SPECIALIZED CANNIBAL MTB TIRE REVIEW
AGGRESSIVE NAME FOR AGGRESSIVE TERRAIN
Review by Dario DiGiulio
It wasn’t long ago that people balked at any house brand component that showed up on a complete build. But that’s quickly changing, as big brands are pushing hard to get their in-house gear to compete with the best of the aftermarket. Specialized has had a lineup of tires for quite some years now, but they didn’t quite challenge the best of them for top tier performance. With recent revamps and additions to their tire lineup they’re hoping to change that, and we’ve been impressed with the models we’ve tried thus far. Returning to their line after a long hiatus is the Cannibal, a tire designed to tackle the World Cup Downhill circuit. How does it perform for use outside of the tape? Read on to find out.
As their purpose-built downhill tire, it makes sense that Specialized is only releasing the Cannibal in a DH “Grid Gravity” casing for the time being. This is their most robust construction, with a 2-ply carcass and protective 2Bliss sidewall inserts to help prevent pinch flats. Coming in either 29” or 27.5” with a 2.4” width, the Cannibal has satisfyingly few options to choose from. Big, burly, and grippy are the only choices.
The tread pattern has been fully redesigned to match the needs of high speed tracks, and features big, staggered shoulder blocks, and minimally siped center tread, all constructed with their stickiest Gripton T9 rubber compound. As a downhill optimized tire, weights are unsurprisingly high, but avoid tipping into the ridiculous category. The 29er comes in around 1390g, while the 27.5 variant clocks in around 1360g. Both options are priced at $80 USD, which – sad to say – is on the cheaper end of the spectrum for high end tires at this point.
I’ve been riding the Cannibal in Bellingham, Washington for the past few months, which means the tire has seen a surprisingly wide variety of weather. Late Summer axle-deep dust, the slimy slop of early rains, some truly perfect Fall days, and now frozen-solid roots and snowy dirt, we’ve really spanned the gamut recently. Through that whole spectrum of conditions, the Cannibal has been an impressive tire, quickly feeling familiar and reliable.
Dry conditions performance wasn’t much of a surprise, as the Cannibal’s tread is blocky and assertive, making for a solid contact patch on both rock and root. It was the tire’s lack of siping that led me to believe it might falter in the wet, but I was impressed as soon as conditions changed. While nothing is necessarily confidence inspiring on slimy roots, the Cannibal does quite well and remains predictable in less-than-ideal dirt, always providing a nice corner to hook into when you need it. Coupled with very good braking traction, the front-wheel performance of the Cannibal is nothing short of excellent. In the Assegai-dominated front tire competition, the Cannibal corners more like the traditional crowd favorite DHF, with a bit of a channel to break into on the edge. That said, it’s much less of a lean-and-pray situation with the Specialized tire, as the transition is smooth and predictable, offering a very reliable edge to push against.
I typically run tires with an insert, primarily for the sidewall support at lower pressures; ideally I can run somewhere from 18-21 psi in the front without too much squirm. The Cannibal is one of the first tires I’ve run in a while that can go sub-20 psi without an insert and not feel squirmy. With a Maxxis DoubleDown casing (sans insert), I rarely drop below 21, and typically go even higher when conditions are dry and fast. I was happy to find that Specialized’s Grid Gravity casing manages to hold up to hard cornering at very low pressures, even without an insert. Obviously rock strikes are something to watch out for, especially in the rear, but I did find the sidewalls of the Cannibal to be substantial enough to hold up to some pretty hard rim impacts, with no punctures or tears to show for it. This very sturdy casing is possibly the only real downside to this tire, as it might not work for less aggressive or very light riders. I tend to ride very front heavy, and find that this tire works very well for my weight and ride style, but some folks might have a hard time getting the casing to react to the trail without running silly low pressures. You need to give the Cannibal some force before it’ll budge.
Though I’ve mostly been running the Cannibal as a front tire, I’m still impressed by how durable the rubber has been. The corner lugs have little to no undercut, which typically starts to show up after a few hard rides, especially in dry weather. Cut performance isn’t the easiest to test in Bellingham, but over some trips to the shale-heavy foothills in our area, nothing has done any damage to this burly tire. I’ll be running this tire on the front of my bike until it can’t hold air anymore, as it has become one of my current favorites for a reliable tire to lead the charge on the front of an all-mountain bike.
The Wolf’s Last Word
With a character on trail that is aggressive enough to match the name, Specialized’s new Cannibal tire is a seriously grippy and supportive option for those who desire all-out downhill performance and are happy to accept the high weight and stiff carcass as a compromise.
Weight: 29” 1,390g | 27.5” 1,360g