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The Complete Guide to Specialized Mountain Bike Tires 24

Specialized MTB tire tread patterns, constructions and rubber compounds explained so you can decide which will work best where you ride.

The Complete Guide to Specialized Mountain Bike Tires

There are two really important things to know about mountain bike tires. 1. They’re the easiest component to change that can drastically alter a bike’s handling and performance. 2. Learning the intricacies of just a single brand’s tire naming conventions is akin to learning Latin. Every company has a different way to describe the way their tires are built, what conditions they’re for and how they ride. Tread pattern, rubber compound, durability, sizing and construction are all important factors to consider when buying new mountain bike tires, and if you screw up a single piece of that equation, you may find yourself on heavy downhill-ready tires when you were wanting a light, trail tire.

Products continually evolve and some of the labels you may be accustomed to with Specialized tires have probably changed or are no longer being used. That’s why Vital is here, and we’re going to guide you through the current Specialized mountain bike tire lineup as of Spring 2021. Options below are found on most of their 27.5- and 29-inch tires with some outliers that may only be found in one, specific diameter. Tire widths also vary across the model range. We will provide an overview of tire model names, casing and construction labels, as well as, the rubber compounds Specialized uses.

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Specialized Tire Model Names (Tread Patterns)

Butcher - Trail, Enduro, and Downhill

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The Butcher is arguably the most popular Specialized tire among trail, enduro and DH riders. It is often found on bikes like the Stumpjumper, Enduro, and the Demo and is regularly used as a front tire for when trails get loose and steep. Over the past few years, the tread pattern has been updated and refined with knobs that roll fast but have lots of braking and cornering edges.

Eliminator - Trail, Enduro and Downhill

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Often used as a rear tire with a Butcher up front. The Eliminator has plentiful, supportive cornering knobs and a tread pattern that digs deep for braking power and traction.

Purgatory - Downcountry / Trail

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A do-it-all trail tire, the Purgatory is a well-rounded tire that rolls fast and is generally used in the rear. It can handle both XC-style and flowing trail riding conditions.

Slaughter - Trail, Enduro

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Specialized’s semi-slick tire, for use in the rear. Minimal knobs down the middle maximize rolling speed. The aggressive side knobs are the same as on the Butcher for hooking it up when leaning it over in turns.

Hillbilly - Enduro, Downhill

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When trails get steep, wet and loose, the Hillbilly is ready, front or rear. Widely spaced, deep lugs dig dirt and dump it out for maximum grip.

Ground Control - General Cross-Country

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A general cross-country riding tire, the Ground Control has knob height and placement that are a nice balance of light-weight and consistent grip with a focus on rolling speed.

Fast Trak - Cross Country Riding and Racing

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When speed is required on the XC trail or track but a bit more grip is an advantage during braking and cornering.

Renegade - Cross Country Racing

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When rolling speed and acceleration is the name of game for winning XC races.

Discontinued Specialized Models

Specialized still has some older DH-specific tires like the Storm DH and Hillbilly DH on their site in the clearance section. The size offerings are limited.

Tire Casing and Construction

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Once you’ve figured out what tread pattern you need for the style of riding and conditions you’re in, deciding on the weight and durability of your tires is next on the list. By durability, we’re talking about tire casings and the materials used in a tire’s construction. A more durable and stable tire is generally going to be heavier but that might result in a slower-rolling speed on the trail. If your only focus is a light-weight tire, you may find yourself with more flat tires than miles on the trail.

The weight and construction of a tire can also impact how a bike’s suspension works, and how the bike feels on the trail. Not only is rotational weight impacted, but so is bump absorption depending on the materials used in the tires. A heavier-casing tire may not need as much air to be stable, so the trail can feel smoother, the tires less squirmy in compressions and grip can be increased. A light tire with higher air pressure may bounce around, but acceleration and rolling speed will be high.

Specialized Levos come spec'd with Grid TRAIL casing.

At Vital, we find the variables in tire construction to be one of the most controversial, but also fun topics to discuss and experiment around. Changing a $10,000 or $1,000 bike’s character can be as easy as swapping out some $60 tires. Regardless, Specialized has made it fairly easy for you to narrow down what tire will suit you and your riding style best. They recently introduced the new Grid Trail and Grid Gravity casings, too.

Keep in mind that not every tread pattern is available in every construction and sizes may vary.

Specialized Tire Casing and Construction, Lightest to Heaviest

S-Works Casing - XC Race

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For XC racers looking the lightest weight for rolling and acceleration advantage. The only 120tpi (threads-per-inch) construction in Specialized mountain line-up. Foldable bead.

Control Casing - XC

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A light-weight, all-around XC casing and construction with 60tpi, foldable.

