By: Ken Blakey-Shell
Let me just get to the point and tell you that these tires are the BEST! They are light (for a 3” 29er tire), the tread design rolls well, grips like a slot car in most cases, seems to have good durability and has awesome tubeless characteristics. If you are shopping for 29er+ tires, I heartily recommend the Bontrager Chupacabra. I am already way ahead of myself so let me delve into some details.
If you are interested in specs and how the tires set up tubeless, check out the product spotlight I wrote up near the end of October after a couple weeks of using the tires. Since initially mounting up the tires I have seen very little casing stretch so all the dimensions listed in that article still hold true and the tubeless performance has remained excellent with no bead stretch issues which can make it tougher to mount them up with a floor pump.
I have spent around 6 weeks on these tires now and have been able to ride them in a wide range of conditions so I feel like I have been able to get a really good assessment of their performance. When I first got these tires I was able to slip in a couple rides in Northern Michigan on my home trails before the leaves started dropping in earnest. This gave me a good comparison to the Surly Knard, Vee Tire Trax Fatty and Maxxis Chronicle which I had been riding throughout the summer. The leaves then dropped, the rains came and I then did a fair amount of slippery leaf and mud riding with them. Around Thanksgiving I had the opportunity to head down to North Central Florida for a week and was able to get in a lot of miles on their buff singletrack with a few rocks and roots thrown in there. Throughout it all, the Chupacabras have performed as well or better as any other 29er+ option I have been on.
The Chupacabra rolls well with low rolling resistance. On the road it does hum a bit but nothing too extreme. It is hard to tell if they are quite as good rolling resistance-wise as the Knard and Trax Fatty which are both excellent rolling tires but if the Chupacabra gives anything up, it isn’t much.
Traction has been excellent in a wide range of conditions. In normal dry, buff singletrack the drive and braking traction is excellent but all four of these tire options do pretty well in those conditions. Cornering in dry conditions is excellent and rivals the Chronicle. For more hard pack type conditions the Chupacabra seems to be the best cornering tire going but if you get into softer or leafier conditions the tall, sharp knobs of the Chronicle sink in deeper and find a bit more traction. That said, right at the ragged edge of sticking vs. drifting in a corner, the Chupacabra tends to be a bit more “user friendly” than the Chronicle and allows you to feather the edge more easily. There are no weird or quirky aspects to the handling like I have found with the Knard and Trax Fatty.
Wet conditions are where the Chupacabra shines compared to the competition. The widely spaced knobs shed mud well and I had no issues with them packing up in even thick, heavy mud and snow. The Chronicle comes closest in this regard but it only sheds mud well in the side knob area making it corner well but ends up with poor drive/braking traction. None of the tires have very big knobs to hang onto wet roots and rocks but at least with the Chupacabra it is rubber on root/rock compared to having a layer of mud in between.
Durability has been excellent with the Chupacabras. The knobs do not seem to be wearing quickly and there are not chunks missing out of any of the knobs. There are no threads showing on the sidewalls of the Chupacabras and as previously mentioned, there has been no measurable casing stretch even though they have been tubeless throughout the duration of the test period.
Bontrager also provided their TLR Sealant with the tires. I can’t say I gave the sealant a full and proper test due to the duration of use but so far I have had great success with it. I have had no flats or other issues during the test period and the couple times I have cracked open the tires I have seen no visible reduction in the quantity of sealant indicating that it isn’t evaporating very quickly leaving me with “Stans monsters” bouncing around inside my tires. I have been a consistent Stans user for years but Bontrager really seems to have dialed in their tubeless system so I am very interested in seeing how their sealant works over a longer period.
The bottomline in regards to the Chupacabra is that it is the best 29er+ tire available for the vast majority of conditions. They are comparatively light weight, have excellent tubeless characteristics and are a wonderful allrounder tire on the trail. If you need something more burly, the Chronicle is a good option but you will pay by hauling around a fair bit more weight and increased rolling resistance. There are the possibility of some more tires like the Panaracer’s Fat B Nimble and mythical Surly Dirt Wizard but until those tires see the light of day, the big winner in the 29er+ tire game is Bontrager with their Chupacabra.
|Tire||Cornering||Mud Clearing||Sidewall Durability||Weight||Rolling Resistance|
|Surly Knard (120 tpi)||2.5||2.5||2||3||4|
|Vee Tire Trax Fatty (120 tpi)||2.5||2.5||3||4||4.5|