Kenda Hellkat Tire

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Tested: Kenda Hellkat and Helldiver Tires

Following significant development efforts with the likes of Mick Hannah, Kenda is back on track.

Rating: Vital Review
Tested: Kenda Hellkat and Helldiver Tires

There was a time when riding Kenda tires was a rite of passage in a mountain biker’s life. The Kenda Nevegal or Small Block 8 could be found at just about every trailhead. More recently, however, Kenda had fallen out of favor with riders as development seemed to stagnate while new tires and technologies from companies like Schwalbe, Maxxis, e*thirteen, and even in-house brands proved to be great options.

Upon signing with with Polygon UR World Cup downhill team it was only a matter of time until Kenda produced a new aggressive tread. Their latest effort takes shape with the recent release of the Hellkat and Helldiver tires – the former being a Read More »

There was a time when riding Kenda tires was a rite of passage in a mountain biker’s life. The Kenda Nevegal or Small Block 8 could be found at just about every trailhead. More recently, however, Kenda had fallen out of favor with riders as development seemed to stagnate while new tires and technologies from companies like Schwalbe, Maxxis, e*thirteen, and even in-house brands proved to be great options.

Upon signing with with Polygon UR World Cup downhill team it was only a matter of time until Kenda produced a new aggressive tread. Their latest effort takes shape with the recent release of the Hellkat and Helldiver tires – the former being a front or rear tire and the latter aimed squarely at riders seeking a semi-slick option. Read on to find out how these new tires performed.

Strengths

  • Predictable handling
  • Good tread life and wear patterns
  • Lighter than many competing 2-ply downhill tires
  • Good tubeless compatibility with easy mounting
  • Great ride quality at slightly lower pressures than usual
  • Hellkat - Plenty of confidence braking and cornering in blown-out soil
  • Hellkat - Consistent grip across all surfaces
  • Helldiver - Fast rolling
  • Helldiver - Generous corner knobs hook up well

Weaknesses

  • Casing is vulnerable to pinching/slicing
  • Hellkat - Relatively slow rolling
  • Hellkat - Less outright grip than competitors
  • Helldiver - Struggled to find traction in dusty sections

Kenda Hellkat Features

  • DH and enduro tire designed for all-around performance
  • Sizing: 27.5x2.4"
  • Compound: Race Stick-E Rubber (RSR) dual-layer compound (55/62a)
  • Casing: Advanced Gravity Casing (AGC)
  • Bead: Wire
  • Tubeless ready
  • 60 TPI
  • Weight: 1,170g claimed // 1,200g actual
  • MSRP: $79.95

Kenda Helldiver Features

  • DH and enduro tire with low rolling resistance
  • Sizing: 27.5x2.4"
  • Compound: Race Stick-E Rubber (RSR) dual-layer compound (55/62a)
  • Casing: Advanced Gravity Casing (AGC)
  • Bead: Folding kevlar
  • Tubeless ready
  • 60 TPI
  • Weight: 985g claimed // 950g actual
  • MSRP: $84.95

Initial Impressions

At first glance, the intended purpose of the Hellkat and Helldiver tires are obvious. The Hellkat is clearly intended and marketed as an aggressive all-conditions tire. Kenda states that it has been "optimized for a wide range of conditions balancing traction, handling and rolling speed." Comparatively speaking, the cornering knobs are similar in shape to a Maxxis Minion, although slightly taller and quite stiff. The center knobs are similar in shape to the Schwalbe Magic Mary, though slightly shorter and smaller, and the lugs are more closely spaced.

The Helldiver, on the other hand, has a much narrower focus as a fast rolling option. At less than 1,000g, it's a lightweight option designed with DH and enduro racers in mind for courses where rolling speed is more critical than outright grip. Cornering knobs are uniform, unlike the Hellkat which utilizes two shapes, and the low-profile center tread suggest that the Helldiver should corner consistently and roll well.

Both tires use Kenda's DH and enduro focused AGC casing. The red-colored strips shown in the renderings above are Iron Cloak Belts (ICB ) which protect the tread area from punctures. The orange layers are Kenda Vector Shields (KVS) which are woven sheets of aramid fibers offering a claimed "285% higher cut resistance than standard protective materials. This allows for a reduction in the casing weight by up to 200 grams when compared to traditional 2-ply downhill casings." Finally, the blue-colored 20mm tall apex helps prevent pinch flats and burping.

Rubber wise, the tires feature a dual-layer compound with the softer 55a Race Stick-E Rubber (RSR) on top and stiffer 62a Standard Rubber Compound (SRC) on bottom. The SRC layer is said to "serve as the hard foundation for the softer RSR layer to push against. The result is a compound that provides better control and lasts longer than previous versions."

When our tires arrived trail conditions in Squamish, BC were quite dry so we elected to utilize the Helldiver for the rear, saving our second Hellkat for the wetter months. Out of the box the casing and beads (one wire and one kevlar) were quite stiff, yet the tires still popped onto our WTB Asym i29 TCS rims without any issues. We had no problem with tubeless sealant bleeding through the sidewall, and we were off and rolling within a few minutes.

Paired with a 29mm inner width rim, the Hellkat has a more square profile compared to previous Kenda offerings, which we hoped would provide better cornering bite versus a rounder profile. Volume wise, the 2.4-inch Hellkat has a similar volume to Maxxis Wide Trail tires. We also noted that the Helldiver's profile is more round than the Hellkat.

On The Trail

With a significant amount of input from the Polygon UR team, we were keen to see how the Hellkat and Helldiver tires would perform on our local terrain. Both were designed with World Cup DH and Enduro World Series races in mind, and the Hellkat had seen several podium appearances under Mick/Tracey Hannah plus a World Cup win in Lourdes by Alex Fayolle, so we anticipated that they’d be up to just about anything we could throw at them.

