Specialized has launched a new race-specific downhill tire, it's not just a new tread and construction but also signifies a change of development and manufacturing process for Specialized's tires. The Cannibal will be the first tire to be manufactured in Specialized's partnered tire factories which should allow more control over design, manufacturing, and quality control.
The existing Butcher is available in a downhill casing but it wasn't necessarily what the fastest riders were looking for when racing. Specialized admits that its downhill team would use competitor's tires in the past as up until now there hasn't had a downhill race-specific tire within its range.
Specialized's goal was to make the best mountain bike tire possible for downhill mountain biking, taking elements from existing tires and seeing where improvements could be made. The brand new tire was designed with the help of Loic Bruni, Finn Iles, and Chris Gric from the Specialized Gravity Team, combining Specialized's T9 compound with a brand new tread and re-evaluated carcass.
The T9 compound isn't new and has already impressed us when we tested Specialized's Butcher T9 Grid Trail. The rubber has not only been developed to be soft but also slow rebounding, not only improving traction but also control.
Tire patterns have begun to converge somewhat yet Specialized's new Cannibal tread is still fairly unique. The tread pattern has three repeating center knobs layouts featuring a broad center knob, a pair of smaller deeply sipped knobs followed by another two wider knobs with more deeply sipped knobs. The shoulder knobs are very large as well, interchanging between 'L' and square blocks. The larger blocks were chosen for better cornering support at high speed and they have broad edges for increased traction. Based on rider feedback there is minimal sipping to help maintain the structure of the knobs, with only some blocks in the center tread getting a single deep sip to improve braking performance. Specialized says that the tread pattern works on both the front and the rear and the Cannibal will only be available in a 2.4-inch width for 29 or 27.5 wheel sizes.
It's important to stress that Specialized has developed this tire for extremely aggressive riding and world cup downhill racing. The result is that the large blocks and heavily damped rubber will ride best when it's hitting terrain hard so lighter or slower riders are not going to get the best from this tire.
The pro riders also had a lot of input when it came to the carcass of the tire. The Cannibal uses Specialized's 2-ply 60dpi Grid Gravity casing which is combined with a rubber Apex around the tire bead to support the bead during side loads and pinch flats. Specialized put a lot of work into this Apex layer in order to maintain flexibility of the tire whilst still offering the desired levels of protection. Specialized claims that by fine-tuning the shape, material, and position it was able to improvements to predictability and handling. Specialized says that this new construction is stronger than the previous Black Diamond casing too and is more similar to the older Specialized downhill tires.
The tires have already been tested on the World Cup circuit but will see their first official outing at Fort William this weekend.
Specialized says that both the 29 and 27.5 tires will be available to buy from launch and will retail for $80/£50.