12 May 2010

bikefix Initial Review: Hutchinson Cobra 26x2.25 Tubeless Light tires

People may think we spend an insane amount of time reviewing tires here at bikefix. We are a product of our environment though. Within an hour of our fair city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, we have trails on packed clay, slickrock, loose pea-sized granite, limestone-and-clay mix, and high-altitude loam with roots. So it’s no wonder that we are picky about our tires and excited to try new ones that look like they have potential. We even had a visit from one of the owners of a small mountain bike brand, and by the third ride he exclaimed "how the hell do you guys’ pick out tires down here?" Of course no tire will excel on all of these surfaces, and we all ride differently and have different qualities that we value in a tire. Although we have picked out some great all-around tires (Geax Barro Mountain, and Schwalbe Racing Ralph & Nobby Nic), sometimes I am looking at a tire and thinking “that will be good on the back side of the mountain” knowing full-well that it wouldn’t be ideal for our foothills trails. Sometimes I’m willing to give-up performance on some trails for better performance on others. The Hutchinson Cobra is a tire for those times.

The Cobra has been on my radar for a long time, but has only recently become available through Hutchinson's distributors. I liked the look of the tight-blocked center pattern of the tire. It looked like it would grip hard-pack and loam, but still roll very efficiently. I knew I was taking a chance when it came to loose pebbles over hard-pack though. The sturdy and sizable cornering knobs also caught my eye. Often, smooth efficient tread patterns have small worthless cornering knobs, but not the Cobra. The listed weight of 720 grams for a tubeless 2.25 also caught my attention. On paper, this tire was shaping-up to be a contender.

The Cobra handles much like I expected. It is very smooth and reasonably fast, but I have ridden other tires that seem just as fast. Even tires with more aggressive center tread patterns. In a straight line the Cobra feels good but can be a little skittish. It also breaks loose when climbing in a straight line before I expected it to. Not much before I expected it to, but sooner than I had hoped. The high altitude trails with loamy surfaces are still a month away and I expect I will be very happy with these tires up there. The Cobras are fine on hard-packed clay, fast and predictable with very good cornering for a tire of this type. Other tires can corner harder but none of them are especially fast and could never be considered a race tire, which the Cobra most certainly could be. The 2.25 version I’m running is one of the heavier versions, and the smaller ones would just fly in a race.

Because they can seem slightly squirmy in a straight line, the Cobra's take some getting used to when it comes to cornering. Sometimes they feels perfectly normal, but other times it is hard to trust the transition from center to shoulder tread. I think the shoulder is more stable than the center, but it takes a moment before you feel it settle in and start to grab.

Overall the Cobra is really a race tire. Its handling characteristics are more typical of race tires (fast, with limited traction). The 2.25 that I am using will be probably be an excellent endurance race tire. The only question is durability, which I will keep you posted on. The 2.25 is a competent trail riding tire but you have to accept that some trail surfaces will make you shine while others will make you pucker a bit. This is the first Hutchinson that I’ve liked in quite a while. Again, let me remind the reader that if you live where the trails are all hardpack or loamy then this tire should be on your short list. They have a suggested retail of about $ 60.



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