Grid Casing- General MTB riding

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A general, all-around mountain bike tire casing and construction that balances a lighter tire with a more durable tire. Has sidewall panels to resist puncture and pinch-flat scenarios. 60tpi, foldable.

Grid TRAIL Casing - Trail and Enduro

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A newly updated and enhanced Grid casing for proper trail riding with protection that covers the entire tire, from bead to bead. There are anti-cut and anti-pinchflat panels for extra durability. 60tpi, foldable.

Grid GRAVITY Casing - Enduro and Downhill

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Specialized’s strongest construction with dual-ply casing, anti-cut and anti-pinchflat protection. Stable and durable for heavy enduro, park or downhill use. Heavy e-bikes will benefit from the stability, too. 60tpi, foldable.

Blck Dmnd Discontinued

The aggressive Blck Dmnd construction is no longer offered by Specialized, but you’ll see some over-stock floating around on their site and other stores. This was a heavier, almost-DH-ready casing for aggressive riding.

Specialized Rubber Compounds

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Last and certainly not least, Specialized offers a variety of rubber compound choices on their mountain bike tires. The rubber used impacts grip, rolling speed and tread durability. The softer the rubber, the better the grip, but the tire rolls slower and wears more quickly. Hard rubber will roll fast and typically wears more slowly over time but won’t grip as well because the knobs of the tire can’t conform to the terrain or dampen impacts as well as a softer rubber.

Additionally, some tires may be comprised of multiple rubber compounds. These tires use a harder, faster-rolling rubber down the middle but softer, grippier rubber is used in the cornering knobs. Like we discussed with casings and constructions, there are always compromises to sort out and rubber compounds are another fun piece of MTB tire technology that can drastically impact a bike’s performance on the trail.

Specialized MTB Tire Rubber Options - Hardest to Softest

Gripton T5 Rubber - XC

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Fast-rolling rubber with high-cut resistance and slow wear characteristics.

Gripton T7 Rubber - Trail

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Versatile, trail-riding compound that grips and wears well. Dense enough to mute some high-frequency trail chatter

Gripton T9 Rubber - Gravity

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Specialized’s grippiest, slowest-rebounding rubber compound for use when maximum control is required in gravity-fed riding situations.

From the Specialized tire lab.

Dual-compound Rubber Options

Gripton T5/T7 Rubber - XC

Fast-rolling T5 rubber center with grippier T7 side knobs for cornering confidence. Found only on S-Works tire construction.

Gripton T7/T9 Rubber - Enduro / DH

Found only on Specialized Eliminator with Grid Gravity casing. Longer-wearing, faster rolling T7 center rubber with maximum-grip T9 rubber on side knobs.

Vital's, Johan Hjord, has been testing some of the new Specialized tires for a few months now. Stay tuned for his full report.

Specialized Butcher 29 x 2.3 Tire Weights

We have three of the same size Butcher tires on-hand for testing, each measuring 29 x 2.3-inches. Their casings and rubber compounds are different and give a good indication of how the weights vary across constructions. T7 rubber is lighter than T9 by about 60 grams in our Grid TRAIL tires. Grid TRAIL casing is almost 300g lighter than Grid GRAVITY casing on our tires that both have T9 rubber.

Specialized Butcher 29 x 2.3 with Grid GRAVITY casing and T9 rubber - 1320g
Specialized Butcher 29 x 2.3 with Grid TRAIL casing and T9 rubber - 1023g
Specialized Butcher 29 x 2.3 with Grid TRAIL casing and T7 rubber - 962g

Specialized Tire Combinations by Riding Type and Use

All that information is well and good, but what Specialized tire combination should you run? Here's a handy cheat-sheet to help get you started.

XC Race Tire Combos

Light-weight

  • Front - Renegade S-Works
  • Rear - Renegade S-Works

All-around

  • Front - Fast Trak S-Works
  • Rear - Renegade S-Works

Maximum Traction

  • Front - Ground Control S-Works
  • Rear - Fast Trak S-Works

XC Trail / Downcountry Tire Combos

All-around

  • Front - Ground Control Control
  • Rear - Fast Trak Control

Maximum Traction

  • Front - Purgatory GRID
  • Rear Ground Control GRID

Trail Riding Tire Combos

All-around (fast)

  • Front - Eliminator GRID
  • Rear - Eliminator GRID

All-around (grip)

  • Front - Butcher GRID
  • Rear - Eliminator GRID

Maximum Traction

  • Front - Butcher GRID TRAIL
  • Rear - Eliminator GRID TRAIL

Enduro / Downhill Tire Combos

All-around

  • Butcher GRID GRAVITY
  • Eliminator GRID GRAVITY

Maximum Traction

  • Hillbilly GRID GRAVITY
  • Butcher GRID GRAVITY

Hit up Specialized.com for more information.

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