Specialized’s Butcher and Purgatory tires have been its go-to enduro/trail combo for several years but they’d fallen behind the curve in terms of control. The new slow rebound T9 rubber compound option and Trail Grid carcass massively improves connection, control and confidence in most conditions we’ve tried to rank it up among the best aggro options. Tire options are very limited though and not all countries are getting the tire yet.
Specialized has been working on its new trail tires for three years, teaming up with a different manufacturer to the previous tires to create a new Grid Trail Carcass. This includes an added ‘floating’ protective layer of cross-ply folded into the 60tpi triple-ply carcass under the full width of the tread (existing Grid just has reinforced sidewalls). The Specialized tire team also partnered with a specialist rubber compounding company, working through 7-8 final phase formulations of a 15 ingredient recipe to really dial in the new T9 mix. The result is a slow rebound recipe of polymers and other additives creating a low durometer rating that’s comparable with the stickiest compounds from Maxxis. Interestingly (okay maybe to only real tire sniffers) that’s harder than the surface skin of the pre-Gripton Butchers from around five years ago but Specialized says it’s the damping ability, not the durometer number, that’s the important thing here.
To be honest we didn’t get off to the best start with the T9 thanks to sudden slip issues on the first damp/greasy roots of autumn at the Scottish launch of Specialized's Stumpjumper Evo (it uses the T9 as standard). The more time we’ve put into the tire (and once it’s had the silicon release compound worn off) we’ve regrown confidence with every subsequent ride through the rest of winter. The damping effect of the tire is even obvious when you drop an unmounted wheel, with its deadening bounce like a zero recoil mallet compared to higher energy tires or even benchmarks like the Schwalbe Magic Mary Addix Soft. It blows up generously wide for a 2.3in tire too and pops into place easily without needing to overpressured to seat it in place. At just over a kilo they’re a reasonable weight and while they sound audibly sticky on the road they actually roll well enough to add serious confidence on extended XC rides without too much cursing on the climbs. It’s worth noting the damped feel will unsurprisingly kill the springy, sprightly vibe of a whippy lightweight bike, but roll-down tests will show they’re still bearably efficient. We’ve had no punctures, split or scrub issues on the front or rear either.
The performance is obvious straight away on the trail too, with a real ‘you’ve added a couple of clicks of rebound/fitted a damper upgrade to your fork’ character compared to the previously clattery Grid tires. The new layering arrangement in the tire means that while they’re definitely dull rather than springy in feel but there’s none of the very pressure-sensitive jarrings on really rough or sudden impacts and it doesn’t crumple or fold suddenly if you drop pressures low.
The harder you slam through rocks and roots or the better they get in terms of confidence rewriting control and unerring grip. We’ve (initially apprehensively) swapped them with Maxxis, Schwalbe and Bontrager benchmarks on both hefty long travel E-bikes and flat-out fast enduro racers and they’ve easily matched or exceeded the composure and traction of the original tires.
While they look very similar to something like a Schwalbe Magic Mary, there is a lot of flex in the body of the side knobs so we thought they might fold and let go suddenly under high cornering loads. Ripping them round the concrete hard bucket berms and rutted flat corners of the recent tundra weather on our test trails still didn’t reveal any vices though, just vast amounts of snarling grip. Unsurprisingly they mold and grab rooty/rock surfaces extremely well in less dynamic situations like slow-speed techy descents or picking your way through roots and green rocks. Unlike a lot of soft compound tires they don’t seem to go off in really cold conditions either and they’ve stayed sticky even when the trails clearly aren’t.
We’ve not had a chance to test them in hot summer or loose and loamy conditions so we can’t call their grip stability or wear rates in those situations. We’ll be keeping them as things heat up and dry up though so check back later for an update. They’re not the most aggressive tread for full slop either (and the softer knobs don’t help when you want the fang-like penetration of soccer boot studs) but the much toothier Hill Billy gets T9 options now too.
Butcher T9 and a T9/T7 compound mix Eliminator are also available in a new, super-tough two-ply Grid Gravity casing that we’ll hopefully be testing soon. There are currently no other T9 or T9/T7 options on the Grid Trail wrap though and some countries (including the UK) don’t offer the Butcher aftermarket yet either.
Speaking of Eliminator we’ve also had the single (unchanged) harder T7 compound Grid Trail version on the back of most bikes we’ve been using the T9 Butcher on. Unsurprisingly grip and stick aren’t remarkable, but it’s predictably average in most conditions. It definitely feels more ‘high energy’ though for adding pop and easier rolling to the back of the bike too, while still offering enhanced protection thanks to the Grid Trail carcass. In other words not remarkable in its own right, but a very good partner for the Butcher T9 upfront. Matching graphic colors will please collar and cuff fans too and the T9 is no more expensive than the T7 tires (dual compound are $10 more).
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We’ve not had a chance to ride the Butcher T9 in summer or deep loam yet, so the soft side knobs and lazy rebound rubber might still have some surprises for us. It’s not a full mud tire either. In every other situation though our initial slip and slide scares have been replaced with totally unshakeable traction and ultra damped suspension enhancing control in a wide range of wet, dry, ice XC to dark black tech conditions. They do it with bearable roll, easy inflation and a reasonable weight too, making lack of options and availability in some countries our only current complaint.