Whether or not you think downcountry is an actual thing, the type of terrain that's somewhere between XC and trail certainly is. Straddling between two riding genres is difficult, particularly for tire manufacturers who are at odds with balancing speed, durability, and grip, throw in cost and it becomes even more complicated.
Many of the best MTB tire manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon, producing fast-rolling trail-sized tires for the ever-growing range of 120mm-ish bikes. Budget tire manufacturer American Classic has come out with their own which were released last year along with a new range of trail and enduro tires. The Mauka’s $45 price tag is sure to draw a lot of interest, but can they match the performance of tires that are considerably more expensive?
Design and Specifications
American Classic boasts being able to offer hand-made tires at an affordable price thanks to their direct-to-consumer model. They also only sell a limited number of sizes and options which helps keep costs down. The Mauka comes in only one 29er construction and two widths, most downcountry riders will opt for the 2.4in tire, but there is also a 2.25 size which is presumably aimed at aggressive cross-country riding.
American Classic has used the same single Rubberforce G compound that is featured on their out-and-out XC tires and gravel tires too. This is paired with their Stage TR-L casing which is a lower-weight version of their Stage TR Armor trail casing. The construction features a 60tpi casing and a 60tpi skin, which they say keeps weight lower yet maintains stability.
The tread pattern is widely spaced without a defined central tread block or arrow pattern that is often found on other fast-rolling trail/XC tires like Hutchinson Kraken or Schwalbe Wicked Will. The tread pattern looks most similar to the Maxxis Forekaster using pairs of alternating size and shape blocks, minus Maxxis’ centrally positioned knob. The shoulder treads are reasonably pronounced to give plenty of corner-leaning confidence. There is plenty of siping on all the treads to help them deform to the terrain, with the center siping switching between horizontal and vertical in order to balance turning and braking grip.
The sub-1kg weight isn't bad considering the price point is at least 50 percent cheaper than many of Mauka’s competitors. Equivalent tires that are double the price are struggling to save any more than 100g over the Maukas.
The Maukas weren’t the easiest tires to get seated on the rim, when they did eventually pop into place the seal wasn’t perfect, so until the sealant found its way onto all the gaps, they slowly lost pressure. My review samples had a bit of tire wobble as well. This is an issue I have seen with other American Classic tires and while it's not enough to affect the tire's performance, it's still disappointing that American Classic hasn't resolved this manufacturing issue yet.
Straight away the Mauka felt quick, they hum along efficiently if you are doing a bit of trailhead commuting and certainly wouldn't feel like too much of a drag on big mileage days either. They climb well too, the horizontally oriented knobs do a good job of digging into the ground and pushing you up the hill and they carry speed on faster sections well.
If you are regularly riding in the dry, the speedy feel will easily outweigh the lack of traction in the wet. On dry descents, the tread pattern feels very predictable when carving through hard pack or loose corners and the tires inject a load of speed to smooth and flowy trail center riding. The minimal tread is still able to find an impressive amount of braking adhesion on hard or soft trail conditions too, giving the confidence to push the a bit harder.
When railing turns they felt stable enough to be run at low 20psi pressures, although they don’t benefit from much of a damped or floaty ride feel. I found myself opting to run them a little harder to fully capitalize on their energetic nature.
In the wet, the well-spaced tread does an earnest job of shedding mud and they hook up well within reason. I found they really struggled when it came to traversing and braking on wet roots and rocks so you have to be particularly wary not to get caught out on soggy sniper roots and rocks that otherwise go unnoticed.
Trails with a lot of rocks and roots are a bit problematic even when they are not wet. I suffered a number of punctures during testing. While a couple of the bigger ones could be attributed to general riding wear and tear, other smaller ones seemed less warranted.
The tires are covered by American Classic’s quality assurance program and although the two-year warranty won't cover any punctures, there is a Road Hazard Replacement Program which offers 50 percent off the MSRP replacement program that covers all punctured or torn American Classic tires that no longer hold air – though the program runs in the US, Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands only.
American Classic’s Mauka is a fast-rolling downcountry tire that has a really lively ride feel and is a proper energy booster for anyone who is used to riding more trial-orientated tires. They don’t seem to sacrifice too much traction either and the sharp handling and stable cornering are perfect for fast and smooth flow trails, whether hardback, loose over hard, or softer conditions.
While I've had great experiences with American Classics gravel tires, the Maukas wobble, difficult initial setting up, wet rook and root weaknesses, and a proneness to punctures means they aren’t as good value as they initially appear either.
Tech specs: American Classic Mauka tire
- Price: $45
- Sizes: 29 x 2.4in, 29 x 2.25in
- Weight: 940g