by Matt Thompson
Hutchinson's relatively new Squale hits the market billing itself as an "all mountain/dowhill" tire offered in only a 2.3" sizing option. We got our hands on the 26" version of this tire to test on both the dh and xc rigs to see how it fares. Per Hutchinson's website, the Squale sports a reinforced casing "on the tread and sidewalls to prevent against cuts on rough terrain" while also offering their "Race Riposte" rubber compound for "excellent grip, thanks to slow, controlled turning aside of the knobs." The Squale weighs in at 780 grams, a competitive weight for an enduro tire and certainly light for a true dh tire, and can be purchased in the $80 range.
Initial impressions of this tire were mixed, a recurring theme as we went through the review process. Usually I prefer a tire with a pronounced channel between rolling and shoulder knobs, and the Squale almost fit the bill save for an alternately placed transition knob that left me wondering how it would corner. The new Squale also boasts aggressively ramped center knobs leaving hope that it would roll quite well, despite the ample space between knobs. Impressive knob shape looked to provide most of the things I look for in a tire - sharp corner and braking edges with decent rolling. Mounting the tires proved to exhibit that Hutchinson's measuring methods were along the lines of most other tire manufacturers, as the 2.3 looked impressive in its girth, with a nice profile.
On The Trail
Initially I set up the Squale on the back of my downhill bike as I prefer a bigger tire on the front of my bike and had reservations about this tire's ability to withstand descents here in the Rockies. Simply put, the casing just didn't seem up to the task for everyday downhill use out here in Colorado. My concerns were well founded as I sustained 2 flats in the first 5 runs while riding typical terrain. Consistent with a tire in the 800 gram range, I came to the conclusion that I could not use it for downhill on my home terrain. Not a surprise, but worth mentioning since the tire is labeled as for downhill use.
At this point it's worth discussing Hutchinson's recommend tire pressure for this tire and how it just doesn't conform to how I prefer my tires to perform. For a rider of my considerable, er…, heft, Hutchinson recommends running 43.5+psi, and this is where I started. However, it was readily apparent to me that the tire wasn't providing enough trail feel with this high pressure. Running it at 35psi provided a comparable amount of feel as other competing tire brands I frequently use.
Next, I mounted the Squales up on my endu…, er, all-mount…, uh, regular mountain bike to see how they'd perform, and this is where the tires really found a home for me. My initial fears about a vague cornering feel due to the transition knob were completely unfounded. Simply put, this tire turns awesome! It provides very good grip while leaned over and allows for super fun, controllable drifting. When it steps out, it doesn't do anything squirrely, like other tires out there. These tires make turning really fun for a hack like me.
Mounted in back, the tire does not offer good climbing performance. Unsurprisingly, the aggressively ramped center knobs did not offer a surplus of traction on loose, rocky climbs common out here. However, the Squales do offer impressive rolling resistance despite the somewhat large spaces between some of the knobs. Braking was top notch on these bad boys, as the sharp, horizontal bars down the middle of the tire really provided great control under hard efforts. I had to readjust braking points compared to the tires I usually use. Worth mentioning, as well, is the tire's above average mud-clearing capacity and performance in the wet.
Things That Could Be Improved
This area is tough for me. As a mostly-descending-but-still-really-fitness-based race tire (not that I'm an expert in that area), I think this tire would be perfect, but as a downhill tire, the casing simply doesn't offer enough protection from flats. I even flatted this tire once on my xc bike on a normal impact. As an xc tire, the center knobs don't offer enough drive in loose conditions to warrant everyday use for me.
Long Term Durability
I was not overly impressed with how this tire wore during our test. Although incredibly sharp and offering high performance, the braking edges really seemed to wear fast on this tire. Other than that, I have no concerns about long term durability.
What's The Bottom Line?
I really like this tire, but it's not without its issues. It turns and slows down like a dream. I'd love to try it more on the dh bike, but it's not big enough for me to use on the front for most of the tracks I ride and the casing just isn't robust enough to hold air on tracks in these parts. As it sits, it's a really fun xc tire that rolls pretty good for the amount of grip it provides going downhill. It does not climb loose terrain well at all, so consider what your climbs look like on the trails you frequent before you get it for everyday use. I would think this tire would work really well for e-word racing, if that's your thing.
For more details, visit www.hutchinsontires.com.
About The Reviewer
Matt Thompson - Humble enough not to claim his Master's Downhill World Champ status when we asked him what his accomplishments were, Matt has over 20 years on a bike and likes to go fast. Really fast. At 210-pounds of trail building muscle, he can put the hurt on a bike in little to no time.