REVIEW: e*thirteen Grappler Tire 8

e*thirteen latest and most aggressive tire checks all the boxes for riders demanding maximum grip, support, and control in various conditions.

If you've gone to buy tires in the past year, you might have noticed an obvious choice in rubber no longer exists. Sure, Maxxis may still hold the top spot for mass popularity, but there are a boatload of kickass tires in the market that offer class-leading performance. One such brand that has steadily gained popularity is e*thirteen. Since introducing tires in 2016, they have continued evolving their casings, compounds, and tread designs while growing a reputation for grippy, reliable tires. The latest culmination of their engineering efforts came in June with the release of the Grappler tire. Designed to excel in the most aggressive riding application, we spent the back half of summer smashing up and down the west coast to see how e*thirteen's newest creation performs. 

Highlights

  • Intended for steep, aggressive terrain
  • Available in 27.5 or 29-inch
  • 2.5-inch width only
  • Two casing options: Downhill dual-ply 72tpi // Enduro dual-ply 120tpi (tested)
  • Two compound options: MoPo ultimate grip (tested) // Endurance dual compound
  • Apex advanced sidewall protection
  • Wide center knobs with parallel siping for a stable grip
  • Intermediate transition kob provides grip when leaning between center and side knobs
  • Accordion siped side lugs with arched cutaways for increased flexibility
  • Weight: 1269g (as tested: 29-inch, EN casing, MoPo compound)
  • MSRP: $59.95 - $69.95 USD (casing and compound dependant) 

Strengths

Weaknesses

  • Exceptional braking bite provides control in steep sections
  • Sticky, slow-rebounding rubber latches onto loose soil
  • Stable tire that maintains a line and does not get pulled away in ruts, roots, or rocks 
  • Predictable cornering traction thanks to the smooth transition from center knobs to side lugs
  • No drastic fall off of traction the further you lean over
  • Stiff sidewalls allow for lower tire pressures without fear of tire roll or burping air
  • Slow rolling on low-angle trails
  • Aggressive tire requires aggressive terrain to maximize its abilities
  • Only available in heavier casings

Grappler Overview

Being over six years into designing and manufacturing tires, we don't think of e*thirteen as a new player in the tire game. We've tested and compared many of their past models with positive outcomes and expected no-less from the Grappler since it shares or builds on many of e*thirteen's existing technologies. 

The Grappler was designed to withstand the roughest, most technical terrain under riders with little mercy for their equipment. Downhill, enduro, or eMTB are the obvious intended uses, but regardless of the bike you ride, the Grappler should only be a consideration if you prioritize traction, protection, and support over other factors like weight and rolling speed. e*thirteen doesn't exactly specify what type of conditions the Grappler is optimized for, but we feel confident saying it's best for variable soil conditions, from deep and soft, to loose over hardpack. We wouldn't label the Grappler as a mud or wet weather tire since the knobs are abundant, relatively flat, and not excessively tall. 

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Before everyone goes wild in the comments, yes, the Grappler has a familiar tread design. However, it is far from the same as anything else in the market, and sharing similarities with popular designs that perform well makes complete sense to us. How many bikes out there use a four-bar linkage design? The tread layout can be split into three sections:

  • The large, blocked center knobs
  • The pyramid-shaped transition knob
  • The aggressive side lugs 

The center knobs have a minimal ramp on the wide leading edge that acts as an anchor, biting into soil under braking and on steep pitches. Parallel siping on alternating rows keeps the knobs stable when transitioning between corners, and the generous spacing allows each lug to maximize grip and make contact with the ground.  

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The pyramid-shaped transition knobs hold the important role of maintaining traction between the center and shoulder lugs. This becomes ever-important when you are only slightly leaning the bike over and not fully engaging the side lugs. Once fully leaned over, the accordion siped side lugs have harsh edges to claw their way into rough terrain. Every other side lug features an arched side cutaway to allow for increased flex and less deflection, and the overall size of the lugs was designed to reduce fold-over in turns.