Our first ride with the Hellkat/Helldiver setup was in the Whistler Bike Park aboard a 2018 Kona Process 153 CR/DL. On hardpack trails, the tall Hellkat cornering knobs do not squirm as much as we anticipated, and the center tread is also solid under hard braking. Through loose conditions (i.e. Detroit Rock City's rock slab to sandbox runout) the Hellkat digs in well, providing plenty of confidence braking and cornering in blown-out soil.

Riders who like the feeling of the rear tire drifting a little more easily will enjoy the Helldiver as a rear tire. Traction breaks away predictably, and once fully committed to a lean angle the generous cornering knobs hook up well.

As expected, the low knobs of the Helldiver struggled to find traction in dusty sections, and while they are certainly not ideal they performed well enough that they weren’t a liability. Riders who like the feeling of the rear tire drifting a little more easily will enjoy the Helldiver as a rear tire. Traction breaks away predictably, and once fully committed to a lean angle the generous cornering knobs hook up well.

The AGC casing design provided great ride quality at lower pressures than usual, but felt a little bit harsh at our typical pressures of 26psi in the front and 28psi in the rear. We found that we could safely lower pressures beyond what we usually run without burping, however our 185-pound tester found the sidewalls began to squirm once dropping below 22/24psi.

The Hellkat provided consistent grip across all surfaces, just as advertised. It isn’t outstanding anywhere, but it's solid and predictable everywhere.

On typical trail rides we found that the Hellkat provided consistent grip across all surfaces, just as advertised. It isn’t outstanding anywhere, but it's solid and predictable everywhere. The Hellkat seemed more at home in the bike park than on our local singletrack, where conditions are far more variable from day to day.

For the last two months we’ve been riding the Hellkat front and rear. On softer soil it behaves similarly to the Maxxis Minion DHRII, but with slightly less traction overall. We were able to ride our typical loops with as little as 21/23psi to increase traction in the wet, but we still found that there are other options that inspire more confidence for riding in Squamish. The Hellkat sheds mud better than most all-arounders, though not as well as a Maxxis Shorty or Schwalbe Magic Mary.

Compared to tires like the Maxxis Minion DHRII, the Hellkat rolls noticeably slower. That said, the Hellkat is the best Kenda DH/enduro tire we've ridden to date.

Compared to tires like the Maxxis Minion DHRII, the Hellkat rolls noticeably slower. That said, the Hellkat is the best Kenda DH/enduro tire we've ridden to date. Kenda seems to be back on track.

Long Term Durability

The dual-layer RSR rubber compound wears well. After a significant amount of riding there is only minor scuffing on the cornering knobs, and the center tread has only worn to the point where the siping has disappeared. Compared to the competition, it has a similar lifespan. The cornering knobs wear similarly to a Maxxis Minion, scuffing instead of tearing. Traction hasn’t been affected to any large degree at this point.

Things That Could Be Improved

We are cautious to say that the sidewalls aren’t up to the task since they survived so long and we were able to run slightly reduced pressures, but we have to wonder whether the KVS sidewalls could use a little more material, even at the expense of added weight. When tires are close to 1,000 grams we’re willing to add another hundred if it means we can remain worry free through the most heinous of rock sections. Unfortunately we managed to slice the sidewall of our front tire while shooting the photos seen in this review. Upon closer inspection we also noted that the rear sidewall had a significant abrasion that appeared to have been sealed by tubeless liquid. Another Vital tester reported a pinched casing in the area where there's a gap between the protective ICB and KVS (red and orange) strips.

The Hellkat is a great tire as is with the RSR compound, but we feel that an even grippier option would be an asset. The tread definitely has potential, but we would like to see a slightly softer compound for front tire use or as a race tire where longevity isn’t as much of a concern.

What's The Bottom Line?

Kenda has made some serious headway with the Hellkat and Helldiver tires. Their collaboration with the Polygon UR team plus the Hannah siblings’ wealth of experience has certainly paid off with the creation of two solid new options. With some additional refinement to sidewall protection and a grippier rubber compound, the Hellkat could become a fan favorite. As is, the tires wear well with decent grip and predictable handling.

Visit bicycle.kendatire.com for more details.

Vital MTB Hellkat Rating: 3.5 stars - Very Good

Vital MTB Helldiver Rating: 3.5 stars - Very Good


About The Reviewer

Joel Harwood - Age: 33 // Years Riding MTB: 20+ // Height: 5'11" (1.80m) // Weight: 185-pounds (83.9kg)

Joel spends his time playing in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia. If he isn’t coaching he can be found tinkering in the garage or messing about at the pump track. He dabbles in all types of racing, but is happiest simply exploring the limitless trail networks of the Pacific Northwest. Attention to detail, time in the saddle, and an aggressive riding style make Joel a rider that demands the most from his products.

Photos by Jessie McAuley and Fred Robinson

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Specifications

Product Kenda Hellkat Tire
Riding Type Downhill, Freeride, Trail
Wheel Size 27.5" (650b)
Tire Width 2.4 inches
Tubeless Compatible Tubeless ready
Bead Wire
Durometer RSR dual-layer compound
Sidewall Advanced Gravity Casing (AGC)
Weight 2 lb 9.3 oz (1170 g)
Miscellaneous Gravity and enduro tire made for a wide range of conditions balancing traction, handling, and rolling speed. Kenda Vector Shield (KVS) and Iron Cloak Belt (ICB) help prevent cuts and punctures. 20mm apex reduces the chance of pinch flats or burping.
Price $79.95
More Info

​Kenda website

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