance, Enduro or DH. For my testing, I spent most of my time on the MoPo Enduro variant, and a short period on the MoPo DH.
I started this test riding the MoPo DH Grappler as a front tire, in and around Bellingham and up in Squamish, BC. Immediately upon airing it up, I was pretty surprised by how stiff the casing is, even compared to other downhill tires I’ve run recently. This feeling didn’t really shake as I started riding the tire, as it has a really stiff, almost wooden feel on trail. That being said, this is a downhill tire, meant mostly for park riding and all-out abuse. On my regular trails, which can still offer plenty of speed and challenging terrain, it’s likely just overkill.
This initial reaction was quickly dismissed when I switched over to the Enduro casing. The more supple casing instantly produced a night and day difference. Both the DH and the Enduro have excellent tread grip, but the Enduro has a much more pliable casing, which allows it to conform to the terrain better. Any hesitation and feedback I felt with the DH casing were calmed by its lighter brother, and I stuck with the Enduro for the rest of the test.
One can pretty easily guess the tire that influenced the Grappler’s general design, as the tread pattern is distinctly Assegai, with its 3-2-3 center lugs and meaty outer edges. Where it differs is in those smaller 3-pack lugs, where the e*thirteen version has a much more substantial appearance and feel. This was noticeable on slab trails, like those up in Squamish, where the tire effectively has a larger contact patch than other equivalent designs – meaning more grip when cornering and braking. I also felt a difference on the greasy roots here in Bellingham; thanks to the super-grippy nature of the MoPo rubber, you can catch decent traction on slippery surfaces, but the solid base to the lugs don’t let them squirm as much, so the whole tire feels more stable. I don’t necessarily think the MoPo is a whole lot stickier than MaxxGrip or Schwalbe’s Super Soft, but all three offer best-in-class performance when it comes to wet weather riding.
I had the Grapplers mounted up to 3 different wheelsets I’ve been riding, the Stan’s Flow MK4s, the Reynolds Trail 329s, and e*thirteen’s own LG1 Race Carbon wheels. The internal widths vary slightly on all three, from 30-32mm, and in every case the Grappler aired up nicely with a round profile: not as domed as some tires out there, but not as squared off as e*thirteen’s older offerings. Those older square tires were a bit notorious, for when you pushed beyond that outside corner, things could get hairy. According to the engineers at e*thirteen, they’ve done a lot to tweak that casing shape and get it to fit a more predictable and stable mold, and I think they’ve hit their mark. The 2.5” width is spot-on for the intended usage of the Grappler, looking and feeling appropriately aggressive without reaching the balloon-like vague levels of some bigger carcasses.
Over the months I’ve been on the Grapplers, I’ve ridden some fast hardpack California trails, which are already getting dusty, and the cornering performance was just as impressive as it is here in the PNW loam. The big square lugs of the tire really dig in nicely, but you don’t have to commit to a fully tilted lean to get that bite. That feeling is part of what makes tires like the Assegai and Magic Mary so appealing, and e*thirteen has captured it well. Like any beefy knobby tire, braking performance is excellent, and the lack of ramping on the Grappler means it hooks up in damn near every direction. This of course does equate to lower rolling speed, but for my riding that matters a whole lot less than the grip you can get in the steeps. Tread wear is pretty slow here in Bellingham, but even after a few weeks of hot rocky riding in California the knobs are still in pretty good shape, with minimal undercut and no tearing or punctures to speak of.
As a front and rear combo, the Grapplers are ready for the rowdiest terrain you might find yourself riding. I found that a Grappler MoPo front, with something a little surfier – like e*thirteen’s own A/T tire, or maybe a nicely worn DHR – in the rear to be a super fun pairing for most trails. E*thirteen’s Endurance compound might be a great middle ground when it comes time for summer conditions or e-bike usage, as its harder-wearing rubber will roll faster and last longer. I’m a huge fan of the ride feel of tire inserts, and ended up keeping mine in for the majority of the review, which takes the already impressive grip of the Grappler up a notch, making for something that was pretty hard to shake even on our jankiest and wettest trails. If you can’t already tell, I’ve been big fan, and the Enduro MoPo Grappler has become one of my select few benchmark tires that all others will compare to moving forward.