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Out of e*thirteen's six casing options, the Grappler is only available in their Enduro and Gravity casings. The Enduro casing uses a dual-ply 120tpi construction, while the DH casing uses a dual-ply 72tpi construction. Both casing feature an Apex sidewall insert for increased pinch flat protection and sidewall stability; however, the DH apex is thicker and taller than the Enduro. As for compound, the Grappler is only available in e*thirteen's MoPo and Endurance Compound. The MoPo compound is their softest and tackiest option, using a 42a rubber. The Endurance uses a dual compound construction with 50a, medium-tack rubber side lugs, and fast-rolling, wear-resistant rubber center knobs.     

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To keep things simple, e*thirteen only offers the Grappler in a 2.5-inch width for both 27.5 and 29-inch wheels, a decision that makes sense for a tire of this caliber. Depending on the casing and compound chosen, a 29-inch tire weighs between 1225-1405g, and a 27.5-inch tire weighs between 1150-1315g. We tested the Grappler with the Enduro casing and MoPo compound on 29-inch wheels and weighed one tire at 1269g. Our test tires retail for $69.95 USD, but riders can pick up a Grappler in the Endurance compound for $59.95 USD.

On The Trail

To test a tire that should compliment the craziest descents, we tossed our set of Grappler's on in the parking lot of Whistler the day before Crankworx started. Whistler has no shortage of ego-crushing trails, and we always find ourselves perched atop rock slab chutes wondering how life got us to this point. This year, Whistler was drier than ever, with lots of small rocks crawling to the top of the hardpack trails, mixed in with endless dusty braking bumps. After ten days in Whistler, we spent two days in Squamish with e*thirteen Product Manager Dennis Beare, sampling the variety of trails in the area. You've probably seen plenty of clips of riders skidding down dark-gray Squamish slabs, and we wasted no time getting the local treatment on a mix of classic, well-known trails and deep, sneaky lines. 

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The remainder of testing took place in southern California under the usual dry, rocky, sandy, and loose over hardpack conditions. We never had the opportunity to ride in wet or muddy conditions. However, based on our experience with similar tread designs, we assume the Grappler can hold its own in slippery conditions up to a certain point. e*thirteen doesn't market the Grappler as a mud tire, and with tightly packed knobs, the tread design will tend to pack up faster than a tire designed for deep, loose soil or mud. 

Reviewing a tire can be tricky since personal preference plays such a significant role. Ask a few of your friends which tire is their favorite, and watch as your pie chart of which tire to buy next slowly grows. So who should consider the Grappler? The key takeaway from testing was that the Grappler had no problem providing fist fulls of grip, traction, and stopping power and prospered most on heavily gravity-fed trails.   

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We never bombed into a section and thought to ourselves, "Oh crap, we aren't going to make the tight corner at the bottom of this chute!" The Grappler offered exceptional traction in various soil conditions with a predictable nature that made it easy to ride aggressively. Due to the wide center knobs, the tire has a flat profile that creates a large contact patch with the ground. On descents with lots of rocks, angled roots, and loose topsoil, this profile allowed the tire to maintain a line without feeling like it was getting sucked in different directions. The center knobs also have a sharp, squared-off leading edge, providing excellent braking control. Unfortunately, the lack of any ramp on the leading edge matched with the Grappler's wide footprint did hinder rolling speed. 

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In Whistler and Squamish, we never noticed the tires bogging us down, but once in San Diego and riding low-angle trails, the Grappler rolled noticeably slow. Climbing speed never felt affected, and we could see the Grappler being a great eMTB rear tire due to the lack of center ramping.  

Our favorite characteristic of the Grappler was the smooth transition of grip from the center knobs to the side lugs. Even though the tire has a flatter profile in the middle, the small transition knobs provide continuous grip as you lean the bike over. Through flat corners, off-camber straight-aways, or turns that lacked a berm, the Grappler found traction unlike many tires we've ridden.

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Once committed to leaning on the side lugs, the support and hold were outstanding. We never had an issue with the lugs folding under force and found traction would predictably fade as we leaned over further. There is nothing worse than tires with side knobs that, at a certain point, give up holding traction. With the Grappler, that vital moment when the tire breaks loose with the ground was consistent, expected, and easy to gauge. We always had time to put out a foot or shift our weight to maintain grip. The downside to not having a harsh drop-off in traction was an increased difficulty breaking the Grappler loose into a drift or sliding our bike around tight switchbacks. But if we had to pick one, we would always prefer extra cornering grip.

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We didn't conduct any fancy durometer tests, but pressing our fingernail into the MoPo compound resulted in a gummy, slow rebound that rivaled our trusted Maxxis 3C MaxxGrip compound. Beyond allowing the tire to mold and latch onto the slipperiest of top soils, the soft compound gave the Grappler a damp and planted ride quality on chattery trails. As for durability, our rear tire is showing an average amount of wear after a few months of use on hardpack, rocky dirt. But to be honest, if we are reaching for a brand's softest rubber compound, we care more about grip than longevity. Riders looking to maximize their tires' life should consider e*thirteen's Endurance compound.

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Rear tire - Day #5
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Rear tire - 3 months later

The Enduro casing did its name justice during testing, providing plenty of sidewall stiffness at a reasonable weight. As a reference, the Enduro casing uses the same dual-play 120tpi construction as a Maxxis DoubleDown casing. We tested the Grappler at pressures ranging from 23-27psi in the front and 27-31psi in the rear. Regardless of pressure differences, we found the Grappler provided a sturdy feel under aggressive riding. The only noticeable difference was a change in rolling efficiency, with less tire pressure further compounding the Grappler's already poor rolling speed. 

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As for protection, on the third day of testing, we did experience a rear puncture riding Top of the World in Whistler. The puncture occurred between knobs towards the edge of the tire and eventually held air after inserting some tire plugs. Unfortunately, the plugs didn't hold the next day as the hole had grown too large.

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If you've ridden the infamous trail that drops from the peak of Whistler into the valley below, you'll know the top portion is a minefield of sharp rocks, and it's a roll of the dice whether or not you escape with your tires still inflated. We weren't shocked to flat an enduro casing tire here, and we can't discount the casing too much since the other Grappler tires we tested have since withstood three months of abuse without issue. 

Things That Could Be Improved

We really enjoyed riding the Grappler, enough so that we tossed them on our 145mm travel Santa Cruz Hightower towards the end of testing. Switching from Maxxis' EXO casing to the e*thirteen's Enduro casing magnified the weight of the Grappler and made us yearn for a lighter version. We would love to see e*thirteen expand the Grappler casing options to include their lightest Trail casing in the future. In addition, we mentioned above how the lack of a ramped leading edge on the center knobs does hinder rolling speed, especially on flatter trails. Even though most riders who choose the Grappler will be attacking terrain with enough pitch to overcome the tire's inefficiencies, if e*thirteen did add a Trail casing option with some ramped knobs, that would create one kickass, trail-focused tire. Grappler TR, coming 2023? 

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What's The Bottom Line?

The Grappler should quickly jump to the top of your 'next tire to buy' list if you ride fast, steep, chunky, and demanding trails and desire a stable and durable tire with endless traction in various soil conditions. The tread design offers a predictable and consistent ride over technical terrain, with exceptional braking bite and cornering grip that promotes hard-charging riding. As long as you aren't too focused on counting grams or having the fastest rolling tire, for only $70 USD, it will be hard to beat the performance of e*thirteen's Grappler.

For more information about e*thirteen's Grappler tire, please visit ethirteencomponents.com


Tested by Jason Schroeder

Age: 27 // Years Riding MTB: 16 // Height: 6-feet (182cm) // Weight: 175-pounds (79.3kg)

A once-upon-a-time World Cup downhill racer turned desk jockey, Jason has spent years within the bicycle industry from both sides of the tape. A fan of all day adventures in the saddle or flowing around a bowl at the skatepark, he doesn't discriminate from any form of two wheeled riding. A SoCal native who doesn't spend too much time in any single place, you can find Jason camped out in his van most weekends somewhere on the West Coast. 